WWE 2K22 takes one Andre the Giant-sized step forward, but it isn’t nearly enough – Review
At least it’s not a complete dumpster fire.
One of the many things that have plagued the modern WWE product over the last decade is that wins and losses don’t really matter. It’s more about delivering moments that are easily shareable than telling a cohesive story that can span multiple months if not years. On top of that, many wrestlers feel disconnected from each other on the card. There’s not a ton of crossover between the different feuds. This is all in spite of the roster perhaps being the most technically gifted it’s ever been. The wrestling might be top-tier, but everything else leaves something to be desired.
Unfortunately, WWE 2K22 is much like its parent product. Let’s be clear, this is not 2K20. This game mostly works, the in-ring action is, at worst serviceable, and you won’t be met by unmitigated horror when you load up the Creation Suite (unless, of course, that’s what you’re into creating). However, for how much better this game is than the last game in 2K’s long-running series, it leaves so much on the table that it doesn’t feel finished.
Layeth the Smacketh down
Since making the move away from an arcade game and into something more simulation-heavy, the 2K series has often struggled to nail the in-ring experience. 2K has always wanted to give you full control over a fluid system that functioned somewhere near a fighting game. However, this has often been hampered by poor collision, clumsy controls, and so many bugs. By taking two full years to develop WWE 2K22, the team has delivered something that much better replicates the show you see on TV every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night.
You have access to both light and heavy attacks on Square and Cross, alongside a grapple initiation on Circle. Using your light attack as a setup, you can string together fighting game-like combos that make for snappy action. Once you start a grapple, you can use those same face buttons and a direction on your left stick to select what type of move you want to use. These basic controls aren’t too different from past iterations, but in practice, they’re much more intuitive.
The real star of the wrestling action is the reversal. Previous WWE games often became reversal fests where players were constantly reversing each other in an endless parade of ridiculousness. You’ll still get a few reversal chains, but 2K has smartly given you several options for getting around your opponent’s attacks. Whether it’s using Triangle to block a strike, dodging strikes with your roll, or using the other face buttons to guess which move your opponent is doing and reverse it, you’re much more active on the defense and need to keep your wits about you.
This all comes together for a package that feels mostly solid. You won’t be blown out of the water by the wrestling, but it’s also not constantly falling apart. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some legacy issues with collision detection, weird instances of warping depending on where you do certain moves, but it is a far cry from the bug-riddled mess that was WWE 2K20. Now, if only everything else could hold up its end of the bargain.
The Chris Masters of it all
One of my favorite wrestlers of the mid-2000s was Chris Masters. The man was carved out of granite and had an exceptional finisher in “The Masterlock “. In my mind, it was only a matter of time before he was one of the faces of the company. Unfortunately for both of us, that never happened. Despite initial appearances, there just wasn’t enough below the surface to turn him into a legitimate Superstar. WWE 2K22 is much the same way. While the in-ring action is the best it’s been in years, the content around it is lacking.
I first noticed this while playing through Rey Mysterio’s Showcase. This mode takes you through the career of a WWE Superstar, interspersing real-life footage with video game matches. As you work through a match, you’ll actually watch it transition into archive footage of the match for some impressive presentation. However, when you scroll through the list of matches, so many of Mysterio’s best aren’t included for one reason or another. Obviously, it’s unlikely 2K is going to have players grind through an hour-long Royal Rumble match to revisit Mysterio’s incredible 2006 run. They could, however, have added things like his Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 22 against Kurt Angle and Randy Orton or even his 2009 SmackDown match with John Morrison. You could argue that getting the rights to Angle wasn’t possible, but if we’re celebrating Mysterio’s illustrious career, I’d like to see something more than a RAW match against Gran Metalik.
That’s not the only issue with the Showcase. It also shows you that, as improved as the in-game wrestling is, it still has so far to go before it matches how dynamic the real-world product can be. Every time the match needs to show you a truly creative reversal, they transition to archive footage because that kind of stuff is nearly impossible to pull off in the game. Seeing the game up against its real-world counterpart just makes WWE 2K22 come off as boring in comparison. Instead of innovating in the ring, you’re just going through the motions. I also can’t stand how every sitdown video package with Mysterio treats wrestling as a legitimate sport, especially in the modern era where that’s less prevalent, but that’s a minor bone to pick in the grand scheme of things.
Outside of the Showcase, there is the returning MyRise single-player mode. In past editions, this was the “story mode” of the game. You’d work your way up the WWE ladder until you become the face of the company. That’s still technically what you’re doing, but there’s not much of an overarching narrative. It’s just a series of feuds that you play through until you eventually move on to the next brand. Even winning titles doesn’t seem to do much. I won the NXT North American Championship three times and it never seemed to actually matter for my ongoing story. They do introduce a few newly-created characters that serve as either your friends in the company or your rivals who you’ll beat down during your journey to the top. It’s nothing major, but at least it’s something to sink your teeth into. The entire mode is probably best summed with a firm “it’s fine.”
MyFaction, on the other hand, is one of the more confusing modes I’ve seen in a sports video game. It’s meant to be WWE’s version of MyTeam or Ultimate Team, but there’s no online play. There are, however, boring objectives, bad match types, and countless microtransactions. Even as someone who plays MyTeam and Ultimate Team near religiously, there isn’t much substance here unless you just love collecting cards of your favorite WWE Superstars.
The finally noteworthy mode (WWE Universe and Online play return, but not much has changed for either of them) is MyGM mode. I used to keep notebooks filled with my booking storylines back in the Smackdown vs. Raw era of WWE games, so I was very excited to see what they’d do with this. I was happy to see that they’ve laid an excellent foundation with a fun idea in specific GM powers that you can use to turn the tide of your fledgling promotion. However, in a mode where you’re trying to build up your own wrestling brand against a competitor, there is just so much missing.
There’s no option to give a rivalry any specificity, so they’re all just fighting because reasons. You also can’t even check your rivalries to see who needs to go up against each other. Each weekly card only gives you three matches and two promos to work with, and while tag teams can be booked, there’s no tag team title. The match types are incredibly limited, giving most cards a samey feel and hindering your ability to book eye-catching end caps to your feuds. If they had called this MyGM Early Access, that would make perfect sense. As it stands, it’s a mode with so much potential that ultimately squanders most of it and quickly left me digging through my Xbox 360 games to find Smackdown vs. Raw 2007. Like every other mode in WWE 2K22, there are some good ideas here, 2K just didn’t go far enough with any of them.
If you look at WWE 2K22 as a foundational game for the future of the WWE franchise, then this is undoubtedly a step forward. The greatly improved in-ring action is not nearly enough to make up for ho-hum to poor modes that give you little reason to return to the actual wrestling. Hopefully, the team can build on this next year and deliver the first great wrestling game in nearly a decade. For now, I’d wait until WWE 2K22 goes on sale before West Coasting Popping your way into this one.
6 / 10
|+||You won’t see game-breaking bugs nearly as often|
|+||In-ring action feels more fluid than it has in years|
|–||Showcase Mode lacks several of Rey Mysterio’s best matches|
|–||MyGM is incredibly barebones, though certainly a baby step toward regaining the mode’s past glory|
|–||MyRise’s story mode is an afterthought|