Will it undo years of franchise damage?
This weekend saw WWE hold its annual WrestleMania event in Tampa Bay, Florida. Once again scheduled as a two-night affair, “The Grandest Stage of Them All” saw Asuka battling Rhea Ripley, Bianca Belair taking on Sasha Banks, Rapper Bad Bunny perform far better than anyone would’ve given him credit for, and the WWE invite 25,000 fans into an open-air stadium in a move that remains questionable at best.
Alongside the in-ring carnage, 2K Games took the opportunity to announce the next release in its maligned WWE 2K series. A short commercial for WWE 2K22 features legendary ring veteran Rey Mysterio donning his iconic mask while standing under a spotlight. This is followed by a brief clip of in-game action and then the new sequel’s title, along with the tagline “It Hits Different.”
WWE 2K22 will see the franchise return to the ring following a one-year absence. The decision was made not to release an edition of the wrestling sim for the 2020 season following the abominable performance of WWE 2K20, notorious for its piss-poor and shameful release state. In its stead, 2K Games released the abysmal WWE Battlegrounds, a microtransaction-heavy mess that dropped off of the map in mere weeks.
The new game offers 2K Games the opportunity to rise like a (Beth) Phoenix after years of terrible wrestling games. There were reports earlier last year that 2K Games is fully aware of the shitty state of its wrestling games, and has hired talent specifically to recapture the glory years of the earlier WWF/E Smackdown! titles. It should also be noted that WWE 2K isn’t the only wrassler in this rumble, as the fledgling AEW promotion has its own wrestling game in the works. AEW’s title is being overseen by wrestlers such as Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, stars who genuinely love wrestling games and know what separates a WWF No Mercy from a WCW Backstage Assault.
I’m aware that I have a particularly harsh tone about the WWE 2K franchise, but it’s with good cause – they’re slow, cumbersome, disengaging games. They’re awful. But don’t confuse that with me not wanting them to be fantastic. I’d love to see an awesome, modern WWE title, But how many times can a developer fail, again and again, to capture even the most rudimentary elements of what makes wrestling games hit and still inspire any confidence?
2K Games has had a couple of years to re-evaluate its stagnant franchise. WWE 2K22 is essentially the first opportunity in years to relaunch the brand, and on a new generation of gaming platforms. Like some dude said: It’s time to Grab the Brass Ring, pal.