“FINALLY!” We get to go hands-on with WWE 2K15! Having skipped the prior two entries in the WWE video game franchise, I have suffered from withdrawal for quite some time now. I started watching professional wrestling when I was 6 years old. I used to purchase every game for every damn console! Eventually, Yukes got lazy. They know it’s true. Now, with 2K in charge of the IP, and Visual Concepts taking the lead, you better “bo-lieve” WWE 2K15 is the first title in a long time to feel different. And different doesn’t necessarily always mean better, but after having 6 matches or so, in this case I believe it will.
The EB Games Expo 2014 build has not been updated, featuring just four superstars: Cesaro, Goldust, John Cena and Randy Orton. Two match types were available: Standard Singles and No Holds Barred. To be entirely honest, I was more concerned with how the core wrestling mechanics felt, so four of the six matches I played were vanilla match-ups. Naturally, the first new element gamers will notice is the collar and elbow tie-up at the outset. Essentially a game of rock, paper, scissors, the feature mimics the beginning of the majority of one-on-one contests in the WWE, leading you into a chain wrestling battle for initial dominance. Once you are in the advantageous position, the players enter into a battle to find a hot spot by rotating the right thumbstick. If you’re opponent has found it before you, you can wrench them using “X” (we played the PlayStation 4 version) or hit them with “Square”, which resets the position of the hotspot. Considering you can’t physically move in these positions, assigning the rotating input to the left thumbstick would make more sense and be all the more intuitive, as, in the game’s current state, you have to either take your thumb of the right thumbstick to wrench or hit your opponent, or hold the controller in a way that you are controlling the right thumbstick with your left thumb.
The tie-up battles are a nice addition purely for authenticity’s sake, however they don’t really lead anywhere, with the competitors ending up separated at its conclusion. A nice tweak to this system would be that the “winner” of the battle ends up in a front headlock grapple where they can then execute the real move of the match as reward. Speaking of, after a certain duration and fatigue level, pressing “X” turns from entering a collar-and-elbow tie-up to the basic front headlock grapple, where you can then pull of one of four directional moves, Irish whip your opponent or strike them. If you go straight into initiating grapple move with a directional input accompanying it, that will perform one of a set of four other manoeuvres. And anything you may have heard about the fatigue system is true…running, even for short bursts, will deplete it significantly and prevent you from executing big moves, along with your finisher should you have it stored/ready. It forces you to play that much smarter and methodically. Perhaps the game could be a little more lenient, but maybe other superstars might have higher stamina to begin with, because in real competition, there are superstars who run for days, so to speak. Look at Daniel Bryan, the Usos and others. A lot of their offence is found at the end of a run-up, and stifling that too much could take the fun out of playing those particular characters.
That being said, the fatigue system is a welcome addition overall, because it adds a layer of realism that was missing in previous titles. The labouring of breath, the struggles to get up, the crawling to the ropes for support and even pronely inching towards your incapacitated opponent just to get your arm over their body for a pin are prime examples of the realistic benefits of the system. Even climbing the ropes becomes a chore for a tired superstar, which can not even be achieved by all superstars this go around, with only a select number having that skill of top-rope attacks in their repertoire. In this regard, the game almost feels like an RPG, but realistically is simply more of a simulation than ever before. Also tied to fatigue, whipping an opponent into any turnbuckle early will see them bounce off instead of staying there. Another appreciated tweak is the fact that, if you attempt a grapple manoeuvre too close to the ropes, your character will physically lead the opposing combatant to the centre of the ring before executing. If there’s one thing I couldn’t stand in the past, it was people doing suplexes at the edge of the squared circle, and the characters sliding inwards because of the invisible barrier on the ropes. Manually, you can also drag, lift up or turn your opponent using the right thumbstick.
Pins are much harder to get out this year, especially after a finishing move or heavy damage has been doled out. On the flipside, as it relates to finishers, charged finishers in particular can be very easy to time and reverse, purely due to the fact that there is a build-up and the supposed victim has an opportunity to anticipate the “Counter” icon. That is an element that definitely needs to be tweaked before release, otherwise matches may become quite easy in general. To close, I want to share something that happened in my match as Cesaro (everyone wants to pick him) against Randy Orton. Firstly, his OMG Giant Swing is cool to witness, but doesn’t exactly feel like a big deal. I think the developers have made certain signature moves OMG moments so they don’t have to choose between which get assigned to “Triangle” as a pure “Signature”, which deprives it of its deserved lustre. However, I was on the floor outside the ring when Randy decided to try and jump on me from the top rope…and I caught him with a classic Cesaro uppercut! THAT was an OMG moment, and it was beautiful. Then, in the ring, I unwittingly countered a move to stack Randy up in a powerbomb pin position and won the match. The animations are so smooth, as are the counters, that it becomes a joy to watch as well as play (obviously). It’ll take some (attitude) adjustment, but WWE 2K15 will be the best WWE video game since Here Comes the Pain. “And that’s the bottom liiiiine!…”