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Word Life (12/8/15): WWE 2K16: Raising Hell Like Never Before


You may be wondering why it took us a month to review WWE 2K16 on Smark Henry. Simple. Reviews generally come out within a day or a week of anything being launched or released, but like most humans, our opinions on things tend to change as time goes by. We wanted to make sure that we had more than enough time to sit down and play this year’s game so that we could give you as honest a review as possible. Besides, people shouldn’t review things after such a short while anyway. Where’s the fun in that when everybody who’s into the game buys it regardless of the reviews anyway? Let’s get right to it!




Now, if there was one thing Stone Cold Steve Austin was known for during his run in WWE, it was raising hell. And that’s exactly what WWE 2K16 brought to the table this year, as this year’s game boasts of the largest roster to date, improvements to the in-game AI, and game modes in dire need of a can of whoop-ass.

Since 2K Sports took over the WWE video game franchise from THQ in 2013, the games have seemed like a petri dish of what would work versus what wouldn’t. Last year’s WWE 2K15 in particular was particularly lacking in playable characters and match types, with the absence of the Ladder Match being the most noticeable.

Boasting its biggest roster to date, WWE 2K16 has over 120 unique playable characters, which is great considering that in previous years, they included different incarnations of a wrestler under “unique.” While we still get multiple incarnations of a single guy—for example, Stone Cold and Stone Cold ’97 are two different guys—most wrestlers who exist in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s 2K Showcase mode are just given different attires to signify their existence in the mid-90s, as opposed to “Kane ‘97.” And that’s a great thing because it allows the game to have more room for less popular wrestlers who hardcore fans would love to see in action like the Vaudevillains or Zack Ryder—with the latter not having been made available in 2K15.


The game just got manly.
Photo from 2K Sports
However, what’s bloody annoying about this year’s game is the conspicuous absence of the Four Horsewomen of NXT: Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley. While it can be argued that the former three didn’t debut on the main roster until July 2015, all four were already prominent personalities at Full Sail as early as last year. Hell, all of them were around before Hideo Itami, Finn Bálor, and Kevin Owens debuted in NXT, and yet all three are actually in the game. So much for a #DivasRevolution. Our only consolation is in the fact that there are good Samaritans out there who have taken time out to create the Four Horsewomen for us to enjoy in the game.

Now, I’m a believer in no love being quite like your first, and that’s pretty much the relationship I have with Here Comes the Pain, the first WWE video game I ever got to play. I’ve held it to such lofty standards to this day—and many of my fellow Filipino smarks feel the same way—particularly because of the dynamic nature of its Career Mode. But this year’s outing from WWE 2K aims to give HCTP a run for its money with its revamped MyCareer mode, while at the same time, establishing itself as the closest game to the real thing.

For starters, one of the biggest flaws of WWE video games for the longest time is the inability to run in during an entrance or a match. This is a travesty since running in and ambushing an enemy is one of the classic staples of professional wrestling. 2K15 tried it out a bit by having an interfering wrestler’s music play and having him suddenly appear to butt into your match. But 2K16 comes closer to perfecting it, particularly by giving you the option during a wrestler’s actual entrance whether you’ll attack him from behind or interrupt his entrance altogether by charging at him altogether. But be careful, because if you take too long you’ll either run out of time to attack your opponent during his entrance, or he’ll be in the ring already, making your run-in all for naught.

Adding to the realism of the presentation is the fact that there are no longer any “loading screens” between entrances, instead being replaced by cutaways to the crowd or the announce team, which is closer to the real thing. I mean, we don’t see any poster images of John Cena or Paige between entrances in real life, so why should we see that shit in the game?



Truly MyCareer


Let me say this right off the bat: This year’s iteration of MyCareer is the best we’ve had to date. MyCareer incorporates real-life face/heel dynamics, while introducing an updated rivalry scheme, a new mini-challenge involving the Authority, and the best part of all: a concrete ranking system. Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?

Every Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) starts off as a face by default, but it’s through both your actions in the ring and how you respond to Renee Young’s backstage interviews, you end up displaying traits that influence your alignment as a face or as a heel. This is a great way to force players to think on the fly how they want to wrestle, while reminding them that how they act in and out of the ring dictates how the crowd is actually going to perceive them. Gamers who play the NBA 2K series will be very familiar with this dynamic in the game as it’s very similar to the experience of having your MyPlayer field questions at a post-game press conference.


Mr. Sy reimagined as a wrestler

Now let’s talk about character attributes. There are six spectrums of traits that your CAW can have depending on your actions (and choices) in and out of the ring. If you properly choose what and what not to do, you could end up having a very well-rounded character. The spectrums go around the following traits:
  • Prideful-Egotistical 
  • Respectful-Disrespectful 
  • Perseverant-Desperate 
  • Loyal-Treacherous 
  • Bold-Cowardly 
  • Disciplined-Aggressive 
What’s great about this year’s game is that just because a character is babyface/heel, it doesn’t mean that all of their attributes lean towards the positive/negative side. For instance, someone like R-Truth can be a babyface and yet have the Disrespectful attribute as his strongest one because he has a habit of cutting people off and interrupting promos/segments.

Here’s another nugget I found: if you’re heel, expect your opponents to be faces and vice versa, just like it is in the real WWE. I love how that accurately reflects the archetypal wrestling story and match dichotomy: face versus heel.

Speaking of feuds, the improved rivalry system allows you to have relationships with the Superstars you interact. If you choose to run in during Finn Bálor’s entrance and unleash a beatdown he won’t see coming, that’ll definitely kickstart a rivalry between you and the Demon. Likewise, if you interfere in a match to help Kevin Owens win, then you’ll most likely have a tag team partner in the Prizefighter. The only thing worth improving on here is the AI’s ability to discern if they actually want your help or not. After all, do you think Paige would actually want some help when you know full well she doesn’t play well with others?

When your rivalry with another Superstar reaches its climax, you’ll have a blowoff match at the next pay-per-view, which effectively ends your rivalry whether you win or lose. This also allows you to start fresh every month because you get to pick your opponent by choosing whose matches you’ll run into when you’ve wiped your slate clean of your current rivalry.



Other features of this year’s MyCareer that take the game to new heights include the involvement of the Authority in your career. Fulfill their challenges and you’ll be in their good graces and rewarded with Skill Points. Disappoint them and you get more difficult challenges, making it harder for you to get back on their good side.



There’s also the ranking system for championships, which is something the WWE should seriously start looking into in real life. You then have to work your way up by defeating other Superstars, particularly those above you in the rankings. Having a ranking system like that immediately gives every match some importance, and therefore, an instant story going forward.

The only drawback in the championship ranking system is that when you’ve finally won a championship, you either continue to defend it until you set a record-breaking reign, lose it to an eventual contender, or forfeit it altogether when you decide to go for another championship. The last bit is exactly what happened to my Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) right after I won the NXT Championship from Kevin Owens. I decided to graduate to the main roster and challenge a midcard titleholder right away, which is what Kevin Owens did in WWE this past May. Unlike Owens, I did not get to keep the NXT title, and I had to forfeit it in order to pursue the Intercontinental Championship. For shame.



These features actually help WWE 2K16 resemble a properly-functioning wrestling company in real life. And this is uncharted territory in this genre of wrestling video games. It’s refreshing because it proves to us that we don’t have to be governed by the idiocy of WWE TV, where somebody gets a random title shot after they beat the champion in a non-title match. Thankfully, 2K16 doesn’t saddle us with that bullshit because you get to start from the bottom of the contender list when you choose a championship to go for. If they can make it work in a video game, I’m sure you can find a way to make it work in real life, Vince.

Creating your wrestler from scratch is also a challenge now more than ever. Without the PS4’s camera, you’ll have to spend hours on end trying to create your own image and likeness, and that’s something a lot of people neither have the time nor patience for these days. On the plus side, though, there are new additions to the default outfits you can deck your CAW in, particularly the Arrow’s hood from Season 1 of Arrow, which is a personal favorite and undoubtedly a nod to Stephen Amell’s entry into WWE canon earlier this year.



Rating: 9 out of 10 Austins



A Stone Cold Showcase


Much like its previous iterations, WWE 2K16 lets you relive the career of a WWE legend with this year’s version focusing on that of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. This year’s game did not disappoint in letting you see first-hand the major stories that Austin figured in from his WWE debut as “the Ringmaster,” to the birth of Austin 3:16, until he became a legitimate main-eventer as he feuded with the Rock, Mr. McMahon, the Undertaker, and the rest of his Attitude Era foils.

There are also some bonus matches you get to play from Austin’s career in WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin and in ECW as “Superstar” Steve Austin, which is a treat in itself. Of course, defeating your opponents and accomplishing the challenges during the match allows you to unlock a variety of material from playable characters, alternate outfits, to nostalgic arenas.

2K16 even recreates the classic "Austin 3:16" promo from King of the Ring 1996.
Photo from 2K Sports
The fact that WWE 2K didn’t remove the cinematic video reels of the major feuds and the photo galleries should be praised because it’s an added reason for older fans to lose themselves in the game.

Another reason to celebrate the 2K Showcase mode is the reunion of the greatest commentary duo of all-time in Jim Ross and Jerry “the King” Lawler! Interestingly, some of Austin’s matches took place before J.R. and King worked together on WWE television, but since Gorilla Monsoon had already passed away and Vince McMahon no longer does commentary, having J.R. and King do it is just fine. The only drawback is that it takes away from the complete authenticity of its recreation. The commentary is smooth and all, until you remember that they deliberately bleep out certain things like the “F” in the “WWF,” and the word “Federation.” I’m pretty sure that’s also how they worked around such luminaries as Hulk Hogan and Chris Benoit.

2K Showcase is a game mode I want to continue seeing in the franchise. In years past, we’d have multiple career arcs to revisit, but I’m perfectly content with just focusing everything on Austin’s career. It’s great for older fans because they get to relive one of the best eras in wrestling, so the nostalgia factor is definitely a plus. For younger fans like myself, who weren’t old enough to appreciate Austin at his peak, it’s a wonderful opportunity to make up for what we missed. For what it’s worth, 2K Showcase is a great history lesson of the past and the not-so-distant past.

Rating: 9 out of 10 Austins



The Wonder of 2K Creations


Ahhh, this is where it gets good!

This year’s version of WWE 2K allows you to get as close as you can to importing all the championships from all over the world into the game. Having the next-gen technology of both the Sony PS4 and the XBox One allows users to just scan images of championships to be imported into the game itself.

Want to create the prestigious IWGP Heavyweight Championship? Boom. Here you go.

Made by BernieLomax
How about the Lucha Underground Championship? Here. Don’t tell Dario Cueto.
Made by BernieLomax 
And here’s the best part for us Filipino wrestling gamers: Philippine Wrestling Revolution’s own graphics team has uploaded the PWR Championship and the Philippine Hybrid X Championship for you to download and defend in WWE 2K16! Merry Christmas, you filthy animals.
Photo from PWRtists
Photo from PWRtists
2K Creations has always made up for whomever 2K wasn’t able to include in the actual game. This is how it was entirely possible to play as Kevin Owens despite not making the WWE 2K15 roster, which was actually reasonable since that game came out in October 2014, and Owens only debuted in December 2014.

The worst part about 2K Creations is something that’s been bugging gamers for the longest time—layering and how it effectively slows down the creation process. It’s annoying that adding accessories and clothing to your CAW requires a finite amount of layers, which means you can only go so far in dressing your CAW to the nines. What’s worse is the more layers of accessories/clothing you add, the slower it takes for you to get to the next step—which frankly, can be too time-consuming, even for a game we all love. Hell, even previewing an option takes too damn long that sometimes, it’s better to pick an outfit that’s as basic and functional as a standing/running finisher.

Rating: 8 out of 10 Austins



In-Game Goodies


The gameplay itself carries over from last year’s development where you are now forced to conserve your stamina if you want to get the most out of your player. The three levels of stamina return alongside a new wrinkle in the game—the reversal meters. Superstars can have anywhere between two to five reversal meters, all of which are rechargeable for as long as you don’t use them. The more technically sound your wrestler is, the more reversal meters you have.

While it is obvious that someone like Neville or Kalisto would have five reversal meters and huge, plodding monsters like Erick Rowan would only have three, it also boggles me that someone like Jack Swagger—who was built up as an All-American amateur wrestler—only has three reversal meters.

Having a finite amount of reversal meters eliminates the possibility of endless chains of reversals, which can get pretty boring if all you do is reverse your opponent’s attacks anyway. Not that chain wrestling is boring; it’s just completely unrealistic to have an unlimited supply of reversals in your arsenal. With this system in place, players will have to pick their spots strategically and take their bruises when they have to.

Match pace is very important in the real world because that’s one of the key elements in properly telling a story in the ring. The best ring psychologists use pace their matches well and use spots in the right moments in order to captivate their audiences. The game tries approximate this as much as possible without sacrificing too much freedom on the part of the gamer. And that’s a step forward in wrestling sims altogether because we all know that wrestling sims aren’t exactly fighting games where squashing your opponent in less than 90 seconds all the time is actually a good thing.

As for submissions, gone are the Breaking Point mini-games where you get to button mash your way in or out of a tap out. This year, a new mini-game has been introduced where you get to play cat-and-mouse against your opponent using your analog stick. This is actually much harder than the submission minigames in previous iterations, as I haven’t escaped many submission holds myself, making that my Achilles heel in the game.

Being a manager has become its own mini-game in itself. As a manager, you get to choose between a variety of actions that can have an impact on the match. Actions include distracting the referee or either of the participating wrestlers, cheering for your ally, using a foreign object, breaking up a pin, and leaving a match altogether. It’s a lot of fun if you have the patience to hold yourself back from fucking the match up on your own. This mini-game mode is one where “groosfraba” actually comes in handy.

And finally, we have to talk about commentary. John “Bradshaw” Layfield makes his debut as a commentator alongside Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler. Most of Lawler’s quips about in the current era of the game consist of his one-liners that are witty when you first hear them, but the more you play—and hear them—the more they just annoy you. JBL in the game is not as annoying as he is in real life, but is also still a far cry from the lovable historian of the game that he was a commentator during his brief retirement in 2007. Much of what you hear on commentary in real life has been carried over into the game with the promotion of the WWE Network making its way to the commentary reel this year. The only good takeaway is that these three actually spend time talking about the match for the most part.

Rating: 8 out of 10 Austins



*****


WWE 2K16 is a step in the right direction as the game continues to evolve to bring it as close to the real thing as it can possibly get. Yes, there are still some glitches, like the ones we’ve covered in a recent #WTFWednesday post, and a few big names were left out of this version of the game and its downloadable content.
I seriously freaked out while playing this match because I couldn't stop Mr. Sy from convulsing outside the Cell. 
Points for improvement include making the AI more self-aware about the implications of your CAW running in during a match, smoothening out the overall process of creating your wrestler, and diversifying backstage interactions beyond Renee Young interviews in MyCareer mode.

But as a whole, the developments in gameplay—particularly the submission and managerial mini-games, and the logical structure of MyCareer—make for a pleasant gaming experience that makes the time literally fly by. I would know, because I literally spent eight straight hours playing the game in just one day, taking breaks only for dinner and to use the bathroom. I regret nothing.

For raising hell in the video game landscape, WWE 2K16 gets a rating of 8.5 out of 10 Austins.


All photos are the writer's personal screenshots unless otherwise indicated.


*****


Stan Sy is a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, and Smark Henry's official PPV reviewer. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date. Follow him on Twitter: @_stansy


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