WWE 2K20 / DEVELOPER: VISUAL CONCEPTS / PUBLISHER: 2K GAMES / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Fans have been crying out for a fresh take on the annual WWE series for several years now. The team at Yuke's - developers of WWE games for the best part of the last two decades - stepped away from the franchise earlier this year, leaving co-developers Visual Concepts to pick up the pieces. While they've done an admirable enough job, especially with creating new content that genuinely feels fresh and exciting, technical issues and some frustrating gameplay prevent WWE 2K20 from achieving its full potential.
First, the good stuff. There have been no notable changes to Universe or the creation suite - both have been perfectly acceptable for the last few years, so fans of those features will be in familiar territory with creating new characters and setting up their own storylines. All of the match types you could possibly want are included, from simple one on ones to four-way tag ladder matches, Royal Rumbles, tournaments, backstage brawls, cage matches, six-way Hell In A Cell tussles and, making its debut this year, mixed gender tag matches.
Brawls are also new this year, providing a way to escape the ring and head into some crazy arenas like "The Darkside" and the fog-filled "Wretched Mire" to partake in some no holds barred violence where the only way to win is to knock your opponent unconscious. These are a wonderful idea, but don't offer much difference in gameplay beyond the setting - some extra interactivity with the environments would have gone a long way towards making these stand out more.
This year's Showcase focuses on the Four Horsewomen; Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. The Superstars introduce various matches from their careers before you play through each one, meeting various objectives to correspond to how the matches played out in reality. It's great fun, but there are no checkpoints during matches, so if you suddenly lose after twenty minutes of battle (usually due to the kickout meter - which still exists, sadly - refusing to play ball), you're going to have to start the whole thing again...
2K20's main story mode is found in MyPlayer, where two customisable Superstars (one male, one female, both controlled by the player throughout the campaign) reminisce about their careers on the night of the annual Hall of Fame ceremony. The writing is pretty good (if a bit on the corny side at times), the story takes some unexpected supernatural twists and turns, and taking two separate characters through the campaign makes things a bit more interesting than usual. The skill trees aren't the greatest though - it's difficult to plan a path to your desired upgrades, making it tricky to build the type of fighter you really want - and your characters unlock abilities independently of each other, so you need to navigate the sprawling web of unlockable nodes more than once...
This year's DLC - 2K Originals - is off to a flying start. Only the first of these downloadable packs (“Bump In The Night”) is currently available, including a new Showcase mode where Bray Wyatt lures Finn Balor to his compound (who can blame him? You would, wouldn't you?), as well as five new Towers to play through, all unlocking monstrous versions of WWE Superstars and a load of of additional spoopy props and weapons. This is some of the coolest content we've seen in a wrestling game for years, going way beyond your usual extra attires - these completely re-skinned models function as completely new characters with altered movesets, and on the whole they're just incredible to look at. They even have their own entrances, where Frankenstrowman is zapped to life from a mortuary slab by bolts of lightning, Demon King Finn Balor teleports around ringside in pools of fire, and Wicked Aleister Black... levitates... And, of course, let's not forget that BITN also allows you to unlock The Fiend by completing the relevant Tower, which makes a most welcome addition to the overall roster. With the promise of three further DLC packs to follow, we can't wait to see how crazy things get over the coming months.
Plenty of good stuff there. But, unfortunately, we'd better mention the less desirable elements...
Graphically, the WWE Superstars look rather iffy on the character selection screen and in cutscenes but, thankfully, most of the models look decent enough in-game (although, let's put it politely - some of them do seem to have had much less effort put into them than others). Combine the inconsistent representations of the wrestlers with countless clipping issues and other bugs and glitches (weapons rising and falling through the ring, arms and legs disappearing through other characters, CPU opponents often getting stuck in place, gyrating wildly, teleporting up and down the screen, hovering in the air, that sort of thing) and it's safe to say there's still a fair bit of work to do on the visual side of things.
If the gameplay was great then some sub-par graphics could be ignored but, unfortunately, 2K20 takes a few steps back from last years instalment. Enemy targeting is the worst offender, with your character often missing strikes and grapples because they refuse to face the right way, even when you're directing them with the control stick. Opponents have a habit of reversing everything, and reversing moves yourself (even with unlimited reversals in effect) is extremely patchy, making some matches feel distinctly one-sided. Controls have been "streamlined" from previous years, with reversals now mapped to the Y / triangle button instead of the trigger, and finishers can now require up to four buttons to be pressed at once instead of the one (or occasionally two) in previous games. A baffling decision, as long-term players will be infuriated with the unnecessary changes to a perfectly functional control scheme that has existed for years, and the less-intuitive controls aren't going to be as easy for newcomers to pick up.
Lastly, a relatively small nitpick in the grander scheme of things, but commentary is still pretty ropey - the announcers call moves incorrectly (almost half of the moves in the game seem to be Michinoku Drivers, according to Michael Cole), talk over each other constantly, and often get cut off mid-sentence. Add an overhaul to the list for next year, please!
So it's a mixed bag, all things considered. There's hope that the bugs and glitches can be ironed out over time, and there's definitely plenty of enjoyable modes to keep you going if the game decides to allow you to play them properly. The crazy supernatural / horror stuff is right up our street, and we wholeheartedly encourage more of sort of thing in future. But right now, 2K20 is definitely a couple of steps behind '19. Here's hoping that a little more development time might lead to something really special in '21.