Do you remember that day you received your first video game console? How about that time you discovered a secret stage that none of your friends knew about? Being so excited for the latest iteration in a long-running series, only to be disappointed or have your expectations exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. That is what the Video Gamer’s Experience is all about.
In 2000, Sony’s “Playstation” console was truly lacking the phenomenal professional wrestling game. The World Championship Wrestling-based games had fallen from grace following “WCW vs. The World”. Games like “WCW Nitro” and “WCW Thunder” played like poorly made 2D fighting games placed in a three-dimensional setting with the ring being a battleground. The pain didn’t stop there as absurdity makes “Nitro” one of the strangest wrestling games in history – featuring “Tekken” animal-like creatures wrestling Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Randy Savage, Ric Flair and … Santa?
On the WWF side of the spectrum was Acclaim’s “WWF Warzone” and its sequel “WWF Attitude” (the prior inspiring the terrible aforementioned WCW games). The same problems that made up the WCW games were only made better by the multitude of game play and create-a-(fill in the blank) options. Then licenses started moving around and the Playstation players finally had a game coming their way that could actually be worth its weight in digital gold.
Developed by Yukes and distributed by THQ (the same company responsible for giving the world WCW’s “Nitro” and “Thunder” games), “Smackdown” made a big splash with its “arcadey” game play, full motion entrance videos, career mode and backstage areas where the fight could move from the ring to – you guessed it – a variety of backstage areas including the arena’s kitchen and parking lot. Years would pass; “Smackdown” sequels would be released (with the series’ name changing from “Smackdown” to “Smackdown vs. Raw” to simply “WWE [Whatever Next Year is]”). With THQ going out of business, 2k Games had the chance to pick up the WWE game’s license to continue the series (while adding “2k” to before the year attached to the game’s title).
2k, incredibly excited about the next generation of gaming featuring Microsoft’s “Xbox One” and Sony’s “Playstation 4”, promised to deliver the most realistic wrestling game in history thanks to a mix of incredible graphics and improved, pro wrestling simulated game play. After a slight delay, some not-so-P.R. friendly announcements, and negative reviews regarding the “Xbox 360” and “Playstation 3” versions, “WWE 2k15” on the “PS4” and “X1” had a lot of work to do to make good on some lofty promises.
Did I Complete “WWE 2k15”?
Sometimes it’s hard to judge what “complete” means when talking, writing and/or reviewing a wrestling game. But “WWE 2k15”, similar to its predecessors, makes the question a whole lot easier to answer thanks to certain single player modes. Rather than spending hours replaying “Wrestlemania Rewind” matches in the “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode like in “WWE 2k14”, the developers created a mode highlighting two of WWE’s more recent and famed feuds featuring Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (2002-2004) and John Cena vs. CM Punk (2011-2013) titled the “2k Showcase”. With highlight videos to break up the tedium, the player is forced to play through a series of matches featuring objectives that allow players to unlock extra wrestlers, costumes and moves. This mode can take you anywhere from four to six hours to complete (even on the hardest of difficulties).
But the mode that really makes the current generation versions of “2k15” stand out is “MyCareer”. The stand alone mode allows a player to create his or her own wrestler to take that individual through the ranks of WWE’s developmental system “NXT” before slowly working the superstar’s way up the card in hopes of achieving wrestling nirvana (or the WWE World Heavyweight Championship depending on what you prefer to call it). The journey to become “da man” (credit Bobby Heenan circa 1998) can last anywhere from three to fifteen (game) years depending on how you play. I spent a good four years just trying to see what kind of rivals I could make, other titles I could attain, and if I had what it took to break The Undertaker’s “Wrestlemania” undefeated streak (though titled “2k15”, the game apparently still thinks the streak hasn’t destroyed) before challenging Roman Reigns for the gold. My journey was a long and arduous one that ended in a fitting, golden retirement.
There are other things to keep a person busy (from online competition to creating your own WWE Universe), but nothing fulfills the completion quota better than “2k Showcase” and “MyCareer” modes.
Did “WWE 2k15” Live Up to the Hype?
The original hope was this would be one of, if not the best “WWE” games from the “Smackdown” lineage in history. The graphics looked phenomenal during the promotional tour. Game play modifications seemed to be going over well with the people who played the game during live promotional events. And former WCW legend Sting was going to be a pre-order bonus wrestler! Sting! Well, all of those previous things did make it into “WWE 2k15”. The graphics can’t be understated as anything short of “bea-u-ti-ful”. Never before have wrestler models appeared so lifelike in front of a crowd that doesn’t look like paper dolls. The pomp and pageantry seen on WWE television every week is perfectly represented.
The in-ring action has also been modified. Slowing down the matches attempts to weaken the ability to use moves over and over again in rapid succession and build up momentum to utilize the wrestler’s specific finisher for an incredibly quick and unsatisfying ending. This change in the way the bouts progress is mostly thanks to two new additions: the stamina meter and a “rock, paper, scissors”-like collar & elbow tie up sequence at the start of each match (though both of those new features can be turned off in the “Options” menu). The game play isn’t perfect, though. The matches feature wrestlers who look like they’re wading through water. And judging your stamina isn’t worth its weight in oxidize gold as you can unleash a stream of offense, hit your finisher and win without even trying – just like the other “WWE” games.
Sadly, the game play that feels fresh and original succumbs to the same rudimentary problems seen in previous iterations where the reversal window becomes second nature, the A.I. proves to be ridiculously simple and the matches tend to become one-sided squashes if you don’t let the computer get the upper hand. Against real players in a local environment, the game play can be fantastic – but online, not so much. There is a tremendous amount of lag no matter how good your Internet connection is – making the ability to reverse maneuvers almost impossible. More often than not, you’ll become the idiotic “A.I.” that gets beaten down all too easily during an online match.
The unintentional lacking game play would’ve been a lot easier to handle if not for the pre-release announcements. Creationists who would spend hours making their own roster for the ultimately unchanged “Universe” mode (a mode where you are allowed to book your own matches and storylines and play/simulate them over the calendar year for all in-game eternity) were left with nothing to hope for in “2k15” as it was revealed prior to the game’s release that you couldn’t create women, arenas, title belts or finishing maneuvers like the previous games.
If that wasn’t enough, the male-only Create-A-Wrestler (Superstar) features a limited number of “create-a” pieces including hair and clothing. The sliders to modify facial and body structures has been retooled, limiting that ability as well. What could’ve been a saving grace is the “Import Your Own Logo”; which includes the ability to import a picture of your own face and put it on the face of you wannabe grappler. Depending on the photo, a monster or perfect likeness can come from the importing; but don’t expect it to work out on your first try even if you follow the instructions perfectly. For example, I had to literally put two layers of my face on the CAW to even come close to matching a skin color provided. Others have played around with the “Logo” feature and have found ways to improve what seemed to be a hit or miss situation depending on the logo itself.
But nothing mattered more in promoting the PS4/X1 version than “MyCareer” mode. The opening minutes of the mode feels like you’re in store for an incredible journey as you take your created wrestler through the rigors of WWE’s developmental system, “NXT”. It doesn’t take long before your character wins the NXT title and gets a crack at the main WWE roster. This is when “MyCareer” falls apart. General Manager Vickie Guerrero will usually inform you that you need to work hard through “dark” (non-televised) or “tune-up” (televised exhibitions) matches to earn the attention of WWE’s higher ups in hopes of attaining a “push” (the term used for wrestlers being given storylines that’ll hopefully move them up the card, make them main event stars and champions).
And this goes on, and on, and on. Eventually you’ll get a chance to participate in some random storyline that’ll eat up a month’s worth of matches before seeing the infamous “I don’t have anything for you at this time” message from Vickie. Storylines where my character should’ve been busy year-round became nothing more than busy work to keep me playing with the false incentive that story will actually mean something long-term (like the time when Triple H helped my character become the “Face of WWE”, only to have nothing but dark and tune-up matches for the next three months). By the mode’s conclusion where your character (spoiler alert) wins the WWE World Heavyweight title, you’ll be incredibly happy to see the credits roll before your big dance with destiny: retirement. What could’ve been a captivating, enthralling experience in “My Career” proves to be nothing more than a tedious, repetitious “journey” where the cake appears to be a lie every single time. It’s the digitized, defined version of “insanity” for several hours.
And that’s not mentioning the limited match options (bye-bye multi-man, non-tag team “Tables, Ladder, and Chairs matches), download/upload limits placed on the online “Community Creation” (never seen in any other “WWE” game with the feature) and multiple glitches seen in the previous years’ versions returning in all their disturbing glory (including the invincible Bella glitch I encountered during a round of “Universe” mode).
Should You Play “WWE 2k15”
Similar to a beautiful lemon (a car, not the fruit), the outside features attempt to hide the problematic insides. “WWE 2k15” is one of the lowest points in the “Smackdown/WWE” series of games. Features have been cut, creation abilities gutted, and the most promoted new feature (MyCareer) proved to be a half-baked idea that was poorly planned, executed and left to die a slow, miserable death. That’s not to say this is a terrible game worthy of burial in some abandoned quarry. “2k15” is a solid WWE game in the sense that if all you care about is playing with WWE wrestlers over and over again, you’ll enjoy the game … for a little while. But even that’ll become repetitive with the redundant “Universe” mode, lacking match options and a paper-thin roster that only gets a little bigger if you buy DLC packs. If you have the patience and/or “WWE 2k14” on previous generation consoles, avoid “WWE 2k15”. Here’s to the hope that “WWE 2k16” will be the “Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth” to “2k15’s” “Smackdown: Just Bring it”.