WWE 2K22 Review – So Many Ways to Play, So Little Fun

    Title: WWE 2K22
    Developer: Visual Concepts
    Release Date: March 11, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: 2K
    Genre: Wrestling

Pro wrestling video games have been around for a long time, with the first known game being released the very same year when Hulk Hogan body slammed André the Giant in front of 90,000 fans at Wrestlemania III (1987). So are they fighting games? Are they sports games? Honestly, they are probably neither. A wrestling video game is like having a whole bunch of action figures of all your favorite wrestlers in digital form, and you can do whatever you want without breaking them. Well, I mean, you can still glitch and occasionally break the game.

Alright, so speaking of glitches and game crashes, let’s address the most critical question about WWE 2K22: is it a broken, mangled mess like the game we saw two years ago? Well, the short answer is no, which means you can pick this one up and expect a complete and functioning product as a bare minimum.

The long answer is a little more complicated, as longstanding collision detection issues, limbs spazzing out, clipping, and other naggings still rear their ugly head now and then. This is no doubt going to be a heavily patched game, but at the very least, this is an experience that feels like it went out the door in a presentable and functioning state. It’s far from being completely polished, but such is the recent checkered history of WWE video games. In a way, it’s almost become like the Sonic of the annual sports genre.

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Speaking of glitches and bugs, the game doesn’t look great. Don’t expect a significant leap in graphical presentation if you’re planning to play this on PS5 or Series X. Sure, some character models look better than others, but overall, the visual presentation feels unpolished and inconsistent. The texture mapping feels especially dated, so those expecting a major overhaul will be disappointed. However, what does shine is the sound design as, for the first time, the color commentary is shockingly on point, and the roaring crowd noise creates a cool ambiance.

Here you have a comprehensive roster of wrestling stars from various eras, everyone from Hulk Hogan to John Cena and The Rock, and recent main event superstars like Roman Reigns. What’s interesting is how so many of the talent featured here have long since been fired from the WWE and have already been working for rival wrestling promotions for half a year now. Not sure how the royalties work, but I guess they’re all here in their 2K glory for perhaps the final time. Still, depending on which edition of the game you pick up, you’re looking at 168 playable wrestlers.

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For quite some time, the core wrestling gameplay of the franchise has been criticized for feeling too clunky and outdated, and WWE 2K22 certainly changes things in many ways. It won’t necessarily feel like a complete reboot of the grappling system, but the changes made are enough to help it feel a little more enjoyable and closer to the drama and pacing of the TV product.

The playing field has a cinematic presentation to almost match a broadcast, and while the grappling fundamentals are familiar, a few welcome changes have been made to reversals and counters. Most notable is a combo system, where strikes and grapples can be chained together more smoothly and each wrestler has their own combo style. The base wrestling action does feel fun to play, but what hasn’t changed is the number of meters, gauges, and mini-games to keep an eye on. With so many little gimmicks and ideas, it can all feel quite disjointed for the most part. And so, while the gameplay may seem like it is going for depth, the actual execution ends up feeling shallow.

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If 168 wrestlers weren’t enough, then WWE 2K22 is equally generous in the various ways you can get in on the grappling action. There’s an enormous list of match types and rules here, some involving as many as eight competitors simultaneously. There are steel cages, ladders, chambers, battle royals, and most, if not all, major match variations seen on WWE programming. What’s more, players can make up their own matches and rules too.

So given all the choices available, are they all fun? Well, some just aren’t as enjoyable as others. For one thing, the Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber matches feel cumbersome and unfinished, but at least steel cage encounters have all the necessary shenanigans. For the most part, even with the spotty collision detection, weapons are pretty fun to use as you smash kendo sticks over your opponent’s head or send them crashing through a table.

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Going beyond match types, there are several game modes too, and this time, players are almost spoiled for choice. Among them is the return of the much-requested general manager mode. Is it as engaging and comprehensive as what fans fondly remember from the PS2 classic? Well, not really. It may present a lot of bells and whistles, but the execution just doesn’t have meaningful substance, even as you go through the process of recruiting wrestlers and putting on a show. It’s still a fun distraction, especially when Triple H just won’t stop texting you.

There’s more, as you’ve got the sandbox universe mode where you can basically do your own fantasy booking and scenarios. There’s the story mode, which kind of feels like a direct-to-video wrestling movie where players take their custom wrestler through the ranks of WWE as they talk trash, battle on social media, and, I suppose, wrestle in the ring too.

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Of interest is the showcase mode for WWE 2K22 cover star Rey Mysterio. Players get to relive some of the most iconic matches of the luchador legend. The cinematic presentation here is one for the fans, as each match is carefully recreated with specific objectives, and there’s even running commentary from the masked legend himself along with historical footage. Some of the objectives can be a little frustrating, and it’s weird how much blurring and censoring they had to do for the archive footage.

Still not enough modes for you? Well, they seem to keep coming as this year’s release introduces an entirely new Faction card game. You’ll need a 2K account for this one as you collect wrestler cards and boosters. It’s basically like those free-to-play mobile games, except battles play out in actual wrestling matches. This mode may just be for a specific niche, and it feels a bit tacked on to the whole package.

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It’s clear by now there are a lot of ways to play this game, and that’s before even getting into the comprehensive suite of creation tools. Those with dedication can create not just their own characters but even things like championship belts and more.

So going back to the action figures analogy earlier, this is the kind of game that’s fun to play with friends. It can be a hilarious experience on the couch, but as an online experience, this isn’t something you’d want to play too seriously. Just don’t expect rollback netcode here, and honestly, most players will likely play aggressively to win via cheap exploits and tactics. This isn’t a competitive experience by any stretch of the imagination.

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WWE 2K22 gives players a ton of content right out of the box and is backed by the lavish assets from the WWE archives. If you’re a wrestling fan, chances are you’re probably going to have fun diving into the various modes and match types. Although there’s no shortage of things to do or ways to play, having too many ideas often means that most of them aren’t executed to their full potential. At the heart of it all, this is a wrestling video game experience that feels inherently cumbersome, buggy, and dated.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!