The 2K takeover of the WWE franchise has roughly coincided with the franchise moving to the current gen consoles. As the game moves ever closer to replicating a live WWE show, it also strives to go back to the “Create-A-” heaven that the THQ version was before they jumped ship. So how real has WWE 2K18 gotten, or is Wrestling still fake?
WWE 2K18 is a Professional wrestling video game developed in a collaboration between Yuke’s and Visual Concepts and published by 2K Sports. The game was released on the PS4, Xbox One and the PC on the 17th of October 2017 with a Nintendo Switch version coming later in the year.
WWE 2K18 offers a gauntlet of options you can try out, before you can decide which one suits you the best. If you are the solo kind of gamer, you can try out the various match mode that WWE 2K18 offers in the Play Match area which offers the largest WWE roster till date (187 confirmed with more available through DLC) in any combination you can think of. You can have upto 3 more of your friends join in on the fun with couch co-op.
WWE Universe, as the name suggests grants you control over the WWE Universe. You can create shows, edit rosters, create rivalries, branch story-lines, and even create Dream matches for yourself to indulge into.
If multiplayer is more of your thing, you can join the online lobby and can take on random dudes/dudettes on the internet in a match of their or your choice once again with the huge roster at your fingertips along with a splattering of custom superstars thrown in (who can range from the 90s Jeff Hardy to Superman). Even in multiplayer you can join up with your friends in the team up mode essentially making an online squad to compete with. I tried the multiplayer a few times, and while match-making is decidedly quicker than its was in the past few games, the peer to peery server hosting does have its flaws which can mess up your reversal and attacking timing completely, turning most matches into R2 mashes and X spams.
If you pick the Career mode however renamed the My Player (I think in line with 2k vision) this year, you would be asked to create a custom character with extremely limited resources and move-sets before entering into Full Sail University (I assume) for your first day at NXT. From here on out, you follow a familiar path, winning the NXT title, promotion to RAW and then the pursuit of championships.
It would be prudent to mention that the creation Suite available in the My Player mode is a shadow of the complete Create-A-Superstar mode that is available in WWE 2K18. Most move-sets, entrances, taunts and even clothing are locked behind lootboxes which can be exchanged for the VC earned in various game modes. And while have always tried to see the better side of lootboxes, the random nature of drops while you are just concerned about a certain finisher or clothing feels unfair.
It has to be noted however that these restrictions do not apply to the Create mode (My Player and Create mode are 2 separate sandboxes) where you can still let your creativity loose and upload those creations to the community, all the while downloading some of the best available online. A clever circumvent around the superstars available behind the DLC wall.
All these modes however fall back to the basic gameplay loop once you start a match in any of these modes. And much like the iterations in the past, the game has tried to move even closer to the real deal. This time the biggest improvement is seen in Tag Team matches, which went on far too long because your opponent’s partner interrupted the count too frequently. This time if one opponent has been beaten down too much, they would be incapacitated for a little while before they can cause an interference, the same applies when a Hot Tag is made which this times provides a temporary buff to the tagged in player, and not the comeback cut-scene that used to play out like last time.
The game pace has slowed down even more, if that’s possible to the point where it feels sluggish. The dreaded 2 finisher to a win returns, with the AI opponent pulling out of finishers even after a double serving of Superkicks. Its irritating especially when you can be pinned extremely early in the match because of a single messed up QTE. Limited reversal slots are here to stay and adds a tactical layer to the gameplay making you think when to unleash your strongest grapples and when to let your opponent get a hit in. Though the crunchiness of the reversals has disappeared and the quick successions of chained reversals that were witnessed in earlier version would rarely be seen, in fact once you do land a successful reversal I think the game provides you with a significant window in which you can dominate your opponent.
Every match that you compete in now gets rated out of 5. The rating itself depends on how long the match went, what variety of moves were used, how many memorable moments were encountered and so on. The higher the rating, the better the VC (Virtual Currency) earned which can then be used to unlock arenas, wrestlers and championships. Or in the case of My Player buy lootboxes and level up your player. Remember the focus here is to create a good match, and not necessarily win; since winning rarely provides a significant bonus, so even if you are winning a 1.5 star match, you are better off losing a 4 star one both in single player and online modes. Having said that, even the rating system is inherently flawed, with only your contributions registered. So if its your opponent who has struck you with 3 finishers, reversed 2 of your own, and pulled out of an impossible pin, they add nothing to the rating of the match, which is obviously not true for a real life event, and something you would start noticing say 3 games into the My Player mode.
Performance, Sound & Graphics
I have never visited a Yukes forum, but I am sure there is a topic about Hit Detection on there somewhere. Its the most basic thing in a game which is about hitting, and yet there are marvelous screw up in this field year on year. I collide into stairs when there is plenty day-light between us, my opponents are Irish whipped through ropes and into the mat outside, while my chair hits don’t even register or my dive falls comically short. All of this makes the game extremely stream worthy, but also extremely poor.
My gut tells me the loading times have decreased over last year, but they are still pretty long, so much so that the devs have provided a start button to start the match proper once its loaded. The flip side is that skipping the entrance adds little to the loading times, and since there is no loading between the entrance and the match itself, you can safely keep it turned on for most part. Graphically, though WWE2K18 is the best looking game so far. The wrestlers looks a close copy of their real self, and some in game screenshots can look as if they were taken out of a real match. The frame rate was decent and rarely struggled.
Finally a word in about the Soundtrack, which was curated under the watchful eye of The Rock. I am told there is a decent collection with a mixture of old pop, modern rock, and house tracks, but till date I have heard about 3 songs of that list, one reason being that every-time you load into a mode, the playlist starts from a new song, and more often than not its one of the 3 songs that I have heard. In fact I have heard so much of them, that I usually sing along with them now. Plus, there is no option to listen to these songs (or at-least I couldn’t find it) at your own convenience, so yeah not a fan.
Story And Narrative
In the days leading up to WWE 2K18, the devs over at 2K and Yukes had announced that there would be renewed focus on the story mode this time around. While the My Player mode has been buffed up, it feels a lot like padding. Having said that there is a more concrete story line at work in WWE 2K18 than in any other Career mode before it. There is a clear focus on kayfabe, and an attempt to look at the business of pro-wrestling which would be a nice insight for new wrestling fans.
In years past, the established gameplay loop in the Career mode was complimented by the promo section in WWE 2K16, and then by the Paul Heyman guy objectives in WWE 2K17. In WWE 2K18, Yukes have diversified the meta into 3 categories. You can earn side-quests by talking to various wrestlers backstage and depending on the kind of activity you undertake, you can either increase your fan-following (fan-favorite) or your reputation in the company (company man). The third meta, also known as the Paul Heyman guy opens up later in the game which provides its own set of bonus. Leveling up in any of these verticals, allows your character to have more sway to the kind of matches you want to compete in. Not to mention they also increase your VC output, so focusing on them early is highly recommended.
The problem is that all of this is achieved by going up to and talking to various superstars backstage. And while this sounds like a clever little mechanic to put on, it just adds padding to the actual match that you want to play. There is already a total of 7-10 button pressed involved before you can jump into the next match, and to add walking and talking to a random superstar on your way so that you can get your side quest just seemed excessive. Of course, each superstar also offers words of wisdom when you talk to them, but they again seem to fall flat because of voice acting.
Of which there is none in the game. Nothing is voice acted, not even the lines from your custom character, not the promos, not lines from Paul Heyman, Nothing. Absolute Zilt. The only people who have voice in the game, are the commentators, the ring announcer and Renee Young, everything else is just text appearing at the bottom. And while its easy to see potential here, 3 years and no dialogues is getting a little on my nerves.
If you have bought WWE 2K16 or WWE 2K17, WWE 2K18 has nothing more to offer than disappointment. The only redeeming factor is the huge roster that lets you pit AJ Styles against Nakamura and Bobby Roode in a Wrestlemania event. Advent of lootboxes, huge loading times, gltichy collision detection and a half baked My Player mode is borderline preying on a long term fan’s patience. Yukes and 2K need to get their act together, and they need to do it fast.