WWE 2K19 ReviewNovember 1, 2018
Like clockwork, every year there’s a new WWE 2K game. And just like other sports titles, these yearly releases can begin to feel like not much more than a mere roster update. Though there have been some amazing wrestling titles in the past, such as 2000’s WWF No Mercy and 2003’s Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain, recent titles have struggled to recapture that magic. Thankfully, WWE 2K19 feels like a return to form and brings back the arcadey fun and wealth of content that we remember so fondly.
While previous entries in the 2K series have veered heavily into simulation territory, WWE 2K19 adds plenty of fun twists on the gameplay. The new Payback system allows for low blows, spraying poison mist in your opponent’s faces, using brass knuckles and more. You can play matches in Big Head mode like in the legendary NBA Jam series or with a cel shaded or 8-bit filter. You can create wrestlers with blocky Minecraft bodies (which remind me of the low polygon No Mercy models). You can finally throw your opponent backstage in the middle of a match and pummel them with trash cans or throw them through a car. You can download Goku and Donald Trump and have them destroy each other in a steel cage. In short, this game recaptures the spirit and goofiness of classic wrestling titles, making things far more entertaining.
WWE 2K19 features two story-based modes. The first is MyCareer, which has your created avatar wrestling his way from high school gyms and parking lots to an actual career in the WWE. The story is littered with plenty of weird and entertaining plot threads and betrayals just like any good wrestling story should be. Your wrestler almost immediately blows his shot at the big time, being knocked back down to the indies where you have to scratch and claw your way back to opportunity. It’s cool to see the contrast between the shiny, luxurious aesthetic of the publicly-traded WWE versus the grimy underworld of indies promotions, where you wrestle in front of crowds of 30 people for a scummy promoter and live in a van. While I really enjoyed the MyCareer mode, I was disappointed that there wasn’t an option to create and play as a female avatar. With the recent women’s revolution in WWE, it seems like a missed opportunity, when games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey let you play however you want.
The second story mode is the return of Showcase, which in past games has distilled wrestling legends’ careers into fun reenactments of their most classic matches. WWE fans have dealt with the loss of quite a few Superstars due to injuries, and this year’s cover star is Daniel Bryan. Known for carving out a name for himself in the indies while wrestling all around the globe, Daniel Bryan made it to the WWE only to be released twice. Then he came back and rose through the ranks to become a main-eventer, only to be forced into retirement by a neck injury. The fact that Bryan fought like hell through rehab to once again return to in-ring action in the WWE in an inspiring message of never letting go of your dreams, and makes for a great Showcase mode.
One of the most infuriating elements of WWE 2K19 is the lack of checkpoints and ridiculously high level of difficulty. While the Showcase and MyCareer modes were fun and entertaining enough to make me want to see them to completion, there were many times that I felt like giving up. Some of the matches run up to 30 minutes long, sometimes making you defeat one opponent right after the other with no checkpoints. In one instance, I completed all of the conditions necessary to get all of the rewards for a match, only to have my opponent low-blow me at the very end, making me replay the entire thing. You’ll need the patience of a saint to complete these modes, even on easy mode.
As you can imagine, it’s beyond frustrating to have to replay a 30 minute match because of a tiny misstep or a glitch right near the end. I have absolutely no idea why 2K didn’t think to include them. The A.I. is cheap, and you’re often left laid out on the floor for what feels like forever because A) the game starts you out with abysmal stats and B) the stamina system, which can add an a feeling of epic struggle to some matches but mostly just involves players mashing buttons and screaming at the TV while their avatar lays there lifeless for up to an entire minute or more. Who thought this was a fun idea?
The graphics in WWE 2K19 are, for the most part, incredible. With updates to the lighting andt animation systems, the arenas, crowds and wrestler models look more lifelike than ever before. Skin looks realistic, sweat pours down bodies after a match, hair sways naturally, and all of the wrestlers have impressive motion captured movements. Smaller Superstars like Daniel Bryan move with a quickness you’d expect, while giants like The Undertaker and Big Show lumber around slowly and methodically. Smaller guys can’t pick up large wrestlers, and clipping seems to be less of an issue than it was in previous games.
If you’ve ever played a Mortal Kombat game, you’ll be familiar with the concept of towers. WWE 2K19 adds two Tower modes that change things up with buffs and modifiers during matches. For instance, you might start a match with your health nearly depleted, or with a Finisher. There’s some exclusive content to be seen here such as Legends Lore, where the history and accomplishments of some of WWE’s most recognizable names is celebrated.
WWE 2K19 has a lot of highlights this year, with the successful revival of Showcase mode and an exciting new MyCareer. With an array of fun new modes, packed roster of past and current wrestlers, and a refined gameplay experience, fans will definitely want to pick this year’s game up. It’s not without its problems and frustrations, but it greatly improves on last year’s release and adds a lot of meaningful content.