I've been a wrestling fan for the past few years. No, I'm not talking about UFC and I'm not talking about boxing. I'm a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment, more commonly known as the WWE -- you know, scripted wrestling. I attend live events, I buy apparel, and quite frankly I spend more money on wrestling-related gear each year than I would like to admit.
I originally intended to purchase WWE 2K16, but the mixed reviews made me hesitant. Our sister site Gamespot gave it a 4 out of 10, while others have called it "the best wrestling game in years." The game scored a 74 rating (out of 100) on Metacritic, a CBS-owned website (as is CNET) that aggregates reviews from a variety of sources.
I've now played the game for the past few weeks and have had more fun than I expected. It's not exactly a home run, and if you go in thinking it will be perfect you will be let down. But there's a lot to like about the game, and wrestling fans will enjoy battling it out with their favorite superstars.
WWE 2K games include a special Showcase mode that allows you to play historical matches and events. Last year's WWE 2K15 game focused rivalries between a number of high-profile wrestlers, such as John Cena vs. CM Punk and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels.
Rather than focusing on a variety of different characters, the Showcase mode in 2K16 lets you play through the long and wild career of cover star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. It's straight wrestling nostalgia as you play as Austin against opponents like Bret Hart, Dude Love, Vince McMahon, The Undertaker and The Rock. The best part? WWE legend Jim Ross returns to call the matches.
Normal matches are called by Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler and WWE Hall of Famer John "Bradshaw" Layfield, another welcomed addition to the game. The commentary isn't anything special and definitely not the same as watching an episode of Raw, but it gets the job done. Unfortunately, all three characters look terrible, but we will get more into that in the next section.
Aside from the Showcase mode, my favorite feature was being able to create my very own WWE superstar. I've already come to terms that I won't be a professional wrestler, but I can at least live out my hopes and dreams inside of a video game. WWE 2K16 includes Create a Diva/Superstar, Create a Show, Create an Arena, and Create a Championship features. There's also a MyCareer mode, which returns from last year's game. Oddly enough, though, you can't use a diva in the MyCareer mode.
Meanwhile, I had fun creating my very own character and working my way up through the ranks of NXT. I had originally hoped to make it to the main WWE roster, but I'm not very good at the game (and it gets repetitive). The MyCareer mode has a number of exciting feature. You can tailor your character's traits for a specific wrestling style, hire a manager or sidekick to distract referees, and make decisions that result in you being either a heel or face (a villain or a good guy). My character is currently a face and aligned with Finn Bálor (I ran in and protected him during one of his matches). I also have a feud with Tyler Breeze, which is fitting because I can't stand the character in real life.
For all the things I like about the game, there are also numerous annoyances. While 2K16 includes the largest roster to date (more than 120 playable characters), it's missing four key players. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley -- also known as the Four Horsewomen -- are nowhere to be found. That leaves Paige as the NXT Women's Champion.
The graphics are also dated, which some may even say is an understatement. There are some impressive moments, but more often than not the game simply doesn't look like a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game. Renee Young, Stephanie McMahon and Dean Ambrose stood out for all the wrong reasons. They look nothing like they do in real life. Luckily there are a few superstars that look true to form (Triple H, Stone Cold, Randy Orton and Sting, to name a few).
The character I created wears a Santa hat during his entrance. He is billed from the North Pole, so it's only natural, but for some reason the hat is cut off at the top and his hair sticks out. This wasn't intentional, but you will find these kinds of bugs throughout the game.
As for the actual gameplay, it can be rather confusing for newcomers. There's almost no tutorial. Instead you get a few pop-ups that explain the controls during your first match. While the reversal system has been improved from previous games, you will still find yourself waiting for the cooldown to run out. This means you will be chain-grabbed or repeatedly tossed around before getting a chance to cause some damage.
Characters entrances look great and are very cool to watch (but for some reason they aren't enabled by default). Unlike in previous years, there is no loading time between each entrance, but you are left with an awkward cutaway shot of either the crowd or the announcer's table.
I like that you now have the option of attacking an opponent as they make their way to the ring, but it's not perfect. The Undertaker, for example, walks in with a long trenchcoat and his signature hat. A minute or two after you ambush him, the camera will once again do that awkward cutaway shot to the crowd and the trenchcoat and hat will be gone. It would have been better if these could have been ripped off and remained on the ground to use as a potential weapon later on.
As I said earlier, WWE 2K16 is by no means perfect. The graphics need work, and there are some missing features as well as some bugs that should be worked out. Regardless, I had a blast playing the game, but at $60 (plus added DLC down the road) it's a bit pricey for my liking. Sure, the roster is bigger, character creation is more powerful, and the Stone Cold showcase will make you miss the good ol' days. You're simply better off waiting for a price drop.
The game is well worth it for $40 or less, and that's the bottom line -- because Dan Graziano said so.