WWE 2K19 [Review]: Shock the System.
WWE 2K19 has no business being this good. This was supposed to be the year we all spoke with our wallets, passing on a franchise that has led us diehard wrasslin’ gamers to bitter disappoinment year in and year out. Especially with Fire Pro Wrestling World finally arriving on PlayStation, there was absolutely no reason in the world to consider WWE 2K this year. Right? Well, stranger things have happened.. like the WWE not yet ruining Ricochet. While I can’t believe I’m typing this — as I’ll probably eat my own words in a few months, typical protocol with most of my WWE 2K reviews — this year’s edition is ama.. no, phenomenal…
If you’ve been following the early word on MyPlayer Mode (arguably the worst piece of $%&* thing about WWE 2K18 last year), then you’ve probably heard the good word: the drab “visual novel” jargon from last year’s mode has been restructured with voice acting and it’s actually quite commendable. At the very least, the voicework isn’t an earsore; while performances won’t compete with Naughty Dog games or the Flair/Dusty Rhodes stuff of NWA legend, hearing Hunter grill me backstage, DB comfort my arrival to SmackDown Live! and Jinder attempt to “shanti” his way into my U.S. title picture was all appreciative. Of course, there are pitfalls, like giving the Hollywood-busy John Cena a dub who sounds nothing like him, and celebrating Rusev Day with only text (strange, seeing how Rusev and Lana hosted WWE 2K19‘s Roster Reveal show…). Still, adding the voices to the story makes a world of difference–and the script is shockingly awesome.
Shit.. it’s as if this WWE 2K were created by fans of pro wrestling for the very first time, and not just that of the casual. There are a lot of small details flickered throughout the title’s modes that represent the acute mind of a hardcore wrestling junkie. The story of Buzz’s rise from the bingo halls of BCW is a fun mock of ECW/Joey Janella’s GCW, while an in-game mini-podcast pays homage to Good Ol’ JR’s “The Ross Report”. Crazier, a mash-up of Booker T’s “Heated Conversations” and Dave Meltzer’s “Wrestling Obverser Radio” a.k.a “Up to No Good” is the wrasslin’ podcast we never knew we wanted. Much like NBA 2K, your MyPlayer can be customized without having to back out into the menu and, between matches, you can check humorous texts and voicemails from your former indie rival-turned-pal, Cole Quinn, and sadsack promoter Barron F’N Blade, among others.
There are so many good angles and swerves in MyCareer mode this year that I’d suggest Mr. McMahon take a look at Visual Concepts’ booking for some much needed guidance. Heck, 2K19‘s “creative” even takes a 630 leap to satisfaction in Universe Mode, too, which I’ll talk about at length in just a bit. While invading NXT this year is actually kinda tedious (do we really have to K.O. everyone?), MyCareer deftly overhauls backstage pacing; there’s a greater cutscene variety in this mode than last, many of which come “outta nowhere”. And, isn’t it ironic that former WWE writer Sean Conaway pens the excellent story, seeing how the fed has had a share of creative issues itself? Upon completing the 12-hour campaign, you sadly can’t retire and come back 20x like the Nature Boy, but you can take YourCharacter to the online Road to Glory and 2K Tower challenges. As a huge fan of Mortal Kombat X‘s Towers mode myself, I look forward to exploring the new mode once Buzz’s Superkick Party comes to a close.
For the first time ever, MyMoody even resembles me; face-scanning was less painful as ever, and I adored the ability to shift around the default facial structure (eye, nose, mouth placement). By no means is MyPlayer Mr. Perfect, though definitely an upgrade from last year’s “guess you’re stuck as Jimmy Jacobs”; you can easily hide Buzz’s conjoined face “scarring” with facial hair, face paint, etc. Simply put, creating your own wrestler has never felt this effortless. Upgrading moves and cosmetics via virtual currency lootboxes is a lot more harmless than it sounds, and gaining new abilities via XP skill trees is simple. Having just hit “Superstar” level, I’m not how thorough this progression system affects matches, but whoever constructed the art layout in WWE 2K19 deserves a push; the skill tree design and game menus are among the best in video games everrrr.
Longtime followers of the GHG Ringside Apostles should know that we’ve always been big on Universe Mode, be it with early open mindedness or guarded cynicism. WWE 2K‘s longest running feature usually takes several hours and even several days to set-up, and I’m happy to report that my U only took a whole morning. First, you can alter the amount of pop wrestlers will get from the fans. For instance, Randy Orton seems to get cheered no matter what vile shit he does each week on TV, so you can keep him bad but give him a good blend of cheers and boos. Roman Reigns can stay “the guy” but can be booed ’till kingdom come. So sick.
The shittiest part of arranging my fictional universe — besides the fact you can’t use your MyPlayer in the mode, but Quinn, Blade and even El Mago appear as options, *sigh* — were Tag Teams, which, despite now being able to connect every other change made in Universe to Exhibition Mode (character allies/rivals/goals, etc.), I tediously had to set-up the Lucha Bros, Ringkampf, and the Golden Lovers and their entrances, finishers, and victory motions over again. It’s a non-issue if you don’t plan on having pals over to play the game, but sucks if you do.
For those who’ve never played Universe Mode before, “set-up” refers to arranging each brand you want to use, each Superstar you want to use for each brand, the rivalries you want to see on each brand, and all the creations (superstars, brand logos, rings) you either made yourself or downloaded via the Creation Suite. While it’s too early to judge how the creations will look this year (WWE 2K19 officially released just 2 days ago), I went full Firing Squad and made the switch to PlayStation for the console’s longtime esteemed Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) community. While Xbox One’s Dre41 will be missed using PSN, having the bigger community to work with will undoubtedly lead to better international and indie CAWs. That said, 2K19 on a vanilla PS4 doesn’t look at all like a graphical downgrade from last year’s game on the Xbox On X; the majority of character facework is stunning.
But the main reason to dig into Universe Mode? Story driven cutscenes–an element that has been nearly nonexistent for several years now. Since the franchise’s very first installment, seeing consistent cutscenes and run-ins before/during/after the matches has turned into somewhat of a Matt Riddle; some players have claimed to find new scenes each year and gave oddball reasoning why others (ahem) only see a few cutscenes, most of which were the same lame scenes from previous years anyway. Heck, one year there were more stories being told in Exhibition mode. And if you’ve only witnessed cutscenes during Rivalry matches the past 2-years, gimme a hell yeah.
Well, someone over at Yukes/Visual Concepts is clearly a fan of Universe Mode. Not only am I seeing a Otis Dozovic-sized amount of cutscenes in my set Rivalries — many of which are new to me, including a backstage handshake between L.A. Park and Mil Muertes before a Lucha Underground tag — I’m also seeing them in non-Rivalry matches. Yes, that’s right. Universe Mode has Potential Rivalries this year, which means that every match matters. For instance, a usual nothing match on your Raw brand between The B-Team and Rhyno & Heath Slater that you’d usually sim may now have events taking place that you may not want to miss. Some matches will even earn the Potential Rivalry stamp based on a result of a previous match on the card.
(The best trick to speed through Universe Mode without missing anything is this: 1. Simulate non-Rivalry matches if you want, but if the results say “potential rivalry”, immediately close your game application on PS4/Xbox before backing out of Universe Mode. Jump back on 2K and either play or watch the match. There won’t be any cutscenes in non-Rivalry matches that don’t wind up Potential Rivalries, but not every Potential Rivalry match has a cutscene. 2. Everytime you finish/simulate a match that you’re OK with, back out of U Mode to save and pop back in. This way when you close the game app — in the case of a Potential Rivalry sim you want to play — you won’t lose your progression. Of course, the types and number of cutscenes you get are all determined by the way the match is worked, match duration, results, etc. There’s no controlling that.)
New to Universe Mode is the option to choose the winner of a simmed match, huge for title rankings and such. Players now also have the ability to switch to any wrestler during a match, and have control over 6 championships (including MITB briefcase, if you wish) per brand. Want the UK Men’s and Women’s titles on NXT? Done. Your jointed ROH/NJPW show can have both promotions’ world titles, and all those damn IWGP straps with room to spare. Best of all, you can now arrange which types of matches you want to see on your brand via Excel type spreadsheet. Going ECW or CZW? Give hardcore/table/no holds barred matches an insanely high percentage. Want to book New Japan like Gedo? Set 6 and 8-man tags to the extreme. No longer does your 7-match Smackdown consist of just normal 1-on-1 and tags. You can set the percentage’s up so triple threats, multi-person matches and the occasional battle royal or cage get booked on your brand, too.
ENTER THE (AMERICAN) DRAGON
Oh, gameplay. It’s still WWE 2K and plays nearly identical to every iteration, so you tell me if that’s a good or bad thing. Thankfully, in-game animations have greatly improved (they’re often, shockingly, fantastic), weight detection finally feels like a thing, and matches come off like a more soothing mesh of sim and arcade. 2K19 is sort of a backwards FPWW— realistic visuals yet swifter around the mat with a looser leash on the strikes. While you can button mash at times, there’s a higher emphasis on actual “WRSTLNG!!!”: grappling, working holds, limb targetting, chain-mat reversals, catch-as-catch can, etc. In the past, players never had to care about that and just spam strike/reversal away. Not so much this year. With the old engine in tow, the combat certainly isn’t perfect; collision detection can be a frightening mess, and A.I. opponents often still do the whole stand around or repeatedly walk into the opposite corner stupidity, but so far there’s been nothing a little patchey patch here can’t fix. For the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve yet to witness a game crash. WWE 2K17 and 18 F’N crashed on me multiple times a gameplay session, particularly between loads or downloading creations. Load times in this game are suprisingly faster, too.
Paybacks are new strategic gameplay elements that players should adore, while Overcharges will no doubt receive a more polarized response. Against the A.I., gaining in-match advantages like extra finishers, lowblows, Muta mist or additional recovery/kick-outs are fine, but using silly techniques like one punch iron fists and golden/electrifying mutant powers in a wrestling match (especially against other players online) probably isn’t the greatest. Since the A.I. is ramped up extra this year, likely due to the Million Dollar Challenge that makes even the “Hardcore” difficulty feel Dark Soulsish, paybacks will come in handy. A match I had last night between Becky and Charlotte at Backlash wound up with a slew of scintillating false finishes, much in thanks to late contest paybacks. And, hey, it’s not like there isn’t a huge underdog/comeback element in pro wrestling or anything…
Speaking of which, the most legendary underdog in the history of professional wrestling is the centerpiece in this year’s return to Showcase Mode. And it’s excellent due to Daniel Bryan’s poignant and candid intermittent commentary. While having to replay matches in their entirety for a couple of missing cheap objectives sucks, this 2K doc certainly ranks up there as far as all-time great WWE games’ showcases, and it makes you wonder why its gameplay can’t be like this for every other mode. Since WWE is so focused on the ‘E (entertainment) part of the product, why not include those elongated story scenes into the matches? That would take some engine fine-tuning, but at least the commentary could be cleaned up.
Which brings me to the biggest thing on my bucket list that hasn’t improved: match commentary. OK, it sorta has. The pre-match banter between Corey Graves and Michael Cole is often great, and from time to time, Graves take a well-placed rib at Byron Saxton that will leave you in stitches. 90% of the time, though sadly, the commentary is more of the same studio punch-in garbage we’ve had in every other installment. I’ll never understand why 2K’s sister NBA series has the greatest commentary ever, and we get.. this. When 2K claimed that Cole and company recorded thousands of more words of in-game dialogue for ’19, it’s obvious they did–in Showcase and the beginning of MyCareer. Also, the majority of the wordy calls that come from Graves or Saxton have absolute zilch to do with the action in the ring; while new insights on recent WWE lore are fine, it would’ve been better to implement seemless dialogue that addresses the matter at hand. And, we seriously don’t have Mauro on NXT yet?
Repetitive commentary, expected in-match glitches, poor hair physics, questionable superboosts, and pointless Big Head/minecraft stuff aside (“Really?”), this is the best WWE 2K video game since its inception. Everything else about the game feels like a huge improvement and continues to wow me with every additional gameplay session. MyCareer is everything anyone could ask for, Showcase is a warm return to form, and Universe Mode is fucking baller. Much like NBA 2K19, this game has a plethora of modes and match types (Hell In A Cell, TLC, etc.) that require further exploration; it’s gonna take a Ringside Apostles Review Show to dive deeper into Universe Mode to give this 7 stars. But for now, WWE 2K19 earns its Undisputed presence into the Wrestling Video Game Hall of Fame, Bay Bay! 4.25/5 Bibles.