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Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Yuke's, Visual Concepts and n-Space (Mobile versions)
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: November 18 2014 (US), November 21 2014 (Australia) and November 21 2014 (UK)
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Android and iOS
The WWE videogame series, which seemed to have peaked in the mid-2000s under the SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw names, appeared to be making a comeback earlier this decade: WWE '12 set the series on a new path in terms of gameplay, with a surplus of content provided by WWE '13 and WWE 2K14, resulting in the best games since the heyday of WWE titles.
This, combined with a new publisher in the form of 2K Sports and the potential advancements that new technology could provide with the fresh PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, all suggested that WWE 2K15 could have ended up being the greatest wrestling game ever seen.
Erm, not quite.
WWE 2K15 does have a lot of positive aspects, but unfortunately these are counter-balanced by features which don't work, features which are limited, or features that have been dropped altogether. As I will explain, 2K15 is arguably the weakest offering of the entire series.
Let's start with the positives, then. We finally have a series debut for the legendary Sting (who is the pre-order exclusive with two characters, and the commercial promoting this pre-order bonus was superb), as well as first-time appearances for The Wyatt Family, Adrian Neville, Paige, Sami Zayn, Rusev, Bo Dallas and several other characters. Amongst the legends are top names like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Steve Austin, The Rock, Randy Savage and more. Rob Van Dam is back, and CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio sneak in despite them having both left WWE during the preceding year. In addition, there are more arenas than ever before with a final count of 52 venues that cover four decades.
The graphics on PS4 and Xbox One look outstanding; wrestlers have never looked so lifelike. Crowd audio is slightly better (the crowd themselves look more lifelike too; we get children in the audience for the first time, fans taking camera phone pictures, and audience members aimlessly wandering during shows), as is the commentary to a lesser extent. Meanwhile, the single-player mode, renamed 2K Showcase, focuses on key rivalries and career spotlights. These include the Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H, John Cena vs. CM Punk and Randy Orton vs. Christian feuds, as well as retrospectives on The Ultimate Warrior and Mark Henry. These include many stand-out matches for each section, complete with authentic arenas and costumes, and a load of cool unlockable items.
Then there's MyCareer, a brand new mode which shares traits with Career modes in other 2K titles, such as NBA 2K. This essentially sees you build up a created wrestler's, erm, career, from training in the WWE Performance Center through to NXT and then onto the main roster. And the wrestling engine has been worked upon to include chain wrestling exchanges to open matches, more realistic stamina and object detection (for example, wrestlers towards the end of matches may hit a finisher but stay down themselves, and then crawl onto their fallen opponent to make a cover attempt), new pinfall/submission bars and the first proper HUD bars for wrestlers in a WWE game in years to track momentum.
Add to that the ability to create brand new costumes from scratch for existing wrestlers, the return of licensed music for the game's soundtrack (including the modified version of Flo Rida's Wild Ones as used for WrestleMania XXVIII) and the most authentic presentation yet in a WWE game (we even get Bray Wyatt and company's scary "lamb face" cut-away after their matches), and you have a potentially fantastic wrestling game, right?
You do indeed. But "potentially" is the key word here. Because whilst WWE 2K15 boasts all of these cool new features or improvements, there are a bucketload of negatives to drag down the game's quality.
Let's begin as we did with the good points: the roster. Despite all of the names listed above being included, the line-up as a whole is greatly inferior to that of 2K14, which boasted the vast majority of WWE's biggest ever names. Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Goldberg, Eddie Guerrero, Bruno Sammartino, Razor Ramon, Scott Steiner and many more are all absent, and have been replaced by ... nobody. Really, compared to last year's who's who of legends, this year's retro crew is much weaker. In addition, there are far too many duplicate characters who are totally unnecessary. While the Ministry-era Undertaker, the 1990s version of Shawn Michaels or the "Corporate Champ" iteration of The Rock could at least be differentiated from their modern-day counterparts, here we have two Rybacks, duplicates for The Usos, three characters for Sheamus and Mark Henry, and four - yes, four - for Randy Orton, the majority of which are completely unnecessary (two of the Orton characters are from weeks apart on SmackDown circa 2011). The final character count is actually a series record 114, but the number of actual unique characters is around a quarter smaller than that figure, which is a big drop from 2K14. Why? I do not know.
Still, at least there are plenty of match types, right? Erm, no. Because 2K Sports, presumably due to the sudden leap to PS4/Xbox One, have removed a ton of well-established match stipulations, with no replacement whatsoever. Inferno, I Quit, Gauntlet and even Ladder matches (except for the six-man Money In The Bank formation) have all been taken out. This is a real kick in the goolies for longtime fans, especially since some have been around for years (Ladder matches have been in the game since 2000!). And with nothing in their place! Considering the higher price for 2K15 compared to its predecessors, this is extremely questionable.
Never mind, there's always the in-depth creation suite. Right, erm, how do I break the news ...
You can no longer create arenas, championships, stories, logos or female wrestlers. Oh, and you can only make 25 wrestlers, compared to 100 in the last game. What - I'll quote Steve Austin here, what - were the game developers thinking? A weaker roster, far fewer match types, and a downsized creation suite? Oh, and Superstar Threads is gone; so while you can assign brand new attires to existing wrestlers, you can only save them as created wrestlers (of which you only have 25 slots, remember) rather than alternate costumes. How on earth can all of this be justified in suggesting that WWE 2K15 is the best wrestling game to date? Awful, just awful.
Sadly, that's not the end of the drawbacks. The brand new wrestling gameplay is well-intentioned, but the execution is poor. The chain wrestling is almost impossible for new players to get to grips with, meaning that this sound-on-paper addition is best left ignored. The HUDs are cool, but since a selling point of recent games was a lack of on-screen extras to make the viewing experience more authentic, this feels like a step back. The new animations are good, but otherwise matches are at times a struggle, and even a chore in some situations. Surely not the outcome that 2K Sports were looking for. To be fair, the ideas are good; they're just not executed very well, so if these can be tweaked for the next game, perhaps we'll move forward in this department.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: the new wrestling engine doesn't apply to the PS3/Xbox 360 versions. On the one hand, that isn't a bad thing considering the poor execution of some in-ring aspects, but it does make owners of those consoles feel shafted, especially since PS3/Xbox 360 were the main consoles for the game as recently as 2K14. Meanwhile, the previous-gen consoles also lack the MyCareer mode completely - that's right, that mode isn't available on PS3 or Xbox 360 - and the replacement mode, Who Got NXT, is ridiculously tough and its rewards - several NXT competitors - doesn't justify the massive amount of work required to complete it. The graphics are shocking on those consoles, with Vince McMahon in particular looking nothing like his real-life self. That the PS3 and Xbox 360 do retain the previous match sets and creation suite are the only selling point for these versions, as it's clear that the game developers were not particularly interested in the platforms on which the series was focused for close to a decade.
Elsewhere, unless you adjust the difficulty right at the beginning, the Showcase modes can be very difficult and consequently frustrating, and basing one of the modes (albeit via DLC) on Mark Henry is an odd decision; there are at least 50 wrestlers on the game who fans would have chosen to spotlight instead. The DLC itself is hit-and-miss, since the WCW pack chooses to focus on lesser-remembered gimmicks rather than true giants of Starrcade, Nitro, Thunder etc. Like with the wrestling engine, MyCareer has good intentions, but once again the execution and difficulty are the stumbling blocks; one is more likely to abandon the mode in anger rather than battle to complete it. Chances are you'll purchase the full DLC offering which includes the automatic unlocking of all hidden items. Did I mention that the Season Pass DLC doesn't even cover all of the unlockable content, meaning you'll have to pay even more?
There are other flaws (such as no longer being able to assign custom themes to wrestlers during entrances), but I'll leave it at that for now, as I've covered the main problems. It isn't hard to realise that WWE 2K15 falls way, way short of its potential. I mean, this was supposed to be the best wrestling game ever, and yet it contains so many problems (and I haven't even mentioned glitches) and removes so much without providing anything new, all for a bloated price, that it is a huge let-down. Yes, there can be issues when switching to new consoles/technology, but even those games which had a transition feel to them for that very reason (WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It and WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, both considered disappointments themselves at the time) were nowhere near as limited as this game is. It's as if the developers rushed to get 2K15 on PS4 and Xbox One without considering how poor the final product would be.
Perhaps it would have been better to not have had WWE 2K15, and to have instead provided Sting, Bray Wyatt and friends, the main Showcase stories and the new/returning arenas as DLC for the far superior 2K14. There would have been a big outcry, but given the choice, I'd have preferred that option, which would have included the developers to prepare this series properly for the new generation of consoles, resulting in a far better videogame. Maybe 2K16 will fix the issues that this game has; it really needs to, if the series is to continue onwards.
If you have WWE 2K14, I would actually suggest that you think carefully about whether this game is really worth buying. Even during its weaker years, I've always thought that this series provided a good game at worst, but I am not sure that 2K15 has even achieved that standard. The rating below is earned because the Showcase mode does have its moments, there are some cool new wrestlers amongst those who do make it onto the roster, and the intentions are good with the gameplay and MyCareer. But the downsizing of so many core features, the poor execution in other key areas and the belief that fans would actually want to pay more for this negative combination, leads to a game that only avoids a truly dire rating because it just about provides enough entertainment in its main single-player option and has much-anticipated roster additions.
Far from the new industry standard that I was hoping for, WWE 2K15 is a major disappointment, and the worst game of a series which began in the year 2000. WWE 2K16 now becomes crucial, because this game has so many issues that the next step could very well determine whether the 15-year-old franchise even has a future.
Overall Rating: 5/10 - Average