WWE 2K18 Review, A Small Step in the Right Direction

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Like every other sports-based game series, another year means another iteration to an annual franchise, and like clockwork, the month of October signals release of the latest addition to 2K’s WWE franchise; this time named WWE 2K18 to nobody’s surprise.

Last year’s WWE 2K17 was certainly a mixed bag. While it introduced new mechanics like the roll-out system, added back the backstage arenas and spruced up the My Career and WWE Universe simulation modes, WWE 2K17 excluded the great Showcase mode from the previous WWE games and retained the mediocre presentation and variety in gameplay modes.

Even with its entry into the current generation of consoles, the WWE 2K franchise continued its presence on 360 and PS3, and retained its piecemeal pace of progress. This includes its iterative nature of gameplay advances and overall lack of significant improvements in the franchise’s audio and visuals, which has led to the game series turning stale in the eyes of many WWE fans.

Now that the franchise has finally let go of the previous generation of consoles, WWE 2K18 looks to make some significant changes to the performance and presentation aspects that have plagued the series in its recent past.

Let’s start with the most obvious change that has been made to the game in its jump from 2K17 to 2K18, which is its presentation. A complete move to the current gen consoles has brought change in its visuals is such that it is immediately noticeable. Even though the improvement isn’t overly dramatic, Yuke’s and Visual Concepts efforts in overhauling their graphics and lighting engine this year has created the best-looking wrestling game ever.

Gone are the below-par fire and pyros as well as the lackluster lighting and smoke effects; the new lighting engine not only accentuates each character but also gives new life to the entrances, the crowd and the arena. Furthermore, the game also includes era and venue specific filters that really recreate a realistic feeling environment authentic to the TV presentation style of the wrestling product.

Supporting the new engine are the new art assets, shaders, textures as well as many new and redone animations that result in massive improvements in character models and the way the environments look. Everything from the belts, turnbuckles and the ring, to the backstage environments and even the way crowds look and animate is better from WWE 2K17.

WWE 2K18 also includes improved audio design that includes crowd sounds and chants authentic to the type of arena chosen. The game also features a new commentary team of Michael Cole, Byron Saxton, and Corey Graves. However, even with the redone recordings it doesn’t sound like colour commentary from TV as it lacks any intensity, it is just choppy banter that remains dull and repetitive.

Soundtrack and menu music is actually curated/ executive produced by The Rock. With songs ranging from Rap, Rock, Hip-hop, R&B and other genres, the diverse selection of music fits in well with the game and revs you up, has your blood pumping and gets you ready for an action-packed gameplay experience.

Speaking of variety, like last year’s WWE game and the one before it, WWE 2K18 boasts the largest ever roster of playable wrestlers in the series’ history. The game features 220 total characters that includes managers, alternate versions and DLC characters.

WWE 2K18’s on-disk roster contains 174 unique playable wrestlers, which includes all the staple supertars on Raw, Smackdown and 205live like; Seth Rolins, Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, Fin Balor, AJ Styles, Kane and John Cena, NXT wrestlers like Asuka and Hideo Itami, as well as Legends like Undertaker, Sting, Bret Hart, HBK, Mankind, Rock, Stone Cold and many more.

The game’s roster also contains a whopping 32 characters that are new additions from the rosters of the previous games, these include 205 Live wrestlers like Jack Gallagher, Akira Tozawa, Gran Matalik and TJP, as well as NXT wrestlers and new comers to WWE like Bobby Roode, Eric Young, Ember Moon, Nicki Cross and No Way Jose.

Unfortunately, not everyone is created equal in this enormous roster present in the game, as WWE 2K18 continues the series tradition of having inconsistent quality in the visual models for WWE Superstars. Whereas wrestlers like Brock Lesner, John Cena, HHH and Randy Orton look phenomenally modeled, other less high-profile wrestlers get a lot less detail, and the long hairstyles still look like stuck noodles and mop heads.

The core gameplay in WWE 2K18 remains intact from last year. The game still maintains the deliberate feel introduced in WWE2K15 and features the same stamina management structure, same pin/kickout mechanic, same submission mini-game and the same reversal system with slightly different timing.

However, the game is not totally bereft of any new additions to gameplay, as WWE2K18 brings a new carry system, which closely resembles the “Ultimate Control Grapple System” from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007. The system allows the player characters to drag and carry opponent and place them anywhere in the environment.

Within the constraints of character weight and fatigue, players can carry opponent in either cradle, shoulder, fireman’s carry and powerbomb position and dynamically pull off position specific moves specific to ropes, corners and turnbuckles inside the ring, apron, barricade and announce table outside the ring, and even interact with objects in the newly expanded backstage brawls.

The game features a much more expanded Backstage Area that adds couple of new environments to the anemic backstage corridor introduced in last year’s game. This newly extended backstage area offers greater freedom to explore arena environments as well as the ability to do crazy stuff like jumping off trucks and cars in the backstage brawls.

Finally, WWE 2K18 also reintroduces the ability to have 8 wrestlers simultaneously compete in the ring for specific matches that include Tag Teams, Battle Royals and Ladder Matches. This marks the first time that many wrestlers can be in the ring in a WWE game ever since WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It all the way back in the year 2001.

Bolstering these gameplay mechanics, wrestler roster and available match types is the returning Creation Suite, WWE 2K18 includes some new things added to this mode to enable players to further explore their creativity.

The Create-a-Superstar now includes changes in options to customize character’s face templates, body types, scalp-hairstyle and dental designs, new material types as well as redesigned logo mapping and stitch patterns. Create-a-Arena now features customizable smaller venues, as well and Create-a-Show features ability to assign referees, add new filters and new method of making highlight reels.

One major addition to this year’s creation suite is Create-a-Match feature that gives players the ability to create custom match types; allowing the setting custom rules of a match, and to access it later in the game in either the exhibition mode to play against computer and other players, or in the various single-player modes within WWE 2K18.

It is unfortunate that the development team has repeated the mistake from WWE2K17 and decided to leave out the Showcase mode from this year’s offerings as well. This decision to abandon the most entertaining, approachable and polished mode from WWE2K18’S singleplayer feature set is definitely a very disappointing creative choice.

Just like last year’s game, the main focus of WWE2K18’s singleplayer component still seems to be fixed on it’s simulation modes, that include the returning My Career and WWE Universe modes.

WWE Universe mode is WWE version of manager mode, where players simulate the role of a booker and manage shows, rivalries, tag-teams and championships throughout a fiction weekly schedule of WWE programming. While it does feature minor tweaks here and there, this mode has largely remained the same.

The My Career mode also more or less remains the same, and simulates the journey of a player created wrestler, from learning at performance center, debuting at NXT and the perpetual grid of wrestling on the main roster to eventual goals like retirement or getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

WWE 2K18 does away with the Heyman Guy system introduced in 2K17’s My Career mode and replaces it with a Face and Heel path choice by allowing players to align with or against The Authority, and further the alignment by taking on side quests through the added ability to free-roam backstage to interact with GMs, trainers and other wrestlers.

However, all that doesn’t make the Career mode any more enjoyable as its reliance on voiceless text-based interviews and promos, sub-par writing and repetitive nature of gameplay makes My Career mode a chore to play in the long-run.

WWE 2K18 also introduces an online counterpart to My Career mode called; Road to Glory. This mode allows players to go online and compete daily in a variety of match types to gain stars to compete in PPV events as well as gain boosts, custom parts and virtual currency that is used to purchase loot box prizes. This mode not only faces the same grindy repetitiveness of My Career and WWE Universe modes but the progression elements of unlocking moves, materials and other custom elements through lootboxes, adds to the random and grindy nature of the mode and works to its detriment.

All in all, if you have not been enthused by simulation based modes like My Career and Universe Modes in past WWE 2K games, then WWE2K18’s returning and new modes will not have anything that would make you change your mind.

It seems the game developers are handicapped by the annual nature of WWE games. Even with its expanded roster, small additions to game mechanics and broad improvements in overall graphical presentation, WWE 2K18 still doesn’t feature significant enough changes from the formula to freshen it up for WWE fans and gamers that feel like the WWE 2K franchise has fallen into a rut.

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