One of the gaming world’s most glorious aspects is its diversity – for example, there are games that try to appeal to everybody while, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it’s perfectly fine for games to preach to the converted. And you would struggle to find a genre for which the latter approach applies more emphatically than wrestling games. So, if you’re thinking about buying WWE 2K16, we can assert pretty confidently that you’re a fan of the WWE and that you’ve played wrestling games in the past.
If that’s the case, you’re in for a treat with 2K16. It represents the absolute state of the wrestling game art, thanks in large part to great use of the official WWE licence: all the current superstar WWE wrestlers are present and correct, along with some old favourites and more unexpected characters like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator. Gameplay-wise, its control system distils decades of wrestling games into a coherent whole, which gives you incredibly fine control over your wrestling. And it looks pretty fabulous, at least on the PS4 and Xbox One, to the extent that at times, if you squint, you can convince yourself you’re watching WWE Raw on TV. Familiar TV camera angles abound, and the slo-mo close-ups of signature moves are a wonder to behold. Although it must be said that, in the course of normal gameplay, the backgrounds look much more photorealistic than the wrestlers themselves.
That fine control over your wrestling moves comes at what some people, depending on their gameplay-style preferences, would see as a cost. WWE 2K16 might just have the most complicated control system ever shoe-horned into a game. Of course, there are the basic kick, body-slam and punch moves, but you swiftly encounter mini-games that crop up in certain situations during bouts. For example, there’s a rock-paper-scissors button-pressing procedure when you’re trying to escape from holds, and when you’re either locked into an upper-body hold or on the canvas in a submission battle, you have to play fiddly mini-games involving rotating the right stick and timing button-presses. More fundamentally, a key mechanic involves triggering “reversals”, when your opponent gets on a roll and continues to attack you when you’re on the ground or generally reeling. In such situations, you have a tiny fraction of a second in which to hit the right-trigger, requiring the reflexes of a cat. When you do nail one, it gives plenty of satisfaction, and the chance to turn the tables with an assault of your own. But that rarely happens, and reversals emphasise the underlying turn-based nature of the gameplay, which isn’t exactly cutting-edge.
WWE 2K16’s refusal to compromise with any hand-holding doesn’t help, either. Initially, you’re given no option but to undergo a one-on-one bout, in which the various elements of the control system are introduced briefly, but you never get a chance to practise each one outside of the pressurised environment of a fight already in progress. If you like your control systems simple, you might find WWE 2K16 so frustrating that it defeats you. But if you persist, you’ll master it.
And there are plenty of rewards on offer once you do so. You can jump into all the classic WWE variants, such as tag teams and cage-matches, and the Career mode is great, since it brings aspects like developing your character as a wrestler into play. WWE completists should find the availability (although not necessarily for free – there are paid-for add-ons available) of countless legendary and off-beat characters satisfying. Plus you can, of course, play WWE 2K16 online, doubtless against WWE-obsessed human opponents with little else to do during the day beyond master every nuance of every move.
WWE 2K16 is hard and uncompromising: the uncommitted will find it offputtingly so. However, if you’re a big WWE fan, it is quite simply the best wrestling game that you will be able to buy. Slip a copy in a WWE-obsessed relative or friend’s Christmas stocking this year and you’ll become very popular indeed.