Publisher: 2K Sports
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, Switch, PC
I must admit that it has been a long time since I last played a wrestling game. Though I have certainly played a great deal of them, starting most memorably with Tecmo World Wrestling on the NES. I was also a huge fan of the THQ published Nintendo 64 titles beginning with WCW vs. nWo: World Tour. Following this I played a smattering of the games that followed including the EA published WWF games and then a few of the WWE: SmackDown! Vs. Raw games; the last being 2010. I open with this to point out that while I haven’t been playing the games year to year, I have plenty of experience with wrestling games going back a long time in general.
As I have not played the yearly releases especially those that have come out in the current generation, my criticism will be limited in this area, but I feel my overall experience with wrestling games in general can make up for this and give a perspective free of focus on the changes made year to year.
This at least is what was going through my mind before I played the game but after I’d accepted the task of reviewing it. Upon booting up the game I was soon surprised to see how little had changed since the last game I played five or more years ago. While the overall visual quality has certainly improved significantly and many wrestler models have an uncannily (valley) like appearance, the way the games play didn’t seem to have changed much at a superficial level.
Obviously a game in this genre can’t go about inventing new wrestling scenarios each year or indeed change much that works well and is popular with the people who will buy the game. But I remember disliking the way reversals for example worked all those years ago and all these years later it seems to be much the same. Once you’re in a match though, the gameplay is generally smooth and I found I was able to quickly learn basic mechanics and begin learning more advanced ones very quickly. It just didn’t feel like the improvement that should have been considering the time that has passed.
As the career mode seemed to be where the meat of the game was, I decided to reluctantly create a wrestler and get into it. I would have preferred the option to just take a favourite of mine through a championship but this is not what the career mode is for and this is possible outside of the career mode anyway.
After creating my giant Hungarian wrestler, Viggo and choosing from the limited movesets and attire available, I jumped into the game. Or at least, I would have expected to if I didn’t immediately run into what is the biggest problem I have with the game. One that is objectively bad when compared to any major release in virtually any genre. I am speaking of the lengthy and frequent loading splash screens that you will run into. I have actually captured video below to give you an idea of how long it can take to go from backstage to a match in this mode and that’s with me skipping the wrestler entrances.
As you can see if you viewed the above video, there is quite a lot to go through just to get to a match in the career mode. This is not all either as after the match finishes you are required to then have a debrief before having to run back to the car park and have your car fetched for some reason. This happens every single time in the career mode and it becomes tedious before you’ve really got your wrestler anywhere. The general exhibition matches are thankfully a lot quicker to get into but this is small consolation.
A lot of criticism I saw focused on the awful writing for these scenarios and the total lack of spoken dialogue. I could cope with these issues fine and even the silly way character models gesture simply because wrestling and good writing have never really gone together. I would gladly keep this (and worse), for in an increase in speed from menus to matches and at least the option to turn off the backstage sections and entrances. And being able to skip the entrances isn’t enough as you’ll be able to see if you’re put into a three-way tag match which will require you to skip entrances up to six times before finally getting into the match. That is after waiting through an unskippable intro movie and loading splash screen.
Even if all this could be put aside, the game still has some major technical issues that would be laughable to anyone who didn’t have to play and/or pay for the game. This includes quite frequent slowdown which I often experienced backstage but also happens during matches. Then there are plenty of little glitches and the occasional unresponsiveness of the controls. Just prior to writing this review I had the music go off completely after an update and it wasn’t because it was turned off. I don’t currently have Xbox Live Gold so I can’t comment on online and can only hope that it works more smoothly.
The game includes a season pass and loot cases. Unlike some people, I can be neutral on both of these as long as they’re done right. As an example, I didn’t mind Gears of War 4 heavily featuring both because: the game was a competent and full featured product without them. This is not so for WWE 2K18 as I’ve shown. Despite the cheek of including these “features” in such a poor product, the loot cases at least aren’t tied to any micro-transaction system. The season pass however includes two pieces of DLC (which can be purchased separately), that unlock all the characters in one and give you a boost in MyPlayer mode in the other. Unlocking characters is done with in-game currency and customisation options for created wrestlers are earned through loot cases. Naturally, both of these significantly boost the process. So the lack of micro-transations is but a small mercy for anyone paying full price for the game.
The best I can say about WWE 2K18 is that when you finally get to the ring, it has decent wrestling mechanics and a genuinely large roster of wrestlers to choose from. But everything else that I’ve mentioned make these small positives. I am honestly baffled that such a large publisher, with a brand as prominent as the WWE is able to publish a product like this. In between play sessions I actually looked up some gamplay of the old GameCube title WWE: Day of Reckoning and saw that a visual upgrade is really all that looks significantly different all these years later. I would recommend that even serious enthusiasts choose any of the earlier games that take their fancy over this game. That is unless you are prepared to pay a premium on the latest wrestling roster and suffer through the games many problems to have it.
Disclosure: Review copy of WWE 2K18 was provided by the publisher.