Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
I’ve been playing the WWE games for years, and as a big fan of the series I, like so many, have also become somewhat disappointed in each year’s promise of new engines and radical new features, only to be given yet another lazy touch up. In fact, after the terribly streamlined and gutted WWE 2K15, I opted to skip last year’s game, as the last left such a sour taste in my mouth. I came to this release from a year’s hiatus hoping that 2K and Yukes had used the two years to bring the game back to form and to deliver the kind of content this generation of consoles is capable of.
Of course, as anyone familiar with the series and its yearly revisions will no doubt suspect, the answer here is no, but it’s also not a total failure either. Let me elaborate.
WWE 2K17 is an installment that’s had its focus changed almost entirely to the player and their custom adventure through the WWE Universe, be it with the existing roster of superstars, or their own created wrestler. Gone is the usual story, or Showcase mode as 2K calls it, and this has been replaced with a more in depth Universe and MyCareer mode. Creation suite tools have been enhanced with some new additions, and there are other elements added, such as the chance to become a ‘Paul Heyman Guy’ that pander to WWE fans’ fantasies of being in the company. This is all good on paper, and in practice it actually works to some degree, but not without some major flaws.
First I should talk about the core game, that is the actual wrestling engine. As always, despite the usual promises of a radically revamped engine, the game is again pretty much identical to the last, and the same it’s been for a very long time. There are some minor changes in the submission system, taunts, and a new roll out feature used in multiple man matches where tired wrestlers roll out of the ring, but for the most part the game feels and plays just as it has for years.
True, coming back after missing the 2K16 edition, I did find the combat felt more fluid than before, and I must say it’s probably the best its been for a long time, but it’s still often a clunky and awkward control system with the expected poor collision and janky animations Yukes’ titles have been plagued by for years.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, Yuke’s needs to truly throw out the current engine and start from, scratch. This engine is just so old and dated, and it need to be retired. It’s functional, and even fun, but so much more could be done with a better control system and better physics.
Engine aside, WWE 2K17 is certainly the best looking game in the series to date, with even more attention to detail in every aspect. Superstars looks better then ever before for the most part, and the arenas and overall presentation are great. The return of the TV show presentation is welcome, and really enhanced the whole experience in Universe and MyCareer. Backstage transitions have also returned, finally answering fans that have been craving this for some time, and you can also move into and brawl in the crowd area. It’s a nice touch.
When it comes to audio, though, things are in dire need of attention. For one, the crowd sounds are still stifled and canned. The arena just doesn’t sound realistic and crowds don’t react realistically to what’s going on in the ring. Compared to the commentary, though, they’re state of the art.
Commentary in WWE games has been pretty poor for a long time, even hardcore fans can’t defend it. WWE 2K17, however, hits an all-time low. This is the worst commentary I’ve heard, not just in a WWE game, but in any game for a very long time. It’s beyond awful. Not only is it fantastically repetitive and phoned in, but it often glitches out and has nothing whatsoever to do with what’s going on. I’ve heard Michael Cole comment that Randy Orton, Bret Heart, John Cena, and other veteran WWE stars are rookies, calling signature moves finishers, exclaiming that a contender in a one on one pinfall match has been eliminated, and even proclaiming someone a world title champ after a non-title match between two stars who had nothing to do with the championship.
It’s painfully bad, and for the love of all things holy, please will someone just get rid of Jerry Lawler in the game. I feel like cutting off my own ears to spare myself the agony of listening to his bullshit. Then again, much of these complaints adhere to the actual TV shows, so maybe the game is more realistic than I thought.
Poor audio aside, and even with a fighting engine that needs to be retired, the gameplay itself is still fun, and this is enhanced by the game’s many game modes, chief among them being the Universe and MyCareer modes. These are similar in structure, with the career mode focusing on your created wrestler (or CAW). Here you advance from the WWE training centre and debut on NXT, all the way up through the roster to the main cards of Raw and SmackDown, eventually to PPV title matches and to the world championship. Along the way you can form alliances, tag teams, and complete challenges for both the Authority and Paul Heyman. These latter features are very shallow, though, and hardly a major plus point, but they’re there to add some variety.
This is important as MyCareer quickly becomes a slog through the same matches and events week in, week out. The devs haven’t added in anything resembling meaningful content to the career mode, and without the ability to play other stars, it soon becomes tiresome. I understand the focus on a single wrestler, but there’s just not enough content here to keep it interesting. Even with the new promo system, one of the big changes this year.
The promo system tries to reproduce a major part of WWE programming, and that’s the time on the mic that’s a huge part of making any wrestler popular. This is handled by a Mass Effect-style dialogue system where you have to select one of several responses, each of which has different effects, such as making you more face or heel. It’s an interesting idea, but the execution falls flat.
For one, there’s no actual vocal work, it’s all text-based. I understand this was nigh on impossible for Yukes to do with full voice, as getting each and every WWE star to record each and every possible line would have been ridiculously expensive and time consuming. Because of this, though we’re left with an awkward silence with only canned audience in the background. It just looks and sounds bad. Add to this some terrible writing, not even on par with actual WWE guff, and you’ve got a very poor addition that adds little to the whole experience.
Universe mode is better, though, and plays much like it has in previous years. You have more control over matches, making you the general manager once again, and this year the whole interface is easier and more flexible. It’s a genuine improvement.
Sadly the same can’t be said for the creative modes. Yes, there are new additions, such as the new victory creation, and a video creation tool for superstar Titantron entrance videos, but the game still lacks the very important create-a-finisher option, a major staple of any superstar, and there’s still no option to use custom music, which is a serious flaw.
As much as I dislike it, I do understand there may be issues that lie with Sony and Microsoft for the use of custom music in the game, but this can’t change the damage this does. Not being able to use your own music for your CAW’s entrance is a big downside, especially as previous editions have featured this. A few generic tunes is just never going to make up for this.
The lack of a create-a-finisher mode is less forgivable, and alongside entrances, a star’s finisher is one of the most important elements of their character. Not being able to create one, again, when we could previously, is a big flaw in a game that prides itself on user created content.
What there is in creative mode is good, though, don’t get me wrong. The WWE games still have some of the best user creation tools around, and WWE 2K17 is no exception. Creating a superstar is easy and although some parts are missing, it’s still good fun, and perhaps the most important part of the user experience.
WWE 2K17 is a solid wrestling title that’s undermined by a series of poor executions and missing content that’s been available in the past, but has been removed, taking features away from users who miss them.