Last year’s WWE 2K15 game was a gigantic disappointment. 2K14 got so many things right that it was nearly a perfect game in terms of replicating a wrestling match – and one in so many different styles. While wonky collision detection made it tough for accurate lucha (and that remains an issue here), its smooth gameplay allowed for just about every other style to work. Whether you wanted a counter-heavy AJ Styles or Kazuchika Okada match, or something with a super-fast pace like a Young Bucks match, you could. Anyone wanting to have a match with a lot of different moves available to them had the option thanks to over a dozen new moveset slots being added with the limb targeting system. That area being greatly downplayed both last year and this year means that particular part went down to only four standing moves instead of 16 – and made it harder to craft intricate future-proof movesets for most wrestlers last year.
The in-match pacing was a huge killer too as everything was slowed down to an absurd degree. Slowing down in a wrestling match or a game is great if it’s done the right way. With 2K15, it seemed like everyone was moving underwater even if you turned stamina off, and matches never quite felt right. The revamped moveset system felt half-baked as movesets themselves were dramatically downgraded to where matches wound up feeling far too samey due to just not having many moves available to use. Telling a “wear down the leg, then the back, then the neck” or what have you story is much easier to tell with more moves at your disposal. Moves and how they’re done are kind of like words in a book – and a book is only going to be so compelling if you’re limited to 100 words available to use for a 25,000 word book.
2K16 adds in a weak and strong strike and grapple system. In theory, this makes a bit more like Yuke’s own Day of Reckoning/Wrestle Kingdom games – or like Aki’s WCW/NWO Revenge, WWF No Mercy, and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 games. In execution, it’s a bit more seamless and realistic-looking most of the time. The control system has been revamped quite a bit as well in some smart ways, while still keeping things similar enough to make for an easy transition from prior games.
The Square/X buttons are used for strikes, while X/A are used for grapples in some form or fashion. Before, strike-based attacks in the corner or ground would be mapped to the grapple button – now, you have weak and strong attacks on the ground, corner, while running, and standing. The end result is a far more versatile experience and one that gives all matches a more realistic flow.
If you wanted to do a heavy mix of strikes and grapples with someone like Brock Lesnar, you can now mix in some weak attacks with strong attacks and blend in a few grapples for good measure. Countering animations have been greatly increased too, allowing for things like fireman’s carry and back bodydrop counters to either ground-intended strikes or grapples. These changes keep the flow of matches moving forward at pretty much all times and keep the player engaged from the beginning to the end of a match.
New subtle touches have been added that bring more drama to the table. If you’re a heel, you have the option of jumping an opponent before the bell and getting a big lead. Heels also have access to dirty pins using the ropes. Anyone, regardless of face/heel allegiance can act astonished when a sure-fire 3 count only gets 2. If you’re the one who kicked out, you might be left prone on the mat – and thus in a position to be damaged from the new seated position.
The kneeling and seated positions greatly opened up the gameplay options in Aki’s games over 16 years ago, and now they’ve finally been fully implemented into Yuke’s games as well. Prior games tinkered with the concept, but limited you to one or two moves. Now, you have a fairly broad range of overall moves to do in both strikes and grapples from these positions – even if the total number of moves available is still dwarfed by No Mercy from 15 years ago for these and the tree of woe positions as well. The more ways you have to do damage in a match, the more realistic a match comes off – and this is one of the finest examples of a game with a realistic match flow in quite some time.
While some move animations have remained from past games, there are very few left that look archaic anymore. The default stomping animation is sadly still fairly boring though, and like 2K15, you can only use that as a regular weak strike on the ground. For whatever reason, being able to do two moves was removed last year and not brought back – and you can’t pick between various stomps either. Fortunately, the dramatically-improved match flow makes up for little issues like this. Unfortunately, it is still hurt by the weird decision to drag people around to center-ring before doing many grappling moves on the ground or limb damage attacks from a standing position. There’s no good reason for it since it wasn’t an issue before 2K15, but it definitely leads to you being out of luck as four and six-man matches can be chaotic and require you to do be able to do exactly what you want when you want to do it.
With the core gameplay receiving so many upgrades, one would hope that would apply to the longer-form campaign modes. Sadly, that isn’t really the case. Career mode is back and takes you from NXT to the main roster, WrestleMania, and beyond – so it’s basically the same as it was before, but with more tutorials and slightly more storytelling. The showcase modes taking you through tons of storylines have been replaced with an Austin 3:16 and beyond storyline retelling the rise of Steve Austin in WWE and sprinkling in some of his WCW and ECW work.
The problem is that the execution is basically identical to the last few WWE games – dating back to at least Legends of WrestleMania in 2009, we’ve seen “recreate matches with QTE”-heavy modes retelling many of these same matches. If you’re a long-time player, then there’s way too much overlap. While the WCW and ECW stuff is neat for the new roster members and arenas it unlocks, the Stunning and Superstar versions of Austin look half-assed. They just took the Stone Cold head and changed its features a bit to create the other ones. It results in neither the WCW or ECW version of him looking fine and comes off as lazy.
WWE’s games have frequently had online issues, and they’re probably worse now than ever in the game’s present state. Mere days after release, the game was essentially rendered unplayable due to it staying stuck on the title screen because of server issues, and frequent server downtime made playing online at present time impossible beyond a couple of matches – which aren’t an accurate indication of what the full experience could be. Searching for created items is slightly less of a chore than it was last year, but only because things are separated by type now – it’s still a huge step down from the all-encompassing searches available for 2K14.
Speaking of 2K14, its limit of 100 creations is back – and you can revamp every character’s attire as well. It’s a bit better than Superstar Threads due to the bigger roster, but does limit you to one attire and some things can’t be changed – like Sting’s face paint, resulting in odd-looking creations even though Sting’s gear was historically pretty colorful and not being able to change it to match his face paint hurts things a bit. Championship and arena creation is back, which greatly increases the replayability of the game as a whole. A wide array of titles are available, even with odd ommissions like the AWA World Title that were in past games being removed, it never feels too limited because you can create titles from scratch for the first time in about half a decade.
WWE 2K16 is the game that 2K15 should’ve been. The roster is nearly identical here with only the losses of CM Punk, AJ Lee, Alberto Del Rio, Hulk Hogan, and Rey Mysterio from last year being really noteworthy – and beyond them, the roster has been greatly expanded to over 100 people. There are a few with multiple incarnations, but there are a lot of new characters to play as even with the lack of NXT’s Four Horsewomen on the roster. The dramatic improvement in gameplay makes this a must-have game for people who were turned off by 2K15’s changes, and anyone seeking a wrestling game with a realistic flow to its matches will find it here. Much like how 2K14 wound up being something I can enjoy for years thanks to the high amount of wrestling styles replicated, 2K16 takes that to a new level in most ways. Hardcore matches are still hurt like 2K15’s were though, since weapons and announce table usage is still far clunkier than they were in 2K14. Still, it’s a far better game than last year’s effort and well worth checking out for most wrestling fans out there – especially when the online issues get resolved.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: 2K Games
This review is based on a digital copy of WWE 2K16 for the PlayStation 4 provided by 2K Games.