|Image Source: Deviant Art|
While WWE usually enters something of a lull during its autumn months, there is one bright spot as the dark nights come earlier and the air turns colder - and that is the release of the annual WWE videogame, as part of the flagship series which began over 16 years ago. And after only sprinklings of information for so long, the last couple of weeks have finally seen some proper details about the upcoming edition, WWE 2K17. With almost two months remaining until its (unusually early) release date of October 11, there will be plenty of time for even more news to come out about the game, but there is a decent amount available at present to be able to form an opinion of what we can expect in this year's outing.
The WWE videogame series has seen some highs and lows over the years. Many - most, actually - say that the series peaked in the mid-2000s on PlayStation 2, and that all of the subsequent efforts on PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and, in recent times, PS4 and Xbox One, have not lived up to the standard set by such games as SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain or SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006. I feel the same way, although WWE '13 and WWE 2K14 were very good efforts, the best since the glory days of the mid-Noughties. WWE 2K15 took a major step back in its premature debut on current-gen consoles, and whilst WWE 2K16 was a big improvement, it still had plenty of areas where it was lacking or underdeveloped.
So, what can we predict for WWE 2K17 at this stage?
Beginning with the roster, so far we know that Goldberg is the pre-order exclusive and Brock Lesnar is the cover star. We have also been informed that this year's roster will be larger than last year's record line-up of 165 characters after downloadable content. Speaking of DLC, there will be four packs this year, which I believe does not include the pre-order NXT special which includes series debuts for Apollo Crews, Nia Jax and the pretty awesome Shinsuke Nakamura. The roster is yet to be announced in full, but by the looks of things the vast majority of the legends who appeared in 2K16 will be returning in 2K17 (as was the case the previous year too), and some 2K15 retro names might even make a second encore appearance this time around. The roster should be fairly updated, as we get returns for The Dudleyz and Albert Del Rio, along with first-time showings for the likes of AJ Styles. Oh, and the Four Horsewomen are in (well, three of them are confirmed; Bayley is highly likely to feature too, although it's yet to be officially announced).
What we don't know yet is which former names might be making a return or a first-time appearance; people like Bruno Sammartino, Eddie Guerrero, Mick Foley (the non-gimmick version) for returning faces, or people like Tito Santana, Rick Martel or The Nasty Boys for debuting icons. That is partly due to the situation surrounding the game's key mode (which I'll delve into shortly), but the hope is that this year's roster won't just be last year's crew with the most recent additions to the WWE crop. Part of the appeal is seeing some familiar faces from the past, even if they weren't main eventing WrestleMania back in the day; the likes of Savio Vega, Haku and D'Lo Brown being good examples in 2K16.
Fortunately, it's more than likely that we'll get some fresh Legends, so chances are that a few more of our old favourites will be ticked off the fantasy list and make an appearance in 2K17. Either way, the roster looks like it will be larger, stronger and better than that of 2K16 (and we haven't heard yet of the alternate characters for wrestlers, such as multiple versions of The Undertaker), and if a couple of pleasant surprises are thrown in there too, then the 2K17 roster should be the best yet. Don't expect shock names to provide too much of a jolt, though: the chances of Hulk Hogan reappearing this year are low, and for independent names (which Kurt Angle now qualifies as) or for the likes of Owen Hart, it doesn't seem like barriers have been broken to get them in this year either.
We know this because in a blog on the 2K website, it was acknowledged that the 2K Showcase mode (which officially started in 2K15, although a similar version has appeared since WWE '13) won't be in the game this year, partially because of the number of former stars who simply could not be included in the game. Since a Brock Lesnar Showcase was hinted at, you can bet that this would have included Angle in a perfect world, and with former WWE name Rob Van Dam, current TNA star Jeff Hardy and WWE's public enemy number one CM Punk all playing a role in Lesnar's past, that would be a lot of murky territory for 2K to wade through. Long story short, we may get some surprise legends, but none that will rock the WWE boat, so to speak.
On that topic, though, the big news is the lack of a Showcase mode, with 2K explaining that a sub-standard mode would be unappealing and, therefore, not worthwhile. That makes sense, but the big concern is that 2K17 will not have a proper single-player mode to speak of. Sure, MyCareer and Universe are in again, but they've played second fiddle to Showcase in the last two games; and in the past, Season mode, Story mode, Road To WrestleMania, Attitude Era, 30 Years Of WrestleMania and others have all been presented as the main crux of the game. The idea that this game might not have such an option is a big let-down, even if most players don't touch it once they've played through it once and unlocked everything on offer,.
The hope is that 2K will announce a replacement mode, such as a revamped Season mode or an update on the old Challenge option. If we get such an announcement, then the absence of Showcase won't be a big issue, but if that doesn't occur, then 2K17 will seem a lot less exciting for gamers, especially those who don't enjoy playing MyCareer or Universe. We shall see, but this unexpected news is definitely the big negative surrounding the game so far.
MyCareer and Universe will be updated to incorporate a brand new Promo Engine; translated, players can now cut promos as part of their Career paths or their Universe storylines. Whether gamers can choose what to say in text form or use recorded dialogue (or, better yet, record your OWN dialogue and use it in the game) is currently unknown. Either way, it's a potentially major step forward, especially in Universe which has quietly become a great side-option for hardcore fans who want to truly recreate the WWE landscape or use the tools in place to bring back WCW or make a mini TNA using created wrestlers and arenas. We'll need to know more about this before ranking its success, but it definitely looks like both modes will be improved this time out (MyCareer will also have an additional square-off with Brock Lesnar at some stage, accompanied as ever by Paul Heyman who has allegedly recorded voiceovers for such a development; and Universe has many new scenes and scenes re-recorded to keep them fresh). I just hope the interface of both modes will be a lot simpler; fans will be using these modes more frequently in the absence of Showcase, so they can't be overwhelming enough to drive away players before they can sample the benefits of each mode.
The Creative Suite has expanded again, although perhaps not to the extent that people will have hoped. There's still no return for Create A Finisher, but Create A Wrestler and Create A Show now have additional options, and there's the return of Create A Video, whereby footage saved from matches or created from scratch in the Highlight Replay feature (mirroring the old Highlight Reel tool) can be used during entrance videos and the like. Plus, Create A Victory is a new addition, which I believe is allowing you to form how one celebrates winning a match, from Steve Austin beer bashes to Hogan-esque posedowns. There's no word on whether we can create more wrestlers and arenas during those modes, and there's always the chance (a low one, mind you) that Create A Finisher could still be announced. Whatever the case, this year's additions are positive, and those who enjoy creating content should have plenty to keep them occupied this time around.
The most exciting announcements about the game so far concern the gameplay. The chain wrestling sequences will now be occasional rather than automatic at the start of matches, and the control scheme will make chain exchanges easier to utilise. The submission bar (a big criticism in 2K16) has been overhauled to make things simpler, as well as there being an alternate system for those wishing for a return to submission options in previous games. Taunts now have a greater purpose for increasing momentum and recoveries, with new positions making for more taunt options than ever before. A new Roll-Out system applies to multi-man affairs to mirror real life; think of Triple Threat clashes where two wrestlers will have a continuous exchange, with a third man eventually interrupting them, dumping one out and then going at it with the remaining combatant, and so on; and during Ladder matches, imagine you and your opponent taking a spill, then two others battling it out until they take a major bump, and so on.
In addition, Major Reversals are a new feature which do what the name suggests: a Major Reversal avoids a finisher, whilst boosting your momentum greatly and also preventing your opponent from reversing any of your offence for a short period of time. This kind of makes sense, although we'll need to see it in action first. Plus, although this hasn't been confirmed, snippets of gameplay footage indicate a new star rating system during matches, whereby the better the match is that you're playing, the higher the rating becomes. This lends itself to one putting on matches with the intention of providing a fantastic performance, rather than simply trying to win. During Ladder bouts, the structure can only be placed in a few areas, but each lends itself to either making the climb-up-and-retrieve-the-prize process a lot easier, or it provides a perfect set-up for a hellacious move from ten feet in the air.
Oh, and you can now pull out a giant ladder during MITB and TLC bouts (and regular Ladder bouts too, I guess), straddle it between the ring and the crowd barrier, and drive a poor opponent through it. Cool!
And then there's the return of some old favourites. For the first time since SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, matches can now end up in the crowd, with designated areas in place that include weapons. Plus, backstage brawling returns with several new areas, which interlink so that you can start a match in the arena, work your way into the hallway and end up in the office of The Authority (a cool cut-scene sees Triple H snarl as you enter his workplace during a hardcore battle). Add to that the presence of additional weapons in those locations and some OMG! Moments in each area to ensure that you don't bounce off invisible walls in each room, and it's safe to say that the action will be a lot more entertaining in 2K17. I can see fans spending a lot of time taking their fights to the stands and around the arena complex. The word "fun" has almost been sacrificed for realism in recent WWE games, so these minor additions make a big difference in ensuring that fans will actually enjoy their grappling in 2K17.
Oh, and P Diddy has chosen the soundtrack for the game. Erm, okay then.
There's still nearly two months before 2K17 is released, during which time there will be plenty more information distributed about the game. I am personally hoping that we notice an increased pace during matches, to avoid bouts feeling like a bit of a slog at times; some first-time appearances for fondly-remembered Legends; a new Season or Story mode to replace the eliminated Showcase mode; a couple of new or returning match stipulations such as Stretcher, Ambulance or Inferno (since, backstage brawls aside, there's been no mention of increasing the match options, despite this once being a series trademark); and preferably one more Creation mode (Create A Finisher, ideally), along with the chance to create slightly more wrestlers and arenas (and the proper return of Superstar Threads). It'd be nice too if the restrictions on the number of daily downloads via Community Creations were taken away, as it made an already-long process even more stretched out. I was going to hope that the commentary is improved, but that's as far-fetched as expecting a Kurt Angle cameo at this point.
But so far, it sounds like WWE 2K17 will be a strong outing. With the exception of Showcase being removed, everything which has been announced so far is positive, and some aspects (like fighting through the crowd) have been long-requested for a debut or a return by fans. The gameplay changes suggest that the wrestling engine, which was strong in 2K16, will be better still this time, and the hardcore-related capers mean that, for the first time in years, fans can play matches with the intention of just having fun; plus, for those who prefer realism in their WWE games, the star-rating system during bouts provides a new mini-goal for those who want to replicate the ups and downs of a truly great wrestling match. All we need now is for the roster to be a truly impressive line-up with some fresh retro faces thrown into the mix and a worthy replacement for Showcase, and we could have a beast of a wrestling game on our hands.
It's too early to say whether 2K17 will live up to expectations, but it certainly sounds like it will be superior to 2K16. Could it really measure up to fondly-remembered titles like Here Comes The Pain? We'll have to wait and see; but for the first time in years, a WWE game is on the horizon which, from a gameplay and a features standpoint, could be a true classic. The announcements so far are mostly very promising; if we get even more good news over the next two months, then the 2K series could mimic the real-life WWE by ushering in a New Era for wrestling games.