2K’s latest instalment of the long-running wrestling franchise, WWE 2K23, promises more over-the-top action inside (and outside) the ring.
I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of WWE. But it is a credit to the developers at 2K that they can make a game that is entertaining and engaging to both fans and non-fans, alike.
It’s an open secret that WWE isn’t quite as it seems. That’s not to say that it isn’t performed by incredibly skilled athletes, but it is more like a cross between an outlandish reality TV show and a stunt show than a real contact sport. Regardless, WWE is still very entertaining and lacking the blood and gore of its more savage contemporaries.
WWE 2K23 gives us an interesting what-if. What if these herculean feats by skilled performers were actual contests instead of carefully choreographed theatre?
The game plays WWE straight, the only way it can, really. It has all the pomp and ceremony of a real wrestling bout.
The whole presentation is polished to a tee accurately mimicking the showmanship of the WWE from the extravagant entry sequences to the wrestlers’ characterisations and signature style. Even as a non-fan, the game sucked me into the world of WWE.
For this outing, 2K has hit its stride with the visuals. The animations are pretty much faultless. It’s only the slightly dead eyes of hyper-famous wrestling stars that are a creepy signpost to the uncanny valley.
The wrestlers move smoothly, overcoming an issue I had with the previous iterations of the franchise. Much of the player’s success is in turning around the advantage of the other wrestler. Better animations allow players to carefully time the essential press of the Xbox’s Y button, instigating a turnaround. This stops the player’s wrestler from getting a continuous pounding from their opponent.
Mimicking the action of a real WWE bout, the game is all about the seamless flow of dramatic set pieces. Capturing the real-life excitement, wrestlers can inexplicably switch the proceedings in their favour, even if moments ago they were literally on the ropes.
It’s a game that is easy to get into, but with plenty of depth with combos and signature moves requiring careful timing and muscle memory to execute. The game gives players plenty of visual rewards for outmanoeuvring their opponent in a way that is quite unlike any other fighting game. A detailed tutorial system (which I revisited many times whilst playing) does a great job of explaining the game’s combos and advanced moves.
The game doesn’t accommodate button-mashing, which is good. The downside is that sometimes onslaughts can seem relentless, like the game is creating manufacturing drama by making countering overly difficult.
Some of the moves are brutal with wrestlers seemingly pounding their opponents to a pulp. Whilst the real WWE is a campy and somewhat overacted tongue-in-cheek performance, the game, being more grounded, does come across as a bit more vicious. Just as in real WWE, though, the wrestlers shrug off the horrendous-looking assaults and come back for more without a bruise or drop of blood in sight.
As usual, as well as straight tournaments, choosing from a massive list of fight types, there’s the behind-the-scene management of MyGM, the customisable card-based MyFaction, the MyRise campaign, and the rival-based Universe mode.
WWE superstar-cum-moviestar, John Cena, headlines this iteration of the franchise with the Showcase mode. Fans are treated by filmed sequences of Cena looking back on his career, from his humble beginnings, warts and all. Players can then relieve the highs and the lows of the celebrity’s WWE history.
With WWE 2K23, the visuals finally match the game’s aspirations, giving players lifelike animations to better control the action in the ring. The entertaining over-the-top action of WWE is perfectly captured in the game as a bona fide and sophisticated fighting game in its own right. With an incredible layer of polish and high production values, the game should appeal to WWE fans and non-fans alike.
Rating: Very Good