The most electrifying video game franchise in sports entertainment today is in a lot of trouble.
I no longer watch World Wrestling Entertainment every week, but I typically look forward to the annual professional wrestling video games. The violence and pageantry of pro wrestling usually translates very well to gaming, and firing up a “WWE 2K” title brings back feelings of intense nostalgia for me.
It’s for those reasons that I was ultimately disappointed in “WWE 2K17.”
When I reviewed last year’s “WWE 2K16,” my biggest gripe was the game’s difficult controls. I noticed fairly early on that these controls, while largely the same, have been simplified slightly in “WWE 2K17.” This filled me with a hope that was quickly dashed when I started shifting through the newest installment’s menu screens.
Never miss a local story.
In short, there’s nothing there. Typically, these games have some sort of legacy mode piggybacking on World Wrestling Entertainment’s dramatic 50-year history. “WWE 2K17” has a lackluster career mode, a useless “WWE Universe” mode and an unnecessarily large creation suite.
The career mode appears to be what developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts focused on the most. I spent a lot of my 20ish hours with the game playing this mode, and I enjoyed some of the actual wrestling. But it was definitely a failure.
It’s far too repetitive. Players have to spend 10-plus hours wrestling the same five opponents in the NXT, which is basically the WWE’s minor leagues. I beat Bo Dallas so many times that he just started lying on the mat every time we were matched up.
“WWE 2K17” introduced a promo mechanic, which allows players to participate in on-camera interviews and work the crowd with a microphone instead of your fists. You are given four possible speech options, and your choices will dictate whether you are a “face” or “heel” (good guy vs. bad guy), as well as whether you humiliated your opponent enough to “win” the promo.
This sounds great, but they couldn’t pull it off. There’s no audio when you are doing a promo, so your character is just screaming and emoting with giant eyes while you don’t hear anything – no voice, no music, nothing. It looks ridiculous. The chat options are also repetitive, and the on-camera run-ins with rival wrestlers backstage happen far too rarely and are just as silly as the promos.
Visual Concepts should know better, given the success it has had with dramatic story modes in “NBA 2K16” and “NBA 2K17.” Those modes are voiced, giving the off-the-court interactions a more natural and realistic feel.
Perhaps the creators opted for a mime approach due to the problems with the in-game commentary. There’s a persistent bug in my career mode that causes the men doing the play-by-play to repeat themselves in the minutes leading up to the match.
Commentary in sports games breaks down like this: The real-life broadcasters record five, 10, 20 different audio blurbs for the same thing. So in “WWE 2K17,” they say one of however many prerecorded things when a match is about to start, when you do something crazy, when it ends, and so on for every possibility. The problem is that a glitch makes the commentators double-up in some situations. So when the match is about to start, the guy says one generic, “We’ve got great action coming up”-type comment. Then he repeats another one from that list. And this happens every single match.
So Michael Cole, the play-by-play guy, will say, “Don’t go anywhere, we’ve got WWE action coming up next,” then immediately say something like, “Don’t you dare change that channel, we’ve got high-octane action coming soon.” It is very noticeable and does precisely the opposite of what in-game commentary should do: It confirms that you are, in fact, playing a game rather than experiencing a WWE live show.
For some reason, 2K also touted the new creation suite in “WWE 2K17.” In previous games, you could create the essentials: wrestlers and their outfits, personas, entrances and moves. Now you can also create arenas and videos. I have no idea why. Did anyone honestly buy “WWE 2K17” to design an arena? Who looked at a wrestling game and thought, “You know what this thing really needs? A few ‘Sim City’ elements.”
The WWE Universe mode is slightly less useless, which is – good? It allows players to essentially run World Wrestling Entertainment. You’re in charge of setting the matches for the various TV shows and choosing which rivalries to hype up or end, as well as who gets a title shot. This may be a draw for the diehard, but for lapsed wrestling fans like me, it is just “meh.”
What happens in the ring in “WWE 2K17” is pretty entertaining, though I found some bugs – especially with regards to environmental factors. Tables break when they shouldn’t, ladders fall when they shouldn’t, things not possible in our mortal realm happen.
If there’s anything positive about “WWE 2K17,” it’s the superstar roster. There are easily 100 wrestlers to unlock and play. Some of these are different versions of the same iconic superstar, such as 90s Undertaker vs. 2000s Undertaker. The care in re-creating some of these forgotten heroes’ likenesses fell through the cracks, though. A few don’t look anything like the wrestler they are based on.
In a year flush with great sports games, “WWE 2K17” is resting comfortably at the bottom of the heap. It will take a lot of work to get the franchise back up to title contention next year.
Video Game Review
▪ Rated teen for blood, language, suggestive themes and violence
▪ Developer: Yuke’s/Visual Concepts
▪ Publisher: 2K Sports
▪ Out now for PC and all major consoles