Never let it be said that I’m not the forgiving type.
I’ve written a lot about wrestling games over the years. Hell, I’ve written a lot about wrestling games this year. I guess I’ve just had wrestling on the brain lately, with the post-Wrestlemania shows not being nearly as dismal as I expected and a healthy serving of independent federations filling any of the particular niches that I’m looking for at a given moment.
That’s the key to being a wrestling fan; the need for (and willingness to seek out) variety, lest you become the masochistic sort that rushes to your keyboard every Tuesday morning to declare that everything you love has been ruined forever. In the modern age, it’s easier than ever before to find interesting stuff out there. On the games side, however, it’s never been more depressing.
Starting in the mid-2000s, I’d made it my annual ritual to purchase and review every new WWE game, often on date of release. It was a journey that often took many unexpected turns, the quality of each successive game sometimes wildly varying even if the core mechanics were mostly the same. Eventually I settled on an “every other year” philosophy, as if I were recommending Star Trek movies. For a while, the pattern seemed to revolve around the introduction of one huge new gameplay feature, followed by it being completely ignored and unchanged in the next game, then often disappearing completely after that. The “one step forward, one step back” approach is what eventually turned me off of the idea of continuing those reviews. No matter how close it felt like they’d gotten to something great, it would always return to the status quo before too long. It was a sterile, safe product churned out for a marketplace that offered no competition. It was Madden. It was… the WWE itself.
Yet, I’ve continued to play them, less out of habit than the cold hard fact that there simply isn’t anything else out there. Sure, I can fire up my copy of Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 and have a grand old time, but sometimes I need the flash; the stupid pageantry and overproduced entrances. I’ll say this much for 2K16, it’s better than last year’s game. Faint praise considering that WWE 2K15 was a glitchy unfinished mess rushed out for the new generation of consoles, but there are signs that things are improving. They finally, after a decade, figured out the solution to the reversal problem, by limiting the number you can do before you just have to start taking a beating unopposed. It’s probably not ideal to those frustrated by getting battered by the CPU for a protracted period of time, but that’s kinda exactly how wrestling works. If the goal is to make a simulation of the on-screen product (and it has up to everything except the actual in-ring portions), then concessions need to be made in terms of how much of a sports or fighting game you want to make.
We’re still at that weird crossroads that we’re likely to never get past. You remain a character with a life bar, even though the primary single player mode is still about reenacting classic matches, many of which you are meant to lose. The game often has to fib these moments by taking control away from you to prompt the intended outcome. Even without that odd dissonance, the Showcase mode has probably overstayed its welcome. I’ve now fought Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13 in at least four different games. I don’t particularly long for a fifth go-round.
The solution? The same one I’d offer for any of the various gripes and nags I’ve had of the series for years and years – a new approach. It sounds simple, but that change won’t come until it absolutely has to, until the people creating it are left with no choice.
It is, once again, an accurate representation of its namesake; too big to fail, too well established to ever innovate. In light of that, I can only wish for small miracles… like Sasha Banks actually being included next time.