Take me down to the Suplex City

Graphic by Camisha Mortensen
Graphic by Camisha Mortensen

Sports games are a funny genre. They fulfil a dream that everybody who has seen or played any sport has — the ability to play said sport on a level far beyond the player’s own abilities. Despite the wish fulfilment, sports games are the only video games (that aren’t named Call of Duty) that are constantly criticized for their yearly release schedule. In some cases, the criticism is well-deserved, but not always.

Sports games have such a hectic schedule that developers don’t have the luxury of completely reworking the game each year. Once the current year’s game hits store shelves, they are already well into working on next year’s version. So, developers have to focus on incremental improvements and updates to improve the franchise in the long run.

Ever since THQ went under, the WWE games have been slowly transitioning from the arcade sensibilities of the Smackdown! vs. Raw titles to the simulation gameplay of the recent WWE 2K series. After a rough next-gen debut with WWE 2K15, WWE 2K16 bounced back with improvements across the board. This year, WWE 2K17 looks to make a drastic change by removing the 2K Showcase story mode to focus on other areas of the game. Will this dive into Suplex City be for better or worse?

Personally, my stay in Suplex City has been enjoyable. I ran into a few bugs and oversights that caused minor inconvenience, but nothing has completely derailed my experience with WWE 2K17. While it’s not the best wrestling game I’ve ever played — Here Comes the Pain still holds that honour — WWE 2K17 is a fun entry in the long-running series.

WWE 2K17 may play the same and look graphically similar to its predecessor, but it has made big strides in the presentation and unifying the experience.

Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have been progressively making the presentation of the 2K games emulate that of WWE television. They have finally taken the steps to transport you directly into an episode of Smackdown! Live or Monday Night Raw. Small things, like playing the show intros before playing the corresponding show in Universe or Career mode, or having Michael Cole introduce every match in the menu, made the pro wrestling nerd in me smile ear to ear. Larger changes in how Universe mode better deals with producing interesting rivalries, and the inclusion of promos in order to build-up wrestlers or advance storylines serve as great building blocks for future titles.

As a way to unify the game’s modes, Yuke’s and Visual Concepts have brought over the virtual currency (VC) from the NBA 2K games. No matter the match type or mode, everything you do in WWE 2K17 will earn you VC to spend on upgrading your create-a-wrestlers, unlocking new skills, and buying unlockables (veteran wrestlers, old title belts, and vintage arenas). The star-rating system used to earn VC serves as a great way to motivate players to try different moves and make their matches exciting as possible.

Most of WWE 2K17’s flaws come from small annoyances and oversights. These include missing match types like tag team ladder and tables matches, considerable input lag in some online matches, the inability to play as both tag partners in Universe mode, and questionable AI hiccups. The most glaring issue comes with how similar Career and Universe mode are. Outside of using your own create-a-wrestler and a few unique scenarios, Career mode doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from Universe mode. After dabbling in Career for a bit, I have primarily stuck with playing Universe mode without much incentive to go back to Career mode.

Much like a wrestler stuck in the mid-card, the WWE 2K series has the potential to be a main event level franchise. Unfortunately, there are some problems that need to be ironed out before reaching it’s broken brilliance. While WWE 2K17 is the stepping stone to greater games, it’s an enjoyable, content-rich experience that any wrestling and/or fighting fan will have a ball playing.