If you’re currently (or ever have been) a subscriber to the WWE Network, you know the company still very much touts the success it enjoyed during the Attitude Era. It should come as no surprise then that WWE 2k16 features the ascension of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the top draw from their hottest period for its signature mode.
With the current product enduring no end of problems, does the latest installment in the long-running series add to them or serve as a nice reprieve? Only one way to find out. Ring the bell.
Most of the changes implemented last year return unchanged. Chain grappling, momentum and stamina meters conspire to pace matches more “realistically.” One welcome change relates to the countering system. Now each successful reversal costs you a bar from an added meter; exhaust them and you won’t be able to counter until one replenishes. It adds a layer of strategy, but more importantly it prevents matches from becoming endless counter fests.
Also new is “working holds,” or, in the wrestling vernacular, “rest holds.” You know, when the dastardly heel grinds in a reverse chinlock while the hero implores the audience for the energy to break free. Here it’s all about grinding away your opponent’s stamina while preserving your own. It’s a solid addition as the series becomes more simulation oriented.
Where the series takes a step back is finishing matches. New mini-games have been implemented for both pinfalls and submissions, and neither is particularly enjoyable. When going for pins a circular meter will fill, and to kick out you’ll need to hit a button when it’s in the red section. The issue isn’t so much the idea, but the execution — with the speed/size of the sweet spot it’s easy to miss even when you’ve hardly been hurt.
Although pins are annoying, the submission system can be infuriating. Now when going for a submission you’ll control a small piece of a meter and chase the opponent’s piece. When they overlap the interior of the circle will start to fill. Get it full and they’ll tap out. It takes time to get the hang of it (tapping and slight adjustments work, spinning does not), but even then it’s not very fun.
After last year’s big leap to next gen, this year it’s all about polishing certain elements. Things generally look good with moves and countermoves flowing from one to the next, though there are still moments where things trip over themselves. Behavior near the ropes could use an upgrade, as it’s ridiculous to watch as you inch your way between a downed opponent and the ropes to reach the sweet spot where the move you asked for 10 seconds ago is supposed to take place.
It’s great to hear Jim Ross again, even if his presence is limited to historical calls of Austin’s rise to the top of WWE. In the other modes commentary continues to inch forward, adding JBL to create the three-man pay-per-view team. He doesn’t seem to talk anywhere near as much as the others, though, and he’s definitely toned down relative to his work on RAW (MAGGLE!).
A new backstage interview segment with Renee Young has been added to breathe some life into the MyCareer mode, but it seems more like a relic than a new addition. Renee looks weird, and it doesn’t take long for your created superstar’s banter to repeat. The soundtrack is fine, featuring plenty of songs you’ve heard in sports games for years.
As noted, WWE 2k16’s Showcase focuses on Steve Austin, chronicling his start in WCW, move to ECW and WWF debut as The Ringmaster, though matches actually begin in earnest with his famed win over Jake “The Snake” Roberts at King of the Ring. It’s here he debuted his “Austin 3:16″ catchphrase and immediately took off as the company’s most marketable antihero.
If, like me, this is when you started following the company it makes for a mostly enjoyable nostalgic trip as Austin battles his greatest rivals — Bret “Hitman” Hart, The Rock, Undertaker and, of course, Mr. McMahon — across almost 30 matches. Excellent montage videos chronicle the history behind the feuds, and there are even a few cool bonus bouts, including his ECW battle with Mikey Whipwreck and a Clash of the Champions showdown with Brian Pillman.
MyCareer is the second of the three big modes, offering the chance to create a superstar and guide them through their career. It has expanded somewhat, allowing you to cut promos and pick feuds that define your alignment (face or heel). There’s far too much grinding, however, as you’re seemingly wrestling on every show and banking precious few skill points regardless of performance.
Exacerbating this issue is just how much damage CPU opponents take. Even pinning Heath Slater on easy difficulty often takes two finishers, meaning you’ll need to build your momentum all the way up more than once since it’s incredibly rare for anything but a finisher to lead to a pinfall. It’s unnecessary and at odds with all the game’s efforts to emulate what you see on television.
WWE Universe rounds out the single-player offerings, and it returns much the same. You can fantasy book feuds, cards and more ’til your heart’s content. What provides more options is the massive roster size, which features current, historical and NXT wrestlers. That adds a lot to what you can do when it comes to crafting your own Universe.
Online is decent, but it has never been my favorite just based on the amount of spamming and cheesing that almost invariably goes on. Match selection has been beefed back up after being pared down last year, and the creation suites have seen some additions as well. It’s still not as robust as it has been in previous versions, but there’s nothing glaring unless you’re a big fan of storyline creation.
After taking some bold chances last year, Visual Concepts has set to work on fine tuning the process with WWE 2k16. It still has some areas to improve — more interactive MyPlayer, visual consistency across the roster, reduced health meters for CPU opponents — but it’s a step forward from 2k15 and a generally fun representation of the sport.