At the height of its popularity, WWE (read: Vince McMahon) remarked it no longer invited Hollywood actors to its signature events because the wrestlers were the stars. Now, its cable show and biggest cards are frequented by B-list celebrities and nostalgia acts — this despite arguably the deepest talent roster the promotion has ever had.
If you need further proof as to the current product’s lack of crossover appeal check out the cover of 2k Sports’ WWE 2k17, which features Brock Lesnar, who may wrestle fewer than 10 times in 2016. The game invites us to visit Suplex City. It’s time to figure out if it’s a trip worth taking.
In what will become a theme, minor changes have been made to WWE 2k17, though on the plus side they help correct some long-standing issues. This is most obvious in three- and four-way matches where wrestlers will now automatically roll out of the ring to collect themselves after taking damage. That creates an opportunity to score a pinfall, which is a vast improvement over the previous method.
Other tweaks of note include a new optional submission system for those that didn’t care for last year’s version where you used the analog stick to move around a circle. This time you can swap that out for a more basic button mashing mini-game. Weapon-specific matches, such as TLC, feel smoother as well, particularly in trying to set up those OMG! moments.
One thing that’s been around for years that we haven’t touched on is the choreographed nature of reversals, and how they tip what’s about to happen. Since there are only so many moves being reversed in the animations it’s routine to see your character suddenly going for something that isn’t in their move set.
When that happens, you know you’re getting reversed. We’re not sure if there’s a viable fix, but after years of watching it we’d love to see something get tweaked in that area.
It doesn’t feel like much has changed in WWE 2k17’s presentation versus last year. There’s good flow to the action, and while some wrestlers’ character models look significantly more polished than others we were never overtly distracted by it. With little advancement graphically it’s disappointing that nothing has improved in the game’s lengthy load times between seemingly every activity.
Without the scripted elements of Showcase around the weakness on commentary is more pronounced than ever. It doesn’t help that Jerry “The King” Lawler, who has been relegated to the pre-show for months now, is still the color commentator along with an often-silent JBL. Also worrisome was a gushing bit from Michael Cole about The Miz. As a reminder, the Cole/Miz bromance happened in 2010.
If that’s really a piece of six-year-old dialogue rattling around in the system it’s beyond time to get these guys in the studio to overhaul the commentary. And let’s get Corey Graves and Mauro Ranallo in there while we’re at it. David Otunga and Byron Saxton aren’t needed.
Unfortunately, the biggest change between last year’s version and this one is the loss of 2k Showcase, which had allowed you to play through some of WWE’s biggest moments and hottest feuds in previous years. For long-time fans it was a nice blast of nostalgia accompanied by impeccable video packages that highlighted the lead up to matches and situations. It’s greatly missed.
Minus Showcase, holdovers MyCareer and WWE Universe are left to carry the load. The former feels nearly the same as you start with a handful of training center matches, followed by a move to NXT and then eventually on to the main roster. It has all the trappings of modern pro wrestling, including the all-new ability to cut promos, but there’s a lack of cohesion and transparency that seeps into every crack.
Nowhere is that more true than with the promos. On paper, it’s a great addition, helping bridge the gap between game and television by allowing you to perform the interviews that are so integral to the rise (and fall) of wrestlers. In practice, you choose from four brief snippets and then watch as a block of text appears while your performance is graded (seemingly arbitrarily). It ends up underwhelming.
Other aspects of MyCareer just seem random. You’ll call out and confront Dolph Ziggler, and then on the same card get attacked on the way to the ring by a chair-wielding Kalisto (who was a face). We’ve entered feuds, won every match and then been deemed the loser of the feud.
Wins and losses seem to have no bearing on your ranking for title consideration, either. Even your relationship with the authority is based on match goals that make no sense or are dependent on the computer (e.g. get hit with a foreign object).
Despite those shortcomings the ability to develop your own star — modifying their look, moves and attitude — remains enjoyable. Fan support and virtual currency grow with each match, which can then be used to unlock better move sets, additional grapplers or boost your attributes. WWE 2k17 has a massive roster, so there are plenty of unique pairings available.
WWE Universe allows you to book the territory, establishing rosters, creating feuds and building toward the various pay-per-views. It allows you to flex your creativity to an extent, and the ability to spice up your cards with gimmick matches (something that’s nearly absent in MyCareer) prevents the same type of fatigue from setting in.
Playing a game of WWE 2k17 is still fun, and guiding your wrestler to stardom is inherently enjoyable, but the loss of Showcase is a significant blow. Add that to a number of areas showing their age and a MyCareer that lacks focus and 2k Sports has some work ahead for next year.