|Image Source: The WWE Rumors|
With WrestleMania approaching, not only is this a crucial time for the WWE product on-screen, but it is also the time of year when the developers of WWE's videogame series, 2K Sports, will be hard at work as the current, spring version of WWE tends to be what we see in the year's game. This includes all the additions, updates, story creations and everything else which accompanies it.
However, it is safe to say that this year's game WWE 2K16 must hit a home run, to use an American analogy. The much-hyped 2K15 was a disappointment both on previous-gen and on next-gen consoles for varying reasons, leading it to be one of the lowest-rated releases of the entire series since it began way back in 2000. So, what can 2K do to ensure that the next instalment is a memorable one for the right reasons, and could even be considered one of the best of them all? Here are my suggestions; with it being 2K16, I felt that providing 16 top ideas for new content or improvements would be suitable (even if this is actually the 17th game of the main series).
1. Roster: Increase the total, have as many stars as possible, and cover all bases
When it was announced, the line-up for 2K15 was greeted with cries of "Is that it?" All the top, then-current WWE names were in, but the sheer number had dropped sufficiently from 2K14. I didn't mind at first, as I assumed that we would be told the unlockable wrestlers later which would bring the total up. But it never happened; all we got was an admittedly strong DLC line-up which meant the lowest roster in three years. (That being said, if you include "retro" versions of characters which weren't mentioned at the time, such as those for Randy Orton and Batista, the figure does edge nearer to those for WWE '13 and 2K14.)
So, how to ensure this doesn't happen again this time? Firstly, ensure that the total hits the three-figure mark, preferably over 105 (the highest in series history for WWE '13). There is certainly enough disc space, especially on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, so WWE and 2K should prevent complaints off the bat by having the largest total in history. (Some would say that the figure should actually be double that considering that we had mid-60s a decade ago, and games like FIFA have 500 squads of 20-plus characters; but let's be realistic and stick to around 110-115 as a target total.)
Secondly, fans want to play as the current names and as the big names. So, make sure that all of today's top superstars are in (which is usually not an issue), but also include as many big-name legends as possible. 2K14 included a wealth of them, so let's ensure that the very top names are here: Austin, Rock, Hogan, Bret, Savage, Warrior, HBK, Undertaker, Flair, Andre, Piper, Sammartino, The LOD, Foley, Goldberg, Y2J, RVD, Booker T, Nash, Hall, Eddie, Edge & Christian - in short, make sure that all those names who are most likely to top fans' wish lists are here. It's cool to play as a new face like Rusev or Bo Dallas in 2K15, but if the game doesn't have top, top names, then the game will be less appealing; this was a key complaint of 2K15 when noting the roster shrinkage.
Lastly, fans also want diversity in the line-up, and they want fresh or returning faces. The current line-up should be fine for this; it's the retro characters where this is vital. I've mentioned including top names, which is essential, but there are also fans playing this who want to relive ECW, or WCW vs. nWo, or a particular era in WWE history. So, ensure that the line-up will have something for everyone. You could have Sting, Dusty, Flair and the Horsemen as WCW Legends; RVD, Funk, Sabu and Sandman as ECW Legends; and space out the WWE names to reflect eras (so Austin, Rock, Mankind and DX for the Attitude Era; Hogan, Warrior, Savage, Piper, Jake, DiBiase and Andre for the 80s/early 90s etc.).
As for fresh or returning faces? 2K14 and to a lesser extent 2K15 has included almost every fresh name possible when it comes to Legends. To me, the biggest name to be included which would make an impact would be Kurt Angle, but his TNA affiliation prevents that (and for the Hardyz too). If it could be done for Hulk Hogan in 2K14 during his TNA run, though, is it not possible for these three? Failing that, finding a way to finally have Owen Hart as a playable character would be incredible; he is the biggest name to have never been in any entry of the series. If that is also an impossibility due to legal issues, then you're looking at returning names like Piper, Mr. Perfect and older names making a first series appearance like Bob Backlund. If Owen and the TNA stars can't be included, it is even more essential to ensure that the retro line-up is loaded with star power and has some characters to accommodate fans of every era and each top promotion, and that the roster as a whole is bigger and much better than in 2K15. Delivering the largest and the best roster to date is a good start for 2K16.
2. 2K Cloud
But what if your favourites still don't make it into 2K16 for whatever reason, especially those who were in 2K15 (CM Punk being the perfect example)? My idea for a new, innovative, multi-year feature is the 2K Cloud.
The Cloud allows you to save data ranging from photographs to music. In this case, the 2K Cloud would allow you to save up to 100 wrestlers, 50 arenas, 75 alternate attires and other items over the course of the console generation. My thinking behind this feature is that if the newest version of the game did not include something you enjoyed from last time, you can import it in yourself as bonus DLC! For the roster, the obvious benefit is to include stars who are no longer with WWE and who are unlikely to return any time soon (Punk, Del Rio etc.), or characters who were in once and are not impossible but are unlikely to reappear (think the Attitude Era-themed WWE '13 which had the likes of Rikishi, Gangrel and Ken Shamrock). It also allows 2K to mix up the roster more each year: no longer would certain good-but-not-great names be essential inclusions, because via the 2K Cloud, they can be imported anyway. As stated, it could also work for arenas (such as all the WrestleMania arenas from 2K14), attires (John Cena's many T-Shirt-based costumes from the same game) and more. And, if the Cloud memory could be increased over time, better still.
Issues with graphics and updated game dimensions may be the only possible hindrance here. Otherwise, I think this would be the best possible new feature, maybe ever: how cool would it be to know that thanks to the Cloud, in a game or two's time you could potentially have a line-up of 200+ wrestlers before you even start creating characters? 2K Sports, make this happen!
3. A variety of arenas
Going back to arenas for a moment: one of the best things for me when playing as retro characters is to do so in their original environment. So, playing as Hogan vs. Andre at WrestleMania XXX is good, but to do it at WM III is a lot better. Classic arenas have only really been included over the last few years, surprisingly, but they're an important part of reliving classic feuds from yesteryear. But with the Attitude Era covered in WWE '13, with 2K14 including all of the WrestleManias to that point, and with the 2K15 selection being strong but a bit strange, what is the best route for 2K16? I go back to the point about the roster: fans want a bit of everything. WWE has held over 200 Pay-Per-Views so there is no way to include all of those arenas, and that doesn't include old TV shows or those of other promotions. The best route, then, is to cover each era to a point and to cover each event and, where applicable, each promotion.
Starting with WWF/WWE PPVs, a venue for Royal Rumble, SummerSlam and Survivor Series from each "main" era (80s, early-mid 90's, Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression) would be great. King Of The Ring and In Your House covers the rest of the mid-90s. Moving forward, one venue for each of the following events would be suitable: No Way Out, Backlash, Judgment Day, Vengeance, Unforgiven, No Mercy and Armageddon. One-offs like Bad Blood, Over The Edge 1998, Fully Loaded and more recent ones like Breaking Point, Fatal 4 Way and Elimination Chamber should have an entry too. Basically, have as many different show arenas covering as many eras as possible rather than several similar ones (e.g. it was nice to have two more Hell In A Cell arenas in 2K15, but I would have much rather had more unique venues instead). As for WWE TV: Raw from the 90s, Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression years is really all you need. SmackDown for the latter two is fine too, as are one entry apiece for classics like Saturday Night's Main Event, Superstars and Wrestling Challenge. Maybe throw in one for Heat, Velocity and an old-school MSG, or even a House Show arena. All the current ones will be in anyway, so to add more arenas you have to focus on the past.
WCW could be represented by Nitro, a few nWo-era PPVs and a couple from the earlier years (even an NWA-era location like the first Starrcade). ECW, the same: a couple of TV or PPVs from both the original and WWE versions (as much as people slate the WWE-era ECW, the aisle for the TV show in 2007 was pretty cool). You could even stretch to an AWA location or even ones for promotions like Mid-South; the line-up will probably have some Legends who wrestled there, so why not another venue for them? On that note, as some were more about the building than the event name itself, how about including some legendary wrestling venues such as MSG, Wembley Stadium, the Cow Palace and the Mid-South Colosseum?
I haven't mentioned WrestleMania yet. That's because the number of WM arenas you put in depends on how much room there is following the inclusion of the arenas suggested above. If you can only fit in a handful of Manias, again go for one from each era. If you can include some more, double the number of venues per time period. If it is possible, though, to have all the WrestleManias alongside those mentioned, then definitely do it: in Create An Arena, WrestleMania is the main arena people would focus on, and it's the only event where I would suggest having them all in; this is just to ensure that all other arenas are covered in some way before having a WrestleMania influx. That way, every key arena is in, with classic venues from each era, leaving room for more creativity and flexibility in Create An Arena. Assuming it's in this time out.
4. Restore full creation suite
For reasons presumably related to simply getting the game out there on next-gen, three creation modes are absent on 2K15 on the PS4 and Xbox One: Create An Arena, Move Set and Championship. Which takes out a lot of enjoyment and, in the case of the middle omission, removes a mode dating back to the series' very early days. As such, I would normally suggest ways to improve the creation modes, but for 2K16 I simply ask for the full suite to return, for more easy access when using downloadable content (there were reports that one had to play through the game to get Community Creations which is insane), and as a way of showing appreciation to those who tolerated the lacklustre creation modes in 2K16, having the largest number of possible created items to date, especially for wrestlers (just 25 wrestlers to make in 2K15 on next-gen is the lowest total since 2001; this should have a "1" in front of it to satisfy those who only learned this fact after buying the game).
5. Improved controls and gameplay
Returning to the core of the game: I understood what 2K were trying to do by having bouts begin with chain wrestling lock-ups, but the execution is horrible; I have had the game for months and still can't get the hang of it, and as someone who has played every single game of the series, I don't think that is pretty good. My other qualms are the difficulty in executing finishers, the unnecessarily high difficulty of certain matches (tag bouts, six-man tag matches, and certain matches in key modes e.g. the NXT mode on previous-gen), the impossibility to prevent prolonged attacks from a CPU opponent at times, and the somewhat dodgy submission bar. All of these need to be fixed, ideally with a return to the circle-based control scheme of earlier games. I would say that improving the gameplay experience in these areas is essential: controls can make a good wrestling game great, but they can also make what is an otherwise reasonable game very awkward to play. That was the case for 2K15; this has to be fixed for 2K16, otherwise all the other improvements will be for naught in churning out a quality game.
6. More logic in 2K Showcase
Once I overcome the ridiculously high difficulty of the levels, I enjoyed 2K Showcase, but for 2K16, there is a tremendous opportunity to expand. There are few limitations, whether it be a focus on feuds, superstars, eras etc. I would recommend modes with accompanying hidden content on the following topics: the rise of Hulkamania; Austin vs. McMahon; WCW vs nWo; The Yes Movement; Bret vs. Shawn; The Streak; Once In A Lifetime or The Early Years. Alternatively, combine it all into one with a History Mode that uses the elements of Showcase to go through the entire annals of WWE history from Bruno to Backlund, Hogan to Bret, Austin to Rock and HHH to Cena. Plus, this would perfectly tie in with the use of unlockables to cover any and all eras, and it could also include key bouts from other promotions (e.g. Goldberg vs. Hogan from Nitro in 1998). Whatever the direction, it is obvious that the subjects in 2K15 - especially the DLC ones - could perhaps have been better selected, so this should be an easy fix for 2WK16. I would, however, request that all in-match missions are noted beforehand, as it isn't fun to complete a match and learn afterwards that you missed a key objective that you hadn't even been told about.
7. The return of Season
What about the other modes, MyCareer and Universe? I would suggest to just improve them however one would recommend, although I would say that MyCareer could do with a bit more oomph in making lesser bouts matter. What I would really like to see, though, is the return of Season. Not seen since SmackDown vs. Raw 2007, this is a basic 12-month calendar in current WWE which a) would make the 2015 wrestlers matter; b) include intriguing stories with worthy unlockables, and c) provide an additional mode for those who have completed the other three. I personally have never been the biggest fan of Universe; I like it for the creativity but not as a replacement for Season. The two can co-exist, and whereas MyCareer looks at you as an athlete, Universe focuses on you as a booker, and Showcase relives classic moments, Season can fill in the gap and provide stories ranging from a months-long feud stemming from a faction break-up (think Ambrose vs. Rollins) to a saga with Bray Wyatt and his unusual methods of intimidation to crazy shenanigans which can only happen in WWE and which would provide perfect entertainment in a videogame (Damien Mizdow being Miz's stunt double is a prime example). In short, Season should return, and this additional mode could make a good game great.
By and large, I like the graphics of 2K15, although some wrestlers could be better. That's on next-gen anyway. On previous-gen, some graphics (especially Vince McMahon) are shocking and inexcusably bad. It's one thing if you can tell it's a videogame; it's another thing when the characters just look awful. If there are PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of 2K16 planned, these must be addressed, otherwise it's a slap in the face to those who have all the entries on those platforms.
I found the sound to be fairly good, but what did annoy me was how you could barely hear commentary due to entrance music volume levels, and despite on-screen sliders, there aren't any real options to change this. A minor issue but one which could be addressed nonetheless. I would also like to see the option to import audio for crowd chants, and why take out the chance to have custom music playing on menus? This was a good but underdeveloped option in 2K14 but, instead of fixing it (i.e. not having to create a sole playlist for one custom song), 2K took it out altogether. Again, it's minor, but something which needs to be addressed.
I felt the DLC for 2K15 was fair with two exceptions. One, the all-included package, erm, didn't include all the content, which was a bit of an insult for a game priced at £54.99 on next-gen. Two, the choice of bonus wrestlers was odd. If you're focusing on WCW, I can understand not wanting to repeat those in 2K14, but let's be honest: there were 20-30 wrestlers, just from the Nitro years, which would have been better than having Fit Finlay with a hairstyle on his render that doesn’t even match that of his model.
I would like 2K to ensure that all DLC can be bought at once, or at least have an additional unannounced DLC released in around May which simply wasn't developed in time to include when the DLC bundle could be purchased. Have each DLC pack include a theme to, again, let all bases be covered (an ECW pack, a WCW pack, an Attitude pack, a tag team pack etc.). Six or seven packs can be done, so long as the content is worth buying. And, last but not least, how about allowing the fans to vote on what extra characters, arenas, Showcase plots they would like to see? Going back to a previous point, if you asked fans to vote online from the late 90's WCW have talent pool for a line-up of five for DLC, chances are that nobody would have selected the wrestlers who were included. Besides, for some who only spent a bit of time there like Bam Bam Bigelow, fans would much rather play the WWE versions; if you're going for WCW, have those synonymous like Flair, Sting or even older names like Harley Race.
As a complete aside just because I mentioned DLC when the wrestlers weren't announced at the release date: in the past, the DLC was already known before it came out due to the strategy guide. This was slightly annoying, but worse is that there was no strategy guide at all for 2K15, for the first time in relation to a wrestling game since the 1990s. And for a game that was awkward to play too! This is a very minor issue, but one which in the big picture matters: let's have a Strategy Guide for 2K16 please.
11. Matches: fix, bring back old and bring in new
Matches haven't been developed too greatly in recent years. We've largely seen old omitted bouts return. In 2K15, we got the comeback of Casket and 3 Stages Of Hell, but only in Showcase. Worse, though, was that many match types were taken out, including long-time ones like a 1-on-1 Ladder match. It is beyond essential to fix this for 2K16, and once fixed, have some new bouts in. Yes, it would be good to see Casket return as an actual match, but how about having War Games for the first time? Or even Barbed Wire? Something different which stretches the developers to deliver something truly different and exceptional. But even if this can't be done, at least restore the original match numbers, because 2K15 looks half-finished without even basic stipulation bouts.
One criticism of recent games is that they just aren't as fun to play as the older games. Hopefully, bringing back the mid-2000s control scheme will fix that in the ring, but outside the ring, the game needs to have something engaging. I think bringing back Locker Room would help: as pointless as it was in the grand scheme of things, it was a good distraction to decorate it to suit your wishes and to have a much clearer and unique way of tracking game stats (such as who your current Champions were). But I also think that a navigation mode would be cool: say, something like WWE World (since Universe is already taken) where you go backstage and find items, end up in fights or have unusual challenges like climbing a ladder to retrieve an unlockable item hanging from the ceiling of a room. You could go around the whole arena, and outside it or even on top of it, and go beyond in a GTA-like world where you explore Times Square again or even take a plane to a foreign location. All with a purpose of a) unlocking items, b) getting in unusual match situations and c) just having fun.
And on that note, the areas could be used also for hardcore matches: the backstage brawls have been downsized to the point where they provide very little fun now, so capitalising on those from the original SmackDown! games, World could unlock backstage areas that lead you to take a match from the ring through the boiler room, out of the arena, and maybe even into the sea (think of Al Snow vs. Hardcore Holly at St Valentine's Day Massacre), into a hotel (several old Raw scenes come to mind) or even a hospital ("calling Dr. Austin!"). Or, in short, develop a mini-world with unique backdrops reflecting WWE history that, in itself, would be a whole lot of fun.
13. Eight On-screen Characters
This is brief and to the point: we have only ever had eight on-screen wrestlers in one game for the series, which was way back in 2001. This surely can be remedied for PS4/Xbox One?
14. Good Times With Weapons
I borrowed the title of a South Park episode for this point. Many wrestlers, past and present, have weapons that are unique to them, from Big Boss Man's nightstick to Hacksaw Jim Duggan's 2 x 4. But few ever make it into the game, and are not associated with the wrestlers in the way they should be (e.g. having only Triple H retrieve the sledgehammer as a bonus ability, maybe). Plus, in earlier SmackDown! games and others like No Mercy, you had all sorts of unusual weapons like watermelons, flowers and even a big slab of cheese. Part of the fun of wrestling are the matches which see unusual props used, and this should be transferred to the games to make them more fun, but at the very least, weapons synonymous with wrestlers should be included.
15. Tie in with the WWE Network
Since the wrestling gamers who spend the most time on the likes of 2K15 are generally the die-hard fans, at least amongst the older generations, and since the WWE Network is always looking for new subscribers, how about having a free month of the WWE Network as a pre-order exclusive? Plus, why not include the Network within the game? Using 2K15 as an example: say you've relived the Shawn Michaels-Triple H match from SummerSlam 2002 but want to see how it played out for real; a post-match option could say "Click here to watch" and, assuming you have an account, you could go right into the WWE Network and watch the match in its entirety. Since the Network is accessible on these consoles (although I can't watch it on PS3 or PS4 for reasons I have yet to work out), this should be easily done.
16. Make WWE 2K17 the best game ever!
This may seem like an unusual statement; after all, 2K16 is in development, so why talk about 2K17 now? The reason is that, by writing this piece, I have realised that there are a lot of problems which require fixing for 2K16 alone. Even if they are remedied, the game will only really return to the level that it has been at for the last few years. There is so much which could be fixed, improved or built upon that it is unrealistic to expect it all to be done for 2K16. So, I think that the best option is for 2K Sports to do as much as they can to improve on 2K15's errors, add as much new content as is possible and generally make it as good as they can, and then use this as a springboard to building on it even more and making 2K17 the greatest wrestling game of all-time.
If the building blocks are put in place for this year's game, and there is a lot to like about it, then by tweaking the formula and adding more content, 2K17 should theoretically become the standard-bearer for all future wrestling videogames. Granted, I want 2K16 to be as good as can be, and I hope 2K16 could challenge the likes of No Mercy (can you believe that this winter marks 15 years since that game hit the Nintendo 64?), but when you look at the big picture, you realise that 2K15 had so many flaws, the best 2K16 can do is to fix them and add new content. If that's the case, by improving further, 2K17 should be the best ever. Let's hope so, anyway.
Or let's hope that 2K Sports surprise us and WWE 2K16 becomes the greatest wrestling game ever. It could do if they use some of the ideas I have suggested above; leave your thoughts below!