It's weird how the console "generations" always go. When new machines are announced, and the first videos start to leak, your mind drifts off into a world of incredible new worlds, fantastical games, and modes that could never be achieved on the current hardware. The reality, sadly, tends to be somewhat different, with buggy games, rushed out in time for launch, desperate to capitalise on a fresh market. And that would explain why WWE 2K15 has so many problems - if it had arrived a year earlier.
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The first WWE game on "next gen" formats (that's PS4 and Xbox One to the rest of us), WWE 2K15 has all the hallmarks of a rushed-to-market game - yet it's come out a year after the consoles launched. As you can see from the picture above, it's certainly had a lick of paint, with Randy Orton's muscles glistening like never before, and every line of his countless tattoos rendered in glorious HD - but that's about where the improvements stop.
Under the surface, WWE 2K15 is pretty much the same as the games that have come before it. With a decent selection of WWE stars on offer, from the huge names like John Cena and Daniel Bryan through to folks from the developmental NXT show like Adrian Neville, there's very little that's been changed with the actual gameplay here. Grappling and strikes are still handled by two buttons, moves are still pretty much unbreakable once they've begun (you can sit punching someone mid finisher, and it usually won't have an affect), with the real differences being only minor tweaks. There's a new "collar and elbow hook up" minigame, which turns the initial grapple into a game of rock, paper, scissors, and a new "exhaustion" pin, which lets you crawl towards a downed foe rather than having to expend the energy to get back up, but beyond that, the gameplay is pretty much the same old, same old. There's an OK range of match types, from Hell in a Cells to triple threat matches and Money in the Bank ladder matches here too, but beyond that, something feels... missing.
In fact, there's quite a lot missing. From the ability to create an entrance video for your custom grappler, to the much loved instant-replay "highlight reel" feature, that let you put together a custom highlights clips from your match (and show off any amazing glitches you found), there are weird omissions and random cuts galore. Perhaps the area that's been cut back the most - and which has the most effect on your game - is the create a wrestler mode. Where before you had hundreds of options available, now, you have a grand total of 18 different types of hair (half of which are variations on buzz cuts, none of which are 'fros), with no option for adjusting the length; six different types of glasses (none of which are monocles); and no ties. Basically getting rid of a load of the clothing options from the previous games, your create a wrestler options are a lot more limited this time around - which is odd, because you'll be using them a lot more.
One of the biggest additions for the next gen version of WWE 2K15 is "My Career", which has become colloquially known as "NXT mode" online. Letting you take your created wrestler from zero to hero, this is a career mode that sees you start out in the WWE developmental facility, before moving up to rookie show NXT, and working your way up to the main shows, and the heavyweight title. With a light storyline guiding the action, and a few branches depending on how you do, My Career is a slow paced mode that introduces a few new concepts. First up is that your character will change depending on how you wrestle each match - cheat, and the fans will turn you "heel", but ham it up in the ring, and you'll get over as a "babyface". You'll also be rated on how you do in each match out of five stars, with one sided squash matches rating lowly, while more technical, back and forth encounters will rank more highly. This is a bit of a weird concept to get your head around, as it actually rewards you for doing poorly. Go into a match and totally dominate your opponent, and you'll actually be worse off than if you only just manage to squeeze out the win. The better you do, the more points you'll get, which can be spent upgrading your wrestler's stats, making it easier to win your future matches, and turning you into championship material.
The game's other big mode is the somewhat unusually named 2K Showcase. This is the game's "main" story mode, and focuses in great detail on two very specific feuds - CM Punk vs John Cena from 2011-2013, and HHH vs "HBK" Shawn Michaels from 2003-2004. Brilliantly presented, with real life video packages and TV style voice overs filling in the plot between each match, this is a mode that ticks all the boxes in terms of style, but feels a bit too much filler when it comes to actually playing it. The CM Punk vs John Cena storyline, for example, features 19 matches - 7 of which are CM Punk vs John Cena. Sure, you'll be playing as a alternating sides, and CM Punk's pants/John Cena's shirts change to a different garish colour with each match, but these are all just straight, one on one contests. Whether it's a question of art imitating life (as let's face it, the main events don't change all that often on TV either), the focus on a rivalry between just two wrestlers makes this seem more repetitive than it needs to be, especially when it's otherwise so well presented.
The matches here are a little bit different to the norm, too. Rather than simply having to pummel your opponent as quickly as you can, here, you have a number of optional "bonus objectives" to complete. While you can still steamroll your foe if you want, completing these special goals, usually by performing certain moves that actually happened in the match you're "replaying", will trigger a special cutscene, as your match ends up happening as it actually took place, in ancient WWE. Whether you're performing a GTS on Cena when he's moderately damaged (as handily indicated by a little figure that pops up on screen when their damage state changes), or whipping someone out of the ring at the right time, for every goal you complete, you'll earn one of the game's many unlockables - which sounds cool, until you realise 14 of them are just different colours of CM Punk.
The WWE Universe mode also makes its return here, again providing an unlimited array of matches and wrestlers, as you get to make your own shows, switch rosters around, crown champions, strip them, make new tag teams and essentially play god with the WWE - the only problem is, it has all the same problems as before. Should you choose to throw one of your create a wrestlers into the mix, with the intent of seeing what storylines you get thrown into, good luck - the matches you get given seem totally random, and without any real rhyme or reason, before you know it you'll be number one contender for the US Title, without even having really had to have a fight to get there. It's also incredibly disappointing, as we noted last year, that this still doesn't really like you playing together with your friends. If you could all choose a wrestler, form a faction, and then chart your path through the WWE, interfering in matches, being paired together, and generally wreaking havoc, it'd be fantastic - but instead, there's no way to interfere in a friend's match, and your team will regularly be booked is singles contests. Oh, and there's still no way for women to fight the men either.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4