WWE 2K18 Impressions—Explosive Showmanship Meets Wobbly Mechanics

Game: WWE 2K18

Developer: Yuke’s, Visual Concepts

Publisher: 2K

Reviewed: PlayStation 4

Since its inception in the early eighties, the WWE gaming franchise has been putting the spotlight on wrestling greats, no doubt delighting fans of the theatrically electrifying sport. As a casual viewer, I could never resist the hilarious antics, outrageous reactions and pure randomness of it all, so it’s pleasing to see how smoothly all these elements have been transferred to WWE 2K18, the latest entry from 2K.  

Like previous years, the MyCAREER mode is there to give players a more personalised journey complete with The Sims levels of character customisation (seriously, you can modify the oil on your wrestler’s body to achieve plastic shine) as well as boost the game’s longevity. Compared to NBA 2K18, you have extra layers of facial and body modification, plus a whole list of victory animations, which makes sense given the ostentatious nature of WWE.

The customisation extends to your move-set, which is wonderful since it covers everything from diving to grappling to strikes and taunts, so you’re not stuck with the default setup if it cramps your style. MyCAREER does weave in a small tutorial for the uninitiated, but it largely focuses on silent conversations (I’m hoping they include voice acting in future) with your trainer (Matt Bloom), so returning players should feel right at home with the format. It does get clogged up with loading screens emblazoned with the swish WWE logo, and can feel a lot slower paced compared to WWE 2K18‘s other menu options.

Less story oriented is Play mode, which instead offers a ton of match styles from basic one on one to triple threat and the more structured tournament, or handicap if you’re interested in a less forgiving challenge. Tournament lets you indulge in elimination style rounds with a pre-determined roster of superstars, and while it doesn’t have as much replay value as the more freeform matches, it comes with some absolutely hilarious glitches and does add variety.

With more than 200 superstars to choose from, WWE 2K18 has the most inclusive roster in the history of the games, so your favourite wrestler is bound to be in there. For a price (in-game currency only) you can unlock new skills (upgrades and new additions to your current move-set) and abilities (fine tune pre-existing skills with increased damage percentage, lower opponent kick out gauge, enable more time for comeback and so on) which bolster your player’s overall strength. And speaking of strength, you can always pick ‘giant’ or ‘striker’ fighting styles when creating a custom superstar, and designate their class as ‘heavyweight’, though you will move more sluggishly as opposed to light heavyweights (under 240 lbs) and cruiserweights (under 206 lbs), so for beginners, I’d strongly recommend a player in the light heavyweight division for the best of both worlds.

As soundtrack producer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson continues a legacy of fine, faultless music, injecting WWE 2K18 with a mixture of lazy blues, irrepressible rock, and cool, grungy hip-hop that generates the rebellious atmosphere WWE is renowned for. Like the bombastic promo features, where players master the art of riling up the crowd for extra drama, it’s an essential part of the culture.

Gameplay consists of a simple repertoire of moves (strikes, grapples, holds, rebounds, dives and finishers) that isn’t too difficult to memorise with a little practise in the ring. And whist the general flow of adrenaline glazed beat ’em up feels satisfying, I won’t try hiding my incredulity (and utter dismay) at the absurd, extremely limited time window for reversal—a problem which I thought was only evident for WWE neophytes such as myself. Apparently not. WWE2K18 does a great job in making you feel powerful when you land a few punches and grapple your opponent successfully, but when it comes to defence tactics, accuracy, timing and the hope of turning the match around, most get thrown out the window. To clarify, this is far more noticeable on higher difficulties.

You can be on the verge of winning, and have victory brutally stolen from your button-mashing strained fingers because of a few mistimed R2 presses. To make matters worse, there’s no real way to quickly revive your superstar once he’s been pummelled to the ground, which leaves a dangerously large opportunity for your rival to inflict further punishment upon you. Naturally, an increased difficulty level boosts AI attributes, but there are unbalanced mechanics regardless; the biggest culprit is the poorly timed defence system which results in you blocking too late or too early, and will make you resort to guessing. I also felt the rotating slider approach to submission was extremely cumbersome (which seems to be the newer version) so I think it’s both smart and fair to include the original alternating button style system.

On a brighter note, there is much joy to be extracted from WWE 2K18‘s newly introduced online ‘road to glory’ feature, which is basically a matchmaking system. And I say that as someone who avoids online matches like the plague. Normally, I’m quite happy to stick to my insular bubble and verse the AI in story modes and campaigns. But given the human competition, it’s much easier to land a finishing move, and the frustration of having to pin your opponent down multiple times in order to barely scrape out alive is greatly diminished. Online for the win.

By versing other players, the reversal issue also isn’t as prominent, which (thank God) evens out the playing field and drives up your anticipation levels for new matches. Win or lose, they’re actually a blast, and this applies to WWE Online too. Two of the most major drawbacks are you need PS Plus to access these exciting matches (naturally), and it’s much less likely you’ll find five other players for a live 6-Man match compared to just one on one. Minor connection issues may threaten to interrupt mid-match, but are far and few in between. The loading times aren’t too horrible, either (I’ve waited longer for multiplayer matches in Uncharted 4) and seem faster than the copious waiting screens that bloat most other areas of WWE 2K18, especially the MyCAREER mode.

On the road to improving graphical fidelity, Cena, Rollins and the gang have been fashioned into the best looking digital replicas to date, though it’s come at the cost of unbalanced reversals and a game that’s saturated with loading screens. Still, the plethora of customisation options in appearance, wrestling style and match modifiers is impressive, true to the over the top spirit of WWE, and very navigable.

There seems to be more value for longtime fans of the WWE series than newcomers, who step into the continuum at a point where things feel slickly overproduced, and the realism of simulation has hurriedly taken precedence over crafting a fun, less eye-catching fighter. There’s obviously pressure to keep grabbing the attention of players who demand flawless frames and immaculate resolutions, but if WWE 2K19 ironed out the more cumbersome aspects of gameplay first, perhaps the visuals wouldn’t mind, and neither would I.      

WWE 2K18 is out now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $49.99~$59.99 USD.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.