WWE 2K16 ReviewNovember 18, 2015
Last year, the WWE 2K series made its debut on current-gen consoles with a heavy focus on realism. Not just graphically (although the visuals were much-improved compared to previous titles), but the gameplay also received a complete overhaul. All-new animations were created from the ground up, using authentic motion capture by actual WWE Superstars in a real WWE ring. Movement and combat felt much more deliberate, with more weight to them. A chain wrestling system and stamina meter added drama and helped matches feel closer to the product you see on WWE TV than ever before. While some fans may yearn for the days of arcade-style wrestling games like No Mercy and SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain, Visual Concepts and Yuke’s have doubled down on the realistic presentation for WWE 2K16, and the result is by far the most accurate representation of modern WWE wrestling yet seen in a video game.
The developers have listened to fans’ concerns over last year’s product, and have restored a large amount of cut content to WWE 2K16. The creation suite packs way more options, including the ability to create Divas, arenas and championship belts, though story creation and move creation are still noticeably absent. Still, as with last year’s game, there is an enormous amount of fantastic user-created material that can be downloaded in WWE 2K16, including impressive recreations of missing Superstars and Divas like CM Punk, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte (not to mention characters like Spider-Man, Batman, Goku and countless others). On top of that, the default roster has been literally doubled since last year, with over 120 playable wrestlers (including 13 Divas).
Those who played last year’s game will feel right at home with WWE 2K16, though some noticeable changes have been made. Just as before, matches will almost always begin with a tie-up, prompting a mini-game in which the opponents battle for control using the analog sticks. This Rock, Paper, Scissors-style system can now result in wrestlers pushing each other into the ropes or the turnbuckles to catch their breath, causing the ref to break the hold. The other major changes are to the reversal and submission systems. Reversals now have a bar, and only a small number can be done before a recharge needs to take place, similar to the stamina system. This prevents the endless spamming of reversals seen in previous WWE games, especially in the online component. It helps to give WWE 2K16’s matches a more realistic back-and-forth feel — you’ll never see wrestlers reversing every single strike and hold in an actual WWE match, not even John Cena.
WWE 2K16’s submission system is the most frustrating change, now utilizing an analog mini-game similar to the chain grappling system but somehow far less intuitive and enjoyable. The idea here is to get your blue bar to hover over the opponent’s red bar long enough to get them to tap out, but the bars are so sluggish and unresponsive that it feels almost arbitrary. This led to some of the most aggravating defeats, as the AI is way too good at this mini-game and had me constantly tapping out to simple armbars and headlocks. While the button-mashing submission system from last year wasn’t great either, it is without a doubt preferable to what they’ve replaced it with. Hopefully this new system gets patched out as soon as possible, as I found myself avoiding submissions both defensively and offensively as much as possible in WWE 2K16.
The MyCareer mode is back in WWE 2K16, having players create (or download) a wrestler that rises from the training grounds of the WWE Performance Center to NXT and eventually the main roster. Last year’s MyCareer mode felt very rushed and incomplete to me, with hardly any cutscenes or story and long stretches of repetitive match-ups to build your stats. While the mode can still be a bit of a slog in WWE 2K16, there’s a little more to it this time around — story elements are more prevalent, rivalries and alliances have more weight to them, and you’ll even have the opportunity to form your Superstar or Diva’s personality. This mostly happens through a series of interviews with WWE personality Renee Young, where players will choose “heel” or “face” answers to her questions. Wrestler personalities affect not only rivalries and alliances but also gameplay, as heel opponents are more likely to use cowardly tactics like using weapons when the ref isn’t looking or walking out of the match when it’s not going their way.
The 2K Showcase mode returns in WWE 2K16, and once again it is one of the best parts of the game. Practically all of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s most memorable bouts are painstakingly recreated in this mode, with matches requiring players to complete a list of historical objectives to unlock stuff like new wrestlers, arenas or attires.There’s a healthy mix of engaging gameplay, historical footage, and QTE segments throughout the wide array of matches in the 2K Showcase mode, which spans from his early days in ECW and WCW to his rise in the Attitude Era all the way up to his retirement. While I still think I preferred WWE 2K15’s decision to focus on a few different exciting rivalries, I still had a great deal of fun with Steve Austin’s 2K Showcase mode. Playing through it brought back fond memories of matches that I witnessed long ago, and even opened up my eyes to a few that I have never seen before (I’ve added a few Stunning Steve Austin matches to my WWE Network watch list).
Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross seemed to have a great time reliving these experiences through commentary, though JR was a bit more reserved that I was expecting. Outside of these historical matches, there’s the three-man team of Jerry Lawler, Michael Cole and JBL on commentary, sticking to the game’s mission to be as TV-accurate as possible. I’m glad they included JBL in WWE 2K16, but he seems to have phoned it in a bit and his dialogue is strangely edited to fit in with the rest of the commentary lines from last year. Still, the lengths that 2K has gone to in the name of authenticity is appreciated, as they could have easily had Michael Cole and King calling every match. They even sought out Joey Styles to commentate the one ECW match in the 2K Showcase mode.
Generally speaking, WWE 2K16 is visually impressive. Many of the Superstars and Divas look eerily similar to their real-life counterparts, some of the best being Triple H, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, and Eva Marie. It’s obvious which wrestlers have been scanned for the game and which have had to be hand-modeled — some of the legends look especially off. Sometimes even the best character models are ruined by janky facial animations, causing eyes to bulge out strangely or mouths to move unrealistically, breaking the illusion. The crowd still looks pretty rough — I wish they would throw a few more polygons in the front row guys at least; it’s really weird seeing such detailed wrestlers walking by PS2-quality character models. Long hair looks noticeably better in WWE 2K16, and you can see intricate details like sweat beads, muscles contracting, and even redness on wrestlers’ chests after they get hit with a few chops.
WWE 2K16 isn’t a huge leap from last year’s game, but it’s a very fun entry with possibly the most complete roster to date. The detailed visuals, painstakingly captured animations, and emphasis on drama and simulation-style gameplay combine to make a game that at times is indistinguishable from a modern WWE match on TV. It’s overall an impressive package that any fan of the WWE — past or present — will want to check out.