When last year’s iteration of 2K’s WWE series came around, I was incredibly cynical about the title. For a long time, the games have followed largely the same formula, with a few graphical tweaks here and there. WWE 2K19 is different, representing a significant leap for the franchise – although, not enough of one to make an impact.
Alongside the traditional WWE2K gameplay, a variety of new modes have been introduced; these modes are the key differentiator between this year’s model and last year’s. Chief of them all is Towers, a mode where players can take on wrestling gauntlet matches and a variety of timely challenges.
The WWE 2K19 Million Dollar Challenge mode makes use of this new Towers gameplay, although the difficulty will lock out the vast majority of players. Other modes like MyCareer and Road to Glory make great returns, keeping to the fairly formulaic but relatively fun gameplay of past titles.
The returning showcase mode is also a welcome delight – its sudden disappearance in WWE 2K18 took out a hefty chunk of the game’s appeal. This showcase focuses on Daniel Bryan’s storied career, featuring the majority of his best bouts (minus a CM Punk or two), and details his retirement and return from the ring. Coming off the incredible few years that Bryan has had, the inclusion of this mode is well deserved, and the story, even with its striking gaps, is well told.
MyPlayer has received a significant upgrade this year, with the inclusion of RPG storytelling and full voice acting added a much-needed layer to the mode. Instead of relying on stony-faced, bland dialogue, WWE 2K19 makes the bold decision of giving your (male-only) player character a personality. In fact, this choice led to something miraculous – it made me care. In a WWE game, that is a rarity, and I found myself extremely invested in this story mode.
Fans looking to customise their character may find it difficult to accept 2K’s microtransaction systems, here disguised as ‘loot packs’. These packs contain aesthetic items to build out your wrestler’s unique look, but items can also be bought using the in-game currency. They’re not necessary, but they are incredibly annoying, particularly if you’re looking to create a particular aesthetic for your character.
This aesthetic will also be hampered by the uncanny valley graphics that render the majority of Create-A-Wrestler characters a weird, shining mess – almost as if they were created by someone who’d once heard the concept of a ‘human’ and gotten lost somewhere along the way.
Still, the graphics are a step up from last year, and many of the character models for your favourite wrestlers look better than ever, particularly if they have short or no hair. Unfortunately, most of the women still suffer from possessed noodle hair, but at this stage it’s more of a feature than a glitch, and it can be amusing at times.
Despite the inclusion of compelling new gameplay modes, WWE 2K19 still suffers at its core from gameplay that is sloppy, glitch-heavy and almost impenetrable for new players. While the game makes more of an effort to spell out the best ways to take advantage of your wrestler’s move set, the game still lacks any kind of informative or helpful tutorial.
For one example, finishers are one of very few ways to end a match. You can spend hours kicking some guy in the back and even if he has near-zero health, he will not stay down for a pin unless you finish him. To perform a finisher, you need have reached 150% momentum at least once in the match and have at least half a bar of stamina. This is never explained, and I lost countless matches before a friend took my hand and showed me the way.
In a game that relies so heavily on well-timed actions and a thorough knowledge of your wrestler’s move set, it seems completely illogical to not bother spelling out even the basic rules for players. A good game does not, and should not, require its player to YouTube the correct procedure for entering and exiting a ring.
While I wouldn’t necessarily call WWE 2K19 a bad game, it’s definitely one that’s still missing essential and much-needed change. The series has made slow, plodding steps towards becoming a genuinely enjoyable and fun title, and this year represents their greatest leap forward yet. There’s still a long way to go but maybe, just maybe, the WWE2K franchise is heading in the right direction.
THREE STARS OUT OF FIVE
Highlights: Solid MyPlayer story; variety of gameplay modes; large roster
Lowlights: Uncanny valley graphics; unrefined gameplay; no tutorial
Developer: Yuke’s, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on a PlayStation 4 Pro using a retail code provided by the publisher.