WWE 2K22 Rises Like A Phoenix And No They're Not Named 'Beth'
Even if you weren't a wrestling fan, the release of WWE 2K22 shouldn't logistically exist due to the disaster that was 2K20. Following the release of 2K19, it was announced that longtime developer Yuke's would end their partnership with 2K Games. While the reasons for their departure were unknown, cited work differences were one of the major causes of the rift between them. As such, Visual Concepts was left to develop 2K20 and released a very broken product as they were brought up as the main developers.
The 2K series was an evolution of an engine that another developer made the "golden standard" for over 20 years. The devs at VC knew they had big shoes to fill, so they decided to grab a pair their size. The ice-cold reception from long-time fans forced VC to go back to the drawing board. After apologizing to fans and taking a year off to develop their own engine, WWE 2K22 was announced. After giving the series time to cook thoroughly, will Visual Concepts make amends with its fanbase with the new 2K22? Or is it just as much of a disaster as 2K20? Considering that WWE 2K20 lowered the bar to the Earth's core, surely it can't be worse, right?
Don't Forget Your Training!
The game begins with an optional tutorial mode starring WWE Superstar Drew Gulak in his "Coach Gulak" persona. Aside from being a performer, Gulak is also a trainer in the Performance Center, which makes him a perfect choice. The player controls Rey Mysterio, the cover star this year, with Matt Riddle as his sparring partner. While the tutorial is short, it's one of the few instances of showing a character's personality. "Coach Gulak" is something that would work very well in an actual gimmick and I hope it's something that's not just exclusive for this game.
I briefly touched the previous 2K games so my history with the gameplay is jaded at best. Even as a very casual fan, I didn't recall the controls being as different as 2K22's. The flow of the match is more "arcade" based than previous titles. There's an emphasis on combos this time around. Pressing the light button several times executes a combo, with the fourth hit being a "combo ender." This "ender" can alternate between a weak attack, a strong attack, and a grapple. At any point after the first attack, the defending player can "break" the combo by pressing the right button. Pressing the wrong button locks them out of escaping the rest of the combo.
Visual Concepts made no attempt to hide the inspiration on WWE 2K22's fighting system, even calling it a 'Breaker'. Now, I know the NWO is in this game and they were called the "Wolfpac." Do you think Saberwulf would be a good fit considering he is, indeed, a werewolf? Ignoring my bad attempt at a pun, WWE 2K22 borrows many of its influences from other modern fighters. The 'Breaker' and combo system, for example, is very similar to Killer Instinct's own combo system.
In fact, using a "Breaker" reversal in an actual match earns you an achievement/trophy of the same exact name. Your move, Microsoft. Bring back Killer Instinct, the streets need it.
The reversal system is lenient this time as the player can both block and evade. Certain powerful grapples can be reversed out of and since everything is one button, this makes it a lot easier. Some of the controls have been switched around, including lifting opponents during a grapple. While this will take several matches to get used to, I feel like it's more fast-paced and easier for newcomers to grasp. Veterans who are looking for the "simulation feel" can adjust some of the game's settings. VC this time around considered a gameplay system that anyone could pick up and play. Easy to learn yet hard to master.
WWE 2K22's Roster Is Hillariously Outdated
This isn't even a negative on 2K or Visual Concept's part, but this is just a byproduct of unfortunate events. During the development and finishing touches of 2K22, WWE had infamously released a large chunk of their roster, with over 30 wrestlers released over the Summer alone. With a mix of mid-card and main eventers finding themselves outside the "E," the default roster was already set in stone. This meant that many faces who wound up in 2K22 are no longer associated with the company. This gets even more pathetic with some wrestlers featured in the game already wrestling in rival promotions like AEW.
Even considering the current WWE roster, many tag-teams and stables are also outdated. When RETRIBUTION, a stable that had long since been disbanded, is featured as an entire group, that's one thing. But when you have tag teams where both members are not only released by the promotion but are currently working another promotion, there's something else going on.
It's amusing seeing The IIconics, a tag team that was released way back in April 2021, featured as they are currently wrestling for Impact. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is Isiah "Swerve" Scott, who is still featured as the current NXT champion, though he was released in October and is now currently wrestling for AEW.
From The '619' To The '718'
Unfortunately, this is only grazing the surface. With over 80 released wrestlers and even more releases into 2022, continuing this rant will take another article. Keeping focused on 2K20's first impressions, VC and 2K tried their best to keep with the tide. One thing they did a decent job on was this year's Showcase mode, focusing on Rey Mysterio. As WWE owns the package for WCW, the story of Rey is told from his beginnings in ECW/WCW to his current success in WWE.
Of the new modes added to 2K22, there is a mode that I can blame 2K Games on and that's "MyFaction" mode. On the surface, it seems like a great idea. Players can form a faction based on existing wrestlers and then use that faction to challenge other factions online. To the naiive gamer, their first thought would be "Oh, sweet! It's like the 'Stable' mode in the early WWE games!" But then a realization hits. This is 2K Games. Replace "MyFaction" with "MyTeam" made infamous by the NBA 2K series and it makes sense. It's "Ultimate Team" by a different name. A cash grab. Incredible.
Thankfully, The Positives Outweigh The Negatives And Awkwardness
In the two matches I played, the game did not turn into a horror genre, thankfully. Some of the animations were broken, but it's like night and day compared to 2K20. Is it a perfect wrestling game? Of course not, but it was something that fans of this genre and wrestling in general will adore. It's a shame that the bare minimum was required to rebound from their previous title. Considering how tumutilous it was for WWE, it's a solid experience.
Personally speaking, I've always got mileage from creating my own characters, arenas, belts, and delving into creating my own storylines. There's a dedicated creative community that have gravitated towards the series for its extensive items and customizations. From what little I looked into the Creation modes, it seems it's as good as it was in the past. Keep the "MyFactions" and outdated roster, just let me make my super heavyweight high-flyers in WWE 2K22.
WWE 2K22 is now available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.