For most annualized franchises, 12 months is barely enough time to add new features that will entice fans to return to the series year after year. With WWE 2K17, however, developer Yuke’s decided to subtract instead of add. Rather than bolster a bloated feature set, WWE 2K17 ditches the popular Showcase mode in favor of polishing existing systems. But while the core combat has improved over last year’s entry, Yuke’s grappling skills still aren’t strong enough to make anyone other than hardcore WWE fans take notice.
Most of WWE 2K17’s combat improvements are incremental. Wrestlers still dish out the same basic attack combos, still have the same stamina management system, and still use the same pin/kickout mechanics. However, reversals now feature a larger timing window, which makes it easier to take control of a match. Taunts give you mid-match buffs that are a great way to catch your breath while your opponent is down. You can also perform post-match run-ins to interrupt a wrestler’s victory celebration, which is great for fueling new rivalries. And for the first time in years, you can take the action into the crowd and into backstage areas. I loved throwing my opponent through AV trunks and finding other interactive objects to smash over their head. None of the tweaks to 2K17’s action are game-changing, but they’re all welcome.
Unfortunately, 2K17’s incremental improvements only help expose the greater flaws in Yuke’s wrestling series. The in-ring action is as sluggish and plodding as ever. These WWE superstars move like rigid action figures, which tends to drain most of the tension from each match. While 2K17’s reversal windows are widened, the reversal cues are still disconnected from character animations, so the only thing clueing you into a reversal opportunity is a button prompt that appears over your wrestler’s head.
Many matches feel like drudgery as your opponents almost always kick out of your first pin. You often have to build up and use your finishing move at least once or twice before getting a three count. Conversely, if you’re really bad at WWE’s timed button minigames, your opponent could count you out even when your character’s health is in the green. Even when you’re completely overpowering your opponents, 2K17’s action feels like a battle of attrition rather than the exuberant display of athletic prowess that fans have come to love about WWE.
It’s a shame WWE 2K17’s core mechanics are such a grind, because most of the content surrounding the in-ring action is sure to please wresting fans. The creation suite – which lets you create your own wrestlers, championships, and arenas, among other things – is as deep as ever. MyCareer mode simulates your created wrestler’s journey from the performance center through NXT and a string of championship belts to the WWE Hall of Fame. This experience is repetitive, but it is so deep that it allows you to create your own promos and manage your merchandise sales. Meanwhile, the WWE Universe mode is basically a manager mode that lets you organize WWE shows, plant rivalries, and build championship dynasties. You can even see how you stack up against other players online in a variety of exhibition matches, and I experienced almost no lag while duking it out with real opponents. All of these modes are meaty, but the Showcase mode, which let you relive some of yesteryear’s most glorious smack downs, was always the most polished and presentation-heavy mode. Its absence is sorely felt.
After previous publisher THQ folded and 2K took over this series with WWE 2K14, I had hoped the WWE games would see a slow crawl out of mediocrity, and that wrestling fans would eventually have a wresting game they could be proud to show non-wrestling fans. Unfortunately, the 2K series has carried forward with the same by-the-numbers combat we’ve seen for years. 2K’s next WWE game doesn’t need to check off a list of incremental improvements – it needs a complete overhaul.