WWE 2K22 Review: A Return Worth Celebrating

WWE 2K22 has significant expectations coupled with its release, as WWE 2K20 met with backlash after a host of bugs and online issues brought any momentum to a screeching halt. 2K then made the decision to skip a year in the hopes of bringing the next iteration of the series up to par and restore faith in the franchise, and now 2K22 is finally here. With high expectations should also come celebrations if that goal is achieved, and from my time with WWE 2K22, the game has succeeded in delivering refined and addictive gameplay across a variety of modes that should leave fans absolutely delighted and probably relieved, even if there are a few things that hold it back from completely fulfilling its promise and potential.

WWE 2K22 features six main modes as well as online play and the creation suite, though more often than not, the biggest attraction each year is 2K Showcase. This year features the legendary WWE Superstar Rey Mysterio, and those who idolize wrestling history will adore reliving classic Mysterio matches against Eddie Guerrero, Batista, and more. The hallmarks from previous entries are all here, but 2K22 gives each match a new, stylish flair by transitioning from gameplay to actual footage at key points in the story, and this stunning transition keeps you immersed in the story of the match and back into gameplay effortlessly, only helped by Mysterio's moment-by-moment commentary.

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(Photo: ComicBook)

There's a personal touch to Mysterio's showcase that is altogether unique compared to previous entries, and his continued presence can't help but immerse you further into his unfolding career. Showcases can be difficult to stick with if you're not completely invested in a superstar already, but I don't believe that will be an issue this time around.

Also, it's worth noting that on a technical level, 2K went out of their way to highlight each action in the pause menu and what is required of you to move on to the next step, something previous games struggled mightily with. I had to pause a few times to figure out what was required to make the next moment happen, but aside from a fumble here and there, I had my answers without much fuss and I was quickly back into the action, as it should be.

Showcase is great, but really, the star of the WWE 2K22 is My GM mode, a mode that has been on wishlists each and every year for what seems like an eternity. My GM mode has you building a WWE brand from scratch and drafting your roster of superstars as you factor in weekly costs, roster effectiveness, choosing arenas, lighting, and advertising for a given show, as well as booking strategies, injuries, free agency, popularity, fans, social media, and more. I lost countless hours tinkering with my roster and finding the right combinations in the hopes of booking a perfect show. You'll also buy Power Cards to hurt the opposing brand or help your roster recover, and you get incentives by fulfilling the Commissioner's goal, and that's all on top of managing your Superstars, who will come to you with requests and proposals that can hurt or help their morale. It's incredibly addictive, and you could easily spend hours here without even noticing.

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(Photo: ComicBook)

To put it bluntly, if you only get this game for this mode, I wouldn't tell you not to, though that doesn't mean it has no room for growth. After some time you will start to feel somewhat limited because of the boundaries in place, and those were probably put in place to keep things running smoothly on the gameplay side. That said, this mode would be even better without those constraints, and hopefully, 2K23 or whatever future title the series embraces will get to expound upon the promise that's here. Things like only having two Champions per brand (which cuts away Tag Team, Intercontinental, 24/7, North American, United States, and more) stand out, as do the limit of only three matches and three promos per night (aside from pay-per-views). Being able to freely customize your show's lineup would only add more strategy and more replayability to an already enticing endeavor.

This whole review could be about My GM mode, but there are other compelling offerings in the mix. My Universe takes the limits off of your brand-building dreams, but truthfully, those GM mode limits are what make the successes so rewarding. There's also My Faction, which brings a bit of that SuperCard addictiveness into the game, and while I see myself dabbling in the mode more, you have to battle quite a bit before you're able to unlock new packs. If that rate of unlocking increases in the future, I could see myself spending more time here.

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(Photo: ComicBook)

That brings us to My Rise, which tells the story of your journey from Performance Center recruit to WrestleMania Superstar. Unlike 2K20, which focused on the friendship of two stars trying to make it to WWE, My Rise picks up as you are first entering the company and immediately puts you into the thick of other WWE superstars. This is more of a straightforward rise up the ranks, but I quickly became attached to my created character and enjoyed getting into the mix of Raw and SmackDown more quickly than in 2K20. Your interactions are hit and miss depending on who recorded the dialogue and how the animations came out (which can be quite rough at times) but it didn't take long for me to become invested in my character's story and I enjoyed exploring the world and moving up in WWE's ranks. It tries too hard at times, but I still found myself enjoying the experience.

As for the Creator Suite, there are a bevy of options at your disposal when creating a Superstar, and it's quite easy to start manipulating the smaller details to really make your Superstar stand apart from the rest. There aren't as many clothing options as I was expecting, but the ones that are there offer multiple options and ways to tweak them to get the desired result. The overall system is relatively smooth, though it does load quite a bit, even on PS5, as you make your way through differing outfits, body types, and faces.

What doesn't suffer, however, are 2K22's graphics, which are, for the most part, incredibly authentic and impressive. Superstars on the whole are quite close in likeness to their real-life counterparts, and the small details in their gear, the crowd, and the arena can't help but draw you in. As with every WWE game over the past 20 years, certain Superstars will not stand up to scrutiny and seem a bit off, but all in all the game and the roster looks splendid. That also applies to the in-game character models and wrestling action itself, and the control scheme has also received a welcome refresh. It takes some getting used to, but actions feel far more intentional, so if you set about to achieve a certain goal you are far more likely to make it happen thanks to the controls staying out of your way.

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(Photo: ComicBook)

All that's left is online play, and this has been the biggest issue with the game so far. I successfully completed very few matches compared to the number of times a session has timed out, a match has shown up as full or un-joinable after it clearly said it was open, or network errors caused a lobby refresh. When the matches do happen, however, they're fun and nail-biting as you attempt to thwart your opponent's moves and anticipate how they'll let their guard down. There wasn't much in the way of lag during those matches, but the ratio of successful matches to being knocked out of them was ridiculously high up until today. Thankfully things seemed to have been ironed out, as I joined several matches without any hiccups and got to the in-ring action relatively quickly. If that continues, things should be good from here on out. Granted, I'm not a massive online player, but I still expect it to work and to work well if I decide to jump in.

WWE 2K22 has a lot riding on it, and it shows. 2K22 has made video game wrestling fun again while retaining the wealth of creative options to make your experience more unique and personalized. My GM is pure gold, even with its unfortunate limits in place, and it should only get better from here. Meanwhile, 2K Showcase and My Rise offer their own distinctive ways to immerse yourself in the world of wrestling, and coupled with the impressive graphics, give you more than enough reason to keep jumping back in. Online play did have its issues early on and My Rise isn't as refined as I'd hoped, but despite those flaws, 2K22 will continue to be in my console's heavy rotation because of everything else it brings to the party, and I would definitely call that a success.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WWE 2K22 is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Review copy for PS5 provided by 2K

So what do you think of WWE 2K22 so far? Let us know in the comments and as always you can talk all things wrestling with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!