WWE 2K17: The Good, The Bad & The Future
WWE 2K17 offers the latest bout, but not a title winning experience. A look at what succeeds, fails, and where the series could go from here.
Professional wrestling has been a part of both American and worldwide culture for the better part of 40 years. During that tenure, it has flipped between a focus on entertainment to sport and back multiple times. Wrestling through the WWE, WCW and ECW brought countless unique characters, engaging storylines and marque events. The genre is a perfect match for the video game realm. How does the latest iteration, WWE 2K17, stack up against the past of the series and its future potential?
A few disclaimers before we get into the analysis. I have been playing WWE 2K17 for a few weeks now; however, this is my first wrestling game in the last three years. Growing up a wrestling fan, I followed the WWE and WCW very closely for a solid fifteen years. Every title released from original Nintendo 64 game up through the PS2 generation were all must-haves for me. I have a great fondness for the property, but no longer actively watch the current WWE TV programs.
WWE 2K17 generally received positive reviews, between the 70-85% range across various sites and magazines. The game definitely offers some great elements that sports titles should pick up, but also a few clear failures that should be addressed in the next cycle.
The Good – What Works
A wrestling game has, and always will, live or die by its playable characters and match types. 2K17 has a massive collection of characters from yesterday and today. There are nearly 150 characters (including those in the bonus packs), in addition to being able to create one yourself. A wrestling game would never succeed with nothing but nameless avatars, so it’s a good thing the WWE has a back catalog of characters and history to rival the best movie and TV franchises.
Similarly, standard matches would get boring as a lone gameplay mode. Even a cage match (or octagon) gets repetitive quickly. But since this is entertainment, we can use our imaginations; 2K17 continues the long history of allowing players to relive or create new moments in engaging formats. The ladder match, Hell in the Cell, and Royal Rumble all work perfectly in the video game world.
The career mode is not new or unique to wrestling games, but has almost become a required element. 2K17 excels at giving the player control over their superstar’s image. Unless you are planning to become famous for being large like Andre the Giant, you’ll need to first bring a top-class promo game. If you lack the ability to capture the crowd live and in recorded promos, fans won’t care what moves you can do. The promo feature is a great create-your-own-path journey towards becoming a fan favorite or the heel everyone loves to hate.
I also enjoyed the slight nod to how wrestlers are basically entrepreneurs using the WWE platform. They have to create an engaging character, good or bad, to interest fans, sell merchandise, and stay relevant for the company. Players control their merchandise branding, and receive career boosts or drops based on fan engagement.
Finally, the game does a solid job of capturing the atmosphere of each superstar with their intro package. A world class intro defines most legendary wrestlers. The glass-crashing Austin or arena-darkening entrance of The Undertaker are core elements of the WWE experience.
The Bad – Breaking Things That Were Fine
2K17 has all of the elements to succeed: the superstars, the match types and the career mode. However, that falls apart when the in-ring action doesn’t live up to the experience. The WWE2K series figured out performing moves and combos both in and out of the ring, as well as interacting with objects, a good 20 years ago. In the 1997 release WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, the bar for fun, yet challenging in ring action was set. Yet 2K17 takes multiple steps backward when it should be improving on established excellence.
On the N64, players had more move options than in the current generation. The controllers have since gained buttons, but minimized the ease of use in-ring. This is best illustrated by the reversal system. Once a player has the upper hand and starts their next move, the opponent has only one option, the reversal. On the PS4, that is the R2 button. The game prompts you to hit R2, but 100% of the time it is too late once you’ve seen the icon. If you try to anticipate when to hit R2, based on years of watching wrestling, that is too early. It’s a poor system that often leaves you or your opponent on the defensive end for long stretches of the match.
Next is the unnecessary inclusion of minigames. I’m sure Bret Hart would have loved to have gotten his opponent into the Sharpshooter, but before winning by submission, be forced to compete in a minigame. In one match, I had my opponent beaten down nearly to full red status, then locked them into the Figure Four as Ric Flair. But instead of winning by tap out, it was minigame time! Not only is this a poor way to decide matches, but it breaks the flow of the experience.
In addition, the R2 reversal issue and minigames throw up repetitive screen prompts that are either too late or not needed. However, you are never prompted on how to escape the Hell in the Cell or pick up a chair.
Outside of the game mechanics issues, there are minor issues that are only noticeable to the long time wrestling fan. Ric Flair’s standard taunt should not be to raise a fist in the air (which I’ve never seen him do), but instead his classic “Woo” taunt. Another example is that when The Undertaker enters the Royal Rumble, drop the house lights. The game needs to use the history and the story that each character provides and not deviate.
2K needs to remember that the WWE is entertainment first, not a sport. Unlike Madden or FIFA, the WWE doesn’t need a game each year. While I’m sure sales revenue will remain a key factor for annual iterations, wrestling games should have longer life cycles. The focus should be on innovation rather than small advancements we are used to getting from annual sports titles.
As stated above, WWE lives and dies by its characters. Since the WWE has been around for so long, many fans or players are likely to be unaware of all the playable characters’ stories. A newer fan will not know about Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts or who the Natural Disasters are–just as an old fan who no longer watches will not have any clue who current superstars are. Simple video packages covering their history and key matches could easily fix this.
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The career mode has the biggest growth potential in the 2K series. Everyone loves creating their own superstar and working their way up to WrestleMania. However, players shouldn’t be limited to today’s stories. Careers should be able to start in the late 80s, battling Hulk Hogan, Macho Man and the Ultimate Warrior. Jump right into the mid-90s with Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker, or the Attitude Era fighting with or alongside Austin, The Rock, & DX.
Finally, steal the things that work well in classic sports titles. To unlock virtual credit or playable characters, players would have to recreate classic matches and results through the generations. Shawn Michaels’ 1995 Royal Rumble victory, the Undertaker vs. Yokozuma ’95 Casket Match, or Austin’s ’96 King of the Ring win.
Had I been reviewing this game pre-release, I would have likely given it a 6 or 7. However, after a few more weeks of play, I think the 7.5 range would have been likely. I believe this series has huge potential to improve the player experience from where it stands today. Re-install an easier to use reversal system, then leave it alone. From there, focus on expanding the career mode variety to embrace a wider range of wrestling fans. While it’s too late to implement most of these changes, we can hold out hope for updates, or at least for the series’ next installment. Either way, the future remains bright for WWE games.
The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, App Trigger or FanSided as an organization.
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