Finally… WWE HAS COME BACK… to consoles. After the absolute travesty that was WWE 2K20 , the World Wrestling Entertainment brand decided (for the better) to take a year off and re-evaluate what makes wrestling games true to form, and even more importantly, fun. After working most of the fan backlash out, 2K Games and Visual Concepts conceived possibly the best wrestling game in the past decade, with WWE 2K22.
The game allows the player behind the sticks to either go through the tutorial, or to forgo it, to which I elected to give it a whirl quickly. What greeted me, was a small match setting where an actual real-life wrestler, Drew Gulak, showed me the ropes. X = hit the other guy, A = hit the other guy hard, B = grapple, all the traditional ins and outs of how to perform in the ring. Luckily for me, the tutorial was a small one, but Gulak did have the opportunity to show off some instructing chops here, I felt educated.
The title screen of WWE 2K22 has some of the best music I’ve ever heard in gaming menus. I was greeted by Asking Alexandria roaring in the background and getting into a match has already achieved half of what is necessary even before entering the ring, hype. I got PUMPED by the hits echoing from the screen, which included Motörhead, Wu-Tang-Clan, Bring Me the Horizon, and Machine Gun Kelly. There’s also a spot in the menus that allows the player to create a playlist of their favourite Superstar’s entrance themes and rock out without playing, a worthy addition for those who like to jam to their favourite themes.
The most notable inclusion here, right off the bat, is the cover athlete’s “Showcase” mode, which highlights some huge matches from Rey Mysterio Jr.’s career, including a fan favourite that saw him face the legendary Eddie Guerrero at Halloween Havoc in 1997. WWE 2K22 brought the player all the way back to the match that could be considered by many as Rey Mysterio’s launch into superstardom in wrestling entertainment, an excellent point to start the Showcase mode, a start to a legendary star’s career.
During the match, the player has to fulfill objectives to play the match out as the real-life version had, Rey Mysterio is narrating the match and what it meant to his career during these important points, and with a really cool concept, the real-life match interrupts and flows seamlessly with the player’s actions. It really feels like you are controlling the flow of the match’s history by performing certain techniques and moves with varying difficulty, while filling the Lucha legend’s boots. If the player fulfills all the objectives in the Showcase mode, it unlocks the final Showcase match, which brings the player to where Rey Mysterio is today, a really neat way to tell a story in wrestling.
“After working most of the fan backlash out, 2K Games and Visual Concepts conceived possibly the best wrestling game in the past decade, with WWE 2K22.”
The gameplay of this new WWE 2K22 is far more of an arcade style than the years prior, and it is much better that way. There is a certain focus on combos that mix light and heavy attacks, and even grapples are thrown into the mix. There’s an easy-to-read health bar that shows the player, and opponent’s stamina for the match. The player can avoid permanent damage by allowing for the green bar to regenerate, but if the wrestler takes a prolonged beating, the health bar shrinks. Another health bar that details body damage is located as a mannequin’s body off to the side, showing how much damage is sustained to each body part during a match, which coincides with the show on TV, when each entertainer sells that a body part is ‘injured.’
There is also the special gauge, and finisher gauge, separating signature moves and finishers to different buttons, allowing the moves to be performed independently for the first time, a godsend for wrestling fans and match flow. The special gauge gives three distinct functions: to allow for fast recovery which spends one segment, usage of a situational payback move with two segments — such as holding RT+Y to perform an auto-kickout — and the signature move with three segments, gifting the player who lands a successful one a whole finisher, like in a real WWE match.
These game mechanics remind me of when Super Street Fighter IV introduced gauge segments, which gives players more strategy to work with during matches, which makes the title more skill based, a fantastic choice. Reversals have also been overhauled. During more damaging moves, a Y button prompt will appear, allowing the player to escape and punish an overzealous opponent. Knowing an opponent’s play style is also more helpful here than ever before, as a person who spams the same attack will be reversed and spanked accordingly. This gives a whole new meaning to adapt or perish.
“The gameplay of this new WWE 2K22 is far more of an arcade style than the years prior, and it is much better that way.”
Players can jump into fast exhibition matches by just hitting the play button, or they can experiment with the many other modes. MyCareer has been overhauled to a myRISE mode, which grants the player an opportunity to start from the training level of WWE, all the way to headlining WrestleMania. There are a lot of choice segments that allow the player to become a ‘heel’ or ‘face’ character, which is the wrestling equivalent of villain and hero.
You can switch brands, and there are two different careers for a male RISE and female RISE. The biggest adversary in this mode is the loading screens. There are countless loading screens to overcome on the road to WrestleMania. It’s hard to overlook this, when larger games can go from location to location with much smaller loading times, such as Forza Horizon 5, or Elden Ring. There are also some cheesy and cringey moments and voice acting, but it’s all in good fun. The player CANNOT skip cutscenes though, and some of them are PAINFUL, leaving an antsy feeling of just wanting to jump into a match.
WWE 2K22 has many other modes, such as myGM, which allows a simulation of the player to draft their own show and run it as they see fit. This is a cool concept and addition to the formula. Setting up each week to get better ratings than the other brands correlates very well to real life wrestling show issues. But sometimes setting a week up feels monotonous, and all the busy work with reading requests and such doesn’t feel fun, especially when competing against a computer. Playing it in co-op is a dream come true, and a fantastic time, reminiscent of Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. There’s a huge, missed opportunity here, Online play would have made this mode the best in the game, and it is not available.
“MyCareer has been overhauled to a myRISE mode, which grants the player an opportunity to start from the training level of WWE, all the way to headlining WrestleMania.”
The best thing about WWE 2K22, is that the game is fun. Gone are the countless issues that plagued the previous entry, but it’s very easy to improve on something when the bar is set so incredibly low. There are still wonky problems during matches. A Money-In-The-Bank ladder match was pure chaos, and I don’t think it ran great, but then again, there were 8 characters on screen, and the game held up surprisingly well without frame rate dips.
Simply picking up a ladder for me during the match was incredibly difficult, not even due to the other wrestlers. The activation is so sensitive to where the player needs to be for the ladder to be interacted with, that the character would just stand there. There are a lot of gameplay hiccups, such as moves not working as they should, or sensitive spacing leading to weird occurrences of characters skipping around the ring that were exhausting, but they are FAR from game breaking. WWE 2K22 listened to the fans regarding the previous entry and improved in every feasible way.
The roster is possibly the oddest in a WWE game. There are many wrestlers on the roster that are no longer under contract with the WWE, Braun Stroman carries a HIGH overall rating, but the WWE decided to release him. Kurt Angle is NOWHERE to be found, despite how Rey Mysterio’s Showcase mode could have been positively improved on with his inclusion. Paige is another star merely on the side of a milk carton. WWE 2K22 did get one thing right though, Chyna is on the roster, and it’s a HUGE addition.
WWE 2K22 is a step in the right direction. With countless game modes, countless creation options, and an ‘Ultimate Team’ mode called myFACTION that can give a player countless hours of wrestling goodness, although it seems more like a microtransaction cash grab, the mode offers challenges and more content. There may be TOO many modes in this game, WWE 2K22 could have benefitted from fine-tuning some aspects and cutting others. All in all, a fine wrestling experience, but FAR from a perfect one.