Taking the ‘E’ out of WWE.
The WWE games of today are a far different beast than the WWF games of old. Instead of the arcade fighting game fun that the old video games aimed to offer, WWE 2K17 attempts to be more of a realistic simulation than anything, trying to treat its source material with the same reverence or respect that any other sports game on the market does its sport.
In a sense, this is an admirable and noble goal- why shouldn’t one attempt to craft a wrestling game with some weight, after all? But on the other hand, the attempt rings hollow. WWE stands out for world wrestling entertainment, and that’s the key word there- these matches and fights are all about scripted narratives showing larger than life characters duking it out against each other in physical combat. WWE isn’t a sport, it’s abut entertainment and fantasy- trying to make a simulation out of that completely and entirely misses the point of what WWE ultimately is about- great big fun, without the accountability that legitimacy would otherwise hold it to.
"WWE 2K17 attempts to be more of a realistic simulation than anything, trying to treat its source material with the same reverence or respect that any other sports game on the market does its sport."
The ironic thing here is that WWE 2K17 seems to be self aware inasmuch as the nature of WWE itself goes- one of the things the game tasks you with doing every match is to make it as entertaining as possible, which is here simulated by a 5 star rating system. You get higher ratings for making a match more dramatic. In gameplay terms, this can mean something as simple as varying up your moves and not spamming something over and over again, but it also means that the game rewards you points for last minute reversals, close comebacks, and hotly contested matches. If an opponent has you pinned down, and you wait until the very last second to throw him off, that nets you a higher rating than just doing it right away will- even though in an authentic fight, you want to get your opponent off of you as soon as possible. But WWE is about entertainment, not authenticity. Which is why so much of this game rings hollow.
The actual moment to moment gameplay perhaps best exemplifies this. It’s slow, it’s weighty, and it lacks the energy of the older WWF games. The sad part here is that for what it is, WWE 2K17 actually works quite well- there are reversals pin downs, submissions, counters, and there are even taunts- but every action feels slow, almost like in Dark Souls, where there is a deliberate heft and windup and follow up animations to everything.
This works counterintuitively to how you might expect a WWE game to work. Making matters worse is the fact that the game does a poor job of conveying its mechanics to the player. There is no tutorial in the game that I could find, no Controls option in the Settings menu where I could at least check, if not set, the controls, and no way for me to know what I should be doing. The game tries to teach you some of its more arcane mechanics by stopping the action in the middle of a fight during your first few matches, and popping up text telling you how a contextually relevant mechanic is supposed to work. But the text is poor at explaining things, and all this does is break the flow of the game.
There is a sort of tutorial in the MyCareer mode, but that basically involves the player creating a custom wrestler and then playing through a blank slate story- again, antithetical to what most players want from a WWE game, which is to fire it up, pick up your favorite wrestler, and then duke it out in the ring. The good thing is, the mechanics generally work well, and are consistent, too- as an actual nuanced fighting game, there’s not a lot to complain about here. It’s just that, there’s a major disconnect between how the game plays and what it aims to portray.
"There’s a major disconnect between how the game plays and what it aims to portray."
In other ways, though, WWE 2K17 tries to stay authentic to its source. There is a staggering variety in the kinds of matches available, from 1v1, 2v2, cage matches, royal rumbles, and more. The announcers sound authentic, the matches themselves frequently leave the ring, and everything from chairs and tables to the backstage itself often ends up being used as props, and the announcers and music all gives the game a very WWE flavor. The game feels WWE through and through, with my one major complaint here being that it doesn’t quite look good enough- it feels like a late stage PS3 game at best, and its graphics often break the illusion of authenticity that the game is trying to sell.
In other places, there are other things to do in WWE 2K17– there’s an elaborate MyCareer mode, which allows you to create a custom fighter (that you can then use in other modes too), and use it to progress through a wrestling story and career of your own. This mode is a bit of a damp squib- the presentation is poorest here, and none of the grandeur that you may associate with a mode that lets you write a story for your own wrestling character is present.
The puzzling thing is that a mode that did let you relive some of the best WWE stories, 2K Showcase, is simply not present here. 2K Sports say that’s because its omission let them focus on improving the Career mode, but if that’s true, then I shudder to think just how bad the career mode was before.
"It feels like a late stage PS3 game at best, and its graphics often break the illusion of authenticity that the game is trying to sell."
In the end, I’m not sure how to feel about WWE 2K17– there is no question that I am disappointed, though I also have the sense to recognize that a lot of my disappointment comes from what I expected this game to be, based on my experiences with previous WWF games, and with WWE itself. But even with that being put out of the equation, there is little doubt that this game disappoints in more ways than one- the lack of a proper tutorial, the terrible career mode, and the shockingly shoddy presentation all drag this game down from being even what it has decided to be, which is an authentic and legitimate wrestling game. The core gameplay loop is fine, and there’s some enjoyment to be had with this game’s more measured take on wrestling, but… even for what it is, WWE 2K17 is ultimately a disappointing game that falls short.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
The core fighting plays fine, there's a staggering variety in fighters and match types, the game attempts to recreate the flavor of WWE very well
The graphics are horrendous, there is a lack of any tutorials explaining how the game's various arcane mechanics work, the Career Mode is awful, and the game takes WWE far too seriously, taking all the fun out of it
The core gameplay loop is fine, and there's some enjoyment to be had with this game's more measured take on wrestling, but... even for what it is, WWE 2K17 is ultimately a disappointing game that falls short.