It is not a fallacy to say that 2K games have become one of the leading games publishers in the world. With a lineup this year containing heavy-hitting triple-A titles, they are also catering to casual sports fans through their 2K17 franchise, basing games around American sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and NHL. With this in mind, it seems like a bit of an oddity to have included amongst them a game based around professional wrestling, a “fake sport” (the matches made in pro-wrestling are predetermined) present in the form of WWE 2K17.

For many gamers, fond memories will have been made whilst brawling in the WWE games of old. 2002’s SmackDown: Shut Your Mouth is largely considered to be one of the best beat-em-up games of the early 6th console generation, featuring over the top character models and intensive finishing move moments (notably The Rock landed a People’s Elbow on ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin). Fast forward to the 2010s, however, and we’re presented with a very different game series under the directorship of 2K (who took over after the dissolution of THQ in 2014). Since taking the helm of WWE game production, 2K has strived to create a more realistic experience for players that mimics the matches had by the wrestlers on TV. This, however, led to a product which focused more on on how the characters moved and interacted with each other as opposed to focusing on what the audience wanted, which was the classic over the top beat-em-up game that the series was once famed for.

“2K has strived to create a more realistic experience for players that mimics the matches had by the wrestlers on TV”

In the ten minute demonstration build which we were given access to, there were 4 playable characters which wrestling fans will find familiar; Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins (the three of which were once collectively known as The Shield) and AJ Styles, the latter making his anticipated debut in a WWE game after being hired by the company from the independent scene the past January. Choosing AJ Styles versus an AI-controlled Seth Rollins, AJ made his entrance down the ramp in an expected over-the-top fashion, followed by Rollins who was clocked on the head by an interfering, AI controlled Dean Ambrose, who briskly ran backstage again leaving me to lay waste to the downed wrestler for the next 10 minutes.

In comparison to 2K16, there are some immediate visible differences. The lighting engine has been immensely improved, leading to more well lit character models which ultimately make them look more realistic. This is very evident in the new outdoor arena builds, which offer fully lit, dynamic environments as opposed to a static navy blue illuminating the skybox in WrestleMania arenas. Taunts have been vastly built on allowing them to be performed whilst leaning against the ropes or from the turnbuckle. Character entrances are no longer merely performed in front of the player camera, now instead featuring tracking that would be present on TV whilst the wrestlers make their way to the ring. The 5 star rating system that was once exclusive to the My Career mode is now present in exhibition matches as standard, but can be turned off in the game’s settings. These little differences are welcome, for sure, but what has people hyped for this particular game’s release is the return the highly coveted backstage brawl areas, a feature which was not present in the demo build.

At present, the game is looking a lot more crisp that last year’s entry, but it will take a bit more convincing to get fans to upgrade to what is essentially last year’s game with a bit of polish on it.