WWE 2K17 Review (PlayStation 4)
World Wrestling Entertainment is currently going through a transitional phase, one the company is referring to as the “New Era.” This new beginning brings with it an influx of new talent and ideas, and so far things have progressed nicely. The WWE team at 2K seems to be adopting that approach, injecting some new techniques and some long overdue faces into this year’s game. While WWE 2K17 can be a ton of fun, a few specters of its past keep it from being a flawless experience.
This year’s playable roster is immense, covering every inch of WWE’s past, present, and future. Alongside expected names like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens, are newcomers like AJ Styles; longtime requests like Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch; as well as some of NXT’s biggest stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. There are a few surprises like the Natural Disasters Earthquake and Typhoon from the early '90s, but most of the roster is what I’d expect a WWE game to present. I do find it curious that lesser known iterations of last year’s cover athlete Stone Cold Steve Austin are here though. Do we really need Stunning Steve Austin from the Hollywood Blondes back again?
In-ring action is solid, with high intensity action from bell to bell. Controls are simple enough on the surface, with three different attack buttons for striking, grappling, and whipping opponents into the ropes, but each button can be combined with a directional button for more moves. I tend to forget what directions I’ve already used during a match so I end up dishing out the same Undertaker body slam six or seven times, but I doubt I’m the only one with that issue.
The controls aren’t all peaches and cream though, as the reversal system is still inconsistent with timing. I could be spot on and have the game register late, I could be late and pull off the reversal, and I could hit nothing at all and register early. Seeing as how I only get five reversals before they have to recharge, sometimes it’s better to just eat the move and recover later.
The star ratings are back from last year’s game, giving points based on move variety, key moments in the match, and false finishes. In my hours with the game I only achieved one five-star match, and I had to earn it with multiple finishers and a few surprise kickouts from the AI, so don’t expect every match to be five stars. Star ratings result in a reward of VC or “virtual currency” which can then be used to purchase unlocks of more wrestlers, championship belts, custom moves, and more. The more stars I earn the more VC I get. It's simple.
Speaking of custom moves, the WWE 2K17 creation suite is intimidating in its scope. WWE has always sported a pretty detailed customization offering, but this year takes things even further. I could spend hours upon hours creating Jason Fane in my image before sending him into the ring, choosing every move, piece of attire, and piece of body hair on him. I can even upload my face onto his so he looks as close to me as possible, but the upload mechanic has given me some issues. When I uploaded my face, the game simply superimposed my picture onto my wrestler’s face instead of shaping him to look like me. Essentially whenever the wrestler closed his eyes I could still see mine from the picture, and that’s weird. If creating wrestlers gets too monotonous, I can create rings for him to wrestle in, title belts for him to hold, custom entrance videos, and even full pay-per-view show cards to feature him in. Every piece of the creation pie is just as detailed as the next, and my right-brain tendencies had plenty to work with while I ventured in there.
Unfortunately, this is where my praise of WWE 2K17 turns into frustration due to repetition. A popular YouTube series sometimes refers to current WWE programming as “New Era, Same Old Sh*t,” when tropes from before the dawning of the New Era are reused ad nauseum. That phrase fits perfectly with some of the maddening problems WWE 2K17 simply cannot avoid. The AI during specialty matches (like table and ladder matches) still focus way too much on the weapon needed to win and not enough on wearing me down before grabbing them. In a game defined by its realistic portrayal of pro wrestling, seeing enemy wrestlers in such an unnatural way really breaks my immersion into the game.
Glitches also seem to find their way into my matches, although I will admit they’re not as game-breaking as previous years. Two that stand out are the fan who was supposed to be digitized onto the arena steps but instead got flipped on the Y axis, walking up invisible stairs to the heavens, and the one match where every fan on the floor was the same character model. The first made me chuckle, but the second one was super creepy and I never want it to happen again.
Finally, and perhaps most maddeningly of all, the commentary still irks me to no end. I understand that live commentary and reading lines that sound like live commentary are two very different things, but the game doesn’t know which lines go with which phrases. Here is actual dialogue I wrote down after I heard it during a match:
John Bradshaw Layfield: “This right here is about as evenly matched as you can get.”
Jerry “The King” Lawler: “That’s a good point, but this match is about as even as they come.”
It’s the same line with one being offered as a counter to the other! Furthermore, the women’s division despite its massive strides in real life wrestling is still called the Divas division, and once in a while “Divas” matches are coupled with a commentator saying “I like when Divas get frisky.” Including Charlotte and Bayley and Sasha Banks and the other rising women stars in the game is wonderful, but lines like this undermine that decision immediately. It sounds like those line were just recycled from last year, and that’s disappointing.
WWE 2K17 should be marking a new era for WWE video games, but unfortunately it dredges up old problems from the past just as much as it improves with new content. The massive roster, excellent control scheme save for reversals, and extensive creation suite all impressed me, but the little technical nuances just kept annoying me to no end. WWE 2K17 is the WrestleMania 20 matchup between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg (ironically the cover athlete and pre-order DLC respectively): major hype, a few good flashes, but ultimately a bit disappointing. I can see the future of WWE 2K and I like it, but 2K17’s not quite there yet.
This review was completed using a digital copy of WWE 2K17 provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.