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Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Yuke's and Visual Concepts
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 11 2016
Consoles: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows
It's been a strange couple of years for wrestling games, or more specifically, WWE games. The highly-praised SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw series entered a lull in the late 2000s, but the flagship titles rebounded somewhat with the nostalgia-based WWE '13 and WWE 2K14. Then came WWE 2K15, the first foray onto eighth-generation consoles, and everything took several steps back with the game generally feeling incomplete and limited, which damaged much of the goodwill raised by previous entries. WWE 2K16 thankfully corrected many of these faults, ensuring that the series was back on the right track.
And so we come, then, to WWE 2K17. The third WWE game on PS4 and Xbox One promised a lot during the initial hype period, and since the honeymoon period for the series on current-gen consoles was now well and truly over, expectations were raised that this could be the best wrestling game in a long, long time - if not a potential contender for best game ever. Unfortunately, while 2K17 delivers tremendous entertainment in a lot of ways, it also has many areas for potential improvement which, combined with a lack of growth in other feature sets, results in a game which is by no means bad, but is generally a disappointment.
The biggest problem is the lack of a truly major single-player mode. The days of Season and Road To WrestleMania - which offer a true-to-life opportunity to work through WWE storylines, along with voiceovers and the usual creative twists and turns - have given way in recent years to a classic match option, whereby you relive memorable eras, matches or feuds from the annals of WWE history. Some of these (Attitude Era) were better than others (Hall Of Pain), but it had a vast amount of potential with literally an unlimited number of possibilities. It also provided a logical reason to include characters from the past, some of whom might not have ever featured in a WWE game had it not been for this mode, recently referred to as 2K Showcase (I'm thinking of Savio Vega and Mikey Whipwreck in 2K16).
However, the decision was made to remove Showcase from 2K17 - with no replacement whatsoever. In fairness, the development team basically admitted that they wanted to do a Brock Lesnar career retrospective Showcase, but not being able to include certain wrestlers from the past (presumably referring to Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan and possibly CM Punk and Rob Van Dam) meant that they felt it would have been inadequate, and therefore the decision was made to not have a Showcase at all. However, it leaves a gaping hole in the game, especially since the team didn't try to replace it with, say, a revamped Season mode or even the return of the old Challenge option. Plus, while the Lesnar story may not have been workable, there are still tons of possibilities which could have been explored, such as the infamous Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels feud, the John Cena-Edge rivalry or even a career retrospective for The Undertaker, who has had literally tons of memorable matches which could have been spotlighted. Granted, we're getting a Hall Of Fame Showcase amongst the downloadable content, but measuring in at only six matches, it can hardly be described as the main single-player mode in the game. This was a concern beforehand when it was confirmed that there would be no Showcase, and thus it has proven to be a real problem with the lifespan of 2K17. Hopefully, we will get the return of a proper Showcase and/or the return of another mode (Season, maybe?) in 2K18, because there should be plenty of evidence here to show that a WWE game featuring neither mode is a let-down.
It wouldn't be so bad if MyCareer was an outstanding alternative, but it isn't. As with MC in 2K15 and 2K16, the mode is a slog to play through, and Paul Heyman aside, nobody provides any voiceovers, which hampers the experience further. It is the best version of MyCareer in a WWE game to date, but it's still nowhere near as enjoyable as Showcase. It's not even that the concept doesn't work; it has been very successful in the NBA 2K series, and it has a lot of potential in a WWE setting too. The execution is just poor, lacking the energy and fun that career-based modes have in the past. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if MyCareer was dropped from 2K18, because three games in, the idea just isn't working, and unless major changes are made for next year's game, I would go so far as to say that many fans would rather the mode not be included again in 2K18.
Mind you, at least PS4 and Xbox One players have the option to play MyCareer if they so choose; the mode remains absent from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and with Showcase not included on any platforms, the only main single-player mode for what were once the franchise's two most vital consoles is Universe mode. If that sounds poor for a game which comes in at the mid-£30 range on said platforms, then it is. Fortunately, Universe is the best that it's ever been, largely due to the decision to incorporate the new Promo Engine into the mode, which fills in some of the blanks during storyline angles and gets the mode ever closer to the old Create A Story option. In fact, given the amount of control one now has over Universe - you can now save up to three different Universes at one time, allowing you to drift between, say, a modern WWE and an Attitude Era version of WWE, or to recreate the current WWE brand split, or even to create a vintage WCW - it is very close to being the ultimate wrestling videogame mode for fans. Granted, the Promo Engine is limited and some of the pre-written lines are questionable, but it's a good start, and it should really come to life in 2K18. If the development team lean back ever-so-slightly on the CPU involvement in creating unforeseen twists and turns, Universe could be something truly special next time out, but even so, this mode is the best of the non-Exhibition options in 2K17 (there is one other new feature within Universe which I will explain a bit later). On second thoughts, maybe PS3/Xbox 360 users were the lucky ones.
The matches themselves play out in very similar fashion to those in 2K16: with the exception of new controls for the Chain Wrestling system, which are a lot less frequent than in the two previous titles, the control scheme is almost exactly the same, and there are new move and taunt options, particularly when interacting with the turnbuckles. Taunts help to build energy and popularity rather than momentum, unless they are used at vital parts of the match. The body damage skeleton now displays throughout matches rather than a character photograph on the HUDs, and it has additional colours to show even more damage than usual, allowing you to truly recognise when your opponent has taken enough punishment for you to win the match. Multi-man bouts now have a Roll-Out feature which allows your character to take breathers and break up pins and submissions in dramatic fashion. The infamous mega ladder used in classic Money In The Bank matches can now be used during MITB or TLC battles. And the matches now have a star-rating system, which takes into account how many different moves you use during a bout, any signature moves and finishers, any OMG! moments, back-and-forth reversals and pre- and post-match attacks (yes, you can now carry on the action after the match ends, essentially giving you an extra minute or so of combat), and the ratings - which unsurprisingly go up to five stars - provide you with a certain amount of Virtual Currency to use in the VC Store (more on this later).
That all being said, I still found the matches to be inferior to those in 2K16. The main flaw is that the action is just too slow; we may not necessarily want to return to the days when matches moved at a rapid-fire pace in the early SmackDown! titles, but the matches are slow enough that they reduce excitement and entertainment. Plus, some of the redesigned move animations are poor; Brock Lesnar's F5, in particular, is the most careful-looking version of the move that you will ever see. I can certainly understand 2K's desire to make the game a wrestling sim to rival the action we see on Raw and SmackDown every week, but even the real-life matches don't move at such a slow pace as the bouts do here (and some replay clips of matches are slower still, although I assume this is a glitch rather than by design). Truth be told, I was hoping that the matches would be quicker this year than they were last time, and given the promised improvements, the 2K17 bouts had the potential to be the best ever (there's also the option for a new submission system which rectifies the problems with the old analog-based engine), but unfortunately the stupidly slow pace lets down what would otherwise be very good gameplay.
As for the match types themselves: on PS4/Xbox One, the big addition is the return of the Backstage Brawls. A corridor backstage feeds into the locker room and the Authority's office, which you can burst into at any point during no-rules matches, and which boast several weapons and points of interaction (Triple H is humorously standing in his office watching the chaos unfold;, Stephanie McMahon replaces him when he is causing the mayhem himself). This is mostly a success; there's a lot of fun to be had from running amok, especially when you can do silly things like chasing off a wrestler who is being interviewed backstage. What's more, you can finally battle in the crowd again, with one specific area providing an almost hidden pathway for you to make your way backstage or even back to the ring from the other side of, erm, ringside. And unlike past games, you can hop into the crowd during any matches, even if it's not Falls Count Anywhere, so you could draw your opponent towards the area, leave him laying in the crowd and return to the ring to pick up a countout win, for example. Although there's no balcony to hit insane dives like in SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 or SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, the crowd battles are still a highlight of the game, and coupled with the Backstage Brawls, these will be the situations that I envision most people finding themselves in when playing 2K17; they provide a lot of entertainment, the likes of which we haven't seen in the game for a long time.
Without being too much of a negative Nancy, though, it's a shame that three games into the current videogame console generation, there are still so many missing match types. We still haven't got Inferno, First Blood or I Quit bouts on PS4/Xbox One, even though said match types remain in the PS3/Xbox 360 versions. There's also plenty of tag and three/four-way options which have yet to come over to the newest consoles, and some have even been taken away, like the Six-Man Tornado Tag Elimination Chamber option (which was actually removed in 2K16, to be fair). It's no surprise that the older platforms don't have any new match types to speak of themselves, but at least they still have the in-depth Match Creator feature which has also yet to make its way to current consoles (meaning you could create the likes of Finisher or Flaming Tables bouts with a couple of selections). This is an area which the development team really needs to get their fingers out and sort, because we're not as far off as you may think from the inevitable announcements of the next PlayStation and Xbox consoles (Christmas 2017 will be the fifth winter season for PS4 and Xbox One), and yet this particular series has still yet to catch up with the match options available on the older models.
As for the roster: as with other areas of the game, it has positives and negatives. To be frank, after DLC the game will boast a whopping 178 playable characters, a new series record, and that doesn't include created characters. What's more, there are many debutants like AJ Styles, The Four Horsewomen, Asuka, The Revival, American Alpha, Shinsuke Nakamura and more. Plus, there's the return of Alberto Del Rio and The Dudley Boyz, even if they all no longer wrestle for WWE. On the downside, though, DLC aside the game provides very few new retro characters: all of the "new" legends which are already on the game disc have been in previous games, even though their returns here are welcome (Road Dogg, Diesel and Razor Ramon; and the last two have the alternate Kevin Nash and Scott Hall characters which were in 2K16 as well). It's nice that the likes of The Natural Disasters, The Bushwhackers and Rick Rude keep appearing, along with the usual big names such as Steve Austin, Ultimate Warrior and Sting, but it just feels a bit - lazy, I guess. This is where the lack of Showcase really becomes noticeable, because that mode alone would have given us around 10-12 extra characters from the past. Plus, managers have been purged; we had more than 20 in 2K16, but this time we only have six after unlocking Bobby Heenan and Ted DiBiase (and why is DiBiase only playable as a manager again?). And as contradictory as this may read, there are some notable removals from 2K16 amongst the regular wrestlers, like Ken Shamrock, X-Pac, Batista and Roddy Piper.
The DLC helps to redeem the roster situation somewhat with Psycho Sid, Tatanka and Greg Valentine making their series debuts along with returns for Eddie Guerrero and Brutus Beefcake, not to mention those who will arrive as part of the Hall Of Fame Showcase DLC (even though Terry Gordy and Stan Hansen are inexplicably absent). Most notably is the return of Goldberg as the pre-order DLC; to be fair, he was in the game as recently as 2K14, but his collaboration with 2K led to the on-screen feud with Brock Lesnar being revived, his stunning 86-second win over Brock at Survivor Series and further likely showdowns in 2017. As a matter of fact, the Goldberg tie-in makes this arguably the most famous wrestling game ever, since it directly impacted upon major WWE encounters during its most crucial time of the year.
I'll get the final gripes out of the way now: the arena selection is also extremely lazy, with a dozen retro arenas which have all appeared in recent games serving as the only unlockable venues before DLC, which may be the game's biggest limitation of all compared to 50+ venues in the last two games (although we can now toggle between day, evening and night for outdoor arenas like WrestleMania 31, which is a nice touch). The commentary is again suspect, particularly JBL's almost bored contributions at times. Also, I'm not sure if this is an opinion shared by the majority, but I feel the graphics on PS4/Xbox One have taken a step back. Maybe the novelty of the modern videogame graphics have worn off, or they've improved to a level that can't be built upon until we reach the ninth videogame console generation, but something just doesn't seem right; at times, it feels like one is playing the PS3 version as opposed to the PS4 game based solely on the graphics. And this is something which I've never commented on in past games, but the development team has made the strange decision to give almost every character white pupils in their eyes. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is when you see that all the characters look almost alien-esque, especially Dana Brooke who literally looks unreal. That the character models now appear instead of their real-life photographs on the character selection screen only hammer this home, and form part of the reason why the graphics appear to be inferior to those in 2K16.
On a more positive note (thankfully), the creative suite is superb. Create A Wrestler is as advanced as ever; you can now give wrestlers hair dye, and you can even shape a character's buttocks (I hope this doesn't extend to a certain point in 2K18 if you know what I mean). Create An Arena is the best yet, with some incredibly deep options and the ability to add props such as ladders and UK postboxes to the aisleways, as well as the chance to create outdoor venues spanning the aforementioned times of the day. Create A Show has been improved exponentially; when you incorporate created shows into Universe, you'll now have a full show intro complete with pyro, signature videos and even theme songs for events. (Incidentally, I like how different features intertwine; for instance, you design a venue in Create An Arena, tag it to a show in Create A Show - which you must do to play in it, by the way - and then use it to its full potential in Universe.) The choices are admittedly limited and some, such as Raw circa 1998, are incorrect, but others (like the late 1980s version of Saturday Night's Main Event) are authentic, and the whole thing has great potential heading into 2K18. Create A Championship also has significant improvements; it's very easy to create real-life titles, including those not affiliated with WWE, in just a matter of moments. Create A Team hasn't changed really, and Create An Entrance hasn't been altered massively either; that being said, the latter now allows you to splice parts of different themes together, which is pretty cool, and you can now decide which characters act in which role during team entrances such as that of The New Day. New to the game are Create A Video, which uses the returning Highlight Reel to allow you to create custom entrance videos, and Create A Victory, which allows you to create a celebration scene after a hard-fought victory. There's still no return for Create A Finisher, but hopefully that will come next year.
The best part, though, may be the Logo Manager. Rather than taking ages to create close-to-real versions of, say, the Hulkamania logo or the new Raw logo, you can now use the Logo Manager, in conjunction with your home computer, to import the actual images into the game, and use them as much as you want. This extends to photographs, which helps when trying to get a particular wrestler's face spot-on (or even your own, if you plan to create yourself!). Even if you don't want to import the event and wrestler logos yourself, there's always Community Creations, where you'll find loads of almost-perfect recreations, many of which will already have the actual images imported. Overall, it's probably the best overall creation suite ever provided in a WWE game, with only minor tweaks and Create A Finisher needed to make it practically flawless in 2K18. This and the crowd-based and backstage brawling are the absolute best parts of this year's game.
Elsewhere on the game, characters now move around and pose during main menus, which becomes very funny when the likes of Big E start randomly gyrating. I mentioned the VC Store before; this is where you can spend your Virtual Currency on hidden wrestlers, arenas and titles, and it's nice that Exhibition allows you to build up VC rather than focusing solely on the main modes. You can now pick which referee you want for every match, although it's mostly a case of picking which shirt an official wears rather than choosing between real-life refs in the manner of Raw 2. The soundtrack has been updated - it was apparently picked by P. Diddy - and is hit and miss, although you can once again use wrestler themes for the menu soundtrack (if you want to listen to wrestler themes in full, go to Create A Show, as the menu versions only last slightly longer than one minute). Lilian Garcia announces names when you pick them for matches, as well as announcing when certain people are eliminated from the likes of Royal Rumble matches, and the commentators discuss the upcoming match on the pre-bout loading screen (one such instance saw JBL inexplicably laugh nonstop for several seconds with no explanation). And should you attack Xavier Woods during his entrance, you can pick up his trombone and start playing it, which may be the highlight of the entire game (seriously, try it with a no-nonsense character like Brock Lesnar or Steve Austin, because the visual is hilarious).
Before wrapping this review up, I have to mention that the original version of the game is rife with glitches (AJ Styles' entrance was a massive let-down during my first match for this reason), meaning you'll have to download the updated file of the game to remove said errors. Unfortunately, this takes an incredibly long time, so you may want to do this the day before you plan to play it for the first time (honestly, it takes that long), not to mention that certain glitches and errors remain in the game even after the update. Speaking of downloading, I felt the DLC price was really high this year; the Season Pass costs £25 and doesn't include any of the pre-order DLCs or the MyCareer bonus, meaning that to purchase all DLC costs almost as much as the game itself. I can remember getting the classic SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain for just under £27 on PS2 in my local store; 2K17 with all the DLC, at its original retail price, goes well over £100, and you don't need me to tell you which game is the better of the two.
And yet WWE 2K17 had the potential to be just that, which is why it's such a shame that it is a let-down in quite a few areas. It promised a lot, and it does deliver on much of this, but its limitations, its questionable pace and graphics, its lack of a major single-player mode, its lackadaisical attitude to the roster and feature sets and the other usual problems that the series can't seem to overcome all combine to hamper the entertainment value of the game. If you can ignore the plethora of issues, then you'll probably really enjoy 2K17; as I mentioned, the crowd scraps and backstage fights are loads of fun, the creation suite is tremendous, and there are a large number of minor adjustments (such as picking a referee) which suggest that there's a lot of attention to detail when it comes to building upon 2K16. In the end, though, I would suggest that those who already own 2K16 may want to exercise caution, or wait for a sale, before committing to buying 2K17. The strange thing is that it wouldn't take a lot of effort or imagination to fix the issues that this game has in order to make the next edition, WWE 2K18, a truly epic release, and the best wrestling game that we have ever seen. And as I noted before, it's hardly a disaster of 2K15 proportions. Nevertheless, those who still rely on No Mercy for N64 or SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 for PS2 can probably save their money for another year. In summary, 2K17 is a lot like WrestleMania 32, the biggest WWE event of 2016; it has its moments and truly shines in places, but as an overall experience, it is inferior to the previous edition, with 2K16 playing the role of WM 31.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good