One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was to not do anything for the back rows—avoid over-exaggeration to appeal to every last corner of an audience. I keep that sentiment in the back of my mind and check myself if I ever get too comfortable with dramatics.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for 2K Sports’ WWE 2K18.
It’s a game that feels simultaneously like a heavyweight jumping from the top ropes, smashing down on the sweat-slicked mat with a fierceness, and like the same faulted wrestling game audiences have been playing for years. WWE 2K18 both over and under-does it, with cheesy and heavy-handed dialogue on one end and half-baked combat on the other. And though the title does feature improvements that fans will appreciate, they are minuscule in comparison to its technical issues and stale gameplay, making the game one that fails to truly impress.
Admittedly, I’m not a wrestling fanatic (I’m more of an MMA kind of guy myself), but I can appreciate men in tights flipping around in a ring, bashing one another until one falls out in flamboyant fashion. That action has never looked better than it does in WWE 2K18. With enhanced lighting, improved character models, and crisply captured animations, every aspect of WWE 2K18 pops off the screen with life-like realism. Even subtle details like wrestlers’ scars and birthmarks are shown, adding a special touch to the game’s overall graphical greatness. Entrances look more stunning than before, especially in comparison to last year’s entry into the WWE franchise, even with the noticeable differences between bottom-level wrestlers and those that round out the top of the card. During gameplay when you’re down and dirty in the ring, muscles flex and contract with incredible accuracy, makeup and paint chips off after a couple of rounds, droplets of perspiration roll down realistically coloured flesh, and veins protrude from skin that looks so realistic. It’s plain to see that 2K Sports is striving to take what WWE television fans see on their screen and translate it to a game, and in terms of visuals, the studio has succeeded.
Another notable change in WWE 2K18 is the expanded roster, which takes the already enormous line-up and stretches it out to offer players 174 wrestlers (not including DLC characters) to choose from, the largest collection in the history of the franchise. As with earlier installments, however, a sizable chunk of Superstars are locked, and can only be accessed with in-game currency players earn by completing matches. Alternatively, if you have a bit of extra cash to spare, picking up the WWE 2K18 Accelerator grants immediate access to all the mega-muscled, raring-to-go wrestlers.
WWE 2K18 also makes improvements to the Create a Wrestler mode, continuing on the upward trend from past games. Customisation options are overflowing, and players can easily pour hours into inking their wrestlers with tattoos, perfecting hairstyles, and making certain body parts glow. (Because hey, who doesn’t want that?) Some pretty stellar and super strange characters can result from the updated mode. Custom creations are also supremely simple to share with others, as WWE 2K18 has integrated in it an easy and efficient download and upload system. Let the world behold your works of sweaty, beefy art!
This customisation extends into other areas of the game, including arenas, celebrations, championships, entrances, and, the most exciting, matches. WWE 2K18 bringing custom matches back into the fold after three titles without it is nice, and hopefully hints that they will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, the boosts to graphics and an impressive roster and character crafting system can’t cloud the fact that WWE 2K18 is basically the same as each of its many predecessors when it comes to actual gameplay, a fact that may turn potential players off.
These improvements are the only major changes, and there is nothing I can specify as revolutionary or jaw-dropping, like the reversal system introduced in WWE 2K16, or any element that significantly alters how the game unfolds. As I worked through WWE 2K18, it was disappointing to feel like I was playing a game I had already completed a year ago.
However, WWE 2K18 does add small improvements to the in-game experience, including modified hot tags that make for more easy-flowing tag team matches and an updated carry system that rearranges offensive options and offers more context-specific physical comebacks. Within WWE 2K18, the hot tags don’t have cutscenes that interrupt the bang-punching action and appear more frequently than before. These touch-ups are much appreciated, as they bring a breath of fresh air to the stagnant game. As for the new carry system, getting the chance to hoist my opponent up in four different ways — with a cradle, an over-the-shoulder carry, a fireman’s carry, or a power bomb — and saunter them to their final destination (like to the other side of the rope or through a table) was so satisfying, particularly when I played as larger wrestlers like Braun Strowman and faced off against smaller-statured fighters.
Players will hit technical problems, however, when stepping into the ring for a round of fisticuffs in larger matches, such as the newly introduced eight-player ones. I found that the game seized up and my frame rate dipped drastically when I pushed the game to this upper limit, especially when pairing Superstar wrestlers together, leaving me with a delay that caused me to lose a few matches. That error alone is super frustrating, but it’s even more disappointing that I went into the game expecting to hit a roadblock like this, as clunkiness has become commonplace in the WWE universe.
For those who have stuck with the WWE series for the past couple of years, technical bumps in the road like this one aren’t anything new and they don’t stop at just one. The entire game is sprinkled with glitches — from wrestlers clipping through objects or ricocheting across the arena with no warning to certain modes completely shutting down — which makes for a sloppy experience overall. It’s forgivable if a game accidentally bugs out once or twice, but this is something else, an irritating something that makes me want to venture into the dark of night and never return.
Not only does the game light up with issues like your neighbor’s yard at Christmas time, but its modes are also stale as ever. Both MyCareer and Universe Modes fall flat, with Universe feeling completely unaltered from last year and MyCareer featuring dialogue that is somehow cheesy even for a wrestling game.
Playing in Universe Mode feels more like trudging through a thick mud made of “I don’t care” as you simulate week-to-week WWE matches that don’t have that true-to-life sensation. Fresh cutscenes and tiny alterations to rivalries are the only redeeming qualities of Universe in WWE 2K18, but they are negligible in the grand scheme.
And unfortunately, MyCareer is much, much worse. The writing leaves a bad taste in your mouth, with its immature jabs, lack of actual voice acting, and cringe-worthy dialogue. Nothing any of the characters say comes across as important, since most of it is locker room-like trash talk and playground insults. (No, seriously, one conversation meant to be serious and intimidating makes a reference to Rock, Paper, Scissors.) While dialogue options are more varied than last year, the writing is downright disappointing and doesn’t offer anything that would make a player want to get invested.
This issue also touches the commentary in WWE 2K18. Plainly put, it suffers from the same thing many sports games suffer from: it feels disconnected to the action playing out on your screen. It can get quite distracting to listen to one commentator’s take on the match and not see the action they’re describing actually happen.
Additionally, the promo system this time around is, to put it bluntly, annoying. It feels like a feature that makes fun of wrestling tropes rather than putting you in the shoes of a Superstar laying down some verbal smack. To create a promo, players will choose a pretty ambiguous dialogue option that gets their selected wrestler going on a mini-rant, usually about how heated they are that they aren’t a household name in the world of wrestling. The system then rifles through a whole bundle of even more vague choices that, when strung together, should create a promo that maintains the same tone the player started with. A consistent tone yields a higher promo score in the end, which is what everyone is after.
Needless to say, the system is wildly faulty. Beyond just the bad writing and clumsy action that plays out inside the ring, promos here hinge more on parody than a part of the game that should be taken seriously.
And if anyone was wondering, OF COURSE WWE 2K18 has loot boxes. Granted, they are purchased with in-game currency, so no actual coins are spilt in their pursuit and the pay-to-play/win issue is done away with. But obtaining them is still contingent upon a luck-based progression system that effectively blocks you from getting the gear you want in MyCareer mode. Anyone who wants to give their character a brand-new look will simply have to close their eyes and hold out hope that the loot boxes they work hard for will contain the items they most desire.
WWE 2K18 may be bigger, but it certainly isn’t better. The improvements it does make in specific areas and the enjoyability one will likely feel when tossing their enemy across the ring or smacking them square in the face aren’t enough to scrub away the disappointment of its many downsides. Frustrating, faulty, and anything but fresh, WWE 2K18 does little to reinvigorate the long-static series to which it belongs.