'WWE 2K24' has climbed the ladder to complete a comeback worthy of 'WrestleMania'.

The franchise's latest instalment comes five years after 'WWE 2K20' was so badly received that publishers 2K and Visual Concepts took a year off to start righting those wrongs.

After 'WWE 2K22' and 'WWE 2K23' got things back on track, this year's title may well be the best wrestling game of all time.

It's not just about the massive additions and changes, although there are plenty of those too, but rather the way everything feels so much smoother and more engaging than previous editions.

Improved graphics and animations combined with new mechanics like throwable weapons, the epic Trading Blows mini-game and Super Finishers all make for a more authentic and fun experience.

Even the way the Superstars move adds to the immersion, with smaller stars like Zelina Vega hitting the ropes in a totally different way to giants like Omos, while Hulk Hogan and Rey Mysterio have their own unique way of bouncing off.

There are new match types too, with Special Guest Referee making its long awaited return to WWE video games in a first for the 2K franchise.

The mechanics for the Special Guest Referee have been nailed, with a meter making sure the official doesn't abuse their power (yes, it can be turned off) and plenty of options to make the most of your officiating role.

If you're playing as the guest referee (or one of seven real life actual officials), you'll have full control over calling rope breaks, counts, submissions, disqualifications and much more, while refereeing as a Superstar allows you to slip out of referee mode to attack one of the competitors.

If the official goes too far, they'll be replaced by another, so you can always hold out for that if you're facing an opponent with their ally in stripes.

Elsewhere, Casket and Ambulance matches work similarly to each other thanks to a button-mashing mini game to shut your opponent in either, while the Ambulance bouts do offer more interactive elements.

Gauntlets are a big part of the WWE landscape - there's one coming up on 'Monday Night Raw' next week - and they're a fun addition with several variations, including a way to essentially have your own 'Royal Rumble' decided by pinfalls, submissions and more with 30 Superstars in the mix.

Other modes like Showcase, Universe, MyGM and MyRise benefit from these two, as the new matches and gameplay changes make appearance throughout the rest of the game.

For MyRise, this year boasts two entirely new storylines (Undisputed for the men, Unleashed for the women) with plenty of branches and unlockables to discover.

Both stories feel unique in their own way, with a lot of depth and some fan favourite fictional characters like Justine and Tavish making welcome returns as these versions of the WWE Universe have their own living, breathing world to enjoy.

This year's Showcase mode celebrates 40 years of WrestleMania with over 20 matches across the last four decades of the Showcase of the Immortals.

There's a lot to enjoy here from the early years to the present day, with Bray Wyatt fans in particular bound to enjoy his presence in the mode, while the Sling Shot technology seamlessly takes the action from gameplay to archive footage and back again.

MyGM and Universe add to the replay value for fans of those modes, with improvements and tweaks across the board to add some depth to proceedings, with some many ways to play and enjoy the game.

MyFaction goes some way to make it a more tempting prospect for those who avoid it each year, as some unlockables called Persona Cards can be carried over across the game's other modes.

Microtransactions will always make some people uncomfortable (this year, in-game currency can be used to buy specific cards to complete your collection), but there is always the option of grinding away without spending a penny.

Persona Cards add to an already stacked roster of Superstars with over 200 ranging from modern day cover stars Rhea Ripley, Bianca Belair and Cody Rhodes to legends like The Rock, The Undertaker (in various forms) and Triple H, while there's also room for surprises like Muhammad Ali thanks to the 'WrestleMania' links this year.

2K has announced five DLC packs coming this year, with the first offering in May including CM Punk just months after his surprise return at 'Survivor Series', and the team have explained that the packs will be spread out to encourage a long shelf life for the title.

After great strides were taken in 2022 and 2023, 2K and Visual Concepts have completed the comeback in 'WWE 2K24', which plays better and more realistically than ever before without losing any of the charm.

Rating (reviewed on Xbox Series S): 4/5

By Alistair McGeorge

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