Last year’s WWE 2K19 provided some of the best wrestling action on the market. While the highly-maligned series has gotten a lot of flak over the years, the fact remains that when it came to creating great matches from any era in a game, I wound up reaching for 2K19 over anything else – including another favorite of mine in Fire Pro Wrestling World. The recreation of many of Daniel Bryan’s greatest career moments alongside an original story mode that was fine and somewhat amusing, but hurt by a lack of female representation in the narrative. 2K has listened to complaints and remedied that issue – but also run into some snags this year with the loss of long-time developers Yuke’s. While the company has helped with consulting over the use of the franchise’s long-running issues, 2K20 is the most problem-ridden entry the series has ever seen when it comes to glitches and quality of life issues.
MyCareer is back with a dual-gender mode and a pretty unique premise of reliving the female character “Red” and the male character “Tray”’s careers in the past tense as Ronda Rousey sets up a hall of fame induction. You see their rise from being bullied at school to working indies, going to NXT, and the usual rise to the main roster, PPV matches, title wins, and eventual Hall of Fame induction. Setting things up as a flashback is a bit odd as you wind up finding out this pair of friends that you play as have already accomplished their lifelong goals – and then see them do it. You get a sense for their struggle, but the framing of the two protagonists as basically social outcasts is very Ready to Rumble-esque in execution when the idea is that they stood up to those who doubted them and overcame the odds.
The story itself isn’t all that compelling, but does have some funny moments – like the team going to the Hart House and just expecting Bret Hart to train them out of nowhere and being told to leave by the house’s current owner or their trainer looking like every low-rent mid-’80s jobber who wore Zubaz on TV. There’s also a great moment where the team has to rough it and need a car and sadly, they don’t go to King Haku’s used car lot or even stop by Tony Falk’s Waffles and Tire Irons for a meal – but there’s always next year. Speaking of which, they definitely need to include the ability to skip cutscenes for at least rematches – especially when those are caused by things like glitches preventing kickouts from being executed as they should be.
Beyond comedy, the best incentive to keep playing through the mode is all of the unlockable items for creation tools and weapons for the revamped weapon wheel that allow you to tailor things more. Despite things being in prior games like guitars, that fit current acts like Elias and possible DLC ones like Jeff Jarrett, there are no guitars – but there are cricket bats. Being able to customize each slot on the wheel for each character is great, but doesn’t do much without going through this mode to unlock different weapons.
2K Towers are back and have been improved from last year’s entry. While none of them have a million dollar prize, they are a lot more fun thanks to the ability to just resume from your last lost match instead of having to start over from the beginning. As a result, they go from being things you would just cheese your way through to things you can actually have a lot of fun with. The Roman Reigns tower in particular is a what-if scenario with famous rematches throughout his career and does a good job of capturing his WWE career in a single mode.
One of the biggest, and weirdest changes this year to the core action is the control scheme being revamped. Visual Concepts opted to switch the reversal button from the right trigger to the top face button and this one single move completely changes all of the controls to work around this move. It was done to ensure that there isn’t any input lag in doing the counter, but it winds up solving a problem that really hasn’t been an issue in the 15+ years of this mechanic being used and creating others. It’s now much trickier to move enemies around the ring on the mat and it takes more effort to do signatures and finishers as they’ve been shifted to the front bottom and left face buttons while OMG moments have been shifted to the right and top face buttons. It takes far too much time to get used to and really doesn’t save you much since glitches can prevent reversals from triggering and that goes for things like activating resiliency for instant kickouts as well.
Much has been made of the glitches and yeah, they’re pretty alarming this year. While I didn’t encounter quite the same level of problems as others did, there were still problems right away with the game. Characters would clip through parts of the ring on the apron, transitional animations just weren’t present so you would see someone go from the end of one move to just move around randomly without a logical transition. Beyond things like a hard crash being something I have yet to encounter in the series until now, technical problems like slowdown are far worse than they have ever been on PS4 before. Much was made of the Switch version of 2K18 slowing to a crawl and the performance of this game at launch for things like Money in the Bank matches is about on par with it. It results in an already long match taking even longer and it’s much harder to properly time attacks and counters as a result.
Visually, 2K20 features some improvements from prior games – like better-looking title belts and more involved arenas. Unfortunately, character models are far more hit or miss and don’t feature an increase in quality outside of better reflection effects on things like Seth Rollins’ gear. Beards now generally look even more pasted on than before. There’s a lot of attention to detail that isn’t present – like Hollywood Hulk Hogan not wearing the weight belt in his matches here even though he did in real life in just about every match. Rope physics are also a complete nightmare this year as are weapons, which can just float around the ring randomly or even just disappear – as the ladder did underneath my feet in the aforementioned Money in the Bank match.
The story mode’s voice work is fine – they stuck wrestlers in who could either act or do minimal work. Ronda Rousey’s work here is far better than it was in Mortal Kombat 11 and X-Pac did a shockingly great job. Jerry Lawler’s work in career mode is fantastic and that makes sense since he is an all-time great promo and if there’s one thing he can do well at literally any age, it’s find a way to make whatever he’s doing that focuses on him work and make you remember everything he does. Otherwise, there’s not really much to the sound design. The commentary is about on par with last year’s game and isn’t memorable or terrible while the sound effects are the same as before – beyond some new ones being used for the revamped backstage brawl areas.
These sections take what worked before and diversifies them with new, creepier areas – which will get more bizarre as we get 2K Originals content down the line. The problem with these areas is that they just feel barren and don’t take advantage of the setting. You have a creepy Resident Evil-style house to fight in and you can’t even do moves on things like doors – you just throw people into a wall the same way you would backstage. There isn’t much to interact with and the end result is an area that feels worse than things like the backstage brawling areas in not only games like No Mercy where you could battle in a production truck and do a variety of slams into the wall and in the truck bed, but also the earlier PS2 entries of this very series where you could climb sets or even hop on a helicopter and fly into enemies. Everything feels so much more sterile and lifeless now and it’s a shame because there was effort put in, the final product just wasn’t finished up.
The whole game feels like it’s a half-baked cake where you can see the cake on the box, see it cooking in the oven, and then take it out because dammit, you’ve gotta have this cake now and can’t wait for it to be finished. Yuke’s leaving the project in Visual Concepts hands puts VC in a tough spot because beyond working with a 20 year old game engine that has been patched together to really form a better-playing wrestling experience than it could in its original forms, they didn’t build the tools.
They have to make everything work as best they can and do so while ensuring that the game hits something resembling its annual release. This used to be November before being bumped up to October and this year’s emphasis on horror with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and his Bump in the Night DLC meant the game had to be out by Halloween – and that really didn’t help matters. The game is nowhere near ready for a full release, but even in its current form, you can still have some great matches with it – it’s just harder here than it’s been in any 2K-era game outside of 2K15, which remains my least-played entry in any incarnation of this series dating back to the SmackDown! days due to how sluggish everything was.
If you’re a die-hard fan, just stick with 2K19 and do what you can to keep it current with things like creation tools. Unfortunately, the silly limits on the amount of characters you can have and how many of a certain-sized texture you can have remain here – but at least with 2K19, you do get a far better-playing experience and can enjoy things like created titles that aren’t here at launch. The game is flat-out broken right now and unlike Matt Hardy, I don’t think the lake of reincarnation can help it. It needs some time to be fixed up and lots of it. Fortunately, 2K through their WWEGames Twitter account maintains that patches are coming in the next few weeks – so if those come out and fix things up, grab the game then. Until then, you can safely skip 2K20 and it’s a shame because conceptually, it’s got a lot of improvements – but the final product just doesn’t live up to its potential.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of WWE 2K20 for the PlayStation 4 provided by 2K.