WWE 2K16 Review (PlayStation 4)
The spectacle of sports entertainment is difficult to perfect in a three-hour Monday night time slot every week, let alone an interactive video game, but 2K Sports sets out every year to bring the professional wrestling experience to gaming consoles everywhere. WWE 2K16 is the studio's latest endeavor, and while there are a lot of improvements from last year's title, the game just can't get the job done.
Pressing start for the first time presents a ton of options on how to play WWE 2K16. I can jump right into a match and choose between a variety of stipulations, from no disqualification all the way up to a Hell in a Cell match. I can put on a #1 Contender's Tournament for the WWE Championship, play through it, then make the champ defend against the tournament's winner. I can even stage my own Royal Rumble. It's impressive, but all of these choices have been around before, so I can't get too jazzed about it.
Controlling a wrestler in the ring is one of the highlights of this year's game, as it feels better than it has in a long time. Strikes are quick and efficient, the chain grappling system flows more naturally, and the new limited reversal system keeps each match from turning into a clinic on reversing holds. Landing a Randy Orton RKO out of nowhere is just as out-of-my-chair exciting as watching it on television, which is just how it should be.
The main features outside of basic matches are 2K Showcase, which chronicles the career of cover man Stone Cold Steve Austin, and WWE Universe mode which lets me schedule and play through years of WWE matches and feuds. These two modes are a case of Jekyll and Hyde, as Showcase shines as one of the best parts of the game while Universe makes me incredibly angry.
Reliving Stone Cold's biggest matches -- including some from WCW and ECW -- is a major kick in the nostalgia. I remember where I was when most of these events happened live, so to be able to control them and play them how I want is wonderful. Including some of Austin's earliest competition, like Brian Pillman and Mikey Whipwreck, is a nice touch, and adding Jim Ross on commentary is wonderful both because it's Jim Ross and he's the greatest and because the normal commentary is putrid, but I'll get to that later.
WWE Universe ought to be renamed "WWE: The Menus" because that's where I spent most of my time. This is the "head coach" or "manager" mode of WWE 2K16, and being able to plan my own wrestling shows and storylines is pretty cool, but I wasted so much time navigating through menus and reading small font that frustration set in very quickly. Also, if I'm supposed to get total control of the WWE Universe, then let me choose which belts represent my dream scenarios: while I can add additional belts to the mode, I cannot vacate the current titles if I so choose. As a longtime WWE fan, I was hoping to bring back the Winged Eagle WWE Championship and replace the god-awful Divas title with the old Women's Championship, but because of the game's weird infatuation with the current belts I can't do that. I can create a better WWE Universe mode with a pen and paper and playing regular matches than I can in the actual mode, and that's a problem.
If I decide WWE 2K16's roster is too small -- and how could I considering there are 120+ wrestlers this time around -- I can create up to 100 more via the amazing Creation Suite. Every year the customization elements in this mode get better and better, to the point where I can spend more time designing a character than using him in the ring. Every single element of a wrestler can be customized, from his look and attire to his move set to who he teams with and how he enters the ring. Heck, I can even design a title belt just for my new creation and create a pay-per-view event where he'll make his debut. I do wish the ability to import music like I could on the PlayStation 3 would return at some point, but I can deal with it for now considering how many other elements I can choose from.
No matter how I play WWE 2K16, there always feels like there's something missing, some part of WWE that the game just cannot translate, and unfortunately it's one of the most basic elements of WWE: the presentation. Trying to emulate the authentic WWE experience that hits TVs every week is a daunting task, and 2K16 makes some great decisions toward that goal, but none of it feels like it's quite where it needs to be yet. Some parts are great, like the new pre-match animations of wrestlers waiting for their opponents and the game no longer fading to black between entrances. Others are not as impressive, like the match commentary that seems to get worse with every line. I just don't understand how the same commentary team that I hear every single week can sound as stilted and wooden as they do in this game, no matter how hard 2K tries to make them sound natural. I don't know what can be done, but it just isn't getting better year after year.
Two other perfect examples of what I'm talking about are the entrances of arguably two of the most popular wrestlers in WWE today: Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. Reigns comes from the crowd -- which I admit is probably a programming nightmare -- but 2K16's solution is "make Reigns walk in slow motion with the crowd around him and move the camera so it looks like he's going down the stairs" and it just looks strange. Reigns is approaching the ring to go fight a physical WWE match, he shouldn't be walking to the ring like he just got out of bed.
Lesnar's is a little more jarring, and it's really hard to explain what's going on here. Lesnar's entrance involves him stopping at the top of the ramp, jumping in place and moving his arms slightly like tough guys do, then making the "go Super Saiyan" pose while fireworks shoot out in a shockwave away from him. Example:
Now look at his WWE 2K16 entrance, where his arms look less like "I'm about to kick some ass" and more like "I'm a toddler running to the kitchen for a snack:"
It's weird, unnatural for a monster like Lesnar to be doing that, but there he is. There are moments like this throughout WWE 2K16, things that rip me right out of the realism that the game is trying to portray and remind me that this isn't the real thing, I'm not saying that I'll only settle for 100% authenticity because that's asking for a hell of a lot, but I was hoping for a little more effort all around.
WWE 2K16 is close, closer than last year's game, and playing it is still a great WWE simulation, but it trips at the finish line in some big ways. The match variety and creation suites are awesome and the 2K Showcase mode is a great trip down memory lane, but the overall "WWE Universe" experience that the game touts doesn't quite translate yet. WWE 2K16 is a solid competitor, but it's not a main event talent.
This review was completed using a digital copy of WWE 2K16 provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.