Transitioning to new console hardware is hard. In most cases, development teams, especially those of yearly releases, have to decide between offering a sizeable upgrade in graphical fidelity at the expense of gameplay and featuresets (hello, NBA 2K14), while others are willing to punt graphical upgrades in the hopes of continuing strong momentum on the gameplay and features side (Madden NFL 25). Unfortunately, even though it’s releasing a year after the transition to new hardware, WWE 2K15 tries to play the middle, offering the most mixed of mixed bags.
It’s obvious that roster and arena choices were sacrificed in order to offer new and improved character and arena models in WWE 2K15, and, depending on the situation, the game looks quite striking. Triple H’s entrance, for example, looks like CG, and the crowd interaction in Daniel Bryan’s entrance is exciting and wondrous to look at.
However, there’s a strange dissonance that occurs whenever one of the better (ie face-scanned) models faces against one of the lesser-detailed models. The Triple H-Shawn Michaels 2K Showcase, for example, is a bizarre hodgepodge of graphical inconsistency. They smartly reuse Triple H’s character model from the main game for the mode, but his circa-2002 long hair looks like a wig on his character model, oddly stuck to the side of his head and only moving in strange, unnatural ways. Michaels doesn’t fare much better, as his model isn’t face-scanned and basically looks nothing like him. Long hair is particularly problematic for the game, as wrestlers like Roman Reigns look like they have gloopy black ink attached to their heads as opposed to actual hair. Considering the game’s occasional hitches in framerate (especially on Xbox One), I suppose it was necessary, but it’s still a disappointment for those expecting a major step forward graphically.
It would seem then that Yukes and Visual Concepts focused on gameplay in terms of the in-ring experience, and, for the most part, the results are quite good. The new collar-and-elbow tie-up system flows nicely, though I would prefer that it only happens once or twice instead of 3 times, and the UI really gets in the way of the animations, but it is an otherwise-welcome addition to the series. Matches have a slower buildup, giving big or important matches a better sense of drama. The momentum and stamina mechanics work together in an interesting way but don’t quite fit together as well as they should. Moves build up more momentum (getting you to a finishing move) while quickly draining stamina, while a measured pace (and lots of taunts), keeps you well-rested, but also opens you up to more reversals of minor moves.
Reversals are still the key to WWE 2K15, and they are one of many “gamey” mechanics that pull you out of the match and remind you that you are playing a game instead of watching a match on TV. The reversal windows on default settings are way too large, and it seems like once a person learns the proper timing on reversals, it’s possible to trigger one every time, which throws the balance out of whack. I’m honestly not sure how to fix this, as wrestling itself relies on reversals to shift the momentum of the match, but the reliability of the system actually works against the game, rather than for it. The fact that you can’t reverse a reversal hurts as well, and actually serves to suppress aggression as both players wait for an opportunity to counter and take control of a match.
The submission and pin mechanics are also accompanied by garish UI elements that feel out of place in such a naturalistic game, and I got the sense that the development team should think about reversing these two. Submissions are handled with rapid button presses and pins a timing-based hold-and-release system, but the timing on escaping a pin can be inconsistent, and the time that it takes to orient yourself to the meter (especially if you haven’t been pinned in a while) can cost you a match in a way that feels unfair.
The submission system is similarly inscrutable, as a circular meter pops up on the screen whenever a submission is started, but the game doesn’t make it apparent that both parties in the submission should be rapidly pressing X/A in order to lock in/escape the hold, so the first couple of times you submit someone end rapidly without much feedback. Once you understand submissions, however, they feel imbalanced compared to the rest of the game, as a wrestler will be unable to hold off a basic submission after only a few minutes if that specific body-part is targeted consistently. I fashioned my most recent MyCareer wrestler as a submissions expert, and my matches end much faster than an older version of the wrestler that had more of a traditional moveset.
There are other little weird minigames that pop up so infrequently as to be jarring and strange each time. The “comeback moment” QTE happens so suddenly and without explanation that new players of the series have no idea what’s going on, and the assorted minigames for ladder and cage matches are similarly awkward.
Despite all of these small issues, the matches WWE 2K15 presents flow properly and feel pretty good, for the post part. I wonder how long-term online play will fare with the reversal windows and latency issues, but the results can be similar to what airs every week on TV.