I’ve been a lifelong fan of both videogames and wrestling. Every year for as long as I can remember I’ve played some form of WWE title, from the days of Wrestlemania on Mega Drive, through the advent of the Smackdown series on PS1 that in turn lead to the current 2K titles as we know them. I was extra pumped for this years effort, what with all the moves and shakeups in the real world (and of course, the best character in years, The Fiend). It’s with some disappointment then that I have to report that WWE 2K20 is far from a worthy addition to the series.
I’m sure that, by now, you’ll have seen the gifs, clips and reactions elsewhere online. As much as I try to avoid other impressions before writing my reviews, this one was everywhere I so much as glanced at. While there’s some merit to the the complaints – no doubt – for what it’s worth, during my time playing I never encountered anything as egregious as the more extreme examples out there.
Sure, the ropes would occasionally flail wildly about after impact, or moves wouldn’t quite sync up, making it look like or WWE Superstars had the power of levitation. But for the most part, things were OK. Not great, but OK.
The bigger issue for me is the seemingly half-assed way the whole thing has been thrown together. The front end UI is basic, with some of the options not even available yet, such as WWE 2K Originals. These aren’t greyed out or made to look different, just prompting a splash screen when clicked on with a vague “Look out for future updates” message. Far more often that it should, the menu even failed to load in entirely for me, necessitating a full reboot of the game. Even then, I was usually met with a message informing me I wasn’t connected to Xbox Live so am unable to use online features – despite being connected with no issue according to my console.
Once in though, there is a decent selection of match types to go for. From standard one v one matches to Extreme Rules, HiaC, Last Man Standing and the classic Royal Rumble mode, pretty much every modern stipulation is here. The rules of these can be adjusted to your liking, and setting these up is simple enough – even if the menus are a tad laggy. Unfortunately, that’s about where things start to go downhill.
As mentioned above, I’ve played a lot of titles over the years. Without fail, the first thing to do when playing a new WWE game is to go through the roster and see how they a) look and b) how accurate the entrances are. There’s been some comically bad examples, especially in the early years, but somehow 2K20 manages to take several steps back when compared to even last years entry. Again, the gifs and pictures online are there for you to see. To be fair, the profile pics look much worse than in game where the majority of models are at least recognisable. Things aren’t helped by the identikit poses of the superstars that lack character completely, all looking off to the left in the exact same way. This leads to them all looking like poor waxworks of each star rather than the superhuman athletes that they should be portrayed as. It also highlights the re-use of assets across superstars that cross generations; Undertaker has 3 versions, flicking between which simply sees his attire change around his cold, dead stare that apparently hasn’t changed since ’91.
Again though, things improve in game – just. Setting up a match with several of the more extravagant entrances, these are well put together, with accurate lighting and motions of the superstars. The titan-tron plays the video package, the music is spot on and even the commentary is passable – and thankfully kept to a minimum. But character models and physics are again a step down from before. Clothes and hair are stiff, facial expressions are blank and there’s an air of wanting to speed by things, with even ‘Takers overly lengthy entrance passing by quickly. I also had several odd occurrences here, with those already ringside randomly walking about during others entrance – at one point Brock Lesnar stood face to face with Bray Wyatt as he was entering the ring, before about turning and shuffling away like a lost little school boy.
Into the gameplay proper then, and things are no better. Visual Concepts have streamlined the controls to an extent – which, quite frankly, should’ve happened a long time ago – and made things easier to get in to. A is now your all encompassing grab move button, with several modifiers available depending on how long you hold it as well as other directional inputs. Elsewhere, attack, run, interact etc all have dedicated inputs and getting to grips with the best use of each, while still challenging, allows for more authentic looking and flowing matches. But yet again, problems soon rear their head. As has been the case for a while, there’s an element of physics to the way superstars move and fight that is punctuated by pre-canned animations. These rarely line up with each other though, with a suplex near the ropes seeing both participants sliding across the ring to make room, while the ropes will fling about like cloth in the wind at the lightest of touches. Punches lack any heft, while attempting to hit someone bouncing off the ropes is needlessly hard. If you aren’t facing the correct way, your superstar will just flail wildly in the air – much unintentional comedy is to be had when both stars are doing this at the same time.
The stamina system is overly harsh too – our elite athletes getting winded after mere seconds and spending far too much time on the mat. Paybacks allow you to mitigate this a bit, allowing bursts of energy that see you springing up for a comeback, or giving buffs to health and strength, but chances are you’ll have been surprised roll up’d by the time this meter fills. Attacks from the air are – literally – hit or miss, using weapons has the same issue as trying to land a punch and the plethora of mini-games for submissions or pins don’t fit into the flow of a match. 2K20 feels stuck in a rut between full on sim and arcade style fighter.
I’ve always enjoyed the attention that is paid to each years theme though, with Showcases on the cover stars careers, or a particular movement that has happened over the last year. This time out, we focus on the Women’s Revolution – specifically the Four Horsewomen in cover star Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Here, well produced video packages present the history of a particular match, with interviews with the stars describing the lead up, before being plonked in to play the match. Along the way, you need to fulfil objectives that follow the actions of the real match – successfully doing so presenting you with a cutscene following the events of the match (that highlights just how stiff the gameplay is, as these are much more representative of what we’d see on TV each week). Pulling these of can be a bit hit or miss though. It took me far too long to discover that in the pause menu is where the game explains how to pull of specific moves to fulfil objectives. Even then, the AI opponent isn’t just gonna let you storm through them, reversing and interrupting your attempts. Things soon went from challenging to frustrating though, as spending 20 minutes trying to clear each objective only to be rolled up for a 3 count out of nowhere means starting over from scratch. It’s a shame that something that should be celebrated as a huge shift for the world of sports entertainment is reduced to a slog of buggy, tedious matches that undermine the ladies achievements in the ring.
There are also many towers to play, with co-cover star Roman Reigns featuring heavily. These are several matches in a row, again featuring some short video packages setting them up. These fare better than the Showcase’s as they feature straight forward matches with no step by step challenges to follow, but the same core gameplay issues present themselves here.
Rounding out the core modes, we have the MyPlayer and Universe options, Universe allows all the armchair bookers out there to create their own WWE; setting shows up, creating rivalries and teams and turning stars heel and face to their own whim. Matches can be simulated or played and I can see more dedicated fans getting a real kick out of this, booking angles and line-ups. MyPlayer is the custom career mode, where we create our own Superstars to rise through the ranks. This year, you’ll need to create both male and female stars, as we will swap out between them along the way. The story tells of our characters rise to their Hall of Fame induction, them reminiscing highlights in their career with various WWE legends along the way. For the most part, these segments are well written and fun, though the cheese is strong. But again, the animation and visuals let the side down, with stiff movement and iffy collision detection lending a distinctly last gen look to the game.
Our superstars start off with just a basic move set and attire, and unlocking extras is both fiddly and expensive. Skills are tied to a hexagonal grid (that you slowly crawl across with a cursor), each unlock revealing the nearby ability. It takes a long time for you to get up to halfway decent stats, with you not really knowing what direction to take on the grid to unlock perks to suit your play-style. Attire is locked behind our old friend – virtual currency. The Deluxe Edition provided to us by 2K comes with a helping of this, but even then items are so expensive that this barely covers one outfit. Loot packs can also be bought with in game currency too, which are required to unlock moves, clothes and the like. Thankfully this just appears to effect the MyPlayer mode, with custom stars able to be created outside of this mode as usual.
The thing is, the WWE fan in me can still see and feel the love for the source material. I still pop when my star manages to stage a comeback, or Kane’s music hits for his entrance. The commentary does a decent job of selling the action in ring, and when things come together it can be awesome. But those moments are fleeting, as every stellar sequence comes crashing down in a technical mess as objects float off, wrestlers get stuck in the ring mat or a sudden finish where the mechanics seemingly work against you successfully kicking out.
There’s no doubt that Visual Concepts have an affinity for the world of sports entertainment. The huge roster, plethora of modes and atmosphere they’ve created here is admirable. Unfortunately, the technical side brings the whole thing crashing down, with glitchy, broken mechanics and some bizarrely woeful representations of the stars that are an obvious step down from previous entries. Even die hard WWE fans (such as myself) will struggle to maintain much interest here, which is a huge shame.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Review code provided to us by 2K.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.