Last year’s WWE 2K16 was a great effort by Yuke’s and Visual Concepts in righting the wrongs of 2K15 and significantly updating everything from the number of wrestling matches to the creation suite.
The game streamlined few problematic gameplay mechanics from 2K15’s gameplay overhaul and still managed to present a very polished and well produced look into WWE’s past by showcasing the career of the Attitude Era superstar; Stone Cold Steve Austin.
This time however, the developers’ efforts with WWE 2K17 disappoints, as the game does away with the spectacular Showcase mode while featuring less significant and more iterative improvements to the gameplay system introduced 2 years ago.
WWE 2K17 keeps most of its core wrestling gameplay intact from the previous year. The game still has its deliberate feel and features the same stamina management structure, same pin/kickout mechanic, same submission mini-game and the same reversal system.
There are, however, some small changes made to these systems, which include wider timing window for major reversals, an alternate submission system, taunts giving small mid-match buffs and chain-wrestling mini-game that is no longer automatically engaged at the start of every match and only goes into effect if both wrestlers grapple at the same time.
In addition to the previously available ability to do pre and mid match interruptions, WWE 2K17 now allows players to do a post-match run-in and interrupt the victory celebrations for a post-match beat down.
More significant changes include introduction of the roll-out system in multi man matches, which forces a wrestler who has taken a lot of punishment to roll out of the ring for a limited amount of time. Player can then stay on the floor longer to recover more, or try to enter the ring as fast as possible to break up a pin or submission attempt by the opponent.
Ladder matches have also gotten an overhaul as they are not only affected by the aforementioned roll-out system but the game also puts restrictions on where and how players can place ladders in and outside the ring.
The restricted Ladder placement options make ladders much easier to use and looks far cleaner than before, however it takes the staple chaos and spontaneity out of the experience of playing a ladder match.
These changes might serve to simulate WWE matches as well as streamline a lot of issues and randomness in these match types, but they also make these bouts rigid and take out a lot of creative play and strategies that players employ in trying to win these matches.
Therefore, while some; who prefer simulation, might find these new structures refreshing, others; who like arcade gameplay, might feel that the new gameplay rules are too forced and restrictive for their style of play.
After being absent since old Smackdown! games, WWE 2K17 re-introduces fighting in the crowds and backstage area brawling to the franchise and allows players to traverse offstage in offices and locker rooms with plethora of interactable objects to hurt their opponents.
Though veteran players should keep their expectations in check as these brawls are limited to one on one fights and the backstage area is nowhere as extensive or varied as arenas found in the classic Smackdown! games.
The main focus of WWE2K17 seems to be on adding to its 2 simulation modes; My Career and WWE Universe.
My Career mode simulates the journey of a player created wrestler, from learning at performance center, debuting at NXT and the perpetual grid of wrestling on the main roster to eventual goals like retirement or getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
This year’s Career mode works fairly similar to last year’s experience, where players put their wrestler through matches, earning experience and increasing his attributes and skills as well as taking part in rivalries and getting in or out of favor with the Authority.
However, this time, the game presents players with some tutorial challenges in Performance Center which determine if their wrestler will be sent to NXT or debut straight to the main roster.
The game also lets the created wrestler hold more than one championship belt at a time and allows players to earn experience and currency by improving their wrestler’s status as well as through his t-shirt and merchandise sales.
The two major improvements that WWE 2K17 brings to this mode is through the inclusion of Heyman Guy segment and introduction of promo engine.
This year’s Career mode allows player characters to align themselves with Paul Heyman, which works like the Authority segment in previous game, and allows the created wrestlers to take match related challenges from Heyman himself.
While 2K16 featured voice acted, mass effect-like dialogue choice interview segments in its My Career mode, WWE 2K17 further enlarges the verbal component of sports entertainment in My Career by completely dropping the voice acting from interviews but instead adding Promos to the campaign.
Promo system is a simple text based mini game that allows players to do solo or dueling rants by selecting dialogue from 4 different options presented to them. The system then judges player performance not only according to the consistency with character’s heroic or villainous disposition but also in relation to the type of crowd that is in the arena.
Players can not only use this Promo system in their My Career story and but also in the Universe mode.
WWE Universe mode is WWE version of manager mode in other sports games. With this mode, players simulate the role of a booker and manage shows, rivalries, tag-teams and championships.
Aside from the aforementioned promo system, most of every gameplay option in this mode remains the same from WWE 2K16. The Universe mode still gives the players the opportunity to customize feuds but limits them to three rivalries, and still allows players to book matches, shows and pay-per-views but doesn’t allow them to skip to specific matches.
However, the Universe mode now allows players to have three separate save slots just like in My Career mode and also improves on the overall look and flow of the mode making it more show focused and user friendly than the past versions.
Even with these additions and refinements, both of these simulation modes retain their clunky and repetitive nature. It is therefore baffling how the developers decided to leave out the entire Showcase mode from this year’s offerings.
The Showcase mode was not only the most entertaining, approachable and presentation heavy part of previous games but due to these qualities it acted as a perfect counter balance to the series’ simulation modes.
How does it make sense to abandon the most polished and liked aspect of past 4 games to make small improvements to a buffed up TV simulation mode?
Without the production values as well as the perfect mesh of presentation and gameplay offered by the Showcase mode, the single player aspect of WWE 2K17 is totally governed by the visually awkward and grindy gameplay of its simulation modes.
WWE 2K17 has a roster of more than 130 wrestlers that feature current male and female talent as well as legendary wrestlers from the oughts, 90s, 80s and before.
Despite this huge number, there are still some notable omissions from the roster card including wrestlers like Million Dollar Man, Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter and Batista who have been included in previous games in the franchise.
Aside from those omissions, 2K17 also upholds the age old issue of lack of up-to-date roster and WWE programming, that has plagued the WWE gaming franchise since its inception.
WWE 2K17 is peppered with instances of wrestlers with old ring attires or out dated entrances and shows with old arena sets, presentations, announce teams and logos. Of course there is also no Brand Split or the changes brought through it and none of the new brand specific belts are in the game.
But all that could be forgiven since it has only been a little more than a month since the roster split. However, what cannot be forgiven is the decision to take out long standing current wrestlers only to put them into DLC.
With WWE 2K17, 2K Sports has taken the appalling action of withholding important current wrestlers on main roster like Apollo Cruise and Nia Jax as well as NXT champion Shinsuke Nakamura behind DLC that is already made available to the special NXT edition.
The game takes a similar low route with the WWE Showcase mode as it excludes the mode in the base game but offers the mode as WWE Hall of Fame Showcase for those willing to pay for it as future DLC.
Despite all the hours of gameplay offered by its several match types, creation suite and modes like My Career and WWE Universe, the action of withholding current wrestlers and game modes behind a pay wall negatively affects the value of the overall product.
The series’ staple atrocious commentating is back. Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and JBL provide commentary that is filled with old and clichéd phrases that repeat ad nauseam and the overall delivery has a stiff, disjointed and grating quality to it.
And this time it even adds on the bad habits of WWE TV shows with the virtual commentators adding annoying shameless plugs and advertisements in their commentary, even going so far as advertising WWE2K17 and 2KSports during the matches.
What’s more, the commentary in WWE 2K17 still uses the cringe worthy term ‘Divas’ to refer to women wrestlers, even though the game comes more than 6 months after the term ‘Diva’ was retired in WWE and even features the WWE Women’s Championship that commemorated that occasion in WWE.
Music is a subjective thing but P.Diddy’s curated soundtrack seems like step down from the adrenaline inducing soundtracks of the past WWE games. The fact that most of the 13 song soundtrack is composed of calm, beat focused hip-hop tracks instead of faster, hype inducing rock tracks seems like a mistake.
Another aspect which 2K17 fails to address is the bad sound mixing during wrestler entrances. Characters that speak or scream during their entrances or matches have odd sound levels that detract from the broadcast accurate presentation that the game tries so hard to imitate.
On the visual side, the game’s new User Interface is very clean and chic. Instead of using static images like in its previous iterations, WWE 2K17’s UI highlights its wrestlers in a dynamic way and delivers a presentation that suits the overall theme of the franchise.
WWE 2K17 features good character models, unfortunately not everyone in the roster is created equal. There is noticeable inconsistency in the level of detail in well modeled wrestlers like HHH and John Cena whereas others like the Usos or Revival and most of the female wrestlers look significantly less impressive.
The wrestler character models are let down by the fact that long hair is very badly modeled and animated to point where it looks like a cross between an octopus and a mop. When compared to the highly detailed wrestler models, environments such as ramps and backstage objects seem to be noticeably low on textures and very basic.
This lack of visual consistency extends to general effects as well. While the game’s arena lighting and smoke effects have been improved from WWE 2K16, the game still retains the below par fire and pyro effects that don’t look good, especially considering the graphical standard of the current gen systems.
Despite this mix bag of audio-visual presentation, WWE 2K17 features enough gameplay and content to last hours on end. But the real question is whether this content is different enough from 2K16 to hold player attention for another year.
Aside from single player modes, there is Play mode which allows up to 4 local players and online mode for up to 6 players to partake in match types as varied as simple One on One and Fatal 4-Ways to Hell in a Cell and Iron man matches. However aside from backstage brawls, all these match types are the same as ones previous year’s game.
WWE 2K17 also offers improvements to Creation Suite with a deepened Create a Wrestler, championship, arena and wrestler entrance as well as new features like victory celebrations and a video editor that allows players to create video packages for shows, highlight reels, cutscenes and entrance videos.
Most of these are only useful in the simulation modes and it is unfortunate that features that were present in old WWE games, like the ability to create custom finishers and import custom music is still missing in WWE 2K17.
All that said, if the prospect of brawling in backstage corridors excites you and if you plan to put significant time into My Career and Universe modes, then WWE 2K17 is the game for you.
However, if you are not enthused about those three things and already own WWE 2K16, then WWE 2K17 does not offer enough new content to warrant a purchase. You are better off avoiding this year’s release as well as its 11.6 GB day one patch and continue playing 2K16 with created wrestlers for roster updates.
Next year’s iteration needs to make some significant improvements to elements of its presentation and variety of gameplay modes, as well as make efforts in addressing shortcomings like commentary and load times, to prevent players of this annual game series from falling into franchise fatigue.