Since the shift to current-generation consoles, 2K’s WWE series has steered away from the arcade-style formula of its extensive lineage. It’s clear that developers Yuke’s and Visual Concepts want to forge their own unique path to a simulation style of wrestling video game, iterating further and further in this direction with each passing installment. Much like last year, matches in WWE 2K17 have a distinctly measured pace, focused on capturing the look and feel of the current WWE product as closely as possible. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, and if you haven’t enjoyed this deliberate style previously–and perhaps yearn for the days of old–2K17 isn’t going to change your mind.
With that being said, however, I wouldn’t hesitate to call WWE 2K17 a better video game than its immediate predecessors. For one, singles matches have seen some incremental refinements that improve the ebb and flow of each contest. While the reversal system, pin/kickout mechanics, stamina management, and submission minigame remain relatively unchanged, there’s some welcome fine-tuning sprinkled throughout.
Counters, for instance, now feature a much more generous timing window and come in two flavors: minor and major–with the latter eating up two reversal slots but dishing out damage to your thwarted opponent. There’s also an alternative submission minigame that ditches the swiveling red and blue blocks for much more intuitive button mashing. And taunting now provides mid-match buffs, which makes sense and gives these gestures the same measure of importance they carry on TV.
For the first time in a few years, you can take the fight backstage, too. With the gorilla position, a hazardous hallway, locker room, and Authority office ready to be demolished, this isn’t as gargantuan a space as it was in the halcyon days of WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw, but there’s no denying the joy to be had powerbombing your opponent onto a sturdy oak desk while Vince McMahon stands by, undeterred. Sure, backstage brawls are nothing groundbreaking, but it’s an anarchic addition that’s entirely welcome.
Similarly welcome are some of the improvements made to multi-person matches. Previously, these scuffles were a noxious mix of the chaotic and the frustrating. With everyone stuffed inside the ring at the same time, moves were constantly disrupted, and matches would extend far beyond their expiration date as one pin after another was irritatingly broken up. WWE 2K17 fixes this issue and injects a dose of realism into proceedings at the same time. Much like actual multi-person matches, the action is still mostly confined to two warring combatants. As damage is inflicted to various superstars, they’ll roll out of the ring and lay on the outside to recover for a short time, making the in-ring action a lot less disorganised. Mechanically, this gives you time to regain lost stamina, but you can also cut this process short if you want to get up early and try to stop someone else from getting a three-count.
Switching between targets is, thankfully, a lot less cumbersome this year, too. A simple tap of R3 cycles through each wrestler involved in the bout, with the name of your target appearing above your wrestler’s head for a short moment. Ladder matches have also seen some ease-of-use adjustments. Now, you’ll never have to suffer the ignominy of setting up a ladder–only to climb it and find out it’s not in the exact right position required to grab a dangling briefcase. Ladder placement is now restricted to specific positions dotted around the arena, which certainly makes things easier but does rob these matches of some spontaneity.
All of these changes, however incremental, move the needle in a positive direction. But some nagging issues still drag down the overall quality of the in-ring action. Now, I’m not expecting this series to suddenly adopt the fast-paced, arcade-style sensibilities of its forebears, but something slightly more sprightly wouldn’t be amiss, either. The pace of the action is still far too plodding, and the game is overly reliant on disconnected reversals dictating the outcome of each matchup. Maybe it’s implausible, with such a bevy of moves available, to somehow coalesce the reversal system with the excellent motion-captured animation, but simply tapping a button when a prompt appears above your head feels far too rigid and detached from the action. These issues aren’t game-breakers, and some will appreciate the deliberate pacing. But the series is still a long way off from being a king in the ring.
Online matches are effected by the same latency problems that have plagued the series for years. The general flow of each fight is fine, but the timing window for reversals is impacted, so kicking out of pins becomes nigh on impossible. I was constantly defeated minutes into fights purely because the timing of counters gets knocked so far out of whack that it’s incredibly difficult to react with the necessary precision. In most instances, it felt like my button presses weren’t even registering.