Sports games are curious things. With year on year iterations, publishers always seem to be wracking their brains, desperate for the next big innovation. For some, like NHL, a simple jump to current-gen technology provides a breath of fresh air. FIFA went a step further this year, moving to the state-of-the-art Frostbite engine and offering up The Journey. The problem with WWE 2K17 is that it still plays like a last-gen game – surprisingly, with even less features than last year.
Plasticy wrestlers plod along inside the ring (and, granted, even backstage now), grappling and performing moves like figures in a stop-motion short. Key moments in battle are determined by timed-button presses, leaving you feeling like you’re playing WarioWare instead of sports entertainment’s premier institution. All the while, you’re using the same core combat systems, managing stamina and needing to slam most opponents with a a couple special moves (or three, or four) before even bothering to try for a pin.
Small changes to combat save WWE 2K17 from complete ruin. Reversals have a larger window with which to activate, making it easier when you’re getting assaulted. New taunts provide buffed stats, and more importantly, a chance to make up a depleted stamina bar while an opponent is down. If you’re looking to start up a rivalry – as all heels should – new, post-match attacks will help get that happening. Backstage and crowd fights help to make the game feel like you’re watching an actual WWE match… though you’ll never mistake Yuke’s effort for the real thing like you would the works of EA Sports, SEGA or Konami.
Despite a decidedly last-gen look, WWE 2K17’s MyCareer mode remains a highlight, offering you a chance to not only design your wrestler, but to customise championships, arena layouts, promos, entrances and manage merchandise. As with similar career modes in other sports, you can really delve as deep as you’d like with MyCareer, focusing purely on your matches or deciding instead to have a hand in every pie.
The same is true for WWE Universe mode, essentially Be a GM mode in other titles. It’s here that you’ll be able to be able to organise shows, create (even more) rivalries and work on getting a heel or a face into a championship dynasty.
These familiar modes, as enjoyable as they are, aren’t the same without the franchise’s popular Showcase mode, inexcusably absent from 2K17. No matter the excuse – a chance to polish other modes, or make improvements – removing something loved by your fan base will never equal a good move.
In the end 2K17 is average at best, worth skipping if you’re a casual wrestling fan. Fans of the sport will find more to enjoy, but I’d have to wager it’ll be through a profound sense of disappointment. Like fans of other titles have already experienced, WWE has yet to shine in current-gen, offering up wow moments. We’ll have to wait until 2K18 to see if we have a big improvement.