I have been looking forward to playing WWE 2K16 for a while now. Back in August, I had the chance to try a working demo of the game in New York, and although it was a pretty limited glimpse, I was generally impressed by what I saw. Then, COG Connected’s own Arthony Gomez gave us a few more details about the final product, and I got even more impatient to try out the finished product for myself – as Ryback himself says (constantly), “Feed. Me. More!” So needless to say, when I was asked to review the game, my answer was easy. What?! Hell yeah.
The first thing I went to check out was the Creation Suite. It’s back, folks (Yes! Yes! Yes!). I was like a kid in a game store with a $100 gift card – where to start? Because the Create a Diva mode was a restored mode, I tried that out first. You start out with the usual nondescript model, who in this case, looks vaguely like the girl from Orphan Black for some reason. Just like with the Create a Superstar (male) version, there is a mind-boggling variety of customization options, from muscle buffness to hair paint to clothing colors.
You could easily spend an hour just fiddling with the look of your Superstar or Diva, the depth of this mode is so crazy. I spent way too much time creating my Diva, “The Princess,” and she still ended up looking like one of the Wayans brothers from White Chicks. Disturbing, but still fun. One warning, though: the game doesn’t force you to save before you exit – so you can (and probably will) find yourself losing 20 minutes of customization time with an ill-considered exit without saving.
There are all the other Creation modes as well, for those who like to customize their game to the last detail. You have Create an Arena, Create an Entrance, and Create a Championship, to name a few. I think my favorite mode is still WWE Universe – which was in 2K15 as well. Replicating the RAW and Smackdown shows, with rivalries and custom Superstars, I might not need to watch the TV version any more. Yes, all the restored modes were a no-brainer for the developers, but they should get credit – they listened and our lost modes are all back. There are also many new Match Types added this year, such as Ladder, Handicap and Tornado Tag matches. All these changes alone instantly make WWE 2K16 a giant leap forward from last year.
“In gameplay, nothing that huge has changed, which is fine – 2K15 was pretty solid in that area.”
It might not seem at first that much has changed with the My Career Mode – you still work your way up from the NXT to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. But play it and right away you will see a huge difference this year. Now your training phase is beefed up considerably with fully-animated and spoken cutscenes in which Matt Bloom works with your rising Superstar. Last year, I remember him mostly as just an annoying voice who berated me with the same repeated put-downs as I trained in the ring. In WWE 2K16 it all feels way more real, and now you also have things like Reputation, Face/Heel dynamic, and the ability to continue your career past the Championship bout. All of these add greater depth to Career Mode this time around. One curious aspect though: you can’t use your Created Diva in Career mode – only male Superstars are allowed.
In gameplay, nothing that huge has changed, which is fine – 2K15 was pretty solid in that area. I am maybe one of the few who actually likes the Chain Wrestling phase to start each match. This is a rock-paper-scissors mini-game in which you press circle, square or triangle and then move your right stick to the correct place before your opponent does. It actually works well, and makes the match feel more like a real WWE bout. One issue I have is that it sometimes goes on too long – but that is an easy fix, as you can adjust the length (and any other aspect) in the Options. Working Holds are a nice addition this year – you can use them to regain energy in a match, which is crucial since you need to have a full supply to pull of Finishing Moves.
Gameplay from 2K15 is generally carried over, but it has been tweaked in some nice ways. Last year, I found kicking out of pinfalls to be a major weakness in the game. You had to hit the button at just the right moment as a tiny sliver of a bar was highlighted. I was the victim of too many cheap losses (and subsequent rage quits) when an opponent pinned me early and I just couldn’t. Hit. That. Spot. Come on, I was kicking his ass! This year, Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have heard me (all those emails paid off…), and you now kick out on a circular icon with a larger margin for error. And here’s a tip that I learned: upgrade the Pin Escape Attribute to get an even better chance of surviving.
Another tweak this year is Reversals. The developers were clearly looking to nerf those who mastered Reversals too well last year, and so now you are limited as to how many you can do in a match, plus there is a cooldown period. I like this change – I never liked Reversals much, as it seemed like the AI gets them A LOT, but for you, it’s like trying to hit a mosquito on a dartboard 30 feet away. And play against people, and you’ll run into freaks who seem to be able to reverse everything you do. No fun, trust me. At least now there will be some balance. There are now also two tiers of Reversals, Major and Minor, which adds even more risk/reward complexity.
“2K has loudly advertised the fact that WWE 2K16 has 120 wrestlers – a huge increase from last year.”
2K has loudly advertised the fact that WWE 2K16 has 120 wrestlers – a huge increase from last year. This includes NXT Superstars, which should make a lot of fans happy. I was, indeed, genuinely impressed by the variety – pretty much all of your favourites are there (no … “you know who” though – we apparently don’t mention his name anymore). If we are being honest, a few of them are different versions of the same wrestler – most notably, we get “Sting 99” and the classic (“Surfer”) Sting, billed as 2 separate wrestlers. It’s still a very complete list, but with a few huge, notable exceptions: there’s no Sasha Banks (one of my faves) or Becky Lynch. Even worse, Charlotte is missing – as in, Current Divas Champion, Charlotte. What?! The developers have explained that face-scanning is long process, and wrestlers be crazy busy, ok I get all that. But come on, to not have such a crucial Superstar in the game is a Stone Cold slap in the face that really stands out.
The one weak area with WWE 2K games in the past has been the graphics, and WWE 2K16 is once again, a mixed bag in the visual area. Some wrestlers look photorealistic – Brock Lesnar and John Cena, for example. But others, not so much: Seth Rollins looks more like some random guy dressed up as Seth Rollins for Halloween, and I found many of the Divas, for some reason, have a strange, cross-eyed thing going on. Skin and fabric generally look fantastic, but hair is another story. Hair in WWE 2K16 looks weirdly last-gen, and moves in a way that defies physics completely. Overall, character models display an Uncanny Valley of weirdness that does distract often. Well, at least Naomi doesn’t look quite as scary this year.
The match Arenas seem copy-and-pasted from last year – crowds still display a bit of that annoying, repetitive move set that really lessened the realism in WWE 2K15. Crowd members have, it seems, 3 or 4 moves they do in the crowd. Often, several of them standing close together will do the same movement, such as fist-pumping while rocking back-and-forth, making it look like the stands are full of boy-bands doing choreographed dance moves in the background of your match. Last year, it was amusing; this year, it’s getting old. Come on guys, that’s got to be an easy fix.
As for WWE Showcase mode, it features The Texas Rattlesnake himself, Stone Cold Steve Austin. What can I say about this – whether you like a particular Showcase mode depends on what you think of the Superstar it is about. I happen to love the choice of Austin, who had so many iconic moments that this Showcase is like a walk through the history of the Attitude Era itself. My only quibble is also the same one I had last year – the game doesn’t properly explain to you how to do all the special moves it expects you to pull off to progress. Newcomers will be at a loss as to how to execute a Stone Cold Stunner, and that is frustrating when the game requires that you do it if you want to keep going.
Lastly, If you had trouble with last year’s Online mode like I did, there is good news on that front. I had lots of fun matches online against human players, and it went smoothly. I also like the new Practice mode, in which you can practice against the AI while you wait for the Matchmaker to find you an opponent. Online mode is another area that is vastly improved in WWE 2K16.
The Bottom Line is that WWE 2K16 gives the fans what they wanted – the full suite of Creation modes, a more robust My Career mode, and the biggest roster ever. This is now a huge, deep game that will satisfy the most-demanding WWE fans, and it makes WWE 2K15 look like a Demo. Plus, Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have wisely kept the Simulation elements that make this the most realistic wrestling experience ever in gaming. There are still lots of issues to work on for next year – a few important Superstars are absent, and visuals are still inconsistent. But this is a great return to greatness for a franchise that seemed like it was down for the count last year. Yes fans, WWE 2K16 is here, and it’s a New Day, ‘cause Stone Cold (and I) Said So.
**Reviewed on PS4 with code provided by the publisher**
- Full Creation Suite is back
- Improved online mode
- Steve Austin Showcase is fun
- Improved gameplay
- Biggest roster ever
- Inconsistent visual polish
- Doesn’t properly explain some moves