Review: WWE 2K18
I’m a huge fan of wrestling, and I have been since I was about the age of 11. For me, it’s about the athleticism, the competition (even if the outcomes are scripted), the characters, and the atmosphere. It’s where stories are told about two opposing forces, competing towards victory in epic bouts to display their dominance inside the squared circle.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more invested in the broader operational picture of wrestling. Myself and a group of buddies talk about all the happenings in various promotions like WWE, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling etc, and occasionally we’ll get together and make an event out of one of the big Pay Per Views. We’re what you call SMARKS, or Smart Marks.
Given that I’m also a games journalist, you could imagine I’m also a fan of video games. Being able to write about video games and play them is a perfect career for someone like me. So when you put the two together, you would think they would be a natural fit.
For this “review”, I’ll be covering some key points and differences about the newest release in the 2K WWE franchise. If you’ve not yet had a chance to read Nick’s editorial on Annual Sports Titles, then I highly encourage that you do so, as it’s partly why I’ve opted to cover the game in this manner.
The Brand Split is represented. Sort of.
Last year, WWE 2K17 was released months after the WWE decided to carve up its massive roster of talent between its two weekly shows, RAW and SmackDown LIVE. Despite there being ample time to implement the change before it went gold, the brand split wasn’t in the final game, leaving fans to feel as if they were playing a game representing 2016 instead.
Well, the good news is that the brand split has made its way to the newest release. The bad news is, it’s not as up to date as you’d expect. For example, the Glorious Bobby Roode is still the champion in WWE’s developmental promotion, NXT, and not on SmackDown LIVE where he currently performs. While the timeframe is much shorter that it was between the brand split and the gold release of WWE 2K17, there’s still the opportunity to make this current through the use of online updates.
I mean, we had a patch for the game in the first week of release. Why wasn’t the live roster changes part of that?
Unfortunately, it seems to be a recurring trait of WWE game releases. They’re always behind the current product in some capacity, and that is in some part, immersion breaking.
Visually impressive in some areas. Still terribly dated in others.
Being rid of the last generation has opened up some opportunities to make a more visually appealing wrestling game. In some areas of WWE 2K18, that’s been achieved pretty well. In other areas, not so much.
One of the biggest issues of wrestling games in recent years is the inconsistency to detail when portraying the characters of the squared circle. In WWE 2K17, there was a fair amount of attention given to male wrestlers, especially the main event stars. One thing that they abysmally failed with was the growing female division, and it really showed. Most of the female wrestlers in 2K17 look like utter dogshit, which helped spur a number of memes about it at the time.
Thankfully there’s been improvements in this area of development, but if there’s one thing that’s remained consistent in this, it’s the inconsistency.
MyPLAYER mode is trying too hard to be the real thing.
In the real life product, Kayfabe died a long time ago. For the uninitiated, Kayfabe is the term used to describe Wrestling portraying in-ring fights and drama as believable, real-life rivalries. As the audiences have grown up, and as the times have changed, so has the main product. Kayfabe died when it was taken out back and shot like Old Yella. Social Media has had a large part to play in this, taking fans into the real lives of WWE SuperStars when they’re not wearing their in-ring attire and personas.
As a direct result, SMARKS like myself have deeply invested themselves into learning about the operations behind the curtain. Thanks to social media, we can find out who exactly has beef with who in real life, and why Vinnie Mac is flipping out backstage at a particular superstar over something they’ve done. We now understand the process and trials a performer undertakes to become a WWE SuperStar, coming from whatever promotion they’ve previously wrestled for, and trying out for a spot in NXT or the Main Roster.
MyPLAYER is trying to emulate that experience, and in my opinion, a bit too hard.
You start with your created wrestler as they arrive in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. It is here that you can prove what you can do for the WWE, by going through a tryout with Matt Bloom (AKA Albert).
You go through a few in-ring tussles, cut a promo or two, and wrestle against a current WWE SuperStar to determine your placement in the company. Depending on how well you do, you might wind up in NXT Singles competition, tag division, or on the main roster on either RAW or SmackDown Live.
After your placement has been determined, you’re sent to one of the shows and speak to the producer. For those who wind up in NXT, you’ll see an all too familiar (and cringeworthy) face, Barron Blade. The same generic looking wrestler placed in the game to make you feel less terrible in developmental in WWE 2K17, is now the producer of NXT television, complete with the same atrocious fashion sense of last year.
Throughout the MyPLAYER mode, you’ll interact with the producer, trainers, other WWE SuperStars, and of course The Authority members Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and Stephanie McMahon. Your interaction is purely text-based dialog, where they’ll comment on something you’ve done, or a passable one-liner from their character. In other parts of the game, SuperStars will give you extra objectives to complete for bonus rewards like fan influence or currency.
For the most part, the written dialog isn’t great. Part of me feels that this shouldn’t be mentioned in a review like this, as the premise of the game is around the in-ring fights and gameplay. But as a critic, it’s hard to ignore the bland, unimaginative conversations that take place between your wrestler and everyone else backstage. The only dialog that seemed to almost hit the mark, is Mr McMahon. The way he acts is fairly iconic when it comes to onscreen personas.
Some elements of the game don’t make sense.
As you go through the MyPLAYER mode, you’re approached by the producer with ideas on how to make a compelling onscreen angle for the WWE Universe. As a heel, or bad guy (because I’m a dick), I was told to start a fight with someone to create a rivalry.
After walking around backstage, I was given a handful of mid-card level wrestlers to brawl with. Pressing Square initiates the brawl sequence, where your character throws the first punch. I decided to take on “The King of the Cruiserweights” NEVILLE, and suffice to say I kicked the living shit out of him.
The subsequent events in our rivalry saw NEVILLE interrupting my grand entrance to the ring for an upcoming match, where the first wrestler to knock the other one out wins the brawl. In the first few attempts, I managed to beat Neville down to what I would call “no health” in this case — the bar indicating health/fatigue on the UI was depleted after taking a beating, but he still wasn’t going down. In a turn of events, NEVILLE managed to sweep me under the legs causing me to fall on my head and suddenly, NEVILLE is proclaimed the victor of the brawl.
At this point, I had a confused look on my face. I closed the game before progress could be saved, and tried again. Same outcome. I tried for a third time, but in this attempt, I beat him down so he was on the floor, before I rushed to the ring apron to get a baseball bat and proceeded to pummel him black and blue. Because the match had not started, this was completely legal, and it resulted in a victory for me.
This same pattern happens over a period of a few backstage brawls over the weeks that followed. The part that I’m not understanding is that when you beat the opposing wrestler down using conventional methods, it feels as though it’s intended for you not to win. It could be the fact that I’m a heel character, but it still doesn’t feel fair from a gaming perspective.
Quick Time Events in WWE games need to die.
I can’t stress enough how much I loathe the use of QTE mechanics in WWE titles since 2K took over the publishing of the franchise. The act of a kickout from a pinfall shouldn’t be as tediously fucked as it is with the QTEs used in 2K18.
When a pinfall is initiated, you have the chance to kickout by pressing X when the marker enters a green section on a ring that shows up on the screen. If you press X at the right time inside of the green section, your wrestler will kick out of the three count allowing you to continue the match. As the referee counts from one to three, the green section grows smaller making it harder to land the marker in the zone. It’s obvious what happens if you don’t kick out of the three count: you lose the match.
Much of the pinfall QTE game is meant to be based on your character’s fatigue level. The more intensive you are with moves performed on your opponent, the more worn out you are, and so in comes the game of pacing yourself so you’ve got enough in the tank to maintain a solid offense and defense.
The thing that I’ve noticed, especially with the pinfall QTE, is that it doesn’t really follow this. I could be a decent way from being smashed out of energy, and yet when I’m being pinned for a three count, it might come up with a pinfall kickout QTE where there is no green section – meaning there’s no chance for me to kick out, despite theoretically having enough gas in the tank.
Another stupid QTE is the submission mini-game. When your wrestler is locked into a submission hold, you basically play chasey by trying to avoid the two colours overlapping on the UI. If the colours overlap for too long, your character taps out or submits to the hold, ending the match, and vice versa if you’re the one initiating the lock.
The examples I’ve provided are possibly the most frustrating components of the game, next to the random cases where you can still lose in a backstage brawl as I’ve mentioned above.
Loot Crates in a wrestling game. No. Just no.
Much of the character customisation, particularly attire items, move-sets and individual moves, are locked out unless you spend the in-game currency on loot crates. The higher the loot crate value (bronze, silver, gold), the higher the rarity of items that potentially drop, leaving you with a handful of generic elbowpads and wrestling trunks to make your Generic Gary wrestling star.
I do maintain that these loot crates are purchasable with in-game credits earned through gameplay, but the fact that this exists at all was enough for me to turn the game off upon discovering it.
I cannot see any valid reason for this to exist in a game like WWE 2K18. The only purpose I can think of why it exists is to pad out the gameplay, and by that I mean encouraging you to play countless hours to earn in-game credits, to gamble on virtual boxes for a chance to get that wrist tape or suplex move that’d make your character absolutely badass.
You should be able to play a game more if it’s a good game and you want to – not because you’re forced to.
Regular releases should always be an improvement on the previous.
Given that the WWE video games lineup has been a yearly iteration for the better part of a decade, you would possibly question what could be achieved within an annual development cycle. Between WWE 2K17 and 2K18 in terms of gameplay, not much has changed. It plays very much the same, with all of the QTE pet hates, odd physics glitches, inconsistent character likenesses, and more.
The things that stand out in this year’s release is the implementation of the loot crate system, a more realistic (and I say that lightly) representation of what goes on for a developmental talent going through the ranks to stardom, and a flashy new user interface/menu system.
The roster itself is huge, containing WWE SuperStars from across all of its branded shows like RAW, SmackDown LIVE!, 205 Live (The Cruiserweight-only brand), and NXT, as well as SuperStars who have long since retired or passed away, along with varied era attires and the like.
But realistically, this isn’t enough to warrant a release every twelve months. I think it’s time that 2K took a step back and reviewed this release cycle and looked at prolonging the time between WWE title releases, with frequent downloadable updates in between. I mean, if they’re looking at providing superstars as paid DLC via the Internet, tell me why a subscription based roster update system isn’t possible?
The Conclusion: Buy WWE 2K18 if you’ve not played the franchise in a few years
Given the points above, it’s pretty hard to endorse WWE 2K18 as a definite buy as it doesn’t feel like a whole lot has changed since last year, minus the roster and minor improvements. The new story/career mode is a decent time sink, but feels somewhat artificial given most of it is behind the curtain, running around talking to people rather than actually competing in the ring.
The other part that makes it hard to sing praises about WWE 2K18 is the use of Loot Crates. While they’re purchasable using in-game currency, they simply shouldn’t be there. I can’t comprehend what could have possibly gone through the minds of those developing this, but as a fan, it’s not welcome.
If you’re prepared to overlook the negatives I’ve highlighted, and you’ve not played a WWE game release for a while, then maybe pick it up for a bit of wrasslin’ fun.
Please be advised that our copy of WWE 2K18 has been provided by a PR representative for the purposes of this review.