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WWE 2K17 Review
Professional wrestling, the greatest and most definitely real of all sports, has a long history with video games. While some games favor an arcade like, beat-em-up approach, the WWE 2K series generally adopts a slower, more simulation-based style. 2k17 is no exception, bring you a dose of in-ring action that strives to stick as closely as possible to the real thing. It largely succeeds at this role, both looking and feeling like an episode of Monday Night Raw, but weaknesses in its game-play prevent it from reaching its full potential. The wait for the perfect wrestling game continues, but in the meantime, WWE 2K17 should scratch the itch.
Naturally, the focus of the game is on wrestling matches. Most matches are one on one affairs, pitting you against a single opponent in a battle to either pin them or make them submit. The process is fairly straightforward: press X to strike, press A to grapple, and, once you’ve done enough damage to unlock it, press Y to unleash a devastating finisher. Holding the buttons instead of tapping results in more powerful moves, and different attacks can be used by tilting the control stick while inputting commands. There are no complex button combos to memorize here: everything is accomplished with a single button, and attacks are context sensitive so you never need to worry about using the wrong move for the situation. The exact attacks used don’t even really matter that much: the practical difference between a suplex, a dropkick, and an old fashioned punch to the face is pretty minimal in game-play terms, though the wide variety of moves does add a lot of visual flair to matches.
With offence mostly consisting of mashing buttons and watching your wrestler unleash scripted animations, the real skill in WWE 2K17 lies in defense. Getting hit stuns your character for more than long enough for the enemy to land another blow, leading to combos that can go on forever. The only way to escape is via the games reversal system. Just before the opponent’s attack lands, a prompt appears on screen. Press the right trigger at just the right moment, and you’ll counterattack with a reversal move, stunning the opponent and allowing you to unleash your own endless combos. The result of this system is that matches have a dramatic, back-and-forth rhythm similar to a real wrestling match, with each combatant gaining and losing the advantage several times before a winner is declared. It produces a good show, but getting the timing right can be tricky, and it will likely take you quite a few matches to get the hang of it. You’ll probably spend your early matches being unceremoniously clobbered as you fail reversal after reversal, a frustration that isn’t helped by the games abysmal tutorial.
Once you get the timing down on reversals, the game is a lot fun. Every match is a tense battle filled with narrow escapes and catastrophic mistakes, usually ending with someone getting put down by a finisher while the crowd roars. After a while though, you’ll start to realize that there isn’t really much else to the game. Move selection isn’t very important, the admittedly large roster of characters don’t really feel very distinct, and the enemy AI is unimpressive. There are a few extra considerations to worry about, such as a stamina bar that depletes as you attack and can leave you collapsed and gasping if you aren’t careful, but on the whole, this game just isn’t very deep. The result is a game that’s fun for a short while, but quickly wears out its welcome.
You can extend the lifespan a bit by looking into the wide variety of special match types. Extreme Rules matches allow you to beat your opponent with chairs, baseball bats, and other weapons, most of which are ludicrously overpowered. Triple threats and Fatal Four-ways put multiple wrestlers in the ring, and the added chaos really helps to liven up the game. Changing targets is as simple as tapping a button, so it’s fairly easy to keep control even in a four way match. Taking this idea further is the Battle Royal, which pits six wrestlers against one another in a chaotic melee. Ladders, cages, tag teams, and more are also present. These novelty matches can’t quite cover up the weaknesses of the core game-play, but they should help hold your interest for a little while longer.
Aside from playing individual matches in free play, the game has two main modes. In Career mode, you’ll build your own custom superstar and work your way up from being a lowly new recruit to being the world champion. Or at least, you would if you could figure out how to actually make progress. Unclear mechanics and slow progression make this mode an exercise in grinding and frustration. The character builder is good though, allowing you to tweak the appearance, outfit, and move-set of your wrestler in great detail. You can also create characters for use in the other game modes, just in case the roster wasn’t big enough for you already.
The second mode, Universe, is much better, essentially allowing you to play through a series of WWE shows, which you can either tweak to your own liking or allow the game to generate randomly. Over time, characters form rivalries, gain injuries, attack one another, and generally do all the things one would expect. Adding a little spice to the proceedings is the new promo feature, which allows the player to guide their chosen characters in delivering bombastic speeches to the crowd. The aim is to select the dialogue option that you think will get the best response to the audience, but really it’s mostly just guesswork. Still, it’s an interesting idea, and a vital part of the WWE experience, so all in all it’s a good addition.
Universe mode let’s you play as the entire roster, and a substantial roster it is. Obviously, it’s mostly focused on the WWE’s current line-up, but there are plenty of classic characters waiting to be unlocked. Andre the Giant, the Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin are all available, though there is a tragic and unforgivable lack of Hulk Hogan, so players dreaming of seeing Hulkamania running wild will be disappointed. Of course, the actual differences between characters are fairly limited due to the simplicity of the game-play, but it’s still nice to have so many choices.
Visuals are a major part of any game, particularly one as rooted in spectacle as a WWE game, so it’s fortunate that WWE 2K17 nails them. Character models are detailed enough to be instantly recognizable, though they can look a little lifeless when standing still. In motion though, they look much better, with smooth, flowing animations that transition nicely between attacks. The game looks authentic, right down to little touches like including an appropriate hashtag in the corner of the screen like in a real WWE show. I did encounter a few graphical glitches while playing, but nothing that seriously impacted the game.
Sound is another important aspect of the game experience. The sound design here is solid, with attacks having a satisfying sense of impact to them and the crowd sounding appropriately excited. The commentary could stand to be a little more varied, but if repetitive commentary bothers you it’s safe to say you probably haven’t enjoyed a sports game since the invention of voice-overs in gaming. Most importantly, the distinctive theme songs of all the WWE superstars have been included, so can navigate menu’s while listening to John Cena’s theme music, just like you’ve always wanted.
WWE 2K17 isn’t great. It’s too repetitive and not nearly deep enough to satisfy over the long term, so if you’re looking for the definitive wrestling game, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a game to play in short bursts that will provide the drama and spectacle of a wrestling match featuring your favorite WWE superstars, you should consider giving this one a chance.
WWE 2K17 was played on Xbox One.