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July 2018

WWE 2K18

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: YUKE's (EU), Visual Concepts (US)
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2017

About Michael Keener

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PS4 Review - 'WWE 2K18'

by Michael Keener on Oct. 31, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

WWE 2K18 is the latest installment in the wrestling game franchise.

Buy WWE 2K18

Few character customizations in video games can compete with the ones found in the WWE series. The process of customizing a fighter's costume, presentation and wrestling style can last for hours and may only result in 10 minutes of actual gameplay, but it's still entertaining and the highlight of the game. Advancements have been attempted in the MyPlayer mode and in some general wrestling moves, but they come off as lackluster improvements at best. WWE 2K18 isn't much different than past releases, but let me take a moment to paint a better picture.

WWE is a sport where individuals or groups fight for supremacy in the wrestling ring. It has many similarities to other popular sports like boxing and UFC, but it's widely understood as an exaggerated show rather than a brutal contest. Watch enough of it, though, and you're sure to see heads split open, fingers and arms broken, and various injuries and concussions handed out like hotdogs at a baseball game. It's violent, and crowds rally behind players for their personalities as much as their physical prowess.

The general changes that have been made in WWE 2K18 include new carry mechanics, refined submission and reversals, and a ton of new animations. The carry system allows you to carry opponents in four different ways, ultimately setting up your next moves. If carrying them seems like too much work, you can drag them across the floor to set them up. Carrying in different positions also sets up wild scenes, like launching them over the ring or slamming them down in a devastating body slam. Whether you are in a battle of submission or trying to knock someone out of a Battle Royale match, you're prompted with an action bar that, when filled for you or your opponent, triggers an animation. Mashing the corresponding face buttons that alternate on the bar will determine who wins.

The two other major gameplay changes include the roster and match types. Players can now participate in up to eight-man matches, including Battle Royale, Ladder, Royal Rumble and Tag Team. Speaking of tag-team matches, hot tags are introduced and allow players to quickly swap out wrestlers and buff the new one, so he or she is like a wrecking ball out of the gate. Few moments feel more intense than when one guy is getting destroyed and sees an opportunity to tag their partner, and then the partner comes into the ring delivering arm bars and body slams like a maniac.

There are more wrestlers than ever on the roster. Over 170 are included, and thanks to community creations, you can download ones who didn't make it into the game, like Hulk Hogan and cartoon characters such as Pokémon and Homer Simpson.

The MyPlayer mode, which is often the most popular mode in modern sports titles, tries new things in WWE 2K18 but isn't remarkable. You can travel backstage to interact with other wrestlers, participate in promo dialogue on stage, and back up your trash talk with force and style. The progression is straightforward; as you work your way from a nobody to a champ, you'll upgrade your wrestler in 10 different stats: Athleticism, Grappling, Power, Promo, Reversals, Speed, Stamina, Striking, Technique and Toughness. The strength in these categories depends on your fighting style. If you are a high flyer, then you'll excel in Athleticism and Speed, but if you are a showboat, you'll excel in Reversals and Stamina and focus on stealing the show from your opponents. Players who purchase the Deluxe Edition of WWK 2K18 receive a kickstart pack that boosts your character's initial progress.

Whether you talk to other wrestlers backstage or during promo moments, the dialogue is underwhelming. Promo moments occur when your character initiates a dialogue another wrestler via four options. Each one differs slightly, but they all allude to you being great and how you're going to beat up your opponent. Successfully chaining matching choices results in a better promo score. It feels like the developers struggled with whether to admit the WWE is more about showmanship than brutality. Everyone acts seriously and doesn't mention that it's all a performance, but they say strange things. For example, after talking arrogantly about myself to Barron Blade backstage, he warns me about being in the crosshairs of another wrestler. He says "If I were you, I'd be on edge right about now. He's noticed you." This type of stuff may seem minor, but it adds up and kills the immersion.

I enjoyed the MyPlayer mode, but it could've been way better. The areas outside of the center stage feel unfinished, and the minor screen-tearing and awkward-looking animation of your character running are often an annoyance. The side-quests helped further your image as being with or against The Authority. This choice is pretty broad but makes for an interesting story. There is an extension to the MyPlayer mode:  Road to Glory. It's a way to test your talent online against other players. Succeed enough times online, and you might get an invite to a pay-per-view event that coincides with a real WWE event. This is an extension of MyPlayer, and switching between the two is effortless and encouraged. If you want to build the best wrestler out there, you'll want to compete in this online mode.

The last game mode is WWE Universe, which essentially plays out like GM mode or MyLeague in other sports games. You control all of the actions, matches and schedules, and the objective is to build the most entertaining year of wrestling programs, but it requires some imagination on your end. It doesn't follow a set storyline, so there are hundreds of ways to make one up. I wish there was more emphasis on aspects such as financials, relationships, and wrestler progressions.

For the NBA, 2K has been impressive with polished graphics and gameplay, but the WWE 2K franchise lacks refined graphics. Some of the focuses in this year's iteration are better lighting, more realistic-looking skin textures, and more authentic crowd chants. In these areas, WWE 2K18 provides some solid improvements over last year's iteration. The problem is that the progression doesn't feel quick or grand enough. We're still dealing with the collision issues and character models clipping, and the hair often looks recycled from older NBA games. It doesn't comport with the level of work that Visual Concepts is capable of, but it comes down to reaching the point of needing a new game engine. Of course, that gets into a discussion about the company's contract and licensing and all sorts of stuff above my pay grade, but I'm hopeful that a new game engine is on the horizon for the series.

Those who enjoy the commentary from JBL and Jerry Layler will be disappointed since new commentators have replaced them: Corey Graves and Byron Saxton. Also involved in the commentary is WWE voice legend Michael Cole. It's hard for me to sense the genuine excitement in their voices, especially when compared to the NBA 2K series. The major improvement to sound and immersion comes from the crowd, which has new animations and chants to generate an intense atmosphere for wrestlers in the ring. No sport is more crowd-oriented, so it's important that this was done well. I love that you can decide whether the crowd boos or cheers for you, as that invokes two completely different feelings.

It's easy to enjoy playing WWE 2K18. Wrestling games inspire a special creativity that no other sports games can match. While 2K18 feels like it misses the mark and comes in below expectations, it still offers a MyPlayer experience, eight-man matches, online competitiveness, community creations, and more. The graphics and animations are starting to grow stagnant and there aren't too many incremental improvements that can be made until there's a drastic change to the game engine, so I'm hoping that there will be an announcement about that soon.

Score: 7.0/10

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