The latest WWE 2K18 game is much like the WWE itself – as the years go by, the roster gets bigger, the product looks better, but fundamental weaknesses undermine what could have been an amazing experience.
Let’s start with what 2K got right. The game looks absolutely beautiful. The arenas look spot-on, from the black canvas used for NXT Takeover events, to the slowly darkening sky during an open-air WrestleMania. Everything detail, from the individual faces of the fans to the familiar hashtag in the corner of your screen, makes it feel like an authentic WWE broadcast.
The wrestlers themselves avoid the Uncanny Valley, while also looking as realistic as possible. Even their trademark expressions are spot on. Big E’s open-mouthed manic grin is subtly different from Sami Zayn’s wide smile. Along with the accurate entrances, it all ties together superbly.
Controls are fairly intuitive, and even a complete beginner would be able to get started quickly and start having fun. The roster is very deep. Everyone from the WWE Universal Champ to the greenest rookie on the NXT roster is included, along with the usual Legends from the Attitude Era.
Multi-man matches are where it starts going off the rails. While the wrestlers look gorgeous in one on one match-ups, the graphics look much worse during a tag-team match, let alone a Battle Royal. This sucks as WWE 2K18 seems like a perfect game for a group of friends, but it won’t be as fun if the graphics get worse with more people.
The series still hasn’t managed to solve the basic problem of what to do when one player gets the upper hand, and lays down a beating so thorough that the other player has little to do but to sit and watch. A few features do try to address this, such as the reversal and the comeback system. But if you slip up early in the match, you’ll spend a lot of time yelling at your poor wrestler, who can’t do anything but absorb more punishment.
Glitches are still unfortunately common. During a match where I was playing as Bayley, Alexa Bliss came charging out. While I was marvelling at the unique interruption, the experience was ruined when Bliss hit a move and her legs were bent in a way that was simply inhuman. For some reason, just having three wrestlers in a ring at the same time can break (virtual) reality.
There is one interesting feature where your match is given a star rating in terms of entertainment value. Points are assigned based on things like mixing up your moves used, dramatic kick-outs, back-and-forth reversals between the competitors, and so on.
There’s always been a slight disconnect in wrestling games, where the object is to beat the crap out of your opponent, and the wrestling industry itself, where winners are already decided in advance (don’t pretend you don’t know), and greater importance is placed on entertaining the fans. It rewards players who like to put on a show, instead of those who just repeatedly “kick” their opponent in the gut before going for a pin.
The Create mode and WWE universe mode are still good at what they do. Alas, the way more fun General Manager mode that fans have been clamouring for since 2006 still hasn’t made a return, and it looks like it never will.
WWE 2K18 is a good-looking game, but it seems far more suited to the hardcore fan willing to invest hours in creating a character and forging a career, instead of the casual fan who just wants something fun to play when his friends are over. Much like Vince McMahon’s promotion, it’s entertaining enough, but there’s nothing ground-breaking here that you’ll miss when the next game comes around next year.