With God as my witness, he is broken in half!!!
After seeing annual releases for nearly two decades, the WWE game series, which became 2k’s in 2013, finally jobbed out in 2019 with the buggy WWE 2k20. While Saber Interactive did drop the arcade-based WWE 2k Battlegrounds the following year, the mainline series lay dormant for two and half years before reemerging with the recent release of WWE 2k22. Did the time away allow the series to return to the main event scene? Or is it headed back to developmental?
In a game full of much-needed change, the biggest comes with the in-match gameplay, which has been completely overhauled from its predecessors. Streamlined is a good general catch-all term for it with many of the various systems stripped away, such as stamina and limited counters, none of which are missed. The new system is essentially a variation on rock-paper-scissors in which light strikes, heavy strikes, and grapples are at your fingertips. This simplification makes playing the game feel less daunting and more welcoming to newcomers, and it pairs well with improvements on the graphical front to create some smooth looking matches.
Is it perfect? No. Some will doubtless bemoan the inherent element of luck introduced by having one type of attack cancel out another, and that’s a valid complaint. Still, it feels like a step in the right direction given how bloated years of minor tweaks had made the gameplay in 2k20, and it lays the foundation for something that could grow in future years, assuming WWE moves back toward the annual release model the franchise had featured for most of the 21st century.
While it may take a little while to embrace the new controls, the strides made in terms of presentation should be immediately welcomed. Wrestlers look more lifelike, crowds react better, the lighting is excellent, entrances are rendered splendidly, and it just feels more like you’re watching the televised product. Granted, the occasional wonky looking face pops up, and hair still isn’t as good as it feels like it should be by this point, but it’s still a significant step up.
That applies to the animations as well as the number of stilted transitions, while general weirdness has been dialed way back — clearly delivering a game that looks polished right out of the gate was a point of emphasis after all of the problems that came with the 2k20 launch. Commentary is middling at best, but that’s par for the course with most sports games as it’s just incredibly difficult to marry what’s happening on screen with pre-recorded dialogue.
As it happens, the area in which commentary shines brightest is also probably the best mode on offer in WWE 2k22, that being the de facto Career Mode, MyRise. Instead of the traditionally linear path, MyRise offers a multitude of choices, both large and small, that allow you to chart your own course. Wanna run roughshod over the Raw roster as a heel? Go for it. Rather head over to SmackDown to fight injustice as a face? Yeah, you can do that, too.
There are unique storylines to follow as both male and female wrestlers, and the number of options should create plenty of replay value. That’s the good news. The bad news is that level of freedom comes at a price, as the storylines aren’t very compelling and are told primarily through text messages with precious few fully voiced cutscenes. We’d still consider it a net positive, but perhaps the story elements can be bulked up next time.
The other main single-player mode is Showcase, which this year follows the career of legendary high-flyer Rey Mysterio Jr., interspersing cinematics with player-controlled matches that ask you to fulfill specific criteria. It’s decent enough, though not on par with the best we’ve seen from that mode, in part because it largely bypasses much of Mysterio’s career as his prime was spent in WCW, ECW, and in Japan and Mexico. So, what you’re really getting is the best-of his WWE career. Some of the objectives can also be frustrating to execute.
Aspiring bookers will doubtless want to check out MyGM mode. Unfortunately, it’s a lackluster effort and perhaps the game’s biggest disappointment. You start off by selecting a GM, such as Stephanie McMahon or William Regal, and then do a short draft to build your roster. From there you’ll be able to sign free agents to your brand, do your best to keep the talent happy, and also take direction from Triple H.
While there are a few decent ideas at play, the formula is too basic and narrow. “Fans” want to see specific clashes of styles (and no, we don’t mean A.J. Styles) like super heavyweights versus cruiserweights and strict face/heel dynamics, so matching up two technicians that happen to be fan favourites over the WWE Championship is a no-no. Ultimately it constricts creative freedom and makes it overly formulaic. A deeper MyGM mode is much needed.
Nothing new has been added in terms of match types, but there’s enough here to satiate most wrestling aficionados. There’s also a massive talent roster at your disposal, spanning NXT to Hall of Famers, though it speaks to the marketplace’s current volatility that a number of them can be found Wednesdays in All-Elite Wrestling these days. It’s also worth noting that a card-based, Ultimate Team style mode has been added for those that enjoy that sort of thing.
Although there remains room for growth, WWE 2k22 is highly successful in pushing the reset button on a franchise that had trended in the wrong direction for years. It looks like a next-gen title, the wrestling is fun, and the modes provide hours of entertainment, all of which are big steps in the right direction.