WWE 2K15 is an awkward transition to a new generation of consoles.
Features included in previous games missing from this one? Check. Long-standing issues from the last generation that linger on? You bet. Some half-baked experimentation with new concepts? Uh-huh.
WWE 2K15's developers — Japanese studio Yuke's and its new American partner, 2K subsidiary Visual Concepts — carried over the foundation of the franchise from the previous generation, rather than starting fresh for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That's WWE 2K15's ultimate downfall: A pervasive staleness stymies the game's progress.
WWE 2K15 will feel familiar if you've played one of the last few titles, although it changes some things up. A new "chain wrestling" system attempts to introduce some realism to the game, forcing combatants to tussle in tie-ups during the opening of a match. It's a well-intentioned idea, since much of the theatricality of real WWE matches comes from a gradual escalation of hostilities as the fighters feel each other out.
But chain wrestling in WWE 2K15 isn't fun. It's a rock-paper-scissors minigame with analog stick twirling, and it became a nuisance instead of a welcome mechanic. After a few holds, it peters out, rather than, say, giving the wrestler who comes out on top the ability to transition directly into a new move.
WWE 2K15's new stamina system fares much better in realistically slowing down the action in the ring. Almost everything you do drains your stamina bar, which makes it much tougher to spam your way to victory. This brings the tense, thrilling late-match sequences of real WWE action into WWE 2K15, where exhausted fighters can barely stagger to their feet. It's terrific, forcing players to pace themselves so they won't end up winded when they need that energy the most.
It was always frustrating when a grapple failed because my opponent was stuck in an animation, which forced me to wait while they finished reacting to the previous attack. WWE 2K15's poor animation blending also warps limbs and bodies unnaturally in too-quick transitions.
That's to say nothing of just how glitchy WWE 2K15 is. I've seen CPU-controlled characters throw me into a corner and then stand there doing nothing. I once saw a championship belt float into the ring on its own (technically carried by an invisible Ric Flair).
While those glitches made me laugh, not all of WWE 2K15's bugs were funny. I had a match end in a count-out when my wrestler got caught in a running animation on the barricade outside the ring. I had to quit a match when I got stuck in a submission animation without the submission minigame meter appearing. 2K says it's still working on a solution for the nasty MyCareer bug I ran into, which crashed the game during character creation.
MyCareer is WWE 2K15's most notable new mode. MyCareer has you create a wrestler who evolves on his journey from the WWE's training division all the way to Raw, the organization's top-tier live show.
This type of mode works in sports games because players can invest in the growth of their created athlete. That progression exists in WWE 2K15, but it's a monotonous, repetitive slog, interrupted on too few occasions by entertaining story developments. You can't simulate any part of the mode to get past the lengthy grinding through unremarkable matches with no overarching storyline. It was 11 hours before something remotely interesting happened in my playthrough, when I became embroiled in a minor feud with CM Punk and Curtis Axel.
What's more, MyCareer doesn't explain itself well. There's a meter saying how much of a face or heel you are, but it's not clear if that status has any effect at all. I also couldn't figure out how to move the needle one way or the other — I started out as a face, but apparently made a heel turn at some point and never had any idea how I caused it. And even all the way at the heel end of the bar, the crowd cheered me during every arena entrance.
WWE 2K15 also revisits the well of WWE nostalgia with 2K Showcase, but the overall package doesn't match the corresponding modes in WWE '13 or WWE 2K14. That's largely because some of the bouts in WWE 2K15's rivalries feel like they're there to pad out the mode. Understanding feuds requires more context than the two participants' matches. But I found myself wondering why I was spending so much time with ancillary characters like Batista and Rob Van Dam.
WWE Universe returns as well, and players can still rearrange event cards, shuffle rosters and set up rivalries to see how it all plays out. But the create-a-story mode from previous games is gone, a travesty for the people behind Video Game Championship Wrestling.
People looking to play specific match types online will have to contend with WWE 2K15's baffling new interface and "background matchmaking" system. The game forces you to set preferences for wrestlers, arenas, matches and more, as opposed to matching you with others and allowing you to make those choices at that point.
|Platform360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One|
|Release DateNov 18, 2014|
The series' first new-generation entry offers significantly better character and crowd models than ever before as well. The developers did facial scans for much of the roster, which produced stunning virtual models of individuals like cover athlete John Cena.
But there's a downside: Non-scanned wrestlers look much worse by contrast. Just compare the face for present-day Triple H, scanned in with his buzz cut and close-cropped beard, with his long-haired, clean-shaven appearance in the 2K Showcase mode.
Aside from those new elements, WWE 2K15 matches play out much as they have for years — and the developers still haven't fixed issues that have plagued the series for ages. Collision detection between bodies and the ropes is much better, but there's no rhyme or reason to positioning. I've seen wrestlers roll over prone bodies toward the ring apron, even when they're up right against the ropes. I've seen wrestlers drag people a short distance in a seemingly random direction before performing a grapple attack, for no apparent reason.
In fact, WWE 2K15's suite of creation tools is far inferior to the expansive options traditionally available in the series. You can't create female wrestlers, and WWE 2K15 also lacks the ability to create titles, finishing moves and arenas.
Even the remaining creation options are notably pared down from previous games, with fewer choices for clothing, ring entrances and other customization. It doesn't help that the creation process is excruciatingly slow, especially on Xbox One, with load times lasting a few seconds for trying on every new tattoo or item of clothing. Numerous match types are gone too, and not just rarely used gimmicks like Inferno and "I Quit" matches — the elimination of all handicap matches is bewildering.
WWE 2K15 is prettier, but not much smarter than its predecessors
WWE 2K15 does offer more than merely a better-looking version of its last-generation counterpart. But it fails to fix legacy problems, and its efforts to try something new are largely unsuccessful. This package might have been acceptable, or at least understandable, as a new-generation launch title. But one year into the new console generation, WWE 2K15 is a disappointing effort that makes for a shaky foundation going forward.
WWE 2K15 was reviewed using retail Xbox One and PS4 copies provided by 2K Sports. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews
With WWE 2K15, the developers at Visual Concepts and Yuke’s tried to make virtual wrestling as authentic as possible. The first game in the series to hit next-gen consoles provides a refreshing an exciting foundation for what’s to come, but still feels like a work-in-progress.
The first thing you’ll notice about WWE 2K15 is that it looks phenomenal. Character models look true-to-life, and the various camera cuts that occur during a match give the game the feel of television production. You might find yourself sitting through entire entrances even after playing countless matches, simply because they look so good (particularly Bray Wyatt’s).
The core gameplay of 2K15 has seen two big changes, and they both help give the game the depth it needed. New to the series is chain wrestling, a glorified game of rock-paper-scissors at the beginning of every match that helps set the tempo for what’s to come. Upon your first lockup with an opponent, you’ll enter a minigame and wrestle for control.
Chain wrestling sounds and looks complicated at first glance, but it’s really a quite simple system and players should feel comfortable with it after a few matches. Winning the chain wrestling minigame gives the victorious player an early advantage in momentum, meaning they will likely be the first to perform a signature move and take control of the match. You can turn off chain wrestling if you want, but the small tactical battles help to pace the match – you can’t just start powerbombing opponents left and right like you could in older games, because that would almost never happen in an actual WWE match.
Another welcome addition is the return of the stamina bar. Each and every move you do, from punches to grapples to simply picking your opponent up off the canvas, costs a bit of stamina. Once you run out of stamina, your wrestler’s movement speed will take a huge hit, and you’ll be unable to perform moves until stamina is regenerated.
This prevents opponents (particularly online) from spamming the same animations over and over, or from endlessly running around the ring, and slows down the action considerably. Once you get a few minutes into a match, you have to use your stamina wisely, or your character will simply be too tired to perform any moves. This has some drawbacks, though, as the stamina system seems a little too unforgiving with default settings. In longer matches, you’ll often perform a signature move or finisher and be unable to follow up with a pin because your character’s stamina is too low. In these situations, it feels like the stamina system is punishing players for performing moves, but you can tweak how quickly stamina restores via a slider.
Success in 2K15 is often determined by how well you can time reversals. Every time an opponent tries a strike or a grapple, you are given a split-second window to press a trigger and counter the move. With some practice you’ll be able to predict an opponents movement and pull off reversals with some consistency – but there’s still nothing more frustrating than when the computer counters one of your finishing moves.
2K Showcase is the centerpiece of the game, and is a perfect example of the game at its absolute best. You play through two famous feuds – Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels, and John Cena vs. C.M. Punk – recreating some of the most memorable matches of the last decade. The Punk-Cena storyline begins at Money In The Bank 2011, where Punk left the building with the WWE title on the night that his WWE contract expires, and everything from Cena’s stoic entrance to Punk celebrating with fans at the end is presented with amazing attention to detail. Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler deliver specific, informative commentary throughout (you can tell they put in work in the studio for 2K Showcase, though it doesn’t really translate to other modes) that makes each contest feel far more alive than the average match. 2K Showcase is the most polished aspect of the game by far, and it’s a joy to play.
WWE 2K15 introduces MyCareer mode, where you create a wrestler and try to advance through the ranks, from the WWE Performance Center to NXT to SmackDown, eventually culminating with an appearance at WrestleMania. If you’ve played MyCareer in any of the recent NBA 2K games, you’ll be familiar with the formula. You’ll slowly upgrade your wrestler’s various stats as you earn SP, and can spend virtual currency to buy things like managers or special traits. Unfortunately, WWE 2K15‘s MyCareer mode isn’t quite as fleshed out as NBA 2K15‘s offering, and it feels like more of a lifeless grind in comparison. MyCareer mode is a good foundation, but it needs the cutscenes and voiceovers that made NBA 2K‘s career mode so rich.
MyCareer mode also suffers from WWE 2K15‘s subpar creation suite, which has lost some of the customization options that previous games offered. As I do in every WWE game, I created Razor Ramon – but my finished product looked far less like Scott Hall than it did in WWE 2K14 or years prior. There’s only 18 hair options (one of which thankfully sufficed), no gold chains (!), and no option to give your created wrestler body hair (!?!). It’s easier than ever to make a custom logo in the game, as you can now import photos and logos that you upload to a WWE 2K15 website. The Community Creations section is already teeming with impressive designs you can borrow and apply to your own wrestler.
WWE Universe, the game’s sandbox mode where players can construct their own shows and storylines, makes a return, but is hindered by the game’s lack of match types. WWE 2K15 is missing more than 25 match variations that existed in 2K14, most notably ladder matches and handicap matches of all types, are mysteriously gone. The game’s roster is robust and features 58 wrestlers at launch (60 if you snagged the pre-order bonuses), but a good chunk of those have to be unlocked by playing through 2K Showcase or MyCareer. Some of the newer changes to the WWE aren’t reflected in the game, such as Cody Rhodes becoming Stardust or The Shield breaking up, and there are fewer WWE legends included this year than in 2K14.
Online multiplayer is a mixed bag. 2K15 introduces “background matchmaking,” which matches you with a steady stream of opponents while you’re in the menu screens. You can select a few of your preferred wrestlers and match types, and the background matchmaking system will decide what character you use in any given match, which helps give online matches a bit of variety. When multiplayer works, it’s a lot of fun, but the fast twitch reversal system is rendered somewhat useless with even a small amount of lag. Trying to kick out of a pin becomes nearly impossible if the meter doesn’t fill as you expect it to, so many matches are decided by who forces the first pin.
For better or worse, WWE 2K15 is the perfect digital representation of the WWE in 2014. There are a few moments of brilliance, and there are some mediocre matches in between – but in the end, if you love wrestling, you’ll probably coming back for more.
(WWE 2K15 was reviewed on PS4, and the score only reflects the next-gen version.)
Video Games, WWE 2K15, WWE