Like past games in the series, WWE 2K15 spends a lot of time looking back on wrestling history. Propped up by years of real-life stories, cuts and bruises, the series continues to be a good source for professional wrestling nostalgia. Still, while 2K Sports' efforts pay off in a few areas, the publisher missed a chance to be the best in the world by a wide margin this year. By dropping a number of customization options and introducing an annoying game mechanic, WWE 2K15 loses touch with what made the series special.
Among the things that WWE 2K15 does well is the Showcase mode, which includes my personal favorite WWE match from Money in the Bank 2011, when CM Punk said he would leave the company with John Cena's WWE Championship title in tow. Their championship bout sounds like the final moments of a storied rivalry, but is in fact the first match in WWE Showcase mode, which recreates this and one other multi-year feud between Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Showcase features expertly-produced video packages and goal-oriented historical matches, much like the Attitude Era and 30 Years of WrestleMania modes in past games from developer Yuke's. As before, 2K Showcase remains my favorite part of the game, hopping across multiple months to provide players with a well-presented slice of wrestling history.
Showcase is also the best arena to show off WWE 2K15's greatest asset, its graphical improvements. WWE 2K15 leaps into the new generation of consoles with better visuals than ever before. 2K's decision to scan most of the faces of its stars pays off, as top talent like Randy Orton look uncannily similar to their real-life counterparts. 2K Showcase includes several cutscenes in which the wrestlers re-enact moments from memorable matches, like the double-submission by Cena and Punk on Big Show at SummerSlam 2012, and the level of realism on display is quite an achievement. Wrestling buffs may notice that a few details are slightly out of place, but history is represented astoundingly well in 2K Showcase in particular. It was fun to relive the drama of each rivalry, though you spend a lot of time playing as the same wrestlers (Punk, Cena, etc.), which can wear thin after a while. The rivalry concept just doesn't lend itself to variety as well as previous historical modes.
Unfortunately, the action between the ropes isn't up to the same standards as the visual presentation. In-ring activity is still very reliant on the tough-to-gauge reversal system, which requires a single button press at exactly the right moment. Even after hours of training, I continued to see "too late" and "too early" messages on my missed counters. The reversal system's poor feedback continues to be a major problem, even after using the game's tuning sliders to make them easier to pull off.
A larger problem is the new chain wrestling mechanic, in which two wrestlers tie up and choose between three position changes in a rock, paper, scissors mini-game to gain the upper hand. After re-positioning in the grapple, players then rotate the joystick to find a hot-spot, advancing or countering the move. As you might expect, throwing what is essentially a quick time event into the middle of the match pulls you right out of the action. It's more of an uninspiring nuisance than an exciting tug-of-war, and it consistently interrupted the flow of my matches.
It's a shame, given that general movement and animations seem to be much smoother now, and matches are otherwise entertaining. Characters will still awkwardly slide and snap into place occasionally when up against a barricade or the ropes, but on the whole it's an enjoyable game so long as you're not chain wrestling. Strategically attacking certain parts of your opponent with grapples, strikes and the limb-targeting system is fun, while the build-up to finishing moves is paced well, making them feel special without dragging out matches for too long.
You won't find even these simple pleasures in online matches, however. WWE 2K15 is completely reliant on a split-second reversal system, which is nearly impossible to use thanks to consistent latency issues. These problems throw off timing for every move and reversal, turning matches into scrambling messes to score the first pin attempt.
Even in offline matches, the action can get a little old, and nowhere is that more evident than in My Career mode. My Career is the series' new single-wrestler mode that starts in the training arena and follows your created wrestler through their blossoming career as a WWE superstar. Like career modes in other sports games, the experience becomes rote fairly quickly. You participate in a weekly matchk, as well as an optional second fight, to earn skill points and virtual currency, which you can then spend to upgrade your wrestler's skills. You primarily interact with people like Triple H and Vickie Guerrero through the game's menus, jumping into feuds with wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and William Regal and earning social media followers with your in-ring actions to boost your popularity.
You can have some fun becoming a heel for a little while, opting to steal other wrestlers' finishing moves or remove the padding from the turnbuckle, but the bulk of My Career feels like being stuck in the pro wrestling version of a hamster wheel. There wasn't enough umph to the story turns – occasional rival interference, choosing between "good guys" and "bad guys" – to make My Career particularly noteworthy. What's more, what story there is is conveyed mostly through text, which is pretty bland compared to the over-the-top presentation that the real WWE is known for.
WWE 2K15 is perhaps at its most disappointing in the creation suite, which allows players to handcraft the WWE's next top superstar. It's a great idea, one that the WWE series has excelled at in the past, but WWE 2K15's tools feel akin to handing an artist an eight-color box of crayons. This year, players won't be able to create Divas, championship titles, arenas or custom finishing moves. Instead, you get a lackluster variety of hair and clothing options for male wrestlers, with the only highlight being the ability to upload practically any logo to 2K's servers for use on gear and as body art. Fair warning: I spotted one pornographic image within 24 hours of 2K15's launch (stay classy, Internet!), so upload monitoring might be a little lax. 2K promoted the logo uploading function as a way to add new faces to the game too, but I've yet to get that to function particularly well, either. Rather than employing an official face scanning feature, you can upload your face and drop it onto custom wrestlers as "body art." While that might come out okay with some heavy tweaking, my attempts mostly looked like my wrestler was wearing a skin mask.
The lacking creativity options extend to match selection, as well. While a fair amount of match types are available, like Hell in a Cell and the 30-man Royal Rumble, there are no choices to tweak bouts any further. Unlike previous games, for example, you can't opt for no disqualifications or bring in special guest referees. WWE 2K15 is also missing a number of match variations, such as one-on-one ladder matches, handicap matches and tornado tag fights. In short, WWE 2K15 is a clear low point for a series that previously prided itself on offering unique and customizable experiences.
2K's first crack at wrestling in the new generation of consoles is a severe disappointment. The chain wrestling mechanic is tiresome, and online play is a chore. A dearth of customization options across the board tear away at what made the series special. While 2K Showcase is among the more reliable sources of fun, and it appropriately provides a great venue for the superb visuals, the bulk of what makes a WWE game stand out is largely nonexistent. As an entry in an annual series, WWE 2K15 is worth skipping this year, and I can't help but wonder if 2K Sports itself might have been better served taking a year off from the ring.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS4 version of WWE 2K15, provided by 2K. Images: 2K.
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