Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now in this WWE 2K16 Review: Last year’s WWE 2K15 was one of the worst wrestling games of all time. WWE 2K16 builds upon the foundation of last year’s mess and manages to create a far better game this time around.
WWE 2K16 looks great and it has an impressive roster, touting over 120 unique playable characters (which at the time of review there’s actually only around 114, but there are several characters planning to be added as part of the season pass) including current WWE Superstars that everyone knows such as John Cena, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, while also including NXT up-and-comers Finn Balor, The Vaudevillains, and Baron Corbin. If that isn’t enough, there’s a ton of legends and former wrestlers (mostly thanks to the 2K Showcase, but more on that later) such as Brian Pillman, British Bulldog, “The Anvil” Jim Neidhart, ECW’s favorite underdog Mikey Whipwreck, and all five members of the Nation of Domination complete in their African/Jamaican colored gear.
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While I’m a fan of the expansive roster, the absence of a few people leave quite a noticeable hole for those who were (and still are) watching weekly. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we have a pretty good sized list of Divas available, but there’s no plans to bring Charlotte (the current WWE Divas champion) or Bayley (the current NXT women’s champion) to the game in any shape or form, but we have Santino Marella who had little to do with the WWE programming since his neck injury in 2014. Alberto Del Rio returned at Hell in a Cell two weeks ago, and he’s using the same theme song and gear that he wore before he left. That model is already in last year’s game, so why couldn’t they have patched him in? Seems like that shouldn’t be a tall order considering how much of this game feels like it was copy and pasted from last year.
For the most part, I applaud 2K’s attempt to make WWE games feel more like a simulation and less like an arcade fighter. That said, what’s wrong with a mix of both? Wrestling matches are often fast paced, mainly due to TV time constraints, while every match in WWE 2K16 is a 20 minute chore because the characters “sell” moves in order to feel more like the real thing. That’s great, but the recovery times are terrible because of it. Even with a full health bar, you’ll need to pump the hell out of the buttons to get up in hopes you won’t get attacked by the other guy. The reason for panic when getting knocked down is because you’re now only allotted a maximum of five (or less depending on the wrestler) reversals at a time (these regenerate over the course of the match). Last year’s game basically boiled down to whomever mistimed their reversal would end up being the guy who lost. With a limited reserve of reversals, you now have to decide which moves are more detrimental. This helps keep gameplay more interesting, and provides an experience a bit more closely resembling what you’d watch on WWE programming.
While I definitely approve the changes to the reversal system, the new submission system is by far one of the worst ideas of all time. WWE 2K16’s submission system now resembles that from the UFC games and while that’s fine, the system takes what feels like forever to actually learn. It took me more than 25 attempts to submit Stone Cold Steve Austin as Bret Hart through one of the showcase alternative goals, and I was so angry with the game that I was ready to snap the disc in half. Let’s hope they introduce something more intuitive next year.
The biggest appeal to WWE 2K16 aside from the roster comes in being able to relive the career of Steve Austin. You’ll have opportunities to play matches from all three stages of his career. You’ll revisit his WCW, ECW, and WWF/E days including both the rise of Austin 3:16 when he cut his infamous promo after defeating Jack “The Snake” Roberts for the King of the Ring, and his feuds with Bret “Hitman” Hart, the Hart Foundation, The Nation of Domination, Mick Foley, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and The Rock.
While a lot of these are staples in Austin’s career, there’s a painfully noticeable hole left by the absence of Owen Hart. Legal reasons kept Owen Hart (mostly) out of the game but it’s disappointing not being able to play that Summerslam 1997 match which is arguably one of the biggest moments of Austin’s career. I’m also pretty bummed that we don’t get Austin vs Kurt Angle, as the Beer Truck/Milk Truck incidents are some of my favorite memories ever. Speaking of the video packages, they’re well done but a lot of the less notable moments only feature a generic match card with an equally generic hype song behind it. It’s lame and feels like they ran short on time so rather than dig through proper footage, they just filled it in with something so the loading screen wouldn’t be black.
Another problem with the 2K Showcase is the anachronism of having those matches called by Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross. While most of us will agree that Jim Ross is the greatest color commentator in WWE history (perhaps in wrestling history overall), it feels so out of place to hear him call WCW matches that happened while he was the lead guy for WWE. Bobby Heenan’s health problems have sadly rendered him unable to record new lines, but was Tony Schiavone busy? Joey Styles recorded the commentary for Austin vs Whipwreck and that match winds up feeling the most authentic of the non-WWF/E era matches because of it.
The creation suite is greatly improved this year, and they brought a lot of the things fans complained about last year. Create a Diva, Create a Championship, Create a Show, and Create an Arena allow players to make their own women, titles, arenas, and events. I’m not really one for making my own creations, but its fun to pull some of the community creations down to see what people can do. My biggest complaint is the lack of superstar themes for wrestlers you can expect the fans to create. Obviously, no Chris Benoit or Hulk Hogan, but I can make an Evolution stable (as the moves and poses are here), but the theme isn’t here for me to use? There’s a ton of CM Punk gear included, but no “This Fire Burns” or “Cult of Personality”? You knew none of the four horsewomen were going to be in the game, so why aren’t their themes here for me to create them accurately myself? What about the rest of the NXT talents? Blake and Murphy are going to be included in the season pass, but what about Dash and Dawson or Jason Jordan and Chad Gable? Those are all CFO$ created themes, so it’s not like WWE doesn’t own the songs.
Speaking of things overlooked, for wrestling fans attention to detail is key here. Austin’s wearing his “Dragon Killer” tights in the match with Steamboat which is fantastic. Austin’s double finger salute finally isn’t blurred out this year, and Enzo Amore does the shuffle before he steps through the ropes. Unfortunately, several characters are billed from the wrong cities, and poor Emma is a mess. She’s in the game using her face gimmick complete with the bubbles and stupid dancing for her entrance, but she’s got her brand new remixed theme she’s using in NXT. Don’t get me wrong, I personally LOVE the Evil Emma theme, but it’s the wrong theme for the gimmick that appears in the game. Emma’s persona is completely different now as is her gear and her entrance. I know, it’s nitpicky but when you’re building a game that caters to fans, these are small nuances that matter.
Gameplay wise, the game handles better than last year. I’ve had far less glitches but it hasn’t been flawless. I had a match in Showcase where Austin’s character model was under the arena floor and I had to use the placement of his shadow to determine where I was actually at until I got to the next cutscene checkpoint in the match to reset it. Not having a dedicated focus button also hurts as more often than not my wrestler will swing at absolutely nothing. He’ll turn and face the commentary or he’ll swing at the ref while doing combo strikes on a stunned opponent. It’s annoying but because last year’s game was so buggy I won’t even complain. Commentary adds JBL this year making it a three man team, but it’s terrible and doesn’t flow well at all. JBL’s clearly reading off of paper and he’s as disinterested as you can get.
WWE Universe mode is still exactly what you’d expect (but better) and My Career is a bit more interesting than it was last year. Matt Bloom sounds a lot more interested than Bill DeMott ever did. You’ll train with NXT superstars and eventually capture the NXT title, making your way up the main roster until you get to the Hall of Fame. Standard fare. Online is still a mess because 2K’s servers aren’t great. I got dropped from more online matches than I could complete so I stopped trying.
Overall, WWE 2K16 is still a bit of a mess but it’s leaps and bounds better than last year’s rush to get on “next gen”. WWE 2K16 is good, but it’s not great. The foundation is now firmly in place and hopefully future entries continue to make forward strides.
Review Score: 7 out of 10