Much like WWE programming, the quality of wrestling games has been on a decline over the past few years. WWE ’12 claimed to be “Bigger, Badder and Better”, WWE ’13 promised a “Revolution” and the “2K” branding in WWE 2K14 implied nothing short of greatness! Unfortunately for wrestling fans, each of those games failed to meet expectation and were disappointments in the gameplay, audio and visual departments. With that in mind you’ll forgive my skepticism when Yukes vowed to right all of their wrongs with the release of WWE 2K15. But after sitting down with the game earlier this week, I can honestly say I’m starting to Bo-lieve.
The build I played at EGX only had four playable characters; Goldust, Cesaro, John Cena and Randy Orton. This is a far cry from the 60+ characters that will be available in the final game. I had hands-on time with Cesaro, Cena and Orton and was instantly blown away with how fantastic they all look. Yukes has partnered with NBA 2K developers Visual Concepts who has been working vigorously to track down and perform full facial scans on almost every Superstar in the game. They’ve also motion captured hundreds of wrestling moves in an effort to dramatically improve in-game animations. The result is a game that looks almost identical to its real life counterpart and is a HUGE step up from last year’s mediocre offering.
Yukes have also overhauled the counter-heavy gameplay system that has plagued their recent games and replaced it with a system that feels a lot more realistic. Instead of running towards the middle of the ring and exchanging suplexes as soon as the bell rings, each match now starts with a lock up and “feeling out” process as you’d expect to see on TV. Once you’ve locked up with an opponent, you’ll then engage in a Rock, Paper, Scissors-style mini-game in an attempt to gain the advantage and transition in to a head, waist or arm lock. While this may seem like a dull way to start a match, it makes pulling off your first suplex or DDT feel infinitely more gratifying. I’ll need to spend a lot more time with the game to figure out all the intricacies of the new gameplay mechanics but my initial impressions are rather positive. I loved how each match started with a foray of throws and strikes with momentum shifting back and forth, before being reduced to a sluggish brawl with both Superstars running off sheer adrenaline. Landing a finishing move at these moments felt great, especially when your own Superstar has to crawl to make the cover.
WWE 2K15’s improved visuals also extends to the game’s arenas and crowd. The jam-packed RAW arena looks just as rambunctious as it does every Monday night on the USA network and this year’s game features the best looking crowd I’ve ever seen in a wrestling game. I spent a bit of time trying to locate repeated character models in the crowd but was only able to spot one or two during entrances. Oh and while we’re discussing entrances, I was a little disappointed to discover that the animations for some intros were copy/pasted from previous games, but let’s be honest, most of us will just skip the entrances anyway. The demo that I played did not have any sound so I was unable to sample the “dramatically improved commentary” for myself, but the lack of JBL at ringside has me a little concerned.
We’ll have a lot more WWE 2K15 coverage including a full review in the coming weeks but playing this brief demo has me quite confident that Yukes will finally beat their decade-long underwhelming streak this November.