Game Review: WWE 2K18

Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: 2K Sports
Developers: Yuke’s and Visual Concepts
Genre: Wrestling
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 17 2017
Certificate: 16
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows

Because of the decision not to bring the latest WWE 2K game to PS3 and Xbox 360, I believed that the focus being solely on current-gen consoles might have a positive impact and lead to the best WWE game in years. But early reviews, along with the news that several glaring problems had apparently not been addressed, squashed my optimism, not only for the game but for the series as a whole.

But this was before I actually played the game. And when I did, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Are there big issues with WWE 2K18? Sure. But there is enough to like about the game that it is still a step up from 2K17; however, as I will explain, it can’t reach the level of greatness that past wrestling games had.

Let’s start with the big positives: the roster is bigger than ever with 213 characters after DLC, which easily blows away last year’s total. This includes plenty of new faces from NXT, 205 Live (included for the first time) and the main roster. There are also a fair few returnees, with the headline grabbers being The Hardy Boyz and Kurt Angle. The latter was destined to be the pre-order DLC star from the moment his Hall Of Fame induction was announced, and while neither of his two characters have the “You Suck!” chant during entrances, Angle being in a WWE game for the first time since 2006 is a real treat.

Elsewhere, we have eight characters on-screen for the first time since WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, released way back in 2001, which is a long-overdue improvement. As well as allowing for expanded Money In The Bank and Survivor Series bouts (at last), the game brings back the option to create match types, this time with the ability to save bouts for future use. This allows for old stipulations like Finisher and Two Out Of Three Falls to return, and combined with the 8-man options, it results in the largest choice of match types in years.

Existing bouts are enhanced too. While the crowd-fighting areas are the same size as they were in 2K17, the backstage universe is three times as large, almost circling the entire arena and allowing players to brawl in the car park again. Meanwhile, the new-look Elimination Chamber structure is in, and we have Chamber-exclusive entrances for the first time, at only the 16th year of asking. The commentary team has changed, too: Michael Cole is now joined by Corey Graves and Byron Saxton, though the usual problems of irrelevant chatter, clearly-scripted lines and the apparently-bored reading of some statements are present again.

The matches themselves operate largely the same, though we have the return of ultimate control moves (albeit without that title), allowing for wrestlers to choose between multiple positions that provide a variety of slam options. There are also unique distractions in the game, including the ability to interrupt a match with one’s entrance music. I personally liked the introduction of “squash matches”; presumably inspired by Goldberg’s fast win over Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series 2016, you will sometimes be presented with the chance to end bouts very quickly, and it’s not limited to headliner vs. jobber encounters either.

WWE 2K18 also has two new venue options in Create An Arena (based on the Hammerstein Ballroom and a high-school gym), glow effect options in Create A Wrestler, the option for on-screen watermarks in Create A Show and the ability to remove backgrounds entirely when editing scenes for Highlight Reel. There are also improved preview screens for created items in Community Creations, and the graphics have received a major overhaul due to enhanced lighting, resulting in the best-looking wrestling game ever.

The menus have been changed this year: whilst 2K17 had wrestlers walking around and posing (or dancing in Big E’s case), this year we get extreme close-ups of action shots such as an RKO and an Angle Slam. The menu selection screen is positioned on the Titan Tron (albeit the pre-2016 version, despite the 2017 arenas being in the game; also, the pre-2016 Raw ring still hosts the Create A Move Set options), and has a red-to-blue feel to it. Star ratings are still in the game, though cash is distributed in the hundreds rather than the thousands now to purchase unlockable content. The soundtrack (personally selected by The Rock himself) has some big names, including Bruno Mars, though the amount of money this must have involved may have been better allocated to the game itself. This year’s cover star is Seth Rollins, which brings the focus back to younger, current-generation talent. And in a nice touch, the arena for Great Balls Of Fire was thrown in as a bonus after a software update.

Having tackled the positives, let’s now look at the negatives. Showcase isn’t here at all, and hasn’t been replaced by a new mode whatsoever. This leaves us with MyPlayer (formerly MyCareer) and Universe again, and whilst MyPlayer adds the chance to wander round backstage and meet up with other wrestlers, the resultant conversations are as unrealistic as those of the Promo Engine (which hasn’t changed much from its 2K17 introduction), resulting in the mode feeling as dull and time-consuming as ever. An extension of MyPlayer named Road To Glory is also here, but is limited to online use and isn’t without its own flaws. So, it’s when you move away from Exhibition and into the single-player modes that 2K18 begins to stumble.

In addition, the game feels lazy due to its heavy recycling of legends and of their attires. From the 90+ retro characters here, only Rick Martel debuts on the disc, joined by The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express after DLC. Even their menu poses appear to be unchanged in many cases. As for the main roster, the notable absentees are James Ellsworth (presumably because his contract was set to expire after this game was released) and Andrade “Cien” Almas (supposedly, Andrade himself turned down the chance to be included for financial reasons, which is odd). Elsewhere, Mick Foley remains absent as his normal self (his alter egos are here), despite Foley being Raw GM for many months (a picture of his 2016 guise is included within Create An Arena, and the same applies to the GM-era Daniel Bryan). And for reasons that only 2K could provide us with an answer for, Ted DiBiase is still only featured as a manager for the third straight game.

Elsewhere, ECW One Night Stand 2006 is the only retro arena that wasn’t in 2K17, and we still can’t create new attires for existing wrestlers without sacrificing a slot in Create A Wrestler to do so. More worryingly, though the game visually looks more impressive than 2K17 did, it still looks and feels like 2K17 all too often, especially in the ring. If you showed side-by-side gameplay of both 2K17 and 2K18, one would struggle to identify which was which. I’m not saying that it has to look dramatically different, but it shouldn’t appear to be a clone of the previous year’s game either. Perhaps the worst aspect about the game concerns its downloadable content. We’ll have a debate about the pros and cons of DLC at another time, but either way the WWE 2K series has always delivered quality DLC, especially in recent years. That’s not the case this time.

Besides the usual MyPlayer and Accelerator offerings, we have a grand total of 10 characters in two separate packs. In NXT we have Drew McIntyre, Ruby Riot, two others and Lars Sullivan, and in Icons we have The Hardyz, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Beth Phoenix. Six are debutants, and four are characters who have not been in a WWE game for several years. It’s the sheer number of characters which is galling, though. Last year, we had over 30 characters available via DLC, including a Legends pack and the Hall Of Fame Showcase mode along with associated wrestlers. This year, both have been bypassed for unknown reasons (meaning the game only has three new legends in total after DLC despite a total of 213 playable characters), and yet the Season Pass price remains £25/$30. This is a horrendous decision, one which does not paint 2K in a positive light at all.

If they really had to downsize the amount of DLC content available, then the price should have been reduced accordingly. Instead, we get a level of DLC that is one third the size of last year’s, made worse by 2K arrogantly dismissing a rumoured DLC line-up to provide one that is greatly inferior. I happen to like the concept of DLC, but it has been badly bungled this year, being lazy at best and greedy for cash at worst. One can only hope that things return to normal next year, and whilst the six pre-order DLC characters help somewhat, it’s still a shoddy offering, especially for those who paid the Season Pass months in advance, long before they learned how minimal the downloadable content would actually be. Add to that the usual glitches and occasionally long loading times (plus the still-slow feel to the in-ring action as a whole), and you’re left with plenty of issues that bring the overall quality of the game down a fair bit.

Perhaps the stale nature of the series is summed up by the back sleeve for the game, which looks awfully similar to that of 2K17, 2K16 and even 2K15. It feels like each game is only adding a miniscule amount of new content, and only handling a small percentage of the gameplay problems, which in an age where an average game plus DLC can come close to or exceed £100 is simply unacceptable. What’s more, we’re four games into the console generation (and five into the 2K era, since their first game was the already-in-production 2K14), so by now the development team should be hitting their stride and bringing us an excellent wrestling game, rather than one which still hasn’t figured out how to resolve flaws that have been prevalent for several years. Hopefully, 2K19 will move us closer to the high standard that was once a signature of the series.

Oh, before I sign off, the rating below is not for the Nintendo Switch. WWE 2K18 is the first wrestling game to hit the Switch, but unfortunately the delayed port of the game is filled with a myriad of bugs that have rendered the game, to quote one reviewer, “unplayable”. So, while I would exercise caution anyway on buying the game if you’re a longtime fan, I would strongly advise you not to squander 20-30 quid on the Switch version, which is poor at best and practically broken at worst (and not in a good, Matt Hardy kind of way).

Nevertheless, judging the (non-Switch) game as a whole, WWE 2K18 is still superior to 2K17 (despite me giving both titles the same rating). Had it been blessed with a stronger single-player mode (or indeed a strong single-player mode in general), it would have been better than 2K16, and possibly even 2K14; after all, the roster is now 200+ strong, the graphics are terrific, the production is second to none, the match options and creation suite are at their generational peak, and there are plenty of little hidden secrets which enhance the enjoyment of playing this game. So, WWE 2K18 is far from the perfect wrestling game, or even a great wrestling game, but it is an improvement over the previous game and still delivers a lot of entertainment. Here’s hoping that we will say the same about WWE 2K19 when the time comes.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good