I’ve reviewed a lot of wrestling video games.
This is, no doubt, something that I’ll have to think about when I’m on my death bed, especially considering that most of them have been largely the same and not very good. For some odd reason, people enjoyed my annual suffering whenever a new WWE game would hit the shelves, knowing that I would spend far too much time mulling over the flaws of a series that would likely never improve.
It got to a point where I’d have a ritual, of sorts, whenever I tried out a new iteration. Upon booting the game, before doing anything else, I’d play a simple one-on-one match between whomever the newest additions to the roster were; default options, entrances on, to establish a baseline of what THQ (and now 2K) want me to experience out of their wrestling simulation. To someone with minimal experience with wrestling games, this may sound silly. I mean, of course you would want to play regular old matches in the game you’re reviewing, but the one constant of the WWE series has always been the ability to customize the experience, meaning that most of my time playing a WWE 2K game has typically been spent fixing it – turning off annoying features, adjusting AI sliders, anything to make the act of playing matches more bearable whist also delaying my need to ever actually engage with such.
My initial voyage with WWE 2K17 started with a match between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, taking the time to watch elaborate mo-capped entrances that were clearly done by neither man. When the bell rang, I stumbled and reversaled my way through an awkward match, all the while listening to commentary from Michael Cole that I remember hearing five games ago. After a few minutes, I hit my finisher and got the pin, unmoved by the whole experience but also not terribly surprised. In years past, I would spend far more time that was ever warranted trying to figure out how the WWE games could get out of their slump, falling into the same trappings of any annualized sports game – iterating in small ways over the years but usually creating a bunch of new issues in the process. In ideal conditions, I could tweak and test WWE 2K17 to function in a way for me to have challenging, if still completely unrealistic matches that aren’t really any fun.
This is the year where I’ve finally reached acceptance. The games aren’t going to get a whole lot better than this, and frankly, they don’t really have to. Like the product they’re licensed from, they are the only game in town, able to drift along on mediocrity so long as there’s the occasional promise of inspiration. Later this year, another game will come along, I’ll try it, see one extra feature I like and then three that need to be fixed immediately. I’ll glitch through the ring, have my enemy run-in and then start fighting my opponent in the ring for some reason, and still hear Jerry Lawler drone on, repeating those same lines despite not even being a commentator for the WWE anymore.
And I’ll play it. Because I’m a goddamn idiot.