In recent weeks more and more news and features about the upcoming WWE2K17 video game have been released and the early response has been good. Previews are promising a more refined model of last years successful template and Upgraded versions of the core game modes, Universe and MyCareer. There is also the return of Backstage Brawls, an oft-requested fan desire which are looking particularly fun.
The news also came out that the Showcase Mode is no more. I actually don’t mind this omission. It was a fun diversion down memory lane the first year, but the mode became increasingly repetitive and the in-match challenges increasingly arbitrary. And who didn’t just buy the add-on that allowed you to automatically unlock all of its prizes anyway? I’m fair happier for developers Yuke’s and publishers 2K Sports to concentrate on fully exploring the potential of Universe and MyCareer mode without having to worry about assembling another Showcase storyline.
There is also the promise of an even larger roster than the mammoth roster assembled least year, adding fan favourites like Sasha Banks (finally), AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.
But the game could include every wrestler on Earth, and it wouldn’t make a difference if the in-ring gameplay was turgid. The last couple of games haven’t necessarily played all that well and there are improvements to the series I, and the other Fake Geeks WWE fans would like to see from this series. The whole in-ring experience possibly needs an overhaul from the ground up, but I acknowledge this may not be possible with the yearly cycle of game release/DLC/Further support and everyone knows how stagnant and dated the commentary and some of the reversal animations are.
Instead in this first post I’ll look at some quick and simple improvements I’d like – hopefully some will already be on the way this year – and in Part Two I’ll look at possible new games modes and other, larger changes.
These are not game changing ideas for features to brag about on the cover art, but simple changes that I believe would add replayability and longevity to the title.
Match Rule Customisation
On WWE2K15 on the PS3, I could choose a Triple Threat Match and in the match rules turn it into an elimination match. And yet, on 2K16, on a more advanced console, I can’t. I can’t even turn DQ’s on, or make it pinfalls only. Why? What possible motive for removing these features could Yukes/2K Sports have had?
It actually speaks to a wider issue, and that is for all the 2K are obviously dedicated to giving fans extreme levels of customisation in terms of creating characters and running different shows in different arenas, the options for customising the actual matches are confused and restrictive. Why can’t I create a Fatal-4-Way Iron Man match? Or do a 2-Fall Triple Threat Match, ala Wrestlemania 2000? Taking it further, I should be able to choose a Royal Rumble match, turn Over-the-Top-Rope Off and turn First Blood on. Or make it submissions only.
None of this is new, or hard to implement, N64 era WWF games allowed this, why are we worse off twenty-years later? Often playing a modern WWE2K game feels like a child taken to an exciting looking adventure playground and being told, “run along, have fun, just stay off the slide. And the rope ladder.
And don’t you dare let me catch you near that ball pool!”
It’s fun in a bizarrely regimented way. And before anyone points out that the series is moving further towards a simulation game and the WWE rarely, if ever uses any such matches then I’ll point out that in the game I can create a show called Um Bonga Wonga and populate its roster with create-a-wrestler versions of Nintendo characters and British seventies game-show hosts, but god forbid I want to book a Triple-Threat submission match. That’d just be silly.
Remove the Pin kick-meter
The WWE games have arguably become too mini-game heavy and this is the worst example of that. Literally any other form of system for kicking out of a pinfall (including human sacrifice and the severing of the user’s limbs) is preferable to this current torture. There is nothing worse than taking part in an otherwise enjoyable and exciting match only to lose – potentially after taking very little damage – because you once mistimed a single button press and failed a mini-game after doing everything else right. And a typical gamer will make this fatal mistake from time to time. It’s so frustrating to lose progress and waste time because of this mechanic and has totally ruined by enjoyment of a gaming session on previous WWE Games. There needs to be a built in fail-safe that you can’t lose before taking a certain amount of damage (unless caught in the flash/quick pin system which is fair enough).
At the very least Yukes please let us turn the wretched thing off.
Tweak the Reversal system
WWE 2K16 made steps in the right direction by limiting the amount of times a wrestler could counter during a match, in an effort to stop matches – especially those between two human players – turning into counter spam-fests. However, they still included the narrow timing windows for actually utilising a counter and it was incredibly frustrating to save a reversal for when you really needed it, only to miss the exact split-second you needed to press the button (and besides which, we’ve all harboured the feeling that sometimes the CPU ignores your reversal request to suit itself even if you timed it perfectly.)
Basically, Yukes seem stuck between two systems. Either give us a limited number of reversals but with a timing window large enough to drive Stone Cold’s Beer Truck through, or give us unlimited counters but be strict on the exact moments we can use it, not a fudged halfway house. Yes, some of these concerns could be tweaked with the in-game sliders, but it’d be nice to see this issue addressed right out of the gate.
On a second point, moves should be counterable at different points. Take for instance, a suplex. I should be able to counter as soon as my opponent initiates the move and my grappler say, shoves him/her away and kicks them in the gut; or I should be able to counter in the air and have my wrestler jump down the back of my opponent, or kicks their legs and unbalances the opponent forcing a return to a standing lock-up. Not only would this alleviate the feeling that you’re waiting for a series of precise pre-recorded animations to finish before your match continues; it also compensates for the larger timing windows a properly developed limited-counter system would need to work.
Multi Team Tag Matches (and 8-Man tags)
Earlier in the series, a 2 vs. 2 vs. 2 Hardcore match was playable. The developers needed to add more variations of it (like a standard triangle version of it for a start), not remove it – although it isn’t rare for this series to see match types removed with no rhyme or reason.
Just Bring It on the PS2 back in 2001 introduced 6-Man Tag Matches, why have we seen no advancement in the number of on screen wrestlers in fifteen years and two generations of consoles? Back then I thought that by now we’d be able to play full on Survivor Series 5 vs. 5 Tag matches by now, but we’re still limited to six. Hell, Just Bring It even allowed 8 on screen at once in Battle Royal matches!
To put that further into perspective, the PS2/Gamecube era Legends of Wrestling titles allowed Four team tag matches and eight man tags and they were the most enjoyable elements of what was an aggressively average title (and I could make them elimination rules or not, which brings us back to match customisation) And you don’t need telling how many on screen characters shooters and other sports games can handle. Step it, up Yukes!
Which leads us on to…
Improved Tag Team Matches
The last time these were improved was Smackdown vs. Raw 2009, and the tag matches have been stale for quite a few years now. Across the series Shut Your Mouth and Here Comes the Pain offered far superior tag team action. The biggest problem is still the AI for your CPU controlled partner and how quickly they get in the ring to stop the equivalent on the opposition breaking up pin/submission attempts. The CPU AI is pretty sprightly, while your partner has a reaction time that has him entering the ring when the next WWE video game is hitting the shelves. Too often tag matches have long dead spots in them when you’ve beaten one opponent to a pulp but can’t catch the win because of this problem.
With more focus on making the games resemble a real life on-screen wrestling broadcast as possible tag bouts quickly feel like anything but, and are usually preferred played with friends and not with the CPU.
With the WWE at a fifteen year peak for the number of unique and interesting tag teams on the roster, now would be the ideal time to overhaul tag matches so you can actually enjoy playing them.
WWE’s most original and possibly most exciting match is also feeling run down. Limiting a wrestler’s arsenal to largely pushes and shoves makes for boring gameplay and the process of eliminations needs work. In years gone by, competitors simply had a Ring Out Meter, and when it was depleted they were eliminated. Most wrestlers had too short a meter, but the mini-game centric system employed now has it’s own limitations. Maybe a mixture of both would be a good solution, but perhaps the frantic nature of the Rumble itself lends it more towards the arcadey-style of old WWE games rather than the simulation model of recent outings.
It’s not rare for a wrestling game to be hampered by AI opponents who are essentially a stupid punch bag on lower levels, and on higher difficulties this has been cheaply ‘fixed’ by having an opponent who simply reversed everything instead as developers mistook this for actual difficulty (see the TNA iMPACT! Game). Thankfully the WWE games have been on pretty good ground in this regard in recent years; but there is still work to be done to make an AI opponent who is aggressive and quick but who doesn’t simply reverse every single move you attempt to do to him. The new reversal system has alleviated this a little, even if you do still notice exchanges when the AI happily wastes all of it’s counters (and thus yours) to ensure it is in control. See the Fire Pro series for a game which managed the levelling up of difficulty levels superbly. Also, in this series, Shut Your Mouth and Here Comes the Pain.
Improved Collision Detection
Again things have improved dramatically here in recent years, but as mentioned there is still the feeling that a move can’t be interrupted because a pre-set animation has to be played out first. For how collision detection should work in a wrestling game, see Day of Reckoning.
3 and 4 way feuds in Universe Mode
Because Triple-Threat Matches and Fatal-4-Ways have build-up too! To be fair, this could be one of the many changes promised for this years title.
That sums up the brief changes I’d like incorporated into future WWE 2K games. Without adding any major new features, I feel these would add satisfaction to the title and if these were implemented then I’d be playing WWE 2K17 for a lot longer than a couple of weeks after release; which has been the standard shelf-life for WWE games for me for the last few years.
Wrestling is a hugely inventive sport, where a group of highly creative people – both on screen and behind the curtain – are constantly inventing new moves, new counters and new tricks to entertain and astonish us – wrestling games can only be reactive, not proactive in including these ever new variants, so the more the WWE 2K series tries to resemble a real life WWE show, the more it reminds that it isn’t one. Realism is great, but I want an entertaining video game that allows me to play as my favourite WWE superstars first and foremost.
Know Your Role! was pure arcade fun and Shut Your Mouth added depth to the arcade thrills available in the early instalments of the series. The series highpoint still is (and may always will be) Here Comes the Pain which took the bones of simple to pick-up-and-play gameplay and added some meat to the bones with elements of strategy. It didn’t care if I could do second rope moves or put my opponent into a million turnbuckle positions, it cared about being a fun to play video game based on the WWE licence, and in being a good, basic grappler with enough depth and strategy to please the hardcore fans at the same time as it was entertaining the video game playing masses. In other wrestling games, Day of Reckoning was, in ring, pure pleasure with endless replayability (let down, ironically, by a small roster) and the Fire Pro Wresting series has an incredibly simple to learn control system with surprising layers of depth. While I’m not against 2K Sport’s dedication to simulation – it has, after all served them well in their other sports titles – I sometimes feel they’re too concerned with pseudo hyperrealism then in making a WWE game I’ll still be playing when the next one comes out.