Although WWE 2K15 has been delayed for the now current-gen consoles until November 18 in North America and November 21 in Europe, respectively, things are looking bright for the future of the franchise. We managed to get our hands on the grappler at EGX in London this week, and let us put the WWE Universe at ease now by saying we were very impressed with what we saw.
The first thing we noticed – particularly during the wrestler entrances before the bell rang – was how beautiful the game is. As you’d expect, 2K15’s visual presentation is a huge step up from previous titles, which felt as though they hadn’t moved on much from the Smackdown vs Raw days. That said, even when considered on its own merits, the game’s graphics rival anything we’ve seen on the Playstation 4 system so far. Furthermore, the crowd have finally been vastly improved from the 2D sprites used previously where every third person looked and acted the same. You’ll spot that several faces use the same texture but they’re all 3D, acting differently, wearing different shirts; this time there are even children in the crowd, who would have thought it?
The new stamina system adds another level of realism to matches and has been implemented much more effectively than previous attempts by the now-defunct THQ. Matches start off fast-paced with a chain grapple system, which we’ll get to in a minute. More powerful moves are now restricted early on, with players having to perform more modest grapples and counters during the opening stages of a contest in order to unlock the ability to perform them, and eventually a devastating finisher. This stops the annoying tactic of years gone by wherein players spammed their stronger moves early on and were able to instantly dominate matches.
After inflicting punishment on their opponent or landing a quick series of offensive moves, superstars will start to tire which is demonstrated in a variety of ways. They crawl to make a pinfall, drop to one knee after performing a high-impact move, and need to take a breath or two while climbing the turnbuckle. It really feels like you’ve been through a war and adds a level of danger when attempting a high risk move – as opposed to 2K14, where you could still leap about with ease 20 minutes into a gruelling match and run around without a care for conserving energy.
No longer can you keep dashing around the ring to escape your opponent, or spam running strikes and then leave to the outside. It might work for you at first, but you’ll quickly tire and will be therefore vulnerable to a Superman Punch or Zig Zag, with no air left in the lungs to defend yourself. This is exactly how it should be; wrestlers don’t run around in circles and climb in and out the ring constantly to snatch a win. It is all about replicating what we see on TV, and 2K seem to have laid a promising foundation from just the small demonstration we played. It should also make for some very interesting and immersive online matches now that opponents will wear themselves out quickly if they try any of these infamously cheap tricks.
As we touched on earlier, matches start with a series of quick moves and chain wrestling. When a grapple is initiated early on, both parties must press one of three buttons in a rock, paper, scissors-style battle. The winner gains control of the grapple and then both players must use the right stick to find a “hot spot” where the winner performs a quick move or advances to a better position – during which you can land strikes or twist the body part you have hold of. It really is like watching the opening stages of a WWE match, which is how the game should feel and is exactly what 2K are looking to achieve.
Additionally, strikes feel like they have some serious power and accuracy behind them. It’s no longer a case of throwing a kick, punch or stomp and if it even so slightly grazes an opponent it deals damage, with the wrestler reacting and flinching unnaturally. In a match we played, for example, when Randy Orton was stomping away on Cesaro, each strike landed in the centre of the Swiss Superman’s chest no matter where we were stood. You can feel the impact and agonise over how painful such a perfect strike must be, further adding to the realistic feel of the game.
WWE 2K’s general grappling system has been simplified and has gone back to basics in a similar way to earlier Smackdown titles. No longer do superstars have over 15 grappling moves, including submissions. In the previous entry, you initiated a grapple hold and then from there performed a follow-up move, each of which were assigned to a direction. Once out of the initial chain-grappling phase of a match, moves are now performed from a standing position by pressing, or holding, the grapple button with a direction. It’s as simple as that; indeed, it’s not very often that Brock Lesnar will initiate a headlock before hitting a German Suplex. It adds more fluidity and speed to the manoeuvres being performed and is certainly a welcome return.
There are a number of minor additions in we noticed in WWE 2K15 that, when considered as a whole, make a huge difference to the overall experience. If you have your back to the turnbuckle, for example, and try to scale it, you will climb backwards to the second rope – whereas facing forwards and climbing will force your superstar to leave the ring and climb to the top. Everything about the ring and arenas has been rebuilt from the ground up as well, to perfect scale. The wrestlers finally look as though they fit properly in the match environment. These relatively small elements combined make for the game wrestling fans have been waiting so long for; a breath of fresh air has, at long last, been brought to the WWE Games franchise.
We also got the first details of the new MyCareer mode, which sees gamers progressing through the ranks of the WWE – all the way from NXT try-outs to winning the big prize at the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania. From what we heard, it sounds very much like the career mode from Day of Reckoning on the Gamecube – which is no bad thing as that was a very well put-together and under-appreciated wrestling game.
Interestingly, it’s not all about your wins and losses either: it’s all about getting over with the WWE Universe and building a fanbase through, in what is a sign of the times, both social media and putting on five-star matches. Putting on safe, boring matches means it will take you longer to get to the top. So, you can beat Undertaker in three minutes without taking damage? Good for you: but know that it will take you longer to progress compared to somebody who’s putting on 15 minute matches every week while countering everything their opponent throws at them and kicking out of finishers. There’s also an RPG element present, where you earn virtual currency through completing objectives and spend it on upgrading and improving your created wrestler. It’s a different spin on what we’ve seen before and it’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out.
Like most people no doubt were, we were sceptical about all of the changes 2K announced this year – especially the stamina system due to how miserably it’s failed to perform in the past. Would it ruin matches? On the basis of what we played at EGX, we’re glad to say: no, it doesn’t. If you’re dead-set against the system, the option can be turned off if you wish, but we think it’ll be best to leave it on to get a much more free-flowing and natural feel to matches in WWE 2K15.
If this is the general direction Yuke’s and Visual Concepts are going in then we can’t complain about having to wait a little longer while they get it right. As both gamers and wrestling fans we’re very excited about what we’ve seen, and played, so far and it looks like 2K will deliver what we’ve been waiting for later this year.