In the wrestling world, there are tonnes of options to choose from outside of the WWE. Whether you want to watch the high-flying luchadors in Mexico, the hard-hitting strong style wrestlers in Japan, or whatever the hell TNA is doing, there’s an almost unlimited amount of content to watch. Unfortunately, in the videogame world, the only option to choose from is WWE’s 2K series.
While generally they scratch the itch most card-carrying wrestling fans have to live vicariously through their favourite superstars, they tend to be visually substandard, full of glitches, and sometimes full of controller throwing frustration. Still, every year we come out in hordes, and play for hours because for some reason, despite their flaws, they’re still really fun. WWE 2K17 is no different in that regard. While it's plagued by bugs, WWE 2K17 does feel like the first real step forward for the series in a very long time.
Before I get too into new features of WWE 2K17, let’s get one thing out of the way. The water cooler talk with this series always revolves around the bugs, and I experienced a lot more serious errors in my time with WWE 2K17 than I have in any of the games from the last three years. A quick rundown of some of the more memorable issues include: a wrestler being billed from “Winnipeg Ontario Canada” even though Winnipeg is not in Ontario (stupid idiot!), me power slamming someone who was on the other side of the ring, and a match-breaking glitch where in the lead up to my finishing move my character stood over my opponent while he rolled around on the ground for 5 minutes. That was unfixable as both characters were caught in an animation loop, and I had to turn off the console in order to return.
So right out of the gate, I need to make it clear that WWE 2K17 is not polished. That extends to the character models that barely look like the wrestlers they try to portray, along with hair clipping through their bodies. The creepiest thing is actually the audience; they look like a robotic cult raising their arms in unison, praising some kind of deity in the ring. These aren’t nitpicking issues; they’re just straight up issues.
Not only that, but WWE 2K17 feels dated with an old commentary team that hasn’t been together for a year. If you’re a WWE fan, odds are hearing the names JBL, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler together triggers PTSD of a terrible bygone commentary era full of bad jokes, dated references, creepy comments about women wrestlers and WWE network plugs (mind you that’s still a frequent occurrence). For those who don’t know, Lawler hasn’t been an onscreen commentator since July, and was replaced on that announce team well before that. To add to that, their sound recordings are mostly reused, with some clips dating back as far as 2K14, and for some reason JBL sounds like he recorded some of his lines with strep throat.
But despite all this, I found myself staying up until 4 a.m. for my umpteenth “one more match” slowly building my created player through the ranks in the refined “My Career Mode”. Unlike previous entries, WWE 2K17 doesn’t have a “Showcase” story mode chronicling either a wrestler or era, like last year’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin story, or the “Attitude Era” story before it. Instead, 2K focused on a career mode that makes you feel as close to a wrestler as possible without actually taking a bump.
Players start at the NXT Performance Center with former wrestler turned actual development coach Mat Bloom. You work on your superstar’s gimmick, appearance, and most importantly your heel or face alignment. This is where I had the most fun. Players can actually make their characters feel more like a heel or face through the new promo mechanic. In this, players cut a promo by picking one of four lines. Generally this is used to call out another wrestler, but there are times, like interviews for instance, where that’s not the case. Regardless, your responses need to be tailored to the crowd, which is not the same from city to city. Much like the actual WWE, there are family friendly crowds, hardcore crowds, respectful crowds and disrespectful crowds. It’s your job to tailor a promo to fit the crowd and play off them to either make you more of a face or heel. These responses also give your wrestler a personality, and the more your alignment and your personality traits grow. If you play your promo right, you can win a verbal encounter, increase your popularity with the crowds, and fall into more of a heel or face role with the crowd.
There’s more to popularity and alignments than just promos. Your actions in the ring, and even how you handle yourself after matches, help you in that department. The crowd responds to your character in two ways, the first based off the performances you give, and the other is based on your tactics. If you stay competitive, win big matches and put on exciting bouts, the crowd will respect you as a performer. However, depending on your alignment, how you go about winning is important. If you’re a dastardly heel, you need to win dirty, put your feet on the ropes for leverage, use moves unbecoming of a hero. If you’re a face, play clean and keep it in the rules. All of this is important in becoming a star. Your popularity is important, and you can cool down or heat up depending. If you’re hot with the crowd, things like t-shirt sales will sky rocket, but you’ll need to stay on top of that and constantly design new merchandise to keep crowds interested. There’s a lot going on, but if you play it right, it can be rewarding.
The “My Career” mode does get a little annoying considering you have to sit through the intros for each show every time you appear on it. As you get deeper, that could mean as much as three different introductions you have to sit through each week of gameplay. Trust me, I tried everything to forgo it, but it just didn’t work. To make up for it though, there are some really inspirational video packages at certain segments that feel like they’re produced right from the WWE. When they come on, I felt so inspired to try my best that it was kind of embarrassing. On top of that, the soundtrack of WWE 2K17 is so robust and varied that more tedious things like navigating the menu are a little more bearable.
Outside of “My Career”, “WWE Universe Mode” returns with some minor tweaks. In this section players can fantasy book shows, pick their favourite stars as champions and create feuds. While the mode itself is still very similar from past games, 2K went ahead and gave players two extra save spaces so you can run multiple fantasy universes with current stars, made up stars, and legends, or a mix of all of them. It’s really up to you how it plays out.
Speaking of WWE Legends, WWE 2K17 has the largest roster in a WWE game, with 60 unlockable old timers, a tonne of championship belts and a few arenas. Unfortunately a bunch of these are the same wrestler from different years, but it’s still something. There aren’t as many odd balls like last time around with D’ Lo Brown and Savio Vega, but it is a decent roster, with many wrestlers who were relegated to a DLC afterthought last year making the cut to being actual unlockable characters. I was disappointed by the arena options, but the amount of championships you can unlock is insane. Unlocking items and characters is a little more streamlined now, as well with using in game currency you earn from matches to spend on whatever and whoever you want.
I do have a point of contention about the ratings of some of the characters and current stars in WWE 2K17, but I guess that’s more of a “me problem” than a problem with the game. Still, I grumble under my breath when I see how some of the most talented guys and girls on the roster are criminally underrated. Sami Zayn for instance is rated extremely low despite being one of their most talented performers on the roster putting on some of the best matches in the company. Another “me problem” would definitely be the inclusion of Goldberg as the pre-order DLC. I understand that he was a big deal from 1998-2004, but he’s never really been a cause of excitement for me. Still, it’s nice to see some more WCW love again, and he can be exciting to play as. I was far more excited to get my hands on the “NXT Enhancement Pack” which included superstars like Apollo Crews, Nia Jax and Shinsuke Nakamura, all of which are just as fun to play as you’ve seen them wrestle.
That’s my main takeaway—WWE 2K17 is fun. But much like a loved one who has a substance abuse problem, I know it could be better, and I want it to be better, but it keeps messing up. Yeah, I still love it, and despite some serious bugs, I intend on going back to play some more. I just wish there was a little more care put into the actual game department, because nostalgic unlockables, motivational video packages, and developmental wrestlers can only keep me coming back to the series for so long. But as a wrestling fan that also loves videogames, I don’t have many other options these days. So I’m left hoping it significantly improves the next time around.