Review: WWE 2K15

I have been excited about WWE 2K15 on the new consoles for a long time. I wrote our preview a few months ago, and even played a build at Eurogamer Expo this year. Still excited. The last gen version came out, seemed to get panned across various sites for missing content and lack of progression – but surely all the effort went into the new version which will be the ‘true’ sequel?

Full disclosure – I am a massive wrestling game fan. Massive. Every year I buy the flagship title, every year I enjoy them despite some irritations. I have read a lot of other reviews about this – a lot seem to approach it as a fighting game, but let’s get one thing straight: you should only consider WWE 2K15 if you want to play a wrestling game as a wrestling game.

I like this game but it is a hot mess. For everything that is good or even brilliant about it, there are some really boneheaded design decisions and laziness which offset what could potentially be a really good product. Maybe next year, but then isn’t it always ‘maybe next year’?

Where to start – first impressions then, the wrestling themes which play over the menus are gone in favour of a music selection composed by John Cena himself. It sucks, John doesn’t have great taste in music, as a wrestling fan buying wrestling games I love the themes playing over the menus. I do not love Dizzie Rascal. The audio overhaul is generally quite good, commentary is improved and the crowd sounds good but still there are quick changes in crowd cheering to quietness and back. The cheering and booing isn’t consistent and is more move driven than popularity of character driven, and there’s some horrible repeated bits which once you hear them you can’t unhear. This has always been a problem for wrestling games, it must be difficult but possible solution – go record a crowd for a while. Seems simple. Ring noise is really good, some wrestlers have vocal bits which have been lifted from TV but others haven’t (Ric Flair’s ‘woo’ but not Sting’s? Shame) but some simple playtime in the office would have revealed that slamming someone on the mats outside of the ring should never ever sound like steel steps. This is indicative of some very obvious and easily fixable oversights in WWE 2K15.

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Graphically it’s really nice, the models look great, even those that weren’t around for face mapping and scanning. There is a slight difference between those that were and weren’t but quality is still high in my opinion. Crowds look better too as does the lighting. Divas also look good and the ring and characters are all in proportion more with the real thing which gives them a hulking quality. It goes to pot when they smile though, particularly the Divas. As soon as they smile (and some have a natural smile stance) the face mutates into a horrible Botox accident. If you imagine a fantastically animated face which them morphs into the Jigsaw doll from Saw then you can an idea. What’s up with those cheeks? Urgh. It actually makes me feel sick. How did they miss this? The tagline for WWE 2K15 is ‘Feel It’. No thanks, looks horrific.

Animations are wholly improved with some really nice additions to the game. Close combat now has a separate animation, a short elbow or punch (there is a reasonable variety) and wrestlers stumble around really nicely. New animations are very clearly better than old recycled ones which seem to have a speed variation added to make them fit in. It doesn’t look great and is a shame. On the whole though the matches move much better and this is in line with the new slower pacing of the game. Wrestlers now writhe in pain on the floor, crawl to ropes to get back on their feet and you have a new small move set to an opponent who is getting up which is good. There are a lot of new OMG moments also (special situation based power moves) although they aren’t especially easy to find – knowing the product helps but there are some there and not there which I was surprised by, or just aren’t in the situation I expected. You can find these in the move set option though.

I mentioned pace and this is much slower than previous versions. This is a positive step as matches play out really well. Annoyingly, hit point bars and stamina bars are shown by default – you can turn them off but you need them know. Stamina in particular goes down fast so if you play like a button bashing beat em up you character will spend most of his time on one knee gasping for breath. Play the game like a wrestling match unfolds and it isn’t too much of a problem, in fact it encourages you to play it at wrestling pace (which is fine if you’ve seen the product). Not explained anywhere or in the manual though is that the stamina and health have three levels to them. Stamina is the key as once you go past a level, you can’t recover back up – so in the final level you really need to be careful. This isn’t terrible but you spend a lot of time bar watching rather than character watching (they’ve always been able to convey exertion before well) and making sure you’re half full or three quarters full to be able to do the moves. Health recovers some, but you also have limb and body damage separate – I can’t figure this out other than red is bad.

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If anything the pace is maybe too slow and would benefit from variable pacing. Often you can be interrupted mid strike between a grapple combo because the trigger and contact, and recovery animations for the recipient are different lengths. Skilled or determined players will set their moves to be the shortest animation window ones to get around this but it doesn’t really feel in the spirit of the game. Movement is still slightly angular, hopefully this will improve over time as animations do and isn’t a deal breaker here but responsiveness is an issue. Not a game breaker but at times it does feel like they aren’t reacting to your button presses. I think this is down to various animations which play at different points, such as looking over your opponent when they’re down before you can do a move but it’s either a nice touch or a frustration depending on your preference or mood.

Presentation is generally good, load times aren’t the best though. Customisation is the biggest offender – a lot of create modes are gone, and those remaining feel barebones. Appearance options are drastically reduced and preview time for each item is shockingly long. Game options are also reduced and you can’t alter the default settings for them anymore which has been an ability in wrestling games for over a decade and those you can aren’t consistent across modes. There is for example a new rock/paper/scissors lock up mini game at the start of every match. It’s good the first two times, then annoying. I turned it off but you can’t for the MyCareer mode. Why not? MyCareer by the way is terrible. You create a wrestler (takes ages), then do a vast number of one on one matches. In my career to date I’ve had two tag matches (I’ve lost count of total ones). You earn points and money to upgrade and every time are told you might get a push but choose your own match and try hard. In text boxes. Very boring and uninspiring. 2K Showcase is the big mode supported with video packages which is done well and they picked two big rivalries to feature. However they don’t explain some of the context around all of the content supporting the rivalries which is a shame. Also the custom video packages are poorly supplemented with slo-mo flythroughs of static 3D models. Photos for the loading screens would have been better.

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Universe mode returns but slightly damaged through lack of game options, and online has a new matchmaking functionality but due to slight latency on top of the already hampered responsiveness doesn’t feel as quick as it needs to.

I could go into a lot more detail on this game. Despite the problems and issues of which there are many (and bugs – which whilst never gamebreaking do often pop up, like only being able to do the same move irrespective of button press, or not being able to change opponent you’re focusing on) I am enjoying it. But then, I like wrestling games. If you don’t – don’t get this and probably take off a couple of points. If you do, and you’re willing to put up with the niggles you’ll get a lot out of it I think.

Reviewed on PS4

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