The story of WWE 2K22 is one of the most fascinating in modern wrestling gaming. WWE 2K20 suffered greatly from Yuke’s leaving the development, but the same core engine being used that they created 20 years ago – resulting in Visual Concepts trying to cobble things together while also creating a whole new game. The end result was easily the worst and least-satisfying entry in the series to date – eclipsing the cross-gen WWE 2K15 in terms of just being not all that fun to play even with a great roster in place. WWE’s massive roster cuts made fans even more apprehensive due to fan-favorite acts like “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman being excised alongside dozens of others – but 2K has managed to fan those flames marvelously with an all-star roster that does suffer a bit, but has far more depth than one would think if they just figured that all released stars were taken out.
Bray Wyatt is gone, but Braun Strowman is intact as are many released stars that fans assumed would be gone. Karrion Kross, Keith Lee, Scarlett, and Jeff Hardy remain as do the former IIconics. The legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair is in alongside his daughter and hopefully he will remain a fixture in WWE games forever as it just feels odd to not have a game with him in it. The former Buddy Murphy is still in as are Shane “Swerve” Strickland and Mickie James. Mickie being in is less of a shock as she was featured in this year’s Royal Rumble as the Impact Knockouts Champion and adds a veteran female star to the in-game roster that doesn’t have much in the way of cross-generational talent.
WWE 2K22’s revamped gameplay feels pretty natural for much of the roster and allows brutes like Braun and Brock Lesnar to shine brightly with a redone grappling setup. 2K19 and 2K20 had more freeform action, while 2K22 brings things back to a bit of the Aki engine requiring a grapple to do most moves. It feels like a step back as Circle has to be pressed before doing any kind of grapple, while the Aki engine and Yuke’s later Day of Reckoning games allowed for both a hard grapple and the more traditional lighter moves to be done at any point without having to grab a foe first.
That method felt more organic to match the flow of matches, while this setup still allows for a similar amount of move variety with things like dragging foes around and tossing them from various holding positions like a fireman’s carry or powerbomb position. Unlike 2K19 and 2K20, players are stuck using one of every position instead of customizing the carry position alongside the stick press. This is an odd move as some wrestlers just wouldn’t use certain positions in a match – resulting in odd things like Hulk Hogan having to use moves that he never would just because there’s no way to give him something like all military presses for the carrying holds or loading up Brock, Lashley, or Braun with different carrying moves. It’s especially tough for someone like Brock, who would use different kinds of carrying moves depending on the era of his character you’re trying to have in the match.
Modern-day Brock would use more backbreakers and slams from a carry position, while trying to replicate an early Brock match in 2K19 could be done easily just by switching a carry position over to something that would allow a makeshift ringpost F5 using the fireman’s carry toss into the post. Having positions locked in without being able to tailor things just feels odd – but is something that can hopefully be addressed with a patch later on. Both grappling and striking have been revamped with light and heavy setups. Square indicates a light attack, while X is a heavy attack and using circle to initiate the grapple sets up light and heavy modifiers with square and X.
There is a logical flow to the controls with things like comeback and special moves with RT/R2 being the key and then the face button as the modifier determining whether or not you do a comeback move, a signature, or finisher. One big issue with the redone look of the comeback HUD is how tiny the icon is above the head of the person doing the move. Hopefully this can get an update because it’s incredibly difficult to see and it would be nice to have a menu option to choose between either the original comeback icons showing up more towards the center of the screen or the newer variant. The new version really suffers in larger matches like the chamber or cell with many competitors and a zoomed-out view being used.
The redone presentation goes for a tighter camera angle on moves and it’s great for singles matches more often than not. Moves like suplexes and big slams look more impactful, and it helps the player feel like their actions have big in-game consequences for their rivals. However, this zoomed-in view doesn’t work well at times due to it cutting off so much of the environment. Sometimes, it’s nice to get a sense for the setting you’re in and that’s really only possible when fighting outside and going onto the rampway or eventually going backstage for brawls there. WWE 2K22’s backstage area has been revamped after the prior few mainline games used roughly the same area with minor changes, and feels a bit more like what early SmackDown games had with highly-interactive areas. There isn’t as much here, but it is nice to tie things like carrying grapple attacks into slams off staging.
Playing as Brock and fighting Eric Bischoff before tossing him off an elevated platform that was created by breaking off panels reminds me of both playing Just Bring It on the PS2 and throwing Fred Durst off of balconies as the Undertaker, but also playing WrestleMania XIX on the Gamecube and throwing enemies around in the makeshift triple decker cage area or pseudo scaffold sections in the Revenge mode stages. It’s nice to see a return to form to increasing interactive elements backstage instead of the areas feeling kind of bland and reminding me more of WCW Mayhem’s backstage areas that were just differently-themed blocks of areas to attack people in. 2K22’s backstage area feeling like one large, organic area is good – but it would be nice to have a bit more to do in it.
The showcase mode focuses on Rey Mysterio this year and winds up being one of the most enjoyable selections of matches yet. There is some weirdness in it though, with some of it being legal and the other being a design choice. Hype videos for the showcase matches frequently feature blurring – which makes sense for things like the Slim Jim logo for the Halloween Havoc ’97 match, but looks really odd when done for referee’s faces in the video packages. The integration of real-life footage at various points during match objectives is nice, but the lack of commentary is odd as is the inclusion of dramatic music in matches for only showcase mode. It’s somewhat ill-fitting and winds up being a bit odd.
Luckily, the other aspects of the game’s visual presentation largely hit the mark. Graphically, everything looks a generation ahead on PS4 compared to prior games when it comes to reflective gear. This is evident right off the bat with the Havoc ’97 match and Eddie’s shiny gold gear looking stunning there and even better on PS5. The PS5 version does have faster loading than the PS4, but it’s not quite the same level of game-changer that it is on other recent cross-generation games like Gran Turismo 7 or GRID Legends. If you go with the digital high-end versions and get both, you’re fine with the PS4 version having the same overall quality of life and since the saves are different for each version, you can wind up doubling your creation roster and arena count – although it does make it a pain if you’re like me and enjoy tailoring the movesets for your roster as much as possible.
These kinds of things allow the game to have a longer tail, and combines nicely with the returning MyGM mode to offer up a more involved experience than prior entries. GM mode was a big want from a lot of fans and while it isn’t perfect right away, as you can’t customize logos and companies, it does still offer a lot of replay value and the Drew Gulak-led tutorials for this and especially the main gameplay are hilarious. Gulak essentially doing his goofy “Powerpoint Presentation!” act from 205 Live in another format is hilarious and reminds me a bit of Bret Hart doing the SNES Raw video and then later the WrestleMania Arcade Game ad where he is able to be serious, but also Russian Legsweep an arcade cabinet.
WWE 2K22’s sound design is fantastic and things like revamped weapon sound effects alongside more impactful strikes help drive home the in-ring action. The commentary has also been improved from prior games and is less stilted and does a better job at replicating the chemistry that the announce teams have on TV. The overall presentation of everything is very much like a WWE TV show – but one that has been streamlined a bit to avoid some elements that would translate poorly to a game, like camera cuts all the time.
WWE 2K22 is a fantastic game and one of the better offerings in the 2K era of the long-running franchise. The core gameplay isn’t quite as solid as it was in 2K19, but that’s something that can be improved upon later in some ways with things like a patch at least being able to do things like address locking in carry holds. The planned post-launch content map showcases a lot of legendary characters throughout WWE history and the launch DLC with the multi-era Undertaker and NWO content is excellent and makes recreating some of WCW’s most memorable feuds a breeze.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of WWE 2K22 for the PlayStation 5 provided by 2K.