Games Review: WWE 2K18: (PS4, 2017) throws a folding chair in the face of good design

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and WWE 2K games. As each year rolls around, gamers are presented with yet another WWE game with a fresh lick of paint, a new set of moves and a couple of newer wrestlers here and there. Given the trend, you’d expect 2K would pull out all the stops to present players with a new and inviting experience that’s bound to drag them away from last year’s offering. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for any kind of vast improvement, 2K18 presents little of the sort, and in many cases, is content to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors.

When 2K announced a brand new graphics engine for WWE 2K18, many (including myself) expected a significant and obvious overhaul from last year’s title, but the changes are subtle at best, and the engine still has a distinct problem rendering human hair. While some of the male character models are impressive – Finn Balor, Xavier Woods and AJ Styles among them, the majority of WWE’s women are horrendous to look at.

Alexa Bliss’s model suffers from the same ‘noodle hair’ syndrome that has characterised WWE 2K‘s women for many years, as does Carmella, whose hair often resembles the living tentacles of Davy Jones. It becomes a significant distraction in women’s matches, particularly as their hair often seems to operate within its own field of gravity, bouncing and stretching as if it’s trying to break free.

As ever, there’s significant choice for players, with over 187 current and past roster members to choose from, including multiple outfits and eras for several of the most popular wrestlers (including five outfits for my personal favourite, Sting). Nearly everyone on the current roster is presented, minus a few – the Hardys just missed the cut on being in the main game, and are instead presented as paid DLC, along with Beth Phoenix, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and some key players from NXT. Available in the Deluxe Edition, and as DLC at a later date are fan favourites Batista and Rob Van Dam, as well as two alternate costumes for John Cena.

For those looking outside the box, the CAW community for WWE 2K18 is thriving, with the most popular downloadable character being, once again, CM Punk. There’s also some great downloads for non-WWE wrestlers – the Bullet Club is solidly represented with some great models for Kenny Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson, Cody Rhodes and Marty Scurll among others.

As ever, the CAWs have already descended into the weird and wonderful with models for ‘Glow Harambe’, Goku, Pennywise, Jason Vorhees and… Donald Trump. So, if you’ve ever wanted to beat up the President of the United States, get cracking.

Underneath the new character models and graphical ‘overhaul’, WWE 2K18 is much the same as past games, and like past games, it presents a nearly inaccessible glimpse into the world of WWE. One thing that I feel these games always lack is a fundamentally needed tutorial system where controls are firmly and neatly established. While the game presents you with a variety of hints during gameplay, it has no hesitation about dragging you firmly into the deep end and leaving you there to drown.

The amount of assumed knowledge in the game is staggering, and it presents few caveats for those with little franchise experience. It wouldn’t be such a problem if the controls were genuinely intuitive, but they’re far from it, and require a great deal of finesse and precision to pull off the required moves. Even then, when such moves are delivered well, it’s more often down to luck rather than any semblance of skill. When even the CPU opponents have trouble pulling off their own moves and waste seconds needlessly grabbing air, you know that there’s little hope for the player.

Another continuing frustrating with the franchise is its split-second reliant reversal system. In order to properly reverse an opponent’s moves, the game presents a hair trigger system wherein players have the smallest fraction of time to reverse moves, but more often than not, it’s impossible to hit.

Coming in too fast or too late will ruin the chance to reverse moves, causing a great deal of damage to your character. The only way to react accordingly is often to memorise the tics of each CPU opponent, but even then, reversals can be game ruiners. While I will admit that my reflexes aren’t much better than a gnat’s, the system still seems unfairly balanced and significantly dampens the gameplay experience.

WWE 2K18 presents the franchises’ largest range of match types yet, with a pleasing variety of gimmick matches like Hell in a Cell, TLC and Extreme Rules among a host of others like tornado tag team matches, triple threat matches and fatal four ways. The Royal Rumble function is as enjoyable as ever, as is the Tournament mode, allowing you to live out all your WWE fantasy matches. The only caveat with the somewhat improved Royal Rumble mode is that the game is still only capable of rendering around eight wrestlers in the Rumble at once, and the action is sometimes awkward and far slower than single player matches.

Those looking for a more linear story will find it in the MyCareer and MyUniverse modes. MyUniverse is very similar to previous games, in that players can take part in weekly Raw action, simulating matches they don’t care for or taking charge and boosting a superstar to the top of Raw’s roster.

MyCareer mode is more hands on in its approach, allowing players to create a (very basic) character and make their way through the ranks of WWE. Much like last year, this mode is uninspired and suffers from a lack of originality and care. None of the characters are voiced, leading to some very awkward exchanges and dialogue is cringeworthy throughout the journey. While some elements are intriguing (such as the idea of a WWE RPG), the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The glory days of wrestling games are long gone, but to those looking for a smashing good time, you might be better off sticking with the classics.

Review Score: 5.5/10
Highlights: Great range of characters and matches; fun simulator, lots of customisation options
Lowlights: MyCareer mode, complicated controls, buggy character models
Developer: Yuke’s, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows

Reviewed on Playstation 4 Pro.