WWE 2K16: Finally a Wrestling Game Better than No Mercy?

So the first question on everyone’s mind is (or at least should be) is this a better game than last year’s? The answer to that is simple: yes. Yes a hundred times over. But what’s makes it a better game? We could merely say “everything,” but that wouldn’t mean much without some context. Thus, let’s spend some time giving you all that context.

The proverbial name of the game this year is details. The proof is in the details, the adage goes, and such a phrase has never been more true than with WWE 2K16. From the sweat that glistens off Superstars’ bodies, to the individual strands of hair that move far better than they ever have before in a wrestling game, to Ravishing Rick Rude cutting a promo after getting into the ring where he goes into his well-known shtick saying, “what I’d like to have right now, is for all you fat, ugly inner-city sweathogs to keep the noise down while I take my robe off and show the ladies what a real sexy man looks like…” Yes, he actually says that. And yes, it feels about as real as it did in the ’90s when the man himself took to the mic before each match. But more than that, limbs get caught on ropes, performers who get attacked while walking down to the ring keep their entrance attire on until the match officially gets underway and the echoing smack of Seth Rollins delivering a super kick to a kneeling opponent is just as sickeningly sweet as it is when we watch it happen on television — truly, developers Visual Concepts and Yuke’s have spared no expense this time around.

That loving attention to detail is most notably seen, however, in the gameplay and the storytelling that goes into every match. For starters, this year’s pacing has been changed. Not drastically, but things aren’t as much of a slog as last year’s outing. No more will players have to feel like they’re fighting their foe in a fog of molasses, as character movement has just the right briskness to it without ever feeling too fast — like a more arcade-oriented wrestling game — or slow to the point of putting us to sleep. This new pacing feels great, really adding to the in-ring drama.

Speaking of in-ring drama, the stories we were able to tell in our four-hour sit-down with the game were incredible. We were popping like true wrestling marks as we kicked out at two and three-quarters of a ref count and we were holding our head in disbelief when our opponents did just the same to us, or even reversed our finishing move only to then get the pinfall. Never before have the stakes felt so high in a pro wrestling game. Every match feels important because of the back-and-forth, seesaw way that matches play out.

While on the topic of reversals, those who play online will be happy to know that reversal spamming is no longer a thing. Whereas in 2K15 players could reverse any and every move without ever tiring out- – making those who knew the timing of each reversal practically unbeatable — players now have to build up a reversal gauge by taking damage and dishing it out. Even if the fight is one-sided, though, there can never be more than a few reversals saved up in the bar right below the stamina meter. It’s a great addition and makes bouts go down far more realistically.

Speaking of new additions, outside of the greatly improved visuals — animations and character models look absolutely spectacular now — there are of course new moves, entrances, matches, 2K Showcase and MyCareer. Those last two modes are especially important because they have been given such care. MyCareer Mode is far more in line with 2K Sports’ usual depth, unlike last year’s MyCareer Mode which was not given the same treatment that the developers would give to, say, the NBA 2K series. Now folks are given a new customization suite to tweak out their created wrestler with more options than they will know what to do with (players could literally spend hours getting their Superstar — or Diva now! — just right) and then delve into the most robust single player mode ever to grace a wrestling title.

In MyCareer, players will start off in NXT, get graded on their matches, get stat points to allocate at various intervals and just generally work their way to the top of the promotion. A huge addition is the ability to define one’s personality through promos and backstage interviews (with the lovely Renee Young, no less). These go down in an RPG-like fashion where the player is asked a question by the interviewer and then is given four or so options to choose from in terms of an answer. Their answers will affect their likability, ultimately defining them as a face or heel, and even help set up rivalries.

For instance, in one of our plays, we were a babyface: we had a match on NXT, lost, got an interview, answered a question in a typical “bad guy” sort of way, heard some boos from the crowd and then saw a notification in the corner of the screen that said we had effectively turned heel. It was awesome. This type of control over one’s Superstar was not only a breath of fresh air, but super empowering, giving us that type of attachment to our character that was simply absent in last year’s game.

2K Showcase Mode, this year focusing on cover-page wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, chronicled the “Rattlesnake’s” illustrious career, highlights some of his most iconic matches and is very well done. Last year’s game got this mode right and the presentation and list of matches are what we would expect and want, respectively.

This preview has only scratched the surface of what WWE 2K16 has to offer. Make no mistake, though, we will be delving further into all the details in our review later this month. What should be taken away from this is the fact that this is one of, if not the the most complete and robust wrestling game to date. With over 120 wrestlers, tons of match options, an improved pace, great and diverse modes of play, an in-depth create-a-wrestler feature and enhanced match flow options — such as the chain grappling, submission and reversal systems all benefiting from the facelift 2K has given them — there is so much to do this year. If you’ve been waiting for a wrestling game to finally dethrone No Mercy as the best pro wrestling game ever…well, you may have found your candidate.

For more on WWE 2K16, check out our interview with WWE Superstar Dean Ambrose.