One of my earliest memories in the world of wrestling video games was back on the Sega Saturn, spending countless hours on WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade game, which was a pretty unrealistic take on the business. I’d be swinging a mallet with Doink the Clown, and using Razor Ramon’s sword-like arm to scythe down all opposition. Why am I reminiscing? Because wrestling games have come an awful long way since then, and the arcade style gameplay is a thing of the past.

2K want realism, simulation, and ultimately, to bring what you see on television straight onto the consoles. Most of the time, making things too realistic can in fact be boring, just take a look at the various unwelcome simulators out there.  Can WWE 2K17 create that balance between realism and fun, to ensure it’ll tide the fans over for another year?

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Well, it’s the WWE 2K17 core gameplay that will be a major factor in the overall success, and on the whole I feel there are plenty of minor improvements. Chain Wrestling – the art of methodical grappling to kick-start a contest – was once a regular, and monotonous, occurrence at the beginning of matches, whereas now it rarely features at all and can even be switched off completely. I also admire the many new transitional animations for both initiating moves and reversing them, which helps to make proceedings more fluid.

Other new features come into their own during the likes of Triple Threat; here those who take a bit of punishment will have to roll out of the ring to recover via a button bashing mini-game. This means it follows the routine seen in television matches of the same kind, where all participants are seldom fighting together from start to finish. It makes the job of winning a far simpler task, as does the way tag team partners react to a pin attempt. Wear the team down and the one of the apron will be too exhausted to try a usually predictable break of the count.

The ladder mini-game has you using skill and timing to press A at the right moment numerous times to release the belt. Otherwise, nothing else really comes across as having changed too much from those before it; the submission system is the same with the addition of the old mashing buttons method as an alternate option. One thing it really omits for the newcomers is a fully-fledged tutorial, with the gameplay manual actually forcing you to go online – not ideal at all. But in truth, it’ll probably be the bugs and glitches that’ll put them off first.

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For as much as I enjoy the back and forth, and almost strategic use of reversals, during an in-ring encounter, it doesn’t always go to plan. There’s no specific trigger, moves will just randomly mess up with one character performing their part perfectly and the other just randomly falling down prematurely, out of sync with the goings on. It’s like watching Sin Cara. You can laugh at it the first ten times, but there comes a point where that, and other issues, start to irritate.

MyCareer mode is an area in which I started to become annoyed the most. Glitches see commentary be talking like you’re a champion – that’s if there’s even any commentary at all – when in fact a bug has me fail to move up the title challenger rankings after months of wins. My character, Morlock, was even brought out to sit ringside as the champion – talk about rubbing salt in the wounds; I just want a title shot damn it!

Whilst I’m focusing on MyCareer, it’s supposed to have gotten extra attention due to the removal of the usual 2K Showcase. The Promo engine was hyped as a key new feature for the two big game modes left standing, but it turns out to be disappointing and lacklustre. The idea is to choose lines of dialogue from a selection of choices in order to garner a reaction from the crowd. Firstly, there are no voiceovers during these segments; not for WWE Superstars, nor Renee Young, nor your own character. Secondly, the options aren’t often clear enough as to what the whole piece of dialogue is and so, it becomes pot luck.

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That’s not the only lacklustre bit though. The Authority is limited to a random challenge to achieve, such as losing via DQ or win with no body damage, in exchange for a pitiful amount of VC – the game’s currency. Don’t even get me started on the Heyman stuff, mainly due to not being able to attempt his challenges until I hold a title. Also, as of my current stage of MyCareer, I’ve not had any match types other than Normal 1vs1 and the rivalries have lacked in storytelling, which makes for a boring experience. Furthermore, it fast-tracked me past the NXT show, just because I did okay in the first match in front of trainer Matt Bloom. That should be my choice.

One small area of success is in the match performance rating, the crowd actually get less excited about move sets they’ve seen over and over again. Therefore, changing the moves in your arsenal regularly is a necessity to suitably impress the audiences. The same goes for your attire, although thanks to a glitch I wasn’t able to give my guy any clothes at the start.

So, MyCareer has boredom issues and rankings which don’t seem to work as they should do, and that leaves a heavy weight – the size of Big Show – on the shoulders of Universe mode. I feel the need to point out that the majority of the presentation is out of date due to the brand split a couple of months back. At least the developers have shifted Superstars onto the correct rosters for Universe, but the current logos and intros for the main weekly shows, Raw and SmackDown LIVE, aren’t present. MyCareer didn’t even acknowledge the roster split – it’s like CM Punk, it doesn’t exist…

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Universe randomly generates match cards for TV and PPV shows, as well as initiating rivalries when it sees fit. You can either simulate or play these feuds and matches, getting involved however much you want to. Alternatively, you can create your own shows, edit matches, instigate rivalries and re-jig the rosters as you see fit. There’s a whole load of control in your hands, especially with the use of the Creations side of WWE 2K17. It takes a lot of time to get the most of it in truth, but those who enjoy the booking side and can make up their own stories will find it worthwhile.

To me though, it’s just a series of random matches to get more usage out of the massive roster available in the game. At this point I’m struggling for anything to hook me, and despite exhibition matches having plenty of match types – including the rather fun Backstage Brawl – these are one-off matches either alone or with friends, thus offering no longevity. Alas I must venture into the online world to rank-up and become a name that everyone fears…

… or nobody knows. The age old problem of getting a match other than a single one versus one via the WWE Live matchmaking is as present as ever. Even 2K Tonight which offers a small card of matches has problems when it comes to finding a Triple Threat. But what about the ones I do find? If you’re doing well, people quit. Mainly though, you’ll have a nightmare with online reversal timing and players who spam ground stomps to force you to waste a precious reversal segment. The actual gameplay is pretty smooth though, and you could always privately host your own match with a few pals.

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Onto the roster, and it’s darn huge. The women’s side of the roster has been bolstered to offer a decent amount of Superstars and Legends, with the only drawback being the lack of care in creating some of the models. Notably Dana Brooke and Paige, unlike reality, look hideous in-game and there’s no excuse for it.  On the other hand, some of the Superstars look stunning e.g. John Cena and Triple H.

Having such a large amount of characters on the roster certainly helps for variety, and the inclusion of Vader, Natural Disasters and Bam Bam Bigelow offers comfort for those who would usually find nostalgia in a Showcase.

My final point is about the visuals. Occasionally, during a cut scene or match, I’ve noticed a bit of screen tearing, which is really disappointing. On top of that, the extra special show presentation is let down massively by showcasing old television show opening videos and themes. It’s not 2K’s fault WWE decided to overhaul the main shows, but it’s not ours either. Dare I say, the general mode menus are visually bland too – they’ve gone for a sleek look across the board, however, it gives the impression of a budget cut.

WWE 2K17 does its best to provide enjoyable, yet realistic, gameplay and it succeeds completely in allowing for entertaining, free-flowing matches. The roster is really impressive, as are the match type varieties available. Bugs and glitches have played a part in causing the major game modes to stumble, but even so, I’m not entirely convinced that MyCareer is all that regardless. The much hyped Promo engine is an absolute let down, and removing voiceovers for them is a step backwards – they could’ve at least removed the commentary. Online works, but has its flaws, whilst the WWE fan community are helping to fill any gaps in a roster with custom creations able to be downloaded.

This offering spells a massive leap in the wrong direction for WWE 2K17, with the gameplay being the only real improvement on last year’s title. In all honesty, you’d be best sticking with 2K16 for another year.

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