It’s important to remember that wrestling is not just about what goes on in the ring. It’s about the corporation, marketing, the backstage drama, management, and the media. Workers punch out bosses, commentators get in fights, wrestlers move in and out of character, in and out of the ‘real’ world and the fictional ‘wrestling’ one. It doesn’t matter. As long as there are villains to boo, heroes to cheer, and people getting hit over the head with chairs, there will always be a market for WWE’s uniquely meta brand of entertainment.
All things considered, the WWE video games have an obligation to include story based career modes, management modes, interviews, and backroom brawls. There needs to be customisable costumes and spectacle, and rivalries, and bluster. These are all vital ingredients in the WWE product. So, it’s to be expected that they should play a major part in WWE 2K17.
With that said, the heart of a sports sim is how well it presents the subject. The problem with WWE 2K17 is the fight mechanics still have issues. I’ve always had problem with the games’ reversals. If you hit the right trigger when the prompt flashes up over your fighter’s head, you can avoid a strike or hold, and counter-attack. Obviously, so can your opponent. Unfortunately, this means all fights end up as reversal battles. I’ve never liked the system, and still don’t. But, I guess it’s not going to change anytime soon, and I’ve had some practice – I’m better at it now, so I guess I can live with it.
But, there are other problems with the fight mechanics. Using the same button to perform multiple different tasks is all well and good, but in the middle of a wrestling match it can be frustrating. Tag matches, for example, are annoying. Depending on where you’re standing, and which way you’re facing, the left bumper will make you tag your partner, or climb onto the turnbuckle, or pick up an object, or step onto the apron, or climb out of the ring, or call for a tag, or climb into the ring, or try to climb into the ring only to be stopped by the ref. Good luck with getting it to do what you want, when you need it to.
This is in addition to some jerky, graphical corrections that run when you perform moves you’re not quite in the right position to perform. Awkward camera angles don’t help either, especially when you’re fighting outside the ring. Also, when fighting in the narrow backstage area, my opponent grabbed me, and both wrestlers ended up walking into the wall. I had to quit out, and start the fight over.
Don’t get me wrong, the fighting mechanics have problems. But, if you can get past the issues, there is plenty of high-flying and hard-hitting fun. You earn Virtual Coins when you fight, and these buy moves, buffs, and upgrades for you created fighter. They also unlock wrestlers – and there are plenty of them. For me, a fan of wrestling in the 90’s, the roster is pure joy. Multiple versions on Mick Foley, Steve Austin, and The Undertaker, though to all the superstars of today. My only problem is with Brock Lesnar, (if you’re from New Zealand, you have to hate him). But, hating the heel is what wrestling is about.
Along with the comprehensive roster is an extensive list of match types including cages, TLC, and the Royal Rumble. There is an extensive creation mode where you mod your fighter, merchandise, entrance, and arena. You can fight in single matches, tournaments, and pick your way through the WWE Universe, fighting on TV shows and main events. Also, providing you can adjust to the lag, you can compete online. However, considering fighting in the WWE 2K games is 99% timing, lag plays havoc with this. Local multiplayer is significantly less frustrating.
Despite there being a lot to do outside the ring, there is the feeling there could be more. You can talk smack in interviews, check your popularity, keep track of rivalries, and check how your merch is selling – but it all feels like these things are simply running in the background. There could be more, or a sense of more involvement from the player. Also, WWE 2K16 had the great Showcase mode that let you play historical matches revolving around the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin. You could unlock wrestlers and historical footage. It may just be a case of only really appreciating something once it’s gone, but WWE 2K17 could have done with something similar.
There is plenty for fans of wrestling to like in WWE 2K17. There is a lot that I found enjoyable. While I’ve been on the verge of giving the game the people’s elbow, especially sitting through the long load times and when I lost a match because I couldn’t tag back into a tag team match; it’s a ‘tag’ team match, and I couldn’t figure out how to ‘tag’. It’s in the bloody stupid title. But, I’m going to keep playing. I love all the bluster, all the blood, and I want to eventually get a win by submission. And I will keep playing until I finally get Mr. Perfect to win the Royal Rumble.