Game Review: WWE 2K20

Image Source: Amazon

Publisher: 2K Sports
Developers: Visual Concepts
Genre: Wrestling
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 22 2019
Certificate: 16
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One & Microsoft Windows

After the surprisingly enjoyable WWE 2K19 finally moved the series forward following several years of minimal progression, there was optimism that WWE 2K20 could take further strides and potentially be a genuinely great game. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened, and in fact, the opposite has occurred: this year’s offering has its moments, but is ultimately a low point for the series, so much so that even the franchise’s most die-hard fans have become totally disillusioned.

So what has caused all this? Well, the delayed hype for the game was an early indicator that this probably wouldn’t be a banner year. It’s also worth noting that Yuke’s announced their intentions for a separate wrestling game (which I’ll come back to), thus severing the 2K/Yuke’s relationship and putting development of 2K20 entirely in the hands of Visual Concepts for the first time. Depending who you believe, this either occurred during or prior to production (I’m inclined to believe the latter), but while I agree that this wouldn’t have helped matters, it still doesn’t excuse what 2K ended up approving for the new game.

2K20 certainly doesn’t lack single-player modes, mind you. Showcase, for instance, is all about the Four Horsewomen (Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley and Sasha Banks) with over a dozen memorable matches ranging from 2014 to 2019 that can be relived. This is what you would expect and is fun, though the very modern timeframe (based on the subject matter) means that all of the arenas had been seen in games no older than 2K16. It’s still worthwhile and a historic milestone, though I personally preferred the wider scope offered by last year’s Daniel Bryan Showcase.

MyCareer now includes both a male and female perspective, and it operates in reverse, beginning with a Hall Of Fame induction ceremony and it works backwards to eventually arrive at a WrestleMania in 2029. Like last year, this is heavily story-focused, but whereas 2K19’s MyCareer kept wrestling as the central thread even during the wilder moments, in 2K20 the mode occasionally feels like an attempt to create a sequel to Fighting For My Family, and at times it even seems like a follow-up to Rockstar’s Bully game (which many have pointed out). It’s still a big improvement over pre-2K19 incarnations of MyCareer, but it delves a bit too far from the wrestling itself to be considered an all-time great mode for, well, a wrestling game.

Towers are back, this time with a Roman Reigns-themed collection of vintage matches to relive as The Big Dog (some have remarked whether this was supposed to be a Showcase before Dean Ambrose left WWE, and I’m inclined to agree) along with the usual stacks (but no Million Dollar Challenge, which is probably a good thing after its climax ended up being a huge let-down). Universe had some tweaks, including the ability to have those super-long PPV events that WWE has become accustomed to staging, but it has still yet to incorporate any true elements that reflect the on-screen brand extension.

New to the game are Originals. This essentially provides a series of mini Showcase modes via DLC, but all with their own fantasy theme. The first pre-order pack is Bump In The Night, a haunting series of zombie-themed wrestler attires and arenas which includes The Fiend, Bray Wyatt’s frightening alter ego, as the game’s main pre-order exclusive. The other packs to come are Wasteland Wanderers, Southpaw Regional Wrestling and Empire Of Tomorrow. We’ll come back to discussing Originals shortly.

In terms of the roster, there are well over 200 playable characters, though in terms of brand new wrestlers, there are only a small percentage who weren’t in 2K19: Humberto Carrillo, Io Shirai, Jaxson Ryker, Keith Lee, Mark Andrews, Matt Riddle, Mia Yim, Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm and Trent Seven, plus a playable Zelina Vega. In terms of returning legends, Jerry Lawler, X-Pac and Mark Henry join Molly Holly, as well as Deluxe Edition DLC stars Mankind, Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Chyna, in the latter’s first WWE game appearance in 19 years, which is arguably the biggest selling point of 2K20. There are also regular roster members returning: Buddy Murphy, Brian Kendrick, Nikki Cross and Tommaso Ciampa.

As for arenas, there are the usual suspects along with NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool, plus those from the Showcase and Originals modes which push the actual number to a series high, as well as there being a generous number of backstage areas of sorts. Mixed tag team matches are back, as well as the introduction of the Mixed Match Challenge tournament option. The red version of the Hell In A Cell structure makes it in, as does increased control over the choice and appearance of weapons underneath the ring. And the promotional videos to hype the game (when they finally arrived) were as good as ever, bringing together current stars and legends in a posh dinner environment (it was surreal seeing Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Sting, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels all in one shot).

It seems like WWE 2K20 has a lot going for it, then. So, what are the reasons for so many fans being down on the game? Let’s have a look.

Starting with the main modes, Showcase ignores the chance to relive moments from truly classic eras once again, and as noted, MyCareer is so far removed from a typical wrestling story mode that it is turning people away from playing it. Towers is decent enough but that’s it, and as for Universe, apparently the developers have stated on the record that fans aren’t interested in this mode, despite it being one of the most popular amongst die-hard fans of the series, which speaks volume on the discord between 2K and its supporters.

Originals is certainly something different; however, 2K are making the mistake of assuming that when fans say they want a WWE game to be more fun, it means that they want all sorts of wild fantasy content, when in reality they want a game that simply provides some exciting action. It also seems to have completely replaced the usual DLC, which most people would have preferred to have remained with a focus on those who didn’t make the line-up (I will say that The Fiend is a cool pre-order exclusive since he wasn’t expected to be in the game for another year, and his entrance has been superbly recreated).

Going back to the roster: though there are loads of characters as usual, many are Originals alternates or Showcase duplicates (Charlotte Flair has five models for instance), which means the actual number of separate wrestlers is lower than the figure for last year’s game. WALTER is the most notable wrestler to be inexplicably excluded, though the other modern absentees are less significant. It’s a different story for the Legends, whose ranks have been severely weakened: Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude, The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, Lex Luger, British Bulldog and loafs of others are gone, which suggests that if you are a fan of old-school WWE wrestling, then 2K20 is definitely not the game for you. Oh, and for retro names, most attires remain the same, meaning Vince McMahon has his red undershirt for the fifth straight title.

Some have said that this isn’t an issue because of Community Creations, and how fans can download spot-on mock-ups of any missing names (such as those who have gone to AEW like Chris Jericho; 2K can’t be blamed for those absences). But why is it down to the content creators rather than the team who are paid to make this game happen? Such misguided feelings and almost blindness loyalty will only lead to more of the same from those making these games, and it’s as clear as ever that real changes are needed with this series, which can’t happen if some people are mockingly saying “shut up whining, just use Community Creations” (since they apparently would never take the time to create wrestlers to such depth themselves). And if 2K ever dropped CC (which wouldn’t be a surprise with this franchise) … oh boy, the outrage at 2K this year would seem like a debate at a tea party in comparison to how fans would react, since CC is what helps to keep each new WWE game fresh, or as fresh as it can be.

Elsewhere, Showcase aside, the usual vintage arenas have been recycled with no thought put into it whatsoever (why not give us a classic Survivor Series venue instead of having SummerSlam 1988 yet again?). The title belts have been topped up to include the Women’s Tag Team straps, but several NXT UK prizes didn’t make the grade, and the 24/7 Championship was also not included. And besides Mixed Tag, there aren’t any new match types, which again suggests a lack of effort since that bout isn’t very hard to insert into the game.

Even through all of these faults, 2K20 might still be considered a reasonable enough game, but there are more problems. The graphics are not exactly impressive, and at times they resemble not only a PS3 title, but even a PS2 game, which is shameful for such a major series at a time when the countdown to the PS5 generating has begun. And whilst the game being rife with glitches upon release is nothing new, this year’s entry takes the piddle with so many glaring bugs and mistakes having already been highlighted across social media, along with the pre-order Bump In The Night pack not being ready in time for the launch date (which apparently redefines the term “pre”), and the Create A Championship feature (which is a longtime part of the series) is only being included as part of a patch update (incidentally, there are no create modes this year).

Oh, and I almost forgot: back in my article on the game’s first details, I noted how I was intrigued by talk of simplified gameplay. In reality, it’s only the control scheme that has changed, and that comes from merely swapping over the reversal trigger. Nothing else has changed about how matches play out, and if anything, bouts are now slower than ever, which is alarming for match pacing that was already frustratingly lagging. It also means we are stuck with what is essentially the same engine for the sixth game running, and it had become stale at least three years ago.

So, for all these reasons, WWE 2K20 disappoints, marking the fourth WWE 2K game to have been a let-down, and it is one time too many for a large number of its most loyal fans, who are genuinely discussing not buying the game for the first time. Each year, expectations are raised with false promises and sprinkles of good news, only to be frustrated by backwards steps, key content removals and a general lack of progress and overall entertainment. It’s the equivalent of adding light-up taps to your kitchen while unnecessarily removing most of the cutlery, all while refusing to fix the oven. A strange analogy, perhaps, but it sums up what is wrong with the WWE 2K series: they add elements which are nice but weren’t requested while simultaneously taking away important parts, all while ignoring widespread calls for the revamping of the game’s engine, the return of such fondly-remembered aspects as General Manager mode and Create A Story, or anything which suggests that the franchise is heading towards real prosperity; instead, interest in the series is at an all-time low.

There may be contributing factors (namely, Yuke’s departing the project, whenever that was), but the same could be said for the disaster that was WWE 2K15, and few were sympathetic towards that game, the first on modern consoles. It’s a worrying sign that 2K20 has been compared to 2K15 so much, since the latter marked the nadir of the entire 20-year series. But at least 2K15 played out as intended, and instead its barren feature-set was the recipient of the most criticism. With 2K20, despite it having a lot to offer on paper, the game is so rife with problems that it wouldn’t be out of order to call it broken (and not in a Matt Hardy kind of way), at least for the original version. I miss the good old days when a wrestling game was complete on the disc and didn’t require multiple updates just to be functional.

Just as concerning, though, is the apparent lack of effort by the devs. If the WWE licence is such a hindrance, then maybe 2K should relinquish it to a company that is seriously interested in reviving the flagship franchise to its glory days, or at least is willing to actually try and listen to what fans want. There’s an irony with that statement when we’re discussing a WWE game given how over-critical wrestling fans can be, but for the videogame, even hardened loyalists are now saying that they’re thoroughly fed up. Given how videogame technology has advanced, by rights the modern titles should be the best ever, and yet each new game feels like a step away from what made icons of the genre so great, to the point where those hoping for a revival (not Dash and Dawson) seem to have given up hope, following what seemed to now be a false dawn with 2K19.

The one caveat which could inspire change is the mysterious Yuke’s project, which was initially described as being something to provide “internal competition” which seems to suggest it will be a WWE-branded game, though some disagree with that belief. We should know what the plan is come the spring or summer of 2020, though a tweet by one of their key figures hinted (and I stress the word “hinted”) that there was significant interest in a game akin to SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain, a legendary wrestling game renowned for being heaps of fun.

I mention this because, if it is a WWE game, it could provide fans with a real alternative, and likely a superior one, to the 2K titles. This could allow those who do appreciate the simulation-style of 2K to stick with what they know, whilst those seeking a more enjoyable experience could go with Yuke’s. Alternatively, if Yuke’s end up working to develop, say, an AEW game, and it receives strong fanfare, then it might finally force 2K to pull its sleeves up and deliver a genuinely strong game, since WWE would not want to lose out in this department. Ideally, the former would happen, with AEW having a separate licensee for its heavily-rumoured game, thus giving wrestling fans more choice than at any time since 2000. Perhaps Yuke’s choose not to bother and instead create something wacky of their own, allowing the current 2K dilemma to continue. Or maybe Yuke’s aren’t involved at all in WWE deciding to move away from 2K and work with another publisher such as EA Sports; who knows?

Nevertheless, the fact that we’re even having this debate tells you all you need to know about the overall quality of the latest game. If you keep your expectations low or if you’ve never played a wrestling game before then maybe you’ll like it, but if you hoped that WWE 2K20 would be anything more than being just another game, then unfortunately you will not be impressed. Here’s hoping that something (perhaps a rival game involving Yuke’s) inspires true change next year, but for now, the downward trend sadly continues.

Overall Rating: 6/10 – Reasonable