Every year, I see the same questions about WWE's latest console game from the folks at 2K. "Is this the year it's actually worth it?" "Did they finally fix … everything?"
And while previous years found me shouting "I'm afraid I've got some bad news!" as if I was ex-WWE superstar Wade Barrett, WWE 2K19 is a welcome change, pivoting towards actual fun.
Showcase has me chanting YES! YES! YES! and OW! OW! OW!
I started out with the My Showcase mode, the career-tracking series of matches asks you to recreate iconic moments in wrestling history. This year’s edition is a huge improvement, as it not only follows one of the more tumultuous tales — Daniel Bryan’s history of underdog success, retirement, unretirement, retirement and return — but places Bryan himself, via pre-taped monologues, in the game.
Previous Showcase modes presented a wrestler’s career via a voice-over narrator, who you didn’t know, and fell flat, and felt stale. To have Bryan sitting in a chair, talking to you, the gamer, made this story feel more alive, like a living autobiography. Having Bryan tell his own story, from a little-known match against a young John Cena all the way to WrestleMania 34, will tug at everyone’s heart.
On the downside, though, the gameplay in Showcase is still a little a bit stunted. While I’m OK with the concept of recreating moments, they can often prove too hard for even veteran players. One friend even found it difficult to hit the specific kind of off-the-ring attack.
Personally, I just found the CPU to be too difficult, especially in one early match against Randy Orton. Almost as if WWE 2K19 were confirming years of fan complaints — that Orton wins too often — my match against him repeatedly boiled down to a single moment where it was impossible to lock in my finishing move, and Randy kept hitting his, which I spent hours trying to kick out of, unable to.
While it may sound laborious, and like homework, I think the WWE 2K games could benefit from a new kind of tutorial mode. Imagine if NXT General Manager William Regal — or the NXT locker room leader Kassius Ohno — walked you through the steps of the game, and got you used to its odd ins and outs. There’s so much to learn and explore, that this game’s tutorial mode could use the same personal touch that its career mode does.
About 8 or 9 hours later, having spent most of my Saturday on that one match, I managed to make Randy tap, and flung my controller against the couch, and ran for my bottle of muscle pain relief Aleve.
Best Grappler Graphics Yet
Often, WWE games have left fans scratching their heads at likenesses that don’t match reality. And while this year’s roster is better than ever, there’s still at least one mangled wrestler render that sticks out like a sore thumb.
On the upside, though, some folks look amazing.
2K’s also giving fans better tools than ever before, judging by the early fan-made Create A Wrestlers (CAW). As I moved a CAW version of the Limitless Keith Lee (who signed with WWE’s NXT brand too recently to make the game), I was grinning at how his gear carried all of the markings that it did when he was on the indies, where I followed his career for years.
The CAW is increasingly more important with other ... absences in the game. I don’t know why Trent Seven, one third of the wildly popular British Strong Style faction, is not in WWE 2K19. Not only did it lead to Mr. Seven posting this hilarious and sad video to social media, but his absence is so egregious that I actually met a fan at wrestling show in England who made and wore a shirt that read “PUT TRENT IN 2K19 OR WE RIOT”.
Customizing your wrestler can get mighty intense and detailed, as branching skill trees made me feel more like I was in an RPG than a fighting game. Maybe this game should be both? I'd like a streamlined option, though, where skills are automatically acquired and applied.
Another downside, though, the Tyler Bate in 2K19 looks nothing like the WWE UK Champ and NXT tag champ, and that’s completely odd. You can’t get them all right, I guess?
Career Mode, With Feeling
While previous editions of the WWE 2K games included a career mode that felt dry and lifeless, as you fought match after match, the MyPLAYER mode 2K19 brings some soap operatic charm that makes the game actually feel like a weekly episodic drama. After you’re done building a wrestler from scratch, you learn that this mode kept you away from cool gear and makeup because your character is starting at the very bottom.
Living in a van, down by the rec center, as you’re still in the early days of his career at BCW, a fledgling wrestling promotion run by Barron Blade. Yep, that’s right, the jobber character from previous WWE 2K games is back, as a washed up former wrestler, who blew his shot with WWE, and is trying to make a living on the indies.
And even though you get your shot to impress NXT head honcho Matt Bloom, and then another chance to impress Triple H, your created wrestler doesn’t rise too fast. Instead, 2K19 builds drama, and gives you reasons to care about your character, and — even better — reasons to distrust the folks running indie promotions.
As someone who’s learned more about the indie scene than he ever thought he would, I was kind of shocked by how much these characters resembled the actual carnies (a derogatory term for untrustworthy wrestling folk) running smaller shows. Eventually, the MyPLAYER mode brings your character up to the main roster and continues its snaking storylines, so you can make your own Wrestlemania moment.
But again, though, for all these steps forward, WWE 2K19 makes an egregious — especially in this era — mistake. There is no option to create a female wrestler and build her career up. At a moment in time when WWE boasts about its women division more than ever, this decision feels too incomplete. Maybe it’ll come next year, we can only hope.
What's left to fix
After this piece went live, I got some questions from readers, and I'm adding some notes to address them.
The gameplay mechanics used in previous WWE 2K games is still here. Some think this is a huge flaw and while I'd like them to shake it up, it's not the biggest flaw in the game.
This chapter has, so far, been much less buggy than previous WWE 2K games. No longer are characters stuck to objects, and collision detection has improved. It's not perfect, but there's enough improvement that I didn't feel the need to harp on it.
But still, a major improvement
The last time I bought and played a WWE 2K game, I gave it up pretty quickly, as I found the week in week out Career mode was lifeless, and not enough to keep my attention once I finished the Showcase mode.
2K19 looks to be the start of a new day, if you will, and it’s one that many wrestling fans will be excited to pick up and play.
Image Credit: WWE/2K Games