6 Things I Hope WWE2K17 Will Have (But Probably Won’t)
And with that 2K Games has launched its latest WWE vehicle, promising access to WCW legend Goldberg and a pair of WCW arenas (Monday Nitro and Halloween Havoc) to anyone that pre-orders the title, expected to arrive in October this year.
The problem is, 2K’s wrestling titles have begun to attract an unfortunate stigma: that no matter how much new content is added, the absence of notable features from previous games will always make it feel like a lesser product to titles from the PS1 or PS2 generations. While WWE2K16 righted the ship in some aspects, it was still missing old match types, old in-ring functionality, old creation suite features and other key elements. With this year’s version officially on the way, I’ve got a laundry list of things the game needs, but I don’t hold a lot of hope for actually seeing them.
A Bit More Love For ECW
There’s this big assumption that anyone who enjoyed the brand of wrestling put out by Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion are just gore-obsessed rednecks who only want to see people bleed the hard way on barbed wire and thumbtacks and cheese graters and other gimmick bits of hardware. But the truth is the ECW was also the home to some of the 90s and 00s’ most technical wrestling; many of the WWE’s own household cruiserweights got their big start in the West with ECW before moving up to Raw or Nitro, like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Yoshihiro Tajiri and others. Even the more extreme element helped inspire the daredevil antics that the WWE’s tag-team division became known for, anchored by another pair of ECW alumni the Dudley Boys. To talk about what kept the WWE afloat during the Monday Night Wars, you have to mention ECW.
Not that you could tell from last year’s game. The most screen-time WWE2K16 gave ECW was a single match in the Showcase mode, with a younger pre-Stone-Cold Steve Austin facing Mikey Whipwreck in a smallish ECW-style arena. Now, I’ve nothing bad to say about Mikey Whipwreck, and in the context of a Steve Austin tribute there really isn’t anyone else from ECW you could use, but the fact remained that Whipwreck was included ahead of ECW royalty like Tommy Dreamer, the Sandman, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Taz, even the Dudleys. Sure, you can point to other ECW talent that made it big with the WWE like Jericho, Guerrero, or even Mick Foley and claim the house of Extreme was well represented, but the absence of some of these established stars hurt a bit. Particularly Tajiri, loved that guy.
Of course, we still won’t see much more ECW material in the new game, precisely because of the over-the-top themes and ultraviolence. Even excluding those elements, the WWE are likely afraid it will draw attention to how wrestling was back then, and rightly so; modern WWE stops a match to clean any blood, and gimmicking or blading (intentionally cutting into yourself with a razor to give the illusion of being busted open by an opponent) is banned outright. Sadly anyone too closely linked with ECW is probably going to be overlooked again, out of the WWE’s guilt by association.
More From The Attitude Era
Anyone who grew up during the Attitude Era should tell you it was the best time to be a wrestling fan. The WWE had actual, potent competition, and had to keep its game up, it had to engage viewers, grab them by the hair and stop them from flicking over to Monday Nitro. The characters were more defined if not more colourful, the storylines were more intriguing if a little edgy; it was a more laissez-faire place for a wrestler to work, and it showed in the end product.
Talent made a name for itself by being pro-active; if you were unhappy with being made to job (plan to lose to) for other talent every week, you endeared yourself to the crowd by banding together with other jobbers and calling yourself The J.O.B. Squad. If a snarky crowd followed up your entrance quote of “What does everybody want?” with shouts of “Head!”, you started bringing a mannequin head to ringside. Al Snow, Stevie Richards, Steve Blackman, Bob and Crash Holly (Mike Lockwood – another ECW guy), there was a collection of midcard talent so strong and so open to entertaining fans in that era that they invented a whole new division (the Hardcore Championship) for them to do whatever they wanted with.
As much as I wish it weren’t the case, though, the new breed of WWE games isn’t for people that grew up watching RAW is WAR. A lot of the mainstays I grew up with like Al Snow, Steve Blackman or Tajiri were never the sort of big stars that they’d need to be to still be in WWE games. Instead we get the midcarders and jobbers from this generation, the Heath Slaters, the Damian Sandows, the Curtis Axels, jobbers from an era where the sort of spontaneity and eagerness to entertain has to be vetted and checked by writers, creative managers, executives, vice presidents of talent relations, and ultimately rejected until you get fed up and resign. Enjoy your time in the indies, Cody Rhodes.
Less of an Obsession With Physics
In treating pro wrestling games like sports titles, the developer tends to have two big choices; make the game real, or make the game fun. Ever since the PS3 generation it seems that publishers, whether they be 2K or THQ before them, or the actual devs Yuke’s, have favoured the latter, making sure when someone lifts another person up, their arms aren’t spearing through any other geometry on-screen before worrying about whether the base game is fun or not.
The problem with such a focus on making sure the game looks as authentic as possible is that there’s less focus on making a fun game. Characters lumber around the ring instead of flying off ropes because there are a million collision detection checks for each step. Moves appear super slow because they want to make sure no one’s arm is going to glitch out if it clips a ladder. Sure, the end product looks more believable, but it also loses the simple charm and frenetic pace the PS1 and PS2 games had. Not only that, in many occasions efforts to correct existing animations only end up creating new problems, like the picture above.
I don’t care if Brock Lesnar’s arm clips through Neville’s forehead a bit during an F-5, I just want the game to be fun. If diverting attention to having a super-realistic physics engine in the game comes at the expense of the game being fun and intuitive to play, what’s the point?
Eliminate the Two-Tier Roster
When I sat down with WWE2K16, one of the things I would come to notice was how the roster seemed to be split into two separate groups; one of these groups you could do anything with, the other had restriction after restriction placed upon them. Wanted to create a Royal Rumble match, for instance? The first group was fine, go right ahead. But as soon as you tried to add someone from this second group you were met with disappointment. You couldn’t even have a Royal Rumble with all participants from this second tier of WWE talent. And heavens help you if you wanted someone from this second tier to pursue a title belt – at least one that wasn’t pink and butterfly shaped.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the two groups I’m describing are male and female wrestlers. Pardon me: WWE Superstars and WWE Divas. Now, I know why the women wrestlers are getting the short end of the stick here; family violence is a hot topic that the WWE can’t be seen to endorse in any way, and allowing their male talent to beat up on women would attract all sorts of bad attention. Indeed, while some of the best technical and narrative matches the… ugh, I hate the term… WWE Divas put on in their careers have been against male opponents, the WWE could never bring back actual intergender competition, not in this day and age.
It’s a bit of a shame, seeing as some of the WWE’s greatest women wrestlers made names for themselves by mixing it up with guys; Sable, Lita, Beth Phoenix for starters. But if something’s going to change about this at all, it will be this year; sad as her passing last month was, Joanie “Chyna” Laurer has never been in a better position to return to WWE’s games, and with it her history as a trailblazer for intergender wrestling in the WWE.
Speaking Of The Roster…
More of the game’s lineup of wrestlers is set to be revealed at E3, with WWE’s resident artist Rob Schamberger painting a series of portraits over the course of the event. A lot of WWE fans will be paying close attention to this, eager to see if the WWE and 2K had learned their lessons from past titles.
After the launch of WWE2K16 the team recieved a lot of flak over the roster, specifically over just how many of the company’s more recent signings were missing; the Dudley Boys had recently made their return to the WWE, notably absent from the lineup, not to mention not a single one of the Four Horsewomen, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley, all absent from the game despite having been mainstays at NXT.
It does put a worrisome light on this year’s roster. There’s been an influx of strong talent in the months around Wrestlemania (when 2K typically brings in wrestlers for body scanning): current NXT Women’s Champion Asuka, main eventer AJ Styles, who debuted at the Royal Rumble, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, who debuted shortly after Styles, not to mention recent NXT signings like Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries. It won’t make fans too happy to find names like these getting short-changed this year.
Keep Giving Us More Creation Options
While 2K has been admirably working hard to bring back fan-favourite creation modes from past games, there’s no reason they should take the pedal off the gas now. 2K16 reintroduced a number of common-sense features that should never have left, like the ability to create female wrestlers, or creating your own championship.
One big thing I want to see return is the Create A Storyline mode. It allowed players to write and book their own special WWE show, or several shows end to end, covering the length of an entire angle of the player’s own making. Complete with a set of canned cutscenes in which players could drop their own choice of wrestlers and dialogue, the mode allowed some creative minds to put together impressive narratives and shows that embarrassingly outclassed some official product decisions… which in hindsight might be precisely why the mode was canned.
Another favourite feature missing from the old days is Create A Finisher, letting the player piece together segments of moves into a full technique to end a match. Fans used this to create new finishing moves for their created wrestlers, as well as update movelists as actual WWE talent adopted new moves. The best case scenario is that this mode was dropped for being too technically difficult; the worst case is that it was dropped for potentially cutting into moveset bundle DLC sales. Either way, it sucks that it’s gone.
I don’t expect any of these measures to really be taken to heart, especially so late into development. What reason do they have to improve? There are no other current pro wrestling games available, unless you count 5-Star Wrestling. Ironically, the same thing that happened to the WWE after the end of the Monday Night War is now happening to its games products; without competition, there’s no motivator for improvement, and the product sadly stagnates. Hopefully things change sooner rather than later.