WWE 2K Battlegrounds Hands-On Preview
Last year’s WWE 2K20 was a definite misfire – but out of the ashes of that came a new vision for a WWE game that may wind up bearing fruit over the long haul. 2K taking over the NBA Playgrounds series showed just how successful a more arcade-style version of a sports simulation can work and WWE’s very nature makes it perfect for a more cartoony game. The colorful costuming and bombastic personalities of WWE’s superstars are a perfect fit and prior arcade success with games like Superstars, WrestleFest, and WrestleMania The Arcade Game have shown that fast-paced action fits WWE nicely. Prior to this, the only time we’ve seen this kind of approach on consoles was with WWE All-Stars nine years ago and WWE Legends of WrestleMania to a lesser degree 11 years ago.
Legends of WrestleMania used exaggerated proportions for its roster and allowed many then-current mainline game wrestlers to be imported – so its roster was impressive, if a bit odd visually as you had a mix of these realistically-proportioned wrestlers alongside unrealistic ones; it just looked weird to the eye. Beyond being an interactive greatest hits tour of WrestleMania matches and memorable moments, it also featured a strange set of original theme music for many wrestlers that made it feel a bit cheap; alongside clunky controls. Beyond its use of thumbtacks, the game didn’t really do anything new or innovative that hasn’t been done far better later on.
With WWE All-Stars, THQ San Diego used their TNA Impact game engine to create a highly-scaleable game that worked shockingly well on the PSP, PS2, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 – but that fell a bit short of delivering a completely satisfying gaming experience despite being fun in short bursts. The game was noteworthy for featuring the final promo of “Macho Man” Randy Savage before his passing to hype up the game, and a mix of current and past stars that wouldn’t be out of place in a game today. It wasn’t a bad game and looked stunning, but fell a bit short of what an arcade-style game could be as it went a little too over the top to the point where it felt like moves had no real consequence. The action could also be a bit too hectic to actually follow as well.
During our time with the pre-release demo version of 2K Battlegrounds, I initially feared the same thing could be befall it as everything was set to four-person matches with either tag teams or fatal four-ways. However, the team at Saber wisely kept the pacing about the same as NBA Playgrounds because it’s faster than a simulation-style game would be, but not so fast that you can’t follow the action. Unlike any prior arcade-style game, Battlegrounds lets you have matches with both male and female members of the roster. The demo portion featured quite a few more male roster members than female, which were limited to four, but the final game’s roster looks quite expansive and will grow over time with DLC adding to the overall value of the game.
The mode selection in the main game is pretty robust, and even in a limited fatal four way and steel cage match form, it was impressive just how much fun could be had within the constraints of the modes. A lot of that has to do with how interactive the environments are and how logically moves can be done depending on the state of the ring and surrounding areas. The destructible ring in the auto shop area is a perfect example as you can break individual posts off using the exploding barrels and cause all kinds of mayhem. During one four way match, as Cena, I blew a corner post and then had an opponent down on the ground near a car jack that drops a car onto someone who is thrown into it. The Undertaker threw Xavier Woods into the car next to the already-fallen Stone Cold, and in doing so I did a running splash from the ring to the fallen Steve Austin and continued the fight.
The versatility in the action is a blast and ensures that no two matches are ever alike. Fatal four ways are enjoyable chaos and allow you to get a pin anywhere, but it’s fun to see just where you can throw people and have a pinfall attempt happen. Ironically, while playing as Cena I was put in an AA position and thrown from the floor into the broken ring. It looked fantastic and organic, and not unlike the mainline games improving the usage of things like carrying powerbombs from the ring to a chamber wall – only a bit more advanced and opening more areas of attack because you could be down and then have rivals attack you or each other.
Tag matches help contain that and here, we could enjoy tag matches in a cage – which is its own challenge. In the cage, you have to get money bags in order to earn the right to climb over the top. This is a slightly odd wrinkle at first, but you get used to it quickly and can not only fight foes off, but send them down once they latch onto you. This does result in a trigger-pressing mini-game and here is where having hair-triggers or using a Switch controller with its non-analog triggers can help because you wind up having a bit too much travel to do this as quickly as the CPU can a lot of the time. In the full game, hopefully, you can remap this to the bumpers instead to help remedy that.
The cage match on its own is a blast because you always have to be mindful of the cage itself. Every so often, you’ll have a buzzer letting you know that it would be wise to get off the cage because it’s about to be electrified. This can work against you if you’re on it, but also for you, if you have a rival climbing, as they’ll be zapped down and you’ll have a chance to win. Once you get up top, you don’t have to spend too long on the button-mashing mini-game to win – so it winds up being an easier approach than having to take foes out who are dragging you down. You can also luck out by having someone try to start their climb right as yours is about to end – giving you an easier win.
While there wasn’t a great quantity of content to enjoy in the preview version of the game, what was available was well-crafted and showed off just how fun a more modern arcade-style WWE game can be. Saber Interactive’s work on the NBA Playgrounds series shows that they know how to make this sub-genre work nicely for a sporting-style event and so far, WWE 2K Battlegrounds looks to succeed in much the same way. We’ll know for sure just how well it all shakes out when WWE 2K Battlegrounds hits on September 18, but it’s a promising start to a new era in WWE games so far.
Written By: Jeremy Peeples