Is it possible to make a bad game worse? Let me answer that like Daniel Bryan:YES! YES! YES! Or rather I would if Daniel Bryan – a massive fan favourite – was a character available from the start in WWE 2K18. Bryan – along with various other characters, gear, facial features, clothing, historic belts, venues, entrance music, and moves – are only unlockable via in-game currency or loot crates.
Microtransactions feel like the final nail in 2K18’s coffin. It was already behind the eight ball before it was released: the game arrived late in the year, months after the usual release date around Wrestlemania (when fan interest is highest). The delay also upped the anticipation that maybe, this year, all the previous bugs would be ironed out.
Nope. In fact, there’s a whole new range of bugs and problems. Where to start?
Professional wrestling is a mix of stunt fighting, gymnastics, and opera (or maybe soap opera). It has more alliances and character arcs than Game of Thrones, and they are all in a constant flux. Sworn enemies at one point will be fighting alongside each other months later.
Characters switch between heel and face (good and bad) to suit story lines that can be intricately constructed over a year or hastily thrown together in a few weeks. Titles usually don’t change hands outside of a pay-per-view but it’s always up in the air. There’s also titles for both Raw and Smackdown, the weekly shows that separates the full WWE roster into two.
This creates a complex scenario that’s much more difficult to model in a videogame. Especially because 2K18 is essentially a sports game. So it made complete sense that 2K decided to add a deeper career mode, called MyPlayer.
I went to make a giant 7 foot tall wrestler who I named “Hillbilly Metrosexual” (my original choice of “Ultimate Social Justice Warrior” was too long). I wanted my wrestler to wear denim coveralls and a straw hat with a big beard (as sported by the great Hillbilly Jim). I could get a beard but it required in-game currency. The coveralls and the hat needed to be unlocked via loot crates.
After buying a gold loot crate with five items in it, I unlocked: a t-shirt I didn’t want, a pair of pants I didn’t want, two XP boosts, and some in-game currency. What was the point of that?
Instead of making the character you want, you have to scrape one together from what’s available. It’s like that scene in GLOW (which I highly recommend on Netflix) where they make characters out of what they find in the costume bin. It does give you a sense of starting from the bottom, but also flies in the face of the “Be Like No One” ad campaign they ran.
Once again, you can’t make your wrestler a woman either. Women’s wrestling is incredibly popular right now; women like wrestling, and women like games, so it really doesn’t make any sense to miss this opportunity.
So after changing my hillbilly to a generic giant, I walked him through the worst career mode I’ve ever played. Your wrestler literally plods around the backstage area talking to other wrestlers and training staff in silent-but-lips-moving cutscenes.
The MyPlayer mode adds a paper thin storyline to the game. It’s not the constructed narrative you’ll find in titles like FIFA, Madden, or 2K’s NBA titles. Instead of cinematics you get simple dialogue trees. It’s so slow and painful that you’ll often need to take a break and play the other modes. You’ll also need to play the other modes to try and earn more in-game currency.
I immediately tried diving into a Royal Rumble, my all-time favourite match type. I wasn’t too shocked to discover that nearly all historical wrestlers were locked. I was shocked that they hadn’t been updated since 2K17. This is also where I discovered that the roster of superstars (as they are called by WWE) wasn’t up to date. Like, not even close.
The following may sound like gibberish to non-wrestling fans but bear with me: Asuka isn’t on the main roster; neither is Bobby Roode; Sasha Banks is Raw Women’s Champion; The Shield haven’t reformed; Enzo and Big Cass are still a tag team; and The Hardy Boys – who made their return at Wrestlemania – aren’t even in the game! But some things are oddly correct, like Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are tag champs This is the equivalent of buying a new copy of Madden and finding that none of the teams have the right players and a few of them are wearing the wrong uniforms.
Which is my main gripe about this game. Nothing has changed since the last one, except that it’s harder to get at the customisation options. It all feels old and stale, despite a few new faces. In reality, the only thing a wrestling game needs to be considered good, is to keep updated on character changes. Do that and everything else is gravy.
So let’s talk gravy.
The gameplay hasn’t changed since 2K17, which is to say that the entire game revolves around reversals. If you can’t pull the right trigger at the exact moment you’re supposed to, then you’re going to take a beating and lose. It’s incredibly frustrating.
A great addition though is the ability to pick up other wrestlers and carry them around. And, if you’re the one being carried or dragged around, you can now break out of that hold. The game nicely balances it out, so a tiny luchadore can’t lift a super heavyweight. And if they can, they can’t do it for long.
The game’s soundtrack also started to grate on me. Turns out there’s only 11 songs (including a song by Kid Rock which feels like a terrible punishment). Thankfully you can add the wrestlers’ entrance themes, to bolster the list.
The whole thing feels rushed and incomplete. The lack of a proper roster update is the tip of a terrible iceberg. The game is a chore to play and despite being a big wrestling fan (or perhaps because of it) I never really had any fun. WWE 2K18 costs $110, but feels like a freemium mobile game. A failure on so many levels.
Hadyn received a physical copy of WWE 2K18 from 2K for review.