The WWE game series has been an emotional rollercoaster for fans that have been playing since the first game sixteen years ago on the original PlayStation. WWE 2K17 is the third game to release on current generation platforms (and PC), and with it, a shift in the gameplay style. While the series began with arcade-like mechanics, the WWE 2K series has been heading towards a more life-like simulation, attempting to closely resemble the actual product seen by millions each and every around the globe. It still has some rough edges, and missing match types/modes, but WWE 2K17 is certainly a step in the right direction for the stagnant series.
Developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have worked to make subtle gameplay improvements and refinements, many of which were sorely needed. Although there are many small adjustments made throughout the game, others feel largely rehashed year after year. The awful circle submission minigame from last year can be replaced with one that focuses on button mashing. However, the pin/kick out mechanics, and the elimination minigames during a Royal Rumble haven’t changed in quite some time. Counters feel like they have a slightly longer open window, but the mechanic works the same as in previous games. Using one or two of your reversal slots, you can perform counter attacks with varying power. There still aren't counters to each and every move in the game, making it impossible to know if you will get the chance to counter or just a simple reversal. Taunts have a purpose now, as they can provide a short buff during a match, or wake up an opponent for further punishment.
Foregoing the widely popular 2K Showcase, WWE 2K17 expands upon MyCareer mode, acting as the game’s lone single-player focused mode. Complete with some of the best video packages, and matches of all-time, the 2K Showcase fed on fans nostalgia, drawing them in and delivering every elbow drop, bodyslam, and drop kick across pivotal matches in WWE history. With the focus on Brock Lesnar for WWE 2K17, I understand that it would be difficult to have his best matches without the inclusion of Kurt Angle, but the exclusion of the mode still stings. What makes it worse, the void left from 2K Showcase being left on the cutting room floor wasn’t filled with anything worth playing.
MyCareer mode is certainly not for everyone, as you go through the grind of creating a new Superstar from scratch, or import a previously created one. If you import a character, be warned, you will lose the majority of your Superstar’s moves, abilities, attire, and skills as you begin your WWE journey with the bare minimum. Although Sasha Banks and Charlotte was the main event at a recent WWE PPV, there isn't any option to play MyCareer as a female competitor. Maybe next year.
I’ll admit I have found MyCareer to be incredibly tedious, as the grind to slowly boost your characters stats (you start in the 60's) takes far too long. Starting out in NXT, you must earn your title fight before finally being promoted to the main roster. Once you receive the call-up, you must continue the mundane grind until you headline Wrestlemania, and finally achieve Hall of Fame status. Sure, there are a couple of cool moments, but MyCareer lacks the scripted narrative focus of the sport. Even the inclusion of the Paul Heyman challenge, who fully voices himself, is nothing more than trivial objectives to complete after decided to be a “Paul Heyman Guy” or not.
Although the new interactive promos feature plays a part in Universe mode, it is better suited to fleshing out your character in MyCareer. With that said, it still feels underdeveloped, as you watch your character awkwardly mime words in the ring. Garnering a positive reaction to your character's persona is vague, as you pick from the four predefined dialogue options, but they never match what your character ends up saying. On top of that, the crowd has their own audience type, and you must cater to them, but it’s never clear what options go along with what type of crowd. Regardless if you are using your own Superstar in MyCareer or Randy Orton in Universe mode, the writing is equally terrible and could use an entire overhaul for future games in the series.
WWE 2K17 introduces improves to how multi-person matches are handled, making them slightly less chaotic and more enjoyable at the same time. When you watch a Triple Threat or even a Fatal 4-Way match in real life WWE programming, most of the fight consists of only two Superstars battling in the center of the ring. After taking a massive bump, you’ll roll outside the ring to recover for a few precious moments. It helps elevate the issue of having too much going on in the ring at one moment, making it much more organized in the process. As you regain your stamina, you can opt for an early recovery in an attempt to break up a possible pin or a submission. If you do, you’ll be hit with a debuff that lists a short while, but is well worth it to keep the match from ending.
Instead of relying on automatic targeting, based on what wrestler you are trying to walk towards, WWE 2K17 defaults to a manual setting that is a whole lot unwieldy that it ever was in the series before. As the match begins, a wrestler’s name will briefly appear above your head to indicate who you are targeting. Clicking in the right stick will cycle through the rest of the Superstar’s in the match, so you should always know who you are trying to grapple or bust wide open with a steel chair. Tables and Ladder matches have also seen refinements that make things overall easier to manage. Instead of being able to set these items in any location, they each have set some spots in and outside the ring. No longer will you climb to the top of the ladder only to find that you are slightly askew, and unable moving grabbing the hanging briefcase/title belt.
While Yuke’s has expanded upon the available match types, it still pales in comparison to the sheer amount that the series had on last generation consoles. You can finally take the action backstage to some of the more prevalent and well-known areas, such as the gorilla position (where the Superstars enter), the locker room and the Authority office. It’s certainly fun to hit the Undertakes with a flat-screen television or powerbomb Dean Ambrose on top of Vince McMahon's desk, but overall it's smaller than it was previously in the series but is still a welcome addition. It is limited to only one on one matches, which brings me to something that has been plaguing the series for the past few years. The match types vary based on the number of competitors, but not in any way that makes sense. You can have a Triple Threat steel cage match, but not a Falls Count Anywhere, but a Fatal 4-Way can be fought inside a hell in a cell, but not a steel cage. Tag matches are the worst offender, as you can’t have Tables, Ladder, TLC or a Falls Count Anywhere match. Not to mention Handicap matches are tag only matches, instead of allowing the option for tornado style (everyone in the ring at the same time). At least you can once again fight in the crowd, but the implementation is still not as good as it was in the Raw vs. Smackdown years of the series.
Much like the missing match types, create a finisher hasn’t crossed the current generation barrier, but Yuke’s did expand on the creation suite. The face morphing feature is the best the series has seen, and you can once again capture your likeness and tweak it to fit the in-game models. The create a video feature works well enough, letting you pull in various clips from saved replays to mash together for a TitanTron video for any Superstar you want using a handful of preset graphics, filters, and fades.
The commentary is still a sore spot in the series, and unless you also want to also mute Lilian Garcia’s ring announcements, you have to suffer through the disconnected and awkward three-man commentary team. Considering the pedigree and naturally flowing commentary in 2K’s NBA series, I was expecting more effort than rehashing the same lines of dialogue over and over each and every year.
Online matches in WWE 2K17 suffer from the same latency issues that have troubled the series for years. Considering much of the game’s mechanics, such as pinning, kicking out, and reversals require precise, it makes playing the game nearly impossible. Hell, players online seem to understand this, and use it to their advantage, going for a pin within the first couple minutes of the match.
WWE 2K17 isn’t the big leap that fans have been clamoring for, but it is a more refined simulation of the real life WWE product. The missing 2K Showcase mode hurts the game's overall value, but the refinements and tweaks to the gameplay, especially when playing multi-person matches helps produce a much more fun experience.Note: WWE 2K17 was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.