Review: Does WWE 2K17 layeth the smacketh down?
I'll show you.
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developer: Yuke's & Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Just picture them, Chris Jericho walking out in front of the WWE universe for the first time. Undertaker kicking out at two-and-a-half at WrestleMania when all looked lost. Daniel Bryan achieving a life dream on the grandest stage of them all, with one special child smiling in the front row. Wrestlers come and go but the moments that they create can last a lifetime.
When you think of wrestling in that way, the challenge to capture all of that emotion, that depth and that devotion into one video game could be looked at as a monumental task. A lot of things make up a good wrestling game, not just the wrestling itself, and we will touch upon that a little later on.
Personally, I would say the partnership between WWE and 2K has stunted the development of these games in recent years, whether that's down to the 'stripped down' feel that has graced the product since 2K replaced THQ as the game publisher in 2013, or more simply, the poor gameplay.
"Poor gameplay", however, doesn't even come into the equation in regards to WWE 2K17. The changes made to enhance match fluidity, the animations that have been introduced, the small tweaks... They all amount to what feels like a much more realistic game.
As we have seen with WWE's developmental territory, NXT, the modern-day journey of becoming a superstar in the industry has changed immensely since the days of Undertaker, Kane, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. There isn't just a focus on ring work anymore, but the need to package athletes in a way that allows them to take on a character, spark crowd reaction and grow into a role, has very much become part of a wrestler's development.
But the question is, does WWE 2K17 give you the tools to do just that?
Break it down:
When people look at wrestlers and talk about their positives and weaknesses, almost always there are five key elements (below) that make up such scrutiny or praise. So, I thought it would be a good idea to look at WWE 2K17 through the same scope and see how the game faired. There will also be some side notes included at the end, which will include things that cannot really be categorised into the following sections:
- The look
- The wrestling
- The entrance
- The branding
- The promo
First of all, let's start with the look.
Aesthetically the game is really good, especially when you consider that the faces, entrances and so on have not been scanned in - like we are used to seeing with other big sports games. The likes of AJ Styles and Sasha Banks have not been on the game before and from a visual standpoint, they are just as impressive as somebody like John Cena that has regularly featured in the titles.
Creating your own look is also very interesting on WWE 2K17, especially when you know that the superstar that you're creating will soon be in some very interesting feuds on MyCareer mode. Now, as you will soon come to see, my character is sort of a crossover between Rusev and Damien Sandow (you know the one... he used to come out dressed as Vince McMahon and... oh wait, was that Mizdow? Anyway...), but my guy looks like he should.
Many wrestlers come onto the scene with a clean look, a blank canvas, but from what I have seen in the facial editing, body editing and attire making menus, Community Creations is going to be a really fun place to scroll through this year. There is quite possibly the widest selection of creative tools that I have ever seen from a WWE game, certainly since 2K took centre-stage, which for me - somebody that enjoys tweaking my character's look quite regularly - is a huge plus.
Setbacks for visuals:
- The way that the crowd looks in the game has not improved. People are wearing merchandise and holding signs, but the way it's presented on-screen still leaves much to be desired. They're cartoon-like.
- I know it's a throwback to the old games, being able to jump the barricade and enter a zone of the stadium to brawl, but there's no fans there. If you were watching RAW or SmackDown LIVE one week and you could see a huge empty space in the corner of the arena, you would be pretty bemused, so I can't understand why the game would make it look that way. Don't get me wrong, adding the opportunity to fight in that area is good, but it would look much better if fans filled the void space and then moved as you jumped the rail - as they would in real-life.
So, let's move onto the wrestling.
Last year's WWE game felt very clunky in the ring. There were a number of issues that mostly stemmed from a poor and rather directionless targeting system. However, there has been a new targeting feature introduced for WWE 2K17. From a positive standpoint, the game indicates quite clearly who your character's attention is drawn to, which wasn't always the case in WWE 2K16.
The new animations allow gamers to roll out of the ring after selling, perform moves from the outside to the inside with a nice flow and connect finishers more naturally. In previous games, finishers and signature moves would look perfect every time, almost machine-like or inevitable - and for some they still do - but there is some variation. AJ Styles is a great example. His 'Phenomenal Forearm' finishing manoeuvre can be hit by standing on the edge of the apron and pressing Y. This is particularly good because the power is in your hands really, as it would be with the wrestler performing for real, to size up the move and the quality of the connection will be determined accordingly.
I would say in-ring improvements were the most necessary and while it is still not perfect, it plays much better than its predecessor.
Setbacks in gameplay:
One of the issues that I had with the last game was the targeting system, as I mentioned earlier. For example, if I was controlling my created character in a 4-man Hell in The Cell match against Brock Lesnar, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, not always was it clear - should I choose to run directly towards those three - which one would actually be on the end of my attack. This would sometimes lead to me sprinting towards three targets and executing a dropkick in mid-air, to perfection I might add, but completely missing every single one of my opponents. Brock Lesnar would then probably take me to suplex city, F5 me back to parts unknown and pin me 1,2,3 in the centre of the ring.
With that being said, WWE 2K17 addresses the issue, but not entirely. The new targeting system might display the name of the opponent that you are about to target above your character's head, but in practise it is still inconsistent and at times irritating.
A big part of how a wrestler looks on-screen is determined by the entrance.
When I think about the major players that I grew up watching, the larger-than-life characters like The Undertaker, Kane, Triple H and Batista, each of those guys were presented in a way that made themselves stand out.
WWE 2K17 goes a step further in allowing us to build characters that come out with a unique presentation. For many years I have created very interesting-looking characters but the game's capabilities were too limited for me to put together an entrance that shines brighter than the original roster. For example, if you didn't want to walk down the ramp to a random superstar's music, usually you would have to select a generic song, and behind your character would probably be somebody like Alberto Del Rio's titantron animation, because there was no way of creating your own.
Now, there are some really cool creative tools in place for you to edit what comes up on the titantron. The introduction of a brand new video editing suite allows you to put together a completely original video using the plethora of video clips on offer, and have it appear on-screen as you walk out from the curtain. This is a huge opportunity to actually build an entrance that looks one of a kind for your MyCareer superstar and not look out of place next to the other wrestlers.
In a more general context, entrances have improved also. There is a smooth transition between walk-outs and with that comes some new camera angles as well. For example, Bray Wyatt might be standing in the ring taunting as his music stops and the following shot will capture his reaction as his opponent's music hits. It all looks a lot more professional from an entrance standpoint, similar to that of WWE's real-life production.
Setbacks to entrances:
- Because the performers have not chipped in and helped the developers with their walk down to the ring. They sometimes look sluggish as they travel down the ramp and quite often their movements - as a result of being slow - don't play out as naturally as they would for real.
Wrestling fans like to buy into the characters that they see on TV and some performers can use their popularity to create a brand to translate buzz into cash.
Merchandise revenue seems to be very high on WWE's agenda, not even for just the big stars in the business, but for those coming up through developmental. As the emphasis lays so heavily in the packaging of people these days, such as logos, slogans and promotional products, this game provides the tools to let your superstar shine.
WWE 2K17, much like other wrestling titles published by 2K, puts the ball in your court when it comes to creating logos and such. The Community Creations section is once again a place where designs can be uploaded and downloaded by fans, but there's no reason why you can't create your own too.
There are tools to create logos, put them onto your gear and really put together something that is an extension of your character. Last year, if you tried to put logos onto your t-shirts, especially when angled on the sides, the image would blur and fade. This has improved a lot this year, with less distortion, making the time and effort that goes into building a brand for your guy or gal much better spent.
Every wrestler must craft the art of the promo in order to sell his or her matches. So, let's move onto how this side of wrestling has been presented in the game.
WWE 2K17 allows you to select your own promos, work on your delivery in the Performance Center and execute them on live WWE television within the MyCareer mode. There are a number of lines to pick from, giving your character the chance to talk-the-talk, and then walk-the-walk.
Some guys, such as the Wyatt Family, tend to shout when doing taunts in the game. This was something that was introduced last year - if I remember rightly - but they seem to have done that a lot more for other competitors too, which is pretty cool.
Setbacks for promos:
Yes, we're looking at the setbacks already. Why? Well, because the promo side of things looked like it had huge potential for MyCareer this year, but almost straight away you will see that it was a huge swing and a miss.
- When I started MyCareer it was quickly established that my character's ability to talk on a microphone would be pivotal to my success in WWE, so the idea of practising promos seemed pretty reasonable. A-Train (or Lord Tensai, or Albert... whatever you want to call him) explained how it would all pan out.
- Firstly, I was supposed to select dialogue, then start talking and would be assessed on my ability to connect with the audience - or him, per the situation. I started to click around the text boxes, and I spotted the reaction bar moving upwards, but there was no sound. I wasn't entirely sure what was going on to be honest. My wrestler was standing there with a microphone cutting a silent promo while A-Train cheered me on from the side-lines. He was absolutely loving it!
- No sound, no recorded lines for MyCareer and to make matters worse, Enzo Amore soon joined in - one of the best talkers in the company - and HE NEVER HAD A VOICE EITHER.
- To add insult to injury as well, from what I've played, there doesn't seem to be any post-match interviews with Renee Young. I mean, they weren't perfect but it added to the character at least.
- The menus for the game are very simple to navigate and no longer is there a number of photos bombarding the home screen. It looks much cleaner and the animation in the background actually brings it to life, with Roman Reigns, Finn Balor and as you can see in the photo above, other characters floating around the main menu.
- However, load screens are still slow.
- The crowd reactions to matches are a lot more realistic this year. I especially like the Goldberg chants when he wrestles and during his entrance.
- The commentary team for these games are becoming very outdated. I had anticipated the inclusion of Corey Graves, Mauro Ranallo or Byron Saxton, but to open the game up and find Jerry Lawler still at the commentary desk was rather disappointing.
- WWE's brand split, or brand extension, is not part of WWE Universe mode this year, which means the game doesn't include the new sets, titles and split rosters for SmackDown LIVE & RAW. Shame really, the timing of the decision to split back into two separate shows just doesn't do the game any favours.
- Having the ability to create your own victory animation is refreshing and, again, is very useful in making your superstar look original.
Wrestling fans appreciate good wrestling, but they also look for much more than just a good wrestler. In some respects, the same goes for wrestling games.
WWE 2K17 has completely overhauled the in-ring gameplay over the last few years but I would say that the way this game plays is a cut above anything that they have put together previously. The wrestling on the whole is smooth with new animations being introduced, and while we haven't covered it in detail within this review, moves are beautifully complemented by the crowd reactions.
While playing the game and piecing together this review, I very much looked at it from the perspective of 'the gameplay should be smooth and the story mode should be the hook." Not every person will come from that angle of course, some people might enjoy other aspects of WWE games, but for me... the story mode should be key.
WWE 2K17 gives you everything that you would need to build a realistic superstar with a good look, entrance, move-set and brand to kick-start your MyCareer experience, or to even build superstars for Universe mode. However, the swing and the miss that I referred to on the promo side of things really makes the game feel half-finished and for the price, that's just not good enough.
Neverthless, I would be lying to myself if I said that I would not recommend this game. It addresses issues that needed to be addressed, the new creative features allow you to create a superstar that truly fits in with the current roster and for the first time in a long while... We have a wrestling game that's fun to play again!
(If you have any more questions about the game, feel free to leave your comments in the section below or fire a question over to me directly on Twitter... RIGHT HERE @DavidPurcell96. Now, have a nice day!)