During the past year, WWE has taken its home grown talent from NXT, mixed them up with some new recruits from the independents, and made them into the next generation of Superstars. What was once a worrying time for fans as an underdeveloped roster struggled to break out is now a time of pure celebration, with new stories, fanfare, and a heaping cup of re-invigoration added to a product that is finally starting to feel fresh again. Yes folks, it is finally time to be excited about wrestling again, and what better way to enjoy these efforts than by reliving the experiences on television through another video game adaptation. WWE 2K17 looks to break the mold through means of re-invention itself – promising more customization, a bigger roster, and even more of what we love on one disc. Is this release worthy of carrying the weight of reinvention, or is WWE Games yet again ready to disappoint with the usual two steps back, one step forward dance of the past? Let’s find out.
I suppose I will start here, as My Career mode has carried over from the past couple of offerings to provide a pre-made storyline for fans to hop right into. I honestly don’t know why, with the resurgence of women’s wrestling and the general focus on the roster that WWE Games feels the need to force the player to create a wrestler for this, as that element makes the entire mode feel like a copy and paste job from predecessors. That is more of a personal gripe that I wanted to get out of the way as I’ve always felt that being able to select one actual star from the entire roster allowed for far more replayability and overall enjoyment (much like past Season Modes) – which is something we have lacked with this franchise since 2008. Getting back to 2K17’s My Career, get ready for the grind, as that is the name of the game.
After a terribly tedious tutorial in NXT, the player is thrown right into television with a bunch of random no-name stars as they all try to be the next big thing through their ring-work and promos. The player will pick a character, watch unstoppable openings for shows, and fight the lower card week after week as they work to get a decently ranked match. Yes, we are now ranked on our matches, but it isn’t quite what it seems. Matches have a five star rating mechanic this year, where everything you do adds stars to the overall scoring of a competition. The more “excitement” that the game feels the match is receiving, the more the ranking goes up. Its a simple formula that SHOULD work, but fails to do anything noteworthy as matches with random punching and a quick submission can end in three stars, and count-out victories can score higher even if there is little ring work throughout the match. It is an absolutely worthless gimmick that carries into the standard game, reminding players of how broken the new mechanic is throughout their entire experience.
After hours of work to get a title shot, the player can eventually get the attention of Paul Heyman (by selecting the default option) or join The Authority to cause some chaos. These little fork-in-the-road paths offer only light rewards, as you are still doing the same grind, but with a few more inflated scenes that attempt to give the options meaning, but fall flat due to the lack of substance. Speaking of lack of substance, the promo system borrows from a dialogue tree as players must quickly string preset phrases together in order to build their character at random points. Sadly, the dialogue options provided are stale and generic, delivering no connection to the actual event that may be occurring during the mode. All of this is a mess, bound together by actual WWE footage that constantly plays before any big event, reminding us how far away from the actual show we actually are. There just isn’t any originality or imagination to make this mode work, as it instantly hands the player a script for their own character while it forces them to color by numbers until the last bell is sound.
I won’t spend a ton of time speaking about the core gameplay, as not a lot has changed. Grapples, strikes, and so on have about the same and feel and are no more polished than last year in terms of execution. Other minor tweaks do nothing to improve – and instead take away from the more solid experiences players have had in the past. Let’s start with taunts. Instead of being able to execute from one of four taunts, the player has a taunt to raise the opposing player (known as the “wake up taunt”, as well as randomized character taunts that are based off the default selections the game has already made. This means that if you want to run up the ramp and taunt “JUST BRING IT” or scream out “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” at free will, it comes down to luck of what will actually come out. In the game’s favor, we can now do taunts in the corner, but the gestures usually take too long and feel messy as a lot of times the game will not properly detect any type of taunt a majority of the time and just have the model slightly jerk in a direction until they finally do something underwhelming such as raise their hands. Sadly, that is only the beginning. I think the developers were going for crowd interaction as the crowd does indeed provide some cheers and jeers based on if the Superstar who is taunting is heel or face – but this is a huge trade off that is just sloppy overall.
The standard match types are all back as well, but with huge exclusions such as tag team table and tag team ladder matches nowhere to be seen, we as fans are getting to recreate less of those famous moments due to shortcuts that were implemented due to new mechanics that come into the mix already broken. The ladder matches have had a large overhaul this year, as the player now doesn’t have to worry about setting the ladder up properly due to a handful of predetermined spots being the only location the weapon can go. I suppose this was done to make spots easier, but the AI seem to get glitched out a lot while trying to set up the ladder and if blocked by another AI, will walk in place holding it until they finally float (yes, FLOAT, as in hovering without legs moving) to that particular position. Most wrestlers can no longer properly tie up on the ladder as well, as now simple kicks and punches have replaced most of the grapples. Grabbing a briefcase is also a headache as instead of just “pull until loose” we have yet another game-breaking mini-game that makes this match predictable and rather stale.
Table matches are not much better. In my first table match I had online, I walked over to an opponent, got DDT’d near a table, and the table collapsed. Since I was close to it (maybe in a hitbox that didn’t visually click correctly), I got the loss. Another example, a Hell in a Cell. I did two finishers on the top to my opponent and the top broke through each time, but my opponent simply teleported to a safe spot on top and the piece fell out without much fanfare. I can keep going as there is not one special match type I played more than five minutes of that did not have a glitch, or a bug – or some kind of missing feature to make that particular match feel incomplete or scripted. Somehow the only matches worth playing now are the standard exhibition, but those are also crippled due to new “fixes” to old mechanics that cripple the experience.
Take submissions for example. The whole blue and red circle chase was terrible last year, so WWE Games added another option of tapping buttons. When I heard this I was actually excited as that worked in the old games – and when I lost, I felt like I earned that defeat. What’s disappointing about this is that they managed to ruin that small swap by using the same, broken tapping mechanic in play when in the corner of the ring during the rumble. This means you have to pick a button quickly and shift to the next input on the screen when you are in a submission, and while that might sound more intuitive, it actually makes matches end to headlocks and simple submissions way too easy. The window comes too fast and changes direction at a dime, leaving the player watching the AI fill the tap meter instantly while defeat is devoured by a bitter player who didn’t even get a chance. Mini-games are not fun to start with as they take you out of the match. Having to watch the AI bust out a standard submission to end a match (and then get a one star match as a salty surprise) is just miserable and without a slider to adjust submission ratios, there is simply no fix and we get stuck with the horrible submission system of the past that is still broken online.
Online has a positive addition, and that is the ability to watch entrances in private matches. I know that is a small thing, but it has been taken away the past couple of years and I was super excited and appreciative to see entrances back online. Its too bad the game is not built for the online side of things, even worse off than years prior. Pin meters NEVER match up. You can have someone roll you up and you will be lucky to kick out due to the lag of input that rarely allows you to even stop the little notch in the circle so the pin can be stopped. Same goes for the submission system, the ladder lockpick, and so-on. Online is simply an abomination as I tried every single match type to find at least one experience that would be pleasing, but due to latency of input, server issues, and the roadblocks from the game itself, I never quite found any enjoyable takeaways after hours upon hours of play.
I hate that I am being so cynical and negative, but there are just so many more things wrong and after last year, I thought maybe we could only go up. I mean, the roster is great for the most part aside from the copy and pasting from last year, and Create a Wrestler is indeed deeper than ever with a lot more options to sculpt a nearly perfect creation. Universe mode is not too different from last year, borrowing the promo elements to add a small bit of freshness into what is beginning to show some age. It is terribly sad to see those positive go to waste due to a broken game, but with 2K and WWE Games at the helm, it seems we are going to keep digging until we burn up in the Earth’s core.
Visuals and Audio
For the most part, the graphics, or visual aspect of WWE 2K17 is spectacular. The models look great, the animations are well done, and the general presentation may indeed be as fine as they ever have been. That said, that doesn’t mean everything is eye candy. While the most popular and sure to be most chosen competitors do look great, we have a few duds such as Dana Brooke (who is absolutely stunning in real life) has a bloated face with make-up that makes her look like a clown. This isn’t every wrestler and I am aware some face scans may be a miss due to technicalities, but I feel we should have seen a bit more polish on every member of the roster, not just the John Cenas and Sashas. The crowd is as animated as ever this year, and while not perfect, the backstage areas and standard menus make this package look AAA.
If only all of that would have transferred into the sound. I don’t think I have ever heard such awful commentary in a WWE game. Forgiving the fact that all matches are commentated by King, Cole, and JBL – most of the lines have been recycled and capture outdated gimmicks and Superstars, some who are not even in the game. Much like the legendary WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It!, some might have a bit of entertainment in hearing the nonsensical phrases blurted over and over, but I found that it massacred the atmosphere of every match. The sound suffers in other ways as well, as most voice acting (looking at you Carmella and Enzo) does not match animation, and a lot of the general sound effects seem mistimed and misplaced.
WWE 2K17 is a tragedy. In a generation that has yet to experience a quality wrestling game, this entry takes the franchise on another backwards dive when the fans needed it make a big splash. Right now, the WWE is all about reinvention, rejuvenation, and refocus. WWE Games may have nailed that in terms of the roster, but have absolutely failed to deliver a competent and functional product this year, opting to take fans on a bumpy shortcut to Suplex City. There are just too many band-aids applied to glaring issues, and far to many holes for the player to actually feel immersed in the product they love. I am a wrestling fan. I do not buy these titles to play mini-games or experience glitches that should have never made it to the final release. I make my yearly purchase to make their product my own. I buy it to take a break out of my day and fine-tune a roster, spar with personalities, and spend hours online with friends as we recreate some of our finest memories from history while making our own.
Nearly every year I review this franchise for this website as I am so passionate about these games that have entered my collection upon release year after year – and for the first year, I feel just like WWE 2K17 – broken and exhausted. WWE Games have taken away the immersion. Underneath that gloss and glamour is a hollow, scripted beast that has lost its smile.