As a fan of wrestling since way back when the WWE shared its name with the panda foundation, I’ve seen the highs of the Attitude Era and a fair few lows since then. The same goes for the video games based on professional wrestling, with recent yearly offerings from 2K and Visual Concepts dipping in quality. WWE 2K17 was massively disappointing in a lot of areas, which almost guarantees that the latest title, WWE 2K18, will be an improvement, right? The developers have learnt from their mistakes… surely?
Well I’m afraid I’ve got some ‘BAD NEWS’ for you. But where do I start? The gameplay is as good a place as any I suppose.
Just in case you’re unsure, the aim in most wrestling matches is to beat the opposition to a pulp until they can no longer kick out of a pin attempt or they can’t take the pain anymore and submit – disqualification is also a viable end to a bout. There are the various winning stipulations in crazy matches involving ladders and cages too. It’s the submission attempts that have seen a small change to how they play out, as now there are two options; the right-stick manoeuvring one where you chase the opponent’s indicator in a circular motion, and a new one in which buttons shown must be pressed rapidly as they appear. Having the choice is welcome, although I’ve stuck with the old method of stick action, the button mashing option helps cater for the masses.
Another notable addition are the transitional carrying moves, whereby Superstars can actively lift others up in a body slam or powerbomb pose and carry them around for a short while. It allows you more control, deciding whether to launch the opponent over the top rope, slam them dead centre in the ring, or chuck them into the corner. Considering the huge amount of moves a Superstar can have for various situations already, it’s great to see another way to bring the pain, without compromising on what’s already a part of the move sets.
With the pleasantries out of the way, it’s a massive shame that for all the new and returning features that WWE 2K18 presents on paper, there are a whole load of technical issues smacking you in the face every time you play. From the very moment I first stepped into the ring – giving Akira Tozawa a run out as he’s new to the series – I instantly felt the disappointment wash over me. The movement is odd and clunky, the collision mechanics are ridiculous and it becomes a waiting game for when it’ll next cause a character model to go into spasm like a raving lunatic. Don’t worry though, the waiting game doesn’t need much patience, as I regularly found something going wrong.
To give you some specific examples of the frustrating problems that’ll come your way, a simple move close to the ropes often meant that a leg would get unnaturally caught, before moving uncontrollably for a short while. Other times would see attacks being acted out as a mime, while the opponent stands there without a care in the world. I’ve lost count of the many occasions in which both characters go for a grapple, only for both to fail and seem to give up trying. Worst of all though are the times where a body part gets caught, and stuck permanently, in the floor or barricade, refusing to let go and leading to something akin to one-legged acrobatics – it’s bizarre when the character model throws itself around like a ragdoll. I expect this kind of stuff from Goat Simulator, not a huge sports title made by a huge company on behalf of an even bigger company.
I’m not saying the gameplay, when free of glitches, isn’t enjoyable, but knowing that things are inevitably going to go belly up leads to a game of chance. Things don’t fare well in the likes of Elimination Chamber matches either; WWE 2K18 simply cannot cope with six wrestlers in the same match, which causes slow-down and throws off all timing to make it a real mess. I actually lost a match of this ilk to Curt Hawkins because of this – and anyone who knows wrestling knows that he never ever wins.
Considering how erratic the fighting is, it’s left to the flagship game modes to try and save some dignity. The Universe mode is once again a shining light in comparison to everything else in WWE 2K18. Mainly due to the fact that it can adapt to the changes you make, or can naturally produce weekly and monthly match cards to play through, building rivalries and creating matches for you to jump into at will. The roster split is in effect this time, and if anyone switches brands in real life, it’s easy to reflect this yourself via the customisation options.
One of the main new features to Universe is in regards the rivalries, as every interaction Superstars make will fill up a potential rivalry meter until full and then it’ll lead to a fully-fledged rivalry. Different actions can turn a rivalry from a jolly contest between good sports into all out warfare with run-ins almost a certainty. Could I live without it? Yes, but it’s a cool idea to enhance a mode which is almost at its full potential.
Whilst many will use Universe as a tool to manipulate the possibility of dream match-ups and to establish their own weekly shows, I’m far more relaxed, enjoying whatever it throws at me and find it a good way try out a multitude of Superstars with more purpose than simply playing exhibition matches.
Let’s be honest though, all fans really want to do is immerse themselves in the WWE lifestyle and MyCareer aims to do that by incorporating your created wrestler – known as MyPlayer. Well, their aim is well off, like storm trooper style.
Starting at the bottom and climbing up the ranks, getting a reputation and becoming a star is generally the standard scenario for all career modes. So going from NXT to Raw or SmackDown Live is an obvious route. And while I have zero problems with that, the two-side narrative accompanying it is a bit of a drag. Do you want to be the ‘Company Man’, a corporate suck-up who does everything – no matter how despicable the General Manager requests, or a ‘Fan Favourite’ who gains respect the right way, risking the wrath of Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, or even Vince?
I went against my good nature and ambushed people, decimated them and protected the heels (villains) of the business when needed. But I never felt drawn into the storytelling and the fact there are no voiceovers is a big reason for that. As a result of this, the really generic text-based interactions are really boring. The improved promo engine sucks too; it tells you to stick to the point when selecting lines of dialogue, but what the game sees as the correct choices are different to the logical ones.
Anyway, at the start of every show you’ll need to navigate through the backstage area to reach the production section to see what’s on the cards. I think I spent more time roaming the backstage area than actually tussling with other wrestlers. I was generally making idle conversation to obtain ‘side quests’ and essentially being told to go away by many. Given that, it’s a travesty that it’s an absolute mess behind the curtain.
This is no joke; every time I’m running through the hallway there’s a severe slow-down like it’s a scene from Baywatch – with the most recent film adaptation coincidentally starring WWE Legend The Rock – and it’s something I don’t understand. It can’t be because it’s trying render amazing visuals. Screen tearing occurs too, which is something that rears its ugly head sometimes during entrances. The backstage area really isn’t anything special to look, so why is it acting up in such a bad way? It’s utterly baffling.
What I do like though is the choice between different play styles when creating your character, which has an effect on the attribute levels. It adds to the realism, because let’s face it, a high flyer shouldn’t be able to have their toughness upgraded to the same level as a powerhouse of a Superstar. I personally became a showboat so I could have greater stamina and reversals to put on longer, more entertaining battles.
I also appreciate the idea of Road to Glory; a mode that allows the use of your created wrestler against others to level up, earn stars, and ultimately win loot boxes. The better the loot box, the more exciting and rare the loot within is to customise your character with. In a strange turn of events, you must then buy these items with the in-game currency, VC, to use them. Credit to 2K for not allowing these loot boxes to be bought with real money though, instead you must either earn them in Road to Glory or purchase using VC.
The method of earning stars comes from how entertaining your matches are, win or lose, which really helps those who aren’t great at the game get something out of it. Winning doesn’t matter, yet when fighting online, people still ruin it by quitting or exploiting the game mechanics to turn events into a snore-fest. The connections aren’t smooth either, so that disrupts the flow of matches and makes timing pin escapes or reversals rather tricky.
Speaking of online, there’s a general online section outside of Road to Glory too, but it’s a complete and utter pointless affair unless you’re playing against friends. It takes forever to find a normal 1vs1, and I’m yet to find contenders in any quirky match types whatsoever. There’s also no ranking system, giving you nothing to play for except a little bit of VC, which is slightly less painfully garnered offline. Imagine lag being mixed in with all the other issues… it’s just pure hell.
The only other way to get your wrestling fix is in the exhibition style mode. Here, one-off matches can occur between people locally, or against the A.I., in a plethora of different match types that are available. Tables, ladders, both of them combined with chairs thrown in as a bonus, steel cages, rumble matches and more. I couldn’t ask for more in truth.
As for the roster and well, it’s probably the most well rounded one to date. There are a decent amount of female Superstars, past and present, such as Asuka, Alundra Blayze, Paige and Ember Moon, to enable some real variation to the match-ups. Aside from the Raw and SmackDown rosters being mostly represented, the addition of a fair few 205 Live and NXT performers gives the player so many options. It’s good to have the likes of The Authors of Pain, Rich Swann and Johnny Gargano to play with. In terms of accuracy of the models, it depends who it is to be honest – Triple H is more visually on-point than Baron Corbin for example. Unfortunately, those with long hair suffer from ‘Medusa syndrome’; where the hair has a life of its own and looks ridiculous swishing about.
Anyone who’s not on the massive roster could probably be found in Community Creations. It’s impressive what’s out there to download and add to your experience; from a decent version of Adam Cole, to a wacky ‘Pickle Rick’ logo begging to be applied to your character’s attire. The awesome creations found here are testament to some of the great customisation options available in the Creations section, where anything from Superstars and Championships, to Entrances and Arenas, are editable and creatable. The Custom Matches leave a lot to be desired though, as they are very limiting in the way of possible changes.
Finally, a word on the sound department: the commentary is laughably bad. The repetition of lines is a regular occurrence – usually straight after they’ve just said that exact line – and it rarely makes sense with what’s going on most of the time. The soundtrack is pretty rubbish too, which isn’t a slight on the tracks selected, but more the bareness of it. Having only 11 tracks on a loop gets monotonous quickly.
There’s no doubt about it, WWE 2K18 is a flawed game. The positives of the Road to Glory mode, the MyPlayer play styles and the always reliable Universe mode, are counter-acted by a boring MyCareer that’s still lacking in so many areas and an online side bereft of any purpose. Piling on the misery of the technical issues which plague the game from top to bottom, turning enjoyment into frustration, means that even the joys of the great roster and creative options cannot save it from being a huge disappointment.
Unless you’re glutton for punishment, please… don’t try this at home.