Available on PS4 (tested), Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PS3
For a game based on entertainment that’s usually choreographed to within an inch of its life, there’s something delightfully unpredictable about WWE 2K15. Matches, unlike those in real life, are never decided before the wrestlers step through the ring ropes and grappling knowledge can easily be undone by an opponent content to button-bash or string together running clotheslines.
This is also a franchise that’s been in bad need of a both a visual and an engine overhaul for quite some time now. Past iterations featured quite a bit of visual pop-in, skin textures that looked a little rubbery and an interface that became rougher and rougher over the years. Last year’s iteration wasn’t the best place to take care of these issues – production had already started on the game when THQ fell apart at the beginning of last year.
WWE 2K15, then, is the game that at least attempts to address some of the gaming franchise’s shortcomings. On new generation machines, the visual polish is stunning. Helped in no small part by Visual Concepts, the California-based, 2K-owned game developer that specializes in facial and body motion capture, the wrestlers in WWE 2K15 look almost lifelike.
“We now have facial motion capture in Northern California that is used for NBA 2K and WWE,” says Bryce Yang, Brand Manager and Director for WWE. “We also have a ring set up for full body motion capture.”
“Since it’s right in our backyard we’ve been able to capture so much more for this year’s iteration than we ever have before. There’s around five times the amount of in-game animation in this year’s game.”
Facial and body scanning was done on NBA last year and it was applied to WWE this year, but the technology had advanced since then so the mapping is more precise. The wrestlers look just like their real-life counterparts. Blink and you’ll think it’s really them.
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Visual Concepts is also handling the in-game commentary this year. Ring announcers Jerry “The King” Lawler and Michael Cole have reportedly recorded over 35 hours-worth of commentary and listening to it on the soundtrack it sounds both fluid and natural. The pair play off each other incredibly well and you never get the impression that the commentary is simply a selection of soundbytes – as was the case in previous entries in this series.
The authenticity continues in both the wrestlers’ movements and animation. Colossal fighters like The Big Show are less likely to try a maneuver off the top turnbuckle and lighter wrestlers like Rey Mysterio trade speed for muscle; he’s never going to slam The Big Show, but he’s faster and more agile.
The grappling system has also been slightly tweaked. Initial grapples use a kind of Rock, Paper, Scissors system, in which players gain the upper hand (or lose it) by tapping the face buttons. Players can also escape wrestling holds by twiddling the thumbsticks in a direction that lights up their meter before their opponent’s.
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A hell of a lot still hinges on counters, which take a bit of getting used to. A perfectly time tap of the R2 allows players to reverse locks, block punches and duck out of the way of a charge if they’ve been slammed into a turnbuckle. If their timing is good enough, players can even attempt a counter against their opponent’s finishing maneuvers. This leaves the in-ring action on a knife-edge; momentum can swing aggressively back and forth between players.
Away from the ring, WWE 2K15 offers players the 2K Showcase Mode that follows several of the WWE’s most famous rivalries. It kicks things off with the beef between Shawn Michaels and Triple H and continues through to the rivalry between John Cena and the recently WWE-departed CM Punk.
There’s also the new MyCareer mode in which they take their own wrestler, crafted in the game’s Creation Suite, from a virtual nobody to the top of the WWE food chain. Players build up a fanbase in the game’s social media centre, initiate rivalries with other players and wrestlers and however they decide to proceed, they can turn face of heel. Apparently, the way players decide to move forward, MyCareer Mode offers branching storylines although the end game here is becoming the WWE Champion.
Players can also incorporate their friend’s wrestler creations into their storylines. Your mate – or indeed anyone else – can’t invade your game, but you can download a version of their wrestler, complete with move sets and costumes and have them take part in your story; they can run down to the ring, for instance, if you’re being double teamed. If that sounds like fun, you might want to wait until the new generation titles are out because MyCareer is only available on Xbox One and PS4.
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That having been said, the last generation are still getting their versions of the game, although since the demo we attended only had PS4 copies available, we can’t report whether the visual or gameplay tweaks on next gen have been carried over on PS3 and Xbox 360. What we did find out was that 2K isn’t planning to abandon last gen platforms any time soon.
“Well, if you look at the history of the franchise,” says Yang, “it’s all about catering to the fans. If the fans are on the systems still, then we’ll continue to support those systems.”
“It all depends on the pick-up rate. If you look at the last cycle we continued to support the PS2 long after the PS3 and Xbox 360 were released.”
The versions on Xbox One and PS4 look superb, though, and while they’re not system-sellers in their own right, if you own one of them and you know your marks from your smarks, it may be worth hanging on until November to pick up WWE 2K15. Get ready to rumble…