While I for one have enjoyed the WWE 2K games over the years, some fans felt last year’s edition was a stumble -- particularly on the Nintendo Switch, which got a version so bad that 2K decided to skip it the platform this time around. But one thing that’s been proven in this industry is that a sports series can always find a way to improve, as long as the developers behind it -- in this case, Yukes with a little help from NBA 2K devs Visual Concepts -- finds the initiative to get the job done.
And while WWE 2K19, the latest entry in the series, still has some flaws that could use addressing, there’s no question that a heaping dose of content, combined with entertaining gameplay and a few new arcade-style perks, really help push it forward. This could be the beginning of a great comeback for 2K, and I’m here to cheer ‘em on like they were Daniel Bryan.
There are some moments where the gameplay can be slightly loose, particularly with transitioning between standing and running animation. But the gameplay for the most part remains very good, particularly with the way that moves are executed, including particular favorites like Daniel Bryan’s running knee and A.J. Styles’ Phenomenal Forearm, which lives up to its name.
And some new perks keep things very interesting. For instance, a Big Head mode, which feels like a throwback to the good ol’ days of NBA Jam (well, structure-wise anyway), is a welcome feature, even as some of the wrestler expressions look a wee bit silly. (At some points, John Cena looks like he’s about to let loose a nasty fart.) It’s hilarious watch a match go down, especially if you go with wrestlers that would probably freak you out if they wore giant-sized versions of their heads. (Looking at you, Undertaker.)
But I think it’s the other arcade stuff that really brings the package together. For instance, Paybacks and Overdrive allow better balancing with matches, as you can turn things around with a particular move, such as a heel action (like what Randy Orton might achieve to regain the advantage), or even the possibility of having a finisher early. These really provide a nice touch to the game, though you can always modify the difficulty so that the game doesn’t give you too much of an advantage.
There’s a new Towers mode in which you can take on varying challenges that tie together with a theme, particularly with gauntlet matches. Not only are they a lot of fun (and a nod to the Mortal Kombat days), but they provide some currency, which comes in handy for unlocking goods.
And here’s where some folks might be annoyed by 2K yet again. Like its basketball game NBA 2K19, WWE 2K19 offers loot boxes. On the one hand, there’s a lot of great bonus items to unlock for your custom wrestler here, and you can buy most of it with in-game currency without dropping a dime. But on the other, some of the items can be purchased with cash, and this is just an excuse for die-hard fans to indulge and spend even more money. While it is optional, it’s a system that a few will have complaints about. And judging by 2K’s decisions as of late, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. But at least the microtransactions, again, are optional and not required to really move forward.
Getting past that, two key aspects of WWE 2K19 really help keep momentum up over other versions. The first is the return of Showcase mode, which is very highly welcome. It focuses mainly on Daniel Bryan, because he’s had such a great career, having to hang up the boots for a little while only to come back strong, particularly for his title match with A.J. Styles at Crown Jewel next month. That particular match isn’t featured in the game, but a number of his iconic favorites are, including Wrestlemania match-ups and so much more. This is sure to leave most fans saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” just as he would, even though some matches can take a good while to get through.
MyPlayer remains a huge draw as well, particularly this year, thanks to a huge leap forward with storytelling. Like always, you can create your own wrestler with one of the best customization systems in the business, going as wild and wacky as you want -- or nostalgic, if you feel like creating, I dunno, Hulk Hogan or something.
Once that’s done, you’ll go through your paces in the fictional BCW, continuously bugging Triple H for an opportunity at a career. He’s ready to give it to you, but you can bet your sweet bippy he’s going to make you work for it. And how.
This career mode is filled with plenty of awesome moments, and not nearly as much awkwardness as we’ve seen in previous years, thanks to some great encounters with superstars (Braun Strowman is a highlight) and humorous moments straight out of the DeGeneration X playbook.
Plus you can level up your wrestler by unlocking goods. Again, this brings those loot boxes into question, but the skill tree you can unlock moves and other things through is immense. It’ll take a while to unlock some of the better stuff, but at the very least you have stuff to dig into -- and earn currency from -- along the way. It’s a grind, but the variety makes it feel less than so, if that makes sense.
That said, some quality issues occur in this mode, as some wrestlers don’t sound like themselves (a friend referred me to a strange voiceover issue with John Cena and, yup, it’s weird) and there are occasional glitches, which I’ll get to in a moment.
All the same, both Showcase mode and MyCareer give you something more to strive for, and combined with Towers and its online challenges, WWE 2K19 has a much more stacked deck than in previous years. I do hope it continues to flourish with more superstars (how about a classic run through 1980’s WWE with Shawn Michaels, now that he’s unretired again?) and more wild options.
Then we come to the graphics. The good news is that the visuals still look great, and a very close facsimile to the real WWE, complete with entrances, custom themes and some superstars that are nicely designed. But there are also a handful that look a bit...odd, as if textures don’t agree with them in some cases. For instance, Triple H can look a little plasticky at times when he’s in the ring. But outside it in a business suit? Not bad at all. Also, some people might have issue with hair animations, because, well, does it have a life of its own?
All the same, the roster is highly impressive, with over 200 superstars (including upcoming DLC with the likes of Dakota Kai and Bobby Lashley). Mixing it up in “dream” matches like “Macho Man” Randy Savage against The Miz (what, it’d be fun) and the Ultimate Warrior versus Bobby Roode can be a lot of fun. And the women have their moment in the sun as well -- finally, Kairi Sane versus Asuka, the way I wanted it to be. You can bet I threw Ronda Rousey in there a bit as well. (She’s a pre-order bonus, and a nice one to have.)
As for audio, the wrestler themes are excellent, right down to the new entrance by Shinsuke Nakamura; the sound effects are solid; and some of the wrestler voices (save for oddball ones) are on the money. That said, the commentary still needs some work. While it’s great to hear Corey Graves interject as always, it can run in spurts and doesn’t seem very realistic. This is probably something that 2K will continue to work on, but it doesn’t have the smooth ebb and flow like its basketball counterpart suggests. Maybe next year...and throw some Mauro Ranallo in there. (We’ll throw a “Mama Mia!” in there as well.)
There are still parts of the WWE 2K engine that need improvement, like with the commentary, some of the slightly rough gameplay edges and getting an overall balanced appearance style for all wrestlers, instead of making some really good and others, well, not so good. But WWE 2K19 still feels like a good leap forward from last year’s game, and that’s good news for fans.
The gameplay sees slight improvement from additions, but it’s the modes that go a long way, particularly Showcase (“YES!”), Towers and MyCareer. They really extend the replay value of this game, as if it didn’t have enough with setting up dream matches with rules however you see fit. Kudos also to the developers for making the writing and the delivery count, so it’s not just a “let’s skip the awkward cut scene so we can get to the next match” sort of execution. You actually want to see what happens next.
Add to that a completely stacked roster (the NXT picks are always fun to see), some solid online play (based on the matches we tried) and, of course, Big Head mode, and you have a wrestling experience that makes significant improvements over last year’s release. Sure, there’s still work to be done; but WWE 2K19 has made the right number of improvements to be a step closer to being a show-stopper.
And yes, we referenced Shawn Michaels’ nickname there -- but the comparison just felt right, buddy. Please don’t throw us through a barbershop window.1comments
WWG’s Score: 4 out of 5.
(Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.)