Review by Nick H.
The WWE series has been showing its age for a couple of years now, but it is one of those cyclical releases I look forward to most each year anyway. The over-the-top actions and personalities are unlike anything else in sports games and I generally have a great deal of fun with them. WWE 2K20, however is more of a Royal Bumble than a Royal Rumble as this year the series took a major step backwards.
That is not to say this year’s release is not without some merit, but it was very much a case of two wrongs for everything that was done right. The most glaring issues are on a technical level. With yearly sports title releases, you expect new features and continual, if sometimes only incremental improvements. Here however, the shift in development from Yukes to Visual Concepts did not appear to go very smoothly. If I am being perfectly honest, WWE 2K20 just feels like it should not have been released yet. Missing features, bugs and worse visuals all detract – badly – from some of the cool things that WWE 2K20 did implement this year.
Probably the best thing WWE 2K20 has going for it is the focus on womenn. Last year with Rhonda Rousey, it seemed as though there was going to be a larger focus on the women of wrestling, but it never really materialised. This has been an incredible year for women in the WWE though in real life, often times outperforming and proving to be more popular than their male counterparts. To that end, WWE 2K20 has given more serious attention to the women wrestlers through the Four Horsewomen in the showcase, allowing for intergender matches and even the MyCareer finally lets you have both a male and a female wrestler that participate in the story.
Most of the modes that I have come to expect from this series are here: quick matches, online play, downloadable content, creation content, Universe (think of it as your own giant sandbox) and MyCareer are the highlights. Realistically, the WWE games have not added a whole lot of new modes in some time, because the ones they have provide so much depth that it has not felt needed. Yukes has traditionally doubled down on those modes, making them better (I really enjoyed last year’s MyCareer mode for example). There is supposed to be one new mode called 2K Originals, which is meant to provide episodic content. However, right now if you select the option, you’ll be told that it is not available and to come back later. This, combined with the numerous bugs, really gives the impression that Visual Concepts was just not ready to release this year’s game.
What kind of bugs, you might ask? Well, there are plenty of visual bugs. They show up all over the place, from character creation to when you are playing the game. The ropes have a sort of weird rubbery look to them at times that is inexplicable. I have seen videos of props falling through the mat, characters sinking into the floor or clipping through objects and collision detection is just a mess. Even in the cutscenes, oddities such as Tre’s backpack occur, as the straps just sort of hover off of his body by a good half of a foot, giving the backpack a weirdly floating appearance. Also, there are crashes. There was a day one patch, but I still get crashes. I experienced that in the last two games as well, but I reckon they happen twice as often or more this year and they can occur in a far greater variety of places. They happen during customisation of characters and they happen during gameplay. It happened twice during a very long match involving multiple wrestlers, forcing me to restart and leading me to a topic I will touch on briefly later.
The visual engine struggles even when it is not glitching out. Most of the character models look worse than the last year or two, animations sometimes skip frames, some of the WWE’s biggest superstars barely resemble their real life counterparts, lighting effects are inconsistent and at times borderline twitchy and cut scenes look almost last generation at times. The audio commentary is also in dire need of an update. It has been pretty repetitive for some time now, but this year it is not only repetitive, but at times completely inaccurately describing the action in the ring. At least once or twice a match, what the announcers are talking about in no way represents what is actually occurring. It is hard to look at any of these aspects and not feel as though WWE 2K20 just needed more time before release.
Even when this series is not taking huge steps forward, I find the MyCareer to be a source of entertainment, but this year the results are a bit more mixed than usual. I touched on how you create two wrestlers for this mode, which I actually liked a lot in concept. The potential to do some really cool things with two characters is there, but the already somewhat slow progression system becomes even more of a slog now that you are splitting your resources between two wrestlers instead of one. I also do not particularly care for the ‘hidden’ tiles system. Basically, you choose a type of wrestling style for each of your characters, and unlock skills on a grid or matrix. Each time you do, you get a small increase to one of your stats or unlock a new skill, revealing the adjacent tiles. It makes it very hard to plan ahead, which is something I actually enjoy doing as I develop my wrestlers.
The other issue is that neither of this year’s primary protagonists were really all that interesting to me. Last year struck a great balance between humour and seriousness. I really enjoyed the central protagonist, and I often went the route of self-depreciating humour with him. The storyline felt like a legitimate WWE narrative and the interactions my character had with many of the guest characters felt natural within the game. This year we have Tre and Red. Red gets her nickname from being Hot Head Red – which would have made a lot more sense if my custom character had an ounce of red anywhere on her, but that was not the case. Tre gets his nickname because back in school he… slipped on a lunch tray. WWE characters are always a bit cartoonish and over-the-top, but the best ones are relatable and have some natural charisma that neither of these two characters ever really put on display. Tre is dumb as a brick and Red is stubbornly insistent on following a list.
I will say that the ‘list’ is a decent idea that never really feels fully baked (like most of this year’s game unfortunately), as it is meant to be a series of career objectives that our protagonists are trying to achieve through their storyline. I think it would have been more entertaining if the list had been more customisable, allowing the player to choose from a variety of goals along the way, but that would have likely made it harder to structure the narrative. Where MyCareer does still do a good job is in presenting some pretty crazy storylines that work perhaps even better in video game form than they would in real life. It is easier to buy into some of the demonic or supernatural elements of characters when you can just ‘do’ them in the game instead of having to try and stage the spectacle of it in real life. Many of the real life guest characters are also pretty entertaining and do a good job of selling the story along the way. It is just a shame that the primary characters were less likeable than last year’s primary characters. That is not to say there are no quality moments. There are times the camp lands perfectly, and that some of the interactions are downright endearing. The potential is certainly here, it just is seldom realised.
If the gameplay was better, I could probably overlook many of the presentational issues mentioned above. Unfortunately, I would argue that the gameplay itself is worse as well. Targeting has always been something of a mess in this series, making multiple opponents frustrating for all of the wrong reasons, but this year it seems worse than ever. You switch targets on a cycle, not proximity, which means if you have five guys in front of you, it may take multiple clicks to get the right one. In that scenario, you are probably already getting beaten on before you can choose your target. Reversal prompts do not always show up – but I can still perform them off of muscle memory. AI opponents are wildly inconsistent. Sometimes they are just walking into an object or a wall or completely oblivious to my presence, and other times they are unstoppable forces of nature that can counter everything and anything I do. I have also been saying for a couple of years now that there needs to be some sort of a checkpoint system baked into matches. Maybe vanilla matches it is not as much of an issue, but sometimes matches can run a good fifteen to twenty minutes, only to have a crash or a frustrating moment where your AI companion fails you, or participating in an elimination match where you are the third-to-last person in the ring and you lose… and now you have to start it all over again.
Because of the structured nature of MyCareer, you need to perform certain actions to compliment and play along with the script. That is all well and good, but you cannot also lose in the process. If you do, well, you just wasted the last twenty minutes. This is the only sports title where failure is so punitive. If I lose a game in NBA 2K, Madden, FIFA, or whatever else, I still got something out of it with player progression and you hope it goes better the next time. Also, the controls are incredibly technical when it comes to specific actions. To advance the heavily scripted story, you need to perform a specific type of action, and frankly there is way more to the controls and moves than I want to completely memorise. So I find myself pausing at key times to look up how to do this one random thing my objective requires, and it really kills the flow of the match after the third time I’m required to do something like this. I think there is some serious opportunity to make the MyCareer more fluid, branching and less frustrating with some careful attention to how failure is handled, and perhaps sprinkling in some more forgiving checkpoints along the way.
Last but not least, the same method of unlocking packs is back as a way to get new moves and gear. This, combined with the various DLC packages and accelerators for your MyCareer players are unlikely to sit well with those who already feel like the 2K titles are a bit microtransaction happy. Additionally, the Create-A-Championship / Create-A-Belt feature is not present at launch, though it will be added later with a future patch, but given the popularity of this feature in the past, it is a surprising omission out of the gates in 2K20.
I look forward to the WWE games, but I think WWE 2K20 would have been better served skipping a year and getting more time to work through its issues. There is still some depth to appreciate in how characters are developed and the incredibly flexible Universe modes and creation tools, as well as an interesting new spin on having two custom characters in MyCareer. There is fun to be had here, a lot of it actually. The core product still has a good deal to offer. Unfortunately a bevy of technical and gameplay issues give the impression that Visual Concepts needed more time with this title. I imagine that 2K20 will continue to receive patches and support that make it better, but in its current state it is impossible to recommend this over last year’s version of the game.
– Nick H.