Every year, when I sit down to play WWE, my reaction remains the same -- if you are a WWE fan, you’ll download it on day one, play viciously for the first week, challenge all your fellow WWE fans to triple threat, Hell in a Cell or even Royal Rumble matches, and subsequently, uninstall the game to make space for other titles. You’ll likely reinstall it multiple times throughout the next one year, but it’ll never be a permanent presence. If you’re not a WWE fan, you’ll likely give this a pass anyway.
It is exactly this that 2K Games and Visual Concepts aim to change, with WWE 2K20. After a hearty preview, I could see where the efforts are being directed at, and while I’m sure that the new features will be of some impact in what essentially is a wrestling game, I don’t think 2K20 is the game that it eventually aims to be, just yet.
To begin with, Japanese developer Yuke has been replaced with Visual Concepts, who were so far co-developers under 2K Games. The change has resulted in a game that feels different in many good ways, but isn’t devoid of blunt edges, just yet. Like FIFA’s The Journey and PES 2020’s revamped MyClub, there is now a MyCareer mode which continues the rising trend of animated verses trying to give a peek into an athlete’s life. You choose between Tray and Red -- aliases for the male or female wrestlers, and traverse an entire wrestling career with them -- from amateur school grades, to independent wrestling arenas, alternate wrestling federations, and eventually, as a WWE superstar.
The game also puts focus on the importance of women’s wrestling with a showcase on The Four Horsewomen. You are taken through an entire segment headlined by Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks -- The Four Horsewomen. This segment features a set number of actual, iconic matches involving the four wrestlers, interspersed with cut-scenes, interviews and real in-ring visuals.A still from the preview build of WWE 2K20. (Image: News18.com)
While these two are the biggest and most notable changes done in order to spice up the in-game representation of WWE, a bunch of myriad smaller changes are present as well. For instance, you get a whole bunch of new arenas to brawl in, customising the overall wrestling experience. There is a new DLC, ‘A Bump in the Night’, themed to suit fans of spook and understandably headlined by Bray Wyatt’s ‘The Fiend’ avatar. This mode brings monster makeovers of all WWE superstars involved (Randy Orton finally becomes a viper here), with an audience of zombies. The story mode focuses on Roman Reigns, taking you through his life, rise through wrestling and fight against cancer. Lastly, the controls have finally received a makeover, and while this is important, it isn’t as thorough as we would have liked.
MyCareer might just be the biggest winner of WWE 2K20. While story modes in sport games have so far received mixed reactions, 2K20’s MyCareer provides interesting animated cut-scenes before taking you straight into the wrestling ring to progress, instead of dawdling on idle decisions that don’t seem to impact endings all that much. I’m not entirely convinced with the length of the cut-scenes, but they do set up the scene for a good fight. In the one level that I played in MyCareer (with Red), we didn’t get to any cut-scene point where we had to choose a response. I liked this, since decisions in FIFA and PES make little to no difference. Instead, I prefer how the cinematics are used to add to the experience, and lead straight to the gameplay experiences.
The Four Horsewomen looks quite good for the sole reason that it adds a new dimension to the game’s diverse portfolio of superstars, and how iconic women’s wrestling has been over time. While the select list of matches may be limited, they are also interesting because the game sets you objectives in terms of how to hurt your opponent -- based on what had happened in the real matches. There is room for improvement, of course, but for now, it is one that would urge you to sit through the set gameplay hours.The new, simplified control mapping in WWE 2K20. (Image: News18.com)
What I also like is the progressively layered gameplay, which feels more intuitive. The controls are more straightforward, and you do not require combination button mashes in order to simply break out of a stranglehold. The game also seems to respond better to the health bar -- for instance, if you have managed to hit your opponent with a significant range of moves, he/she will be more susceptible to your subsequent moves. Even if they counter a move, you will find it easier to regain control over the opponents. This is testament to the improvement in controls in the game.
Speaking on the topic of improving controls, Mark Little, executive producer for WWE 2K20 and of Visual Concepts, told News18, “The idea is that we keep listening to the community, and factor in improvements depending on feedback. So, if many users are disliking a particular button combination, we’ve worked on it here in order to improve the playability of such a feature.” The effect is evident -- it is now far easier to hit an Irish Whip, or throw your rival over the top rope in a Royal Rumble match.A still from the preview build of WWE 2K20. (Image: News18.com)
What I also liked is exactly how much there is to explore in the game. Right from the ‘Play’ tab, you can directly access a wide range of WWE special matches, or simply go for a one-on-one and customise the conditions. You can equip your favourite wrestlers with select weapons that they’ll draw out from under the ring, all of which feel intuitive and smooth now. One of the randomised matches led me to a lava-stricken arena, and while I, Shawn Michaels, could not throw my rival, Goldberg, into the boiling hell for good, it still felt quite quirky and amusing.
Despite all this, WWE 2K20 feels a bit hastily put together. The menu design, while sufficient, lacks finesse. In fact, in a game that has tried to take the ‘go overboard’ aspect as its theme for the year, the interface is way too bland. Then, there are the graphics, which are nowhere close to the realism we see in sports games of today. In the first Royal Rumble match that I played, the announcer’s pre-match mic simulation neither matched any of the WWE announcers’ faces, and nor did the words match the lips. For a game billed so high, this feels like an amateur glitch.
The general graphics did not feel like an improvement, at least in the preview. For instance, John Cena’s hairdo looks like a family-friendly customer service agent, and the overall effect is hilarious. Apart from a select few superstars (Triple H, Undertaker and The Rock), most others look like they come from the older console era. This does take away a fair bit from the overall impact of the game’s improvements, and even the cut-scenes, which are otherwise designed rather thoughtfully, look funny at times.A still from the preview build of WWE 2K20. (Image: News18.com)
The gameplay and controls are where WWE 2K20 feel like work in progress the most. Despite improvements, pesky bits like rotating circles in submission moves and the position timer in pin fall breaks still remain. Until Visual Concepts comes up with a better way to execute these, the unintuitive control scheme will prevent WWE games from going completely mainstream. The gameplay still has moments when the characters walk, look and feel like stoic puppets, and take quite a bit away from the realism aspect.
It is, however, important to note that the version I played was a pre-launch beta build. As a result, while the broader aspects will remain similar, elements such as glitches in the gameplay, graphic refinements and incomplete game modes will hopefully be improved by launch, and the weeks that follow
What we feel
Despite some inconsistencies, 2K20 still feels like a good game if you’ve ever followed WWE. You can see the work and vision that Visual Concepts has brought, and given that they’ve only had about a year to work on it since taking over from Yuke, it is understandable as to why the game feels like work in progress. Features like the Create a Championship mode and Bump in the Night DLC were missing from our preview, and WWE Online was unavailable, too. But, the developers promise fixes for these will be ready in the coming weeks, albeit post launch.
To sum up, WWE 2K20 is a great game for WWE fans, and a good game for the rest. It’s not the most graphically realistic, for which we’ll likely have to wait until 2K21. It is a new beginning for the franchise in the video game space, one that feels like a step forward in the right direction.