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WWE 2K17 [Xbox One] review: it’s not a Rock Bottom for the series

WWE 2K17

Last year’s WWE 2K16 is a tough act to follow, having substantially built upon the barebones foundation set by the first current-gen pro wrestling game. There was definitely room for improvement though, but between the plethora of little details and the Showcase Mode, it was a great experience for fans and lapsed fans alike. So it makes you wonder how the developers would move forward with WWE 2K17

Inside the squared circle

In terms of actual gameplay, you’re looking at pretty much the same experience as last year’s video game. So that means a semi-realistic pace, a “tap/hold button for weak/strong attack” system and reversals that need to be regenerated, ostensibly to prevent spamming. In fact, playing a one on one exhibition mode will leave you hard pressed to notice any major changes at first.

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However, the game has seen several notable tweaks here. For one, the UFC Undisputed-style submission system, which felt uninspired and “loose” in the 2K16, has been tightened up well. The result is that submissions actually feel possible now. And yes, the button-bashing option for submissions has made a welcome return too, in the form of an alternative control scheme.

Meaningful taunts and cooldown timers in multi-man matches are two solid additions to WWE 2K17

Another tweak comes in the reversal department, with 2K apparently making these counters more forgiving and making major reversals a more common occurrence. I can’t say that counters are noticeably easier this time, as the game still doesn’t change to a more standardised counter system (i.e. using a counter window at the start of a grapple rather than at arbitrary moments in a move). So successfully nailing a counter can still feel like a lucky occurrence half the time.

One of the more subtle yet important improvements come in the taunt department, as you’ve now got different taunt types at your disposal. Different taunts (assigned to the d-pad) will buff your character in a couple of different ways. So if you want to inflict more damage on your opponent, then use the relevant taunt to boost damage. Taken serious bumps? Then use the health-related taunt to regenerate some stamina. It’s a small tweak that goes some way to lending a strategic layer to proceedings.

Probably the most notable addition if you’re like me and love triple threat matches is that multi-man matches now features a cooldown timer. In real-world triple threat matches, the trope is that the three seldom fight at once for long periods of time, as one inevitably gets knocked to the outside while the other two duke it out. This is followed in the game as well, as one player can be beaten up and pass out at ringside, resulting in a cooldown timer appearing.

WWE 2K17 has seen a few tweaks to fundamental gameplay, but it’s still largely identical to last year’s effort

Players can try to get to their feet early or wait for the cooldown timer to fully replenish, giving you a bonus in the process. It certainly injects more welcome strategy into a match, although it does need a little more polish. For instance, I was thrown back into the ring during a triple threat match, only to roll out automatically due to the cooldown timer deciding to make an appearance. Surely being thrown into the ring doesn’t count as damage being done?

Those playing multi-man matches will also enjoy the fact that targeting other players, which has long been a super finicky process by default, now simply requires a click of the right stick. A long-overdue move, if anything.

Another addition I quite like is that you now get rated (out of five stars, naturally) for each match. It’s a small but notable touch, rewarding back and forth battles and varied moves over a repetitive squash match. And you also get rewarded with virtual currency for all matches (be it exhibition or in the career modes), allowing you to unlock new wrestlers in a manner akin to WWF No Mercy.

And those longing for the days of the Hardcore championship will be pleased with the return of backstage brawls in WWE 2K17, having you use various objects to put your opponent away.

Otherwise, those expecting a massive overhaul of WWE 2K16‘s fundamental gameplay will be disappointed, but I quite liked the previous game’s pacing and little details. Nothing was quite as satisfying as crawling over to an opponent and managing to drape your arm over them for the 1, 2, 3. The implementation of cooldown timers for multi-man mayhem and taunts with purpose definitely makes for a more strategic experience — although you can still go batshit crazy if you want.

You can now deliver your own pipe bombs

In a rather interesting move, you can now craft your own interviews/verbal confrontations in the various career modes, in a feature dubbed Promo Engine.

You’ll be presented with several phrases, having to choose the appropriate one in an attempt to verbally beat up your opponent and “win” the exchange.

Making matters more complex is the fact that the audience varies (between respectful, cheering good guys, cheering bad guys etc). Fortunately, you don’t need to play as the face/good guy – as long as you’re getting a strong reaction, you’re good to go.

It’s not very polished just yet and there’s understandably no voice acting, but it’s an intriguing, mildly fun addition to the formula. Now, the ability to record promos in general, using your voice, would go a long way to livening what is usually a stilted part of pro wrestling.

Will it keep you coming back?

It has to be said that, compared to WWE 2K16, the latest game will disappoint those looking for a Showcase Mode, being a staple of previous titles. Instead of the mode, which charted an iconic superstar’s career with archived material, we’re left with the bog-standard WWE Universe and MyCareer modes.

The MyCareer Mode is definitely the more polished, linear option here, as you work your way up to the main event and get optional objectives from either superstar HHH or manager Paul Heyman (such as using a foreign object on an opponent). Ignoring these objectives will also result in some tricky matches and situations down the line. So there are more tactical elements here that make for solid replay value.

The Universe Mode is the more free-form, less cinematic mode of the two, as you simply play with anyone in any match, going through a calendar of events (complete with promos, rivalries and the ability to interfere in matches). So if you’d like to play as John Cena in one match, Brock Lesnar in the next one and Sasha Banks in the following match, all on the same card, then go for it. And yes, you can add a second controller to do a cooperative/competitive career mode. Wrestlers also have a series of ever-changing stats that are affected by their matches and promos, in turn influencing in-game rivalries.

Speaking of stats and all that, you’re also free to edit a host of options, such as which superstars appear on which shows, who gets booed, who gets cheered and a host of other options. It all makes for an in-depth experience if you want to weave multiple stories and get things exactly to your liking.

The Universe Mode in WWE 2K17 is for control freaks, but the MyCareer Mode is where traditional gamers will spend more of their time

There’s definitely room for improvement in the Universe Mode though. For instance, those wanting to be Vince McMahon and craft every twist and turn of the story (including winners and losers) will be disappointed though, as there’s nothing of the sort in the mode or game. I suppose Extreme Warfare Revenge is still the best booking manager around…

In fact, the free-form nature is a double-edged sword in some ways, as the Universe Mode could benefit from an option to be locked to a few characters only, giving you more of a focus. It’s akin to playing a career mode in FIFA without a hard-and-fast chosen team, merely playing with any side that takes your fancy on match day. At the very least, a “favourite” icon next to your preferred wrestler would be appreciated.

The presentation and extras

When it comes to the visual department, WWE 2K17 certainly brings the in-ring goods, as most of the characters have been faithfully reproduced, down to some super-accurate facial scans. Long hair is something that the game still doesn’t quite get right (then again, which game gets it right?) while the crowd still looks like an afterthought of sorts.

Additionally, animations, while rather great, are prone to clipping and a lack of polish in some situations. For instance, fighting near the ropes leads to some ridiculous clipping issues — my character even got caught in the ropes after trying to dive at someone near the apron.

Of course, there are also clipping issues when it comes to general tussling, as hands pass through bodies or feet pass through ropes, but it’s perhaps inevitable, given the sheer variety of body types.

Still, the engine will sometimes surprise you with how well it handles clipping. For instance, as I was getting up near the ropes, I countered a running strike from an opponent, which resulted in them seamlessly bouncing neck-first off said ropes.

WWE 2K17 looks the business but you’ll inevitably encounter glitches

As for the audio department, you’ll quickly get tired of the original soundtrack (although there are a few favourites here), but the ability to play superstar themes as background music is still a thing. Now, if only they included Bobby Roode’s ‘Glorious‘…

Actually, Bobby Roode isn’t even in the game, while Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries and several others are downloadable characters (for a fee of course). Nevertheless, WWE 2K17 definitely has loads of characters to choose from, from Undertaker (in various gimmicks) and John Cena to legendary people like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, to NXT stars Samoa Joe and Finn Balor. In other words, everyone from hardcore fans to newbies will have someone they gravitate towards.

Of course, pro wrestling games are a multiplayer staple and WWE 2K17 is no different. Featuring support for up to four player local play, the game is an ideal party game.

As for online play, you’ve got the usual modes as well as an elimination tournament mode of sorts, called 2K Tonight. It’s effectively a winner stays on system, using stock characters and movesets rather than custom content. Unfortunately, 2K’s implementation of online multiplayer leaves a lot to be desired, as you have to choose the match type (one on one, triple threat, tag team etc), along with the stipulation (Hell in a Cell, hardcore etc).

The problem is that there’s no proper lobby system in place to let you join any match type/stipulation. So waiting can take ages if there’s no-one explicitly looking for the same match as you.

Is it worthy of a main event push?

WWE 2K16 built upon the previous game’s foundation in a big way, offering a good variety of modes, that all-important Showcase Mode and some fun gameplay. WWE 2K17 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, fixing some of these issues (the submission system) and also introducing a few notable additions (such as the match rating system, useful taunts and cooldown timers).

However, this year’s game doesn’t introduce anything major in the way of single-player modes — in fact, it loses the fantastic Showcase Mode of previous years.

Game information:

Release Date: 11 October 2016
Developer: Yuke’s, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Professional wrestling sim
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Review platform: Xbox One
Launch Price (RRP): R999
Industry average score: 73/100

Verdict: If you were completely unhappy with WWE 2K16, this year’s entry is unlikely to change your mind. Even if you were a casual fan of last year’s game, WWE 2K17 might feel more like a minor upgrade. But newcomers or those looking for WWE 2K16 with an updated roster and more tactical elements should check this out.

Score: 7.5/10

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