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Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Yuke's and Visual Concepts
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 27 2015 (US), October 29 2015 (Australia) and October 30 2015 (UK)
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows
The latest WWE videogame was under big pressure to deliver. The much-ballyhooed 2K15 was a low point for the long-running flagship WWE series, with many features removed for the PS4/Xbox One iterations and a lack of real development for PS3/Xbox 360 copies. If 2K16 flatlined, it could have sent WWE games on a downward spiral from which it could take years to recover.
Fortunately, 2K16 is a big improvement on the previous entry in the series. Not everything is perfect; that's an understatement. But enough features have been restored, along with some nice improvements across the board, that this year's WWE game provides a far more satisfying playing experience.
Perhaps the biggest area of growth concerns the roster. 2K15 actually had the largest character total to date with 114, but so many were duplicates, and a significant number (particularly those offered as downloadable content) were so unnecessary, that the actual number of different characters was closer to the 80-90 range, a step down from the Attitude Era-based WWE '13 and the star-studded 2K14. 2K16 has definitely made amends in this area, though, with the final character total being a whopping 165! Yes, there are duplicates here too, but they are generally more logical than in 2K15, and even without them, the number of unique characters sits around the 140-145 mark, a massive improvement upon the last game. It is by far the largest WWE roster ever in a videogame.
Amongst those, we get plenty of debuts, largely for NXT-associated talent like Finn Balor, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe (available as DLC). That being said, the absence of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley is a real head-scratcher considering that lesser NXT names of the male gender are here, and especially since Sasha had supposedly been scanned for the game several months back.
In addition, old favourites return, including Bret Hart, Jake Roberts and all three faces of (Mick) Foley, and there are some new legends, largely of the "do you remember them?" category such as Savio Vega, Haku, D'Lo Brown and even ECW alumni Mikey Whipwreck. That being said, some major names (like Goldberg and Eddie Guerrero) are absent, and Hulk Hogan was removed after his racism scandal back in July 2015 (making it four games that Hogan has been taken out of by my count), so despite the vast numbers, it isn't quite the best roster to date. It is undoubtedly the biggest, though, and few will be dissatisfied by the line-up, which uniquely brings over many of the legends we had in 2K15 (such as the Triangle Of Terror, headed up by Sgt Slaughter). Oh, and the pre-order exclusive consists of Arnold Schwarzenegger's characters from the first two Terminator movies. Erm, okay.
Some of those characters are unlocked via the Showcase modes, which this year are centred around the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin and, as DLC, a spotlight of the 2015 Hall Of Fame inductees. Both are fun to play through, and Austin's is significantly longer and covers almost every key moment of his career (matches with Owen Hart aside; the scuttlebutt is that said bouts were originally included but later removed). The downside is that we played through many of Austin's key battles in previous games (his WrestleMania XV showdown with The Rock has now been seen in four games, with three of them coming in the last four years), so it does get repetitive at times. The mode is still a treat, though: not only are Austin's most famous matches included, but we also get some rare bouts from WCW and ECW, and several memorable meetings not seen in Attitude Era mode from WWE '13 (such as the Three Stages Of Hell clash with Triple H from No Way Out 2001). The lack of authenticity at times hurts, not least during Austin vs. Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania XIV, where Mike Tyson is replaced by a white DX "enforcer", and the arena itself looks haphazard (several items look different to how they did in reality, or even in previous games which had the WM XIV arena).
It's definitely a fun single-player mode, although I personally would have preferred at least one other lengthy Showcase trek to keep this from feeling like WWE '13 part two. Austin's Showcase explains why he is the cover star of the game, a controversial decision considering that Austin hasn't wrestled since 2003, thus making the current roster look weak. Overall, though, it's a good if not exactly flawless Showcase option. As noted, we also get a 2015 HOF inductees Showcase, which is a nice if brief tribute to the latest inductees, and hopefully this marks the beginning of a trend for future games.
MyCareer has been developed to include more authentic situations once you reach the main roster, such as having the option to join the Authority. It still feels like something is missing, or that the playing experience feels a little bit dull in its early stages, but it is easier to get to grips with than the same mode in 2K15. Universe hasn't changed much, and the complex interface combined with the suitcase full of mini challenges make this seem bloated. Perhaps this is something that 2K should really look at for the next game, because after six incarnations, Universe still feels like it falls short of its potential.
If you're playing 2K16 for the regular matches, you'll be happy to learn that several popular match types have been reinstated after inexplicably being omitted from 2K15, not least the one-on-one Ladder match. Other bouts are back in, too, although the match set is still weaker than what we had in 2K14 (still no returns for the Inferno or I Quit matches, for example). I should point out that if you purchase the PS3 or Xbox 360 version, you will get more match types because those iterations haven't changed since 2K14; however, they lack the gameplay changes which the current-gen versions have, so it's swings and roundabouts really.
Speaking of gameplay: after the in-depth yet poorly-executed wrestling engine for 2K15, 2K have thankfully tweaked the gameplay experience to make the wrestling far easier to pull off in this game. The chain wrestling is much easier to get to grips with; I quickly realised what was going on and how to execute said moves properly, as opposed to spending months without success on the same system in 2K15. We also get more options for ground strikes, rest hold submissions, sitting/kneeling moves and apron attacks, a limited number of reversals for each character (which refresh during bouts) and limb targeting feels easier to pull off as well. The HUD makes it a lot clearer to identify which moves drain one's stamina, how to restore it to particular levels and how to ensure that your signature moves are executed at the right time in terms of building momentum. The only flaw is that the submission mini-game is very difficult to master, so this should be tweaked for 2K17, and the game could also benefit from having more move options from a standing front position. Overall, however, the gameplay is much easier to adapt to and provides arguably the best wrestling experience on a game since the legendary SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain and SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 games of a decade ago.
Another key area where 2K15 was watered down concerned the creation suite, a longtime series trademark, which on PS4 and Xbox One consoles provided a diminished Create A Wrestler option with just 25 create slots, and no options to create female characters, and removed several popular create options. Happily, the creation suite is a lot stronger in 2K16, with the CAW aspect properly restored (100 slots, the chance to create females), along with the return of Create An Arena and Create A Championship, and a new Create A Show option too. There are still omissions which will hopefully be back for 2K17 (Create A Finisher and Create A Story amongst them), and the Superstar Threads option is still mishandled (meaning that if you give a new attire to an existing wrestler, it is saved as a completely new created character rather than an alternate attire), but it is a lot better and much more satisfying than what we got in 2K15.
Elsewhere on the game: the graphics are still great, but many characters look half-finished, especially interviewer Renee Young who looks totally different to the real-life blonde bombshell that she is. There are more arenas than ever before with the combination of current venues (including an NXT Takeover backdrop), arenas spanning 1993-2003 from the Austin Showcase which cover WWE, WCW and ECW, and several 1990s arenas from the HOF Showcase. The Music Jukebox feature is back, but we still can't import music into the game for entrances. The online experience remains the same with slightly stronger servers, although there are now 24-hour restrictions on how much created content you can download, which sucks a little bit.
The overall presentation is the best yet, as entrances have virtually no loading time between them now. The game has the first three-man commentary booth ever in a WWE title, but third man John Bradshaw Layfield sounds disinterested and so his contributions add little. Regular commentators Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler sound fairly authentic, but they too often discuss forgettable moments as opposed to genuinely legendary matches from WWE's rich history. There are literally hundreds of unlockable items, including dozens of hidden wrestlers and costumes, which should keep you busy. And we finally have the option to begin matches early by interrupting entrances with sneak attacks, which will hopefully lend itself to post-match fight continuations in 2K17.
After the poor offering that was 2K15, WWE 2K16 fortunately does a lot to correct the previous game's faults, whilst introducing new touches and gameplay options which make it a far superior title. It isn't quite as good as 2K14, which had more big names on its roster and stronger match options and creative features, but it is a sign that things are heading in a positive direction once more. We have a ginormous roster, some entertaining Showcase moments, a strong wrestling engine, more match types than the last game provided, and a more acceptable creation suite. Yes, there is still plenty of room for improvement, which 2K17 will hopefully address, but compared to the incomplete experience that we got one year ago, WWE 2K16 is a much better entry in the series and, for wrestling fans, is a game that you should own. It isn't the best wrestling game by any means, but it is a top ten contender, and it provides enough entertainment and content that it should finally remove the sour taste left in your mouth by 2K15.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent