WWE 2K18 Review: Spectacular, but also a spectacle
WWE 2K18 is the best looking WWE game ever, but it's in other areas that the developers should have applied the polish.
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If there's a word to describe WWE 2K18, that word is spectacular, in several senses.
Wrestling is naturally enough a spectacle of a sport, and deliberately so, and Yukes has gone all-out on the spectacle with the latest release.
Character models are sharper than ever, and while there's still an element of the uncanny valley about the whole enterprise, the visual effect, especially for entrances is amazing. I'd defy any WWE fan not to get the chills while watching Shinsuke Nakamura's entrance, or for that matter not to smile when you realise that the crowd is actively chanting along to his entrance.
Unfortunately for WWE 2K18, this isn't the only spectacle the game can offer. There are also elements of the game that can only be described as spectacularly bad, and badly in need of refinement.
Clipping and glitching issues have long been a hallmark of this particular game series, and often of wrestling games in general. To be fair, it's tricky to fully represent every move and section of kinetic action, and even games held in high regard, such as AKI's WWE No Mercy have their clipping issues.
Still, WWE 2K18 takes it to woeful levels, ranging from very simple arms going straight through the sides of ladders to glitches where a single punch sees an opponent flying up onto a turnbuckle, or worse. Any match with weapons in is almost guaranteed some kind of glitch, and while they're not always problematic in gameplay terms, that same spectacular attention to detail in the character models means that the glitches really stand out. You can't help but stare at them.
Glitches can (and hopefully will) be patched out or at the very least mitigated over time, but there are other issues that speak to the structure of the game. Outside of ad-hoc matches, you are, as has been the style with wrestling games for decades now, prompted to create your own superstar wrestler to compete in the theoretically deep MyCareer mode.
Again, that spectacular attention to detail is a huge plus here, because you can quite literally create anyone if you've got enough time. There can't be much difference between the tools 2K Games is using to create the actual grapplers and the tool it gives gamers, and this means your choices are only limited by your patience when creating your own avatar.
Creation is fun and as complex as you want it to be, but the experience beyond that point is mediocre at best, and a slog at worst. There's the WWE Universe option, where you're faced with endless calendar-based matches with little in the way of rhyme or reason, or the My Career mode where you're tasked with taking your Superstar all the way from the WWE Performance Centre to the heights of Wrestlemania by way of NXT. This is the RPG-esque meat and bones of the game... and it's pretty bad.
You're given a free roaming area backstage to wander around and interact with semi-randomly placed superstars, as well as choosing options for each evening's match card that help develop your wrestler, and all this is fine in theory. In actual play, however, it's slow and tedious to walk the same paths over and over just to hit what are in essence gameplay menus. You can "run" to slightly speed matters up, but it's more of a casual jog than anything resembling speed.
All interaction is via text chat boxes that wouldn't look out of place in a freeware RPG Maker game, and really have no place in a premium title like WWE 2K18. Again, that stark difference between the quality character models and the painfully phrased dialogue sticks out like a sorely overused cliché. Get used to them, as well, as just about every promo is as generic as possible, which also leads to some really weird promo battles along the way.
Promo cutting is slow and painful, and all too often I tended to hammer buttons just to get past them, even if it wasn't the ideal outcome. There's just no joy to be had here, merely frustration exacerbated by the plentiful loading screens you'll be faced with simply to be taken to another area where you have another painfully awkward text interaction with another superstar.
WWE 2K18's soundtrack includes plenty of wrestler themes, naturally enough, but you'll only hear them during entrances, with the rest of the game's music having been hand-curated by none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
I've got to be careful here, because clearly I don't want to cross The Rock, what with that whole business of things being shone up real nice, turned sideways and all, but still, the 11 tracks he's chosen are a little odd.
It's great that he has a wide variety of musical tastes, and I'm a sucker for any soundtrack that includes The Blues Brothers, but the likelihood is that you'll grow a little tired of hearing just the same few songs over and over, again due to those lengthy loading times. It's simple, but mixing in the classic themes for the extensive roster would have been a better solution here.
WWE 2K18's basic gameplay hasn't been radically altered from last year's iteration, with a design that can't quite decide if it wants to be a speedy arcade title, a la the game's WWF Smackdown! PSONe roots, or a full on simulation, more akin to Fire Pro Wrestling World.
New this year is a transitional lifting move that makes it easy to hoist opponents up to then carry around the ring. It's tricky to pull off but somewhat satisfying if you manage a hefty collision, or simply for tossing smaller wrestlers clear out of the ring. Still, that similarity means that if you've played any of the past few year's worth of titles, you already know what you're in for.
WWE 2K18's roster is very impressive, with 176 on-roster characters, and a further 10 available through DLC. That covers the current RAW, Smackdown Live! and NXT rosters, plus plenty of legends if that's to your taste.
Rather predictably those rosters were locked down some months ago, which leads to some out of date issues like the presence of the now-departed Neville or Bobby Roode being NXT champion, but that's been an issue again for WWE games for quite some time. Kurt Angle is also present, as is, well...WWE 2K18 is at its best with a few friends, and that's always been the way with the chaotic world of wrestling games. It's then that its spectacle of WWE can go into full flow, and that's just as playable as it's always been.
However, it's equally impossible to ignore that as it stands, this is a release with more bugs than should have been allowed out into the wild, along with lengthy load times and some really poorly conceived single player game modes.
That makes it tough to recommend unless you're desperate for the new visuals or updated rosters. There's so much scope in wrestling games to deliver a truly compelling experience, but WWE 2K18 sadly, falls well short of what it should be.
It's a really frustrating experience ultimately, because I'd love to recommend a game that looks this good, but I can't, because it just doesn't play as well as its super-sharp visuals would suggest.
We reviewed WWE 2K18 on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher.
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