Review: WWE 2K15

WWE 2K15 is a game that wasn't so much ported to PC as it was lobbed in the general vicinity of PC code with the hope it'd work itself out maybe.  A half-finished series of features (if they can be called that) which subtracts huge portions of the customisation the series is known for only to add the shittest netcode and an absolutely unforgivably bad control set, among many other bugs ("features" no doubt), WWE 2K15 is a game I could recommend to absolutely no one, even my most loathed enemy.  Avoid, if at all possible.
Review: WWE 2K15
Date published: Jun 25, 2015
2 / 3 stars

WWE 2K15 is a fighting game developed by Yukes Co, Ltd and published by 2K Games.  You know, when I first wrote that paragraph, I originally wrote "designed by" - but no, I refuse to give it that much credit.  Spacebase DF9 may have bored me to sleep, and Ride To Hell: Retribution may have been so bad I had many a laugh at its expense, but WWE 2K15 claims the dubious honour of being the first game in a decade to get me genuinely angry at it, and that is a hell of an award to claim.  There's a seed of potential somewhere within 2K15, but that is only the proverbial force multiplier of sorts: were it simply 100% irredeemable it could much more easily be discarded and ridiculed.  Yet, no - underneath the admittedly good presentation, is a good gameplay design utterly betrayed by the technical incompetence on display.  I can't say if this is a porting issue, as I haven't played the console version, but what I will say is this: 2K Games owes me a damn DS3 controller.

The controls are the chief damning indictment of WWE 2K15

Don’t take a controller you’re particularly fond of into WWE 2K15 - As you might imagine from the reliance on button-mashing over more skillful controls, WWE 2K15 is very hard on controllers.  No joke, I actually broke the right stick trying to do the chain-grapple stick-waggling QTEs, and I can’t imagine the submissions’ “mash A till it falls off” is much better either.

I've said it before and I'll certainly say it here: the one thing that a fighting game of any variety has to do well is the controls, and this is where WWE 2k15 has dropped the ball in a very, very big way.  While looking around it seems a fairly 50/50 split with those having control issues on PC, the game's almost entirely unplayable for those with these issues.  I suspect most of the people not having problems are those who went into career mode putting points towards the stats that increase the tolerance for those input issues, but we'll speak on the artificial difficult of that a bit later.  The fact of the matter is the game seems very deliberately set up to delay inputs for various attacks.  In theory this sounds like a good idea, since some wrestlers would be quicker than others, but in reality and implementation, only those within the top 10 points of a given speed statistic (for example reversals) are going to feel effective at it, otherwise the speed is so slow that originally, I mistook it for controller input lag and got quite frustrated with the game, though that's certainly not to say that the game wasn't frustrating even after I came to grips with it.

To continue using reversals as my point of focus, the problem I have here (and with related matters) is even if you have strong stats in the category, the input window for them is still very minimal - I think I got reversals about a quarter of the time even with a maxed out stat, and that's being very generous to the game, it was likely significantly lower a number.  This wouldn't be such a bad thing if this wasn't the crux of the counter system - you either reverse the attack or you eat it.  You literally cannot move at all to try to simply block an attack, or try dodge it - it's reversals or bust.  Adding to the frustration factor is that many of the attacks are rather lengthy in execution (some even being up to 30-45s in length) and so control is basically taken away from you for a significant period of time during a fight, in which all you can do is wait for a prompt to come up and hope to god you get it just right: even at max-stat the window is perhaps only 10-15ms long at best, I'd say.  You can kind of get around that by learning the telegraphs in the actual animations, but that implies the animations are consistent and well-done, which they aren't - more on that later.

Part of the problem here with controls is the feedback for them is done very poorly.  Prompts for the controls are brief and don't telegraph well when the proper time to use the control is, or in some cases what exactly you need to do, and often-times the prompts are so quick to come and go that you can very easily miss them (because of the ridiculously small windows one imagines).  One thing particularly overused here is the controller vibration.  In general using it to relate damage would make sense since it's a physical feedback method, but there's many times it'll rumble for no real good reason - doing some taunts for example.  Sure, you might land on the mat hard, but it's lost the gameplay reason for doing so in the razzle-dazzle of the gameplay presentation.

Gameplay in WWE 2K15 relies far too heavily on QTEs

No doubt you've already started to get the impression that WWE 2K15 has a thing for quick-time events, but you have only scratched the surface of that particular obsession.  Everything this game has to offer on top of the typical combinations of fighting games, is literally a QTE, and they are very poorly implemented.  Moreover, however, it feels like the laziest possible game design choices for the given situations and ideas that the design of the game has, and that's the real infuriating and simultaneously tragic thing - and indeed, "good ideas married with terrible execution" is the byline of a lot of WWE 2k15.

Take, for example the chain grappling system.  In theory, the idea of making the grappling system a mechanical back and forth between wrestlers is a good idea, and there's a number of ways in which it could be implemented to have some skill associated, such as move combinations or having to look for careful openings to strike.  Instead, however, we get a very lazy QTE system - a rock-paper-scissors selection of three grappling positions, and then you waggle your right stick until you find a "sweet spot" and whoever fills up the gauge wins.  This reduces the system not to any particular level of skill of the player, but rather mostly random chance, and that misses the point of fighting games entirely, I'd argue.  The skill ceiling with such mechanics is comparatively quite low, and does not rely on careful observation or mastery of technique, but instead, upon a player having random chance on their side and a moderate amount of reflexes to capitalise on it.

This is consistent throughout the gameplay mechanics - everything is a QTE of some variation.  The much-maligned reversals are very brief QTEs on the right trigger, the technical submissions are just mashing the A button until it falls off and probably still failing them anyway, ring-bouncing avoidance is just mashing one of a randomly-chosen four main buttons, and the list goes on and on.  This truly does seem like the laziest implementation of their ideas, and the "safest" - rather than taking the time to flesh out each mechanic individually towards the given aim, they've just spackled over all the gaps left by their ruthless removal of most of the fun aspects with quick time events and fancy graphics shaders.

The game is full of this element of chance in the QTEs as well, and it takes the winds out of any sense of skill ceiling or indeed skilful fighting in the game.  Just about every time one might feel they're starting to get ahead because they're being clever with the fighting, the random number generator will deign to curb-stomp you a few times.  And then a few more for good measure.  Compounding on that feeling is the way it robs you of agency, and that compounds on both the lack of feeling it takes skill, and on the frustration of the game.  You can't artfully dodge out of the way or execute some good blocks, so especially in those mentioned long moves, you're left basically watching what is supposed to be an interactive experience.  Having to sit out your opponent's move in a fight game is just so against the usually creedo here, not to mention the ostensible purpose of interactive entertainment, that it cannot help but up the blood pressure a few notches.

Superstar customisation is fairly neat,
if a bit restrictive, but most other customisation has been cut

Diva customisation and others were in 2K14, but 
“didn’t make the cut” for 2k15 - And that’s really the egregious thing here to me - this content was in there - and they decided the best idea was to remove it, thereby greatly reducing the amount of custom content you could create in WWE 2k15:  Divas, custom arenas, and creating your own belts for your own championships are all out.

One of the features that has been a series mainstay has been the various customisation forms to create your own wrestling superstars and divas.  This was the first sign something was amiss in this game: not just one but several of the customisation options that the series has had: Diva, arena, championship, and story customisation all got binned, and I had to quietly wonder to myself where gaming's moral guardian faux feminists were when they cut female wrestler customisation from the game.  It's a slap in the face that the customisation screen even includes a diva in the various images.  Quite honestly, given that image is included in press assets and the images used to sell the game, I would call it downright false advertising.  This is literally the majority of customisation in the game has been cut from it.  It would be like if the next Elder Scrolls game shipped and you could only mod it to add in weapons and nothing else.

Irrespective of that, the superstar customisation that's in the game is fairly solid, though I'm not sure I give the developers marks for it since again compared to the previous iterations in the genre its rather sparse.  The usual series of sliders are here, but they are only ever modifying the same general facial and body structure underneath, creating something entirely different a la Saints Row or Mass Effect is pretty much out.  The costume options are pretty complete though, and there's a fair variety of them to be found to be fair.  Logo and lettering placement is pretty free-form and makes embellishing the costumes fairly easy.

Entrance customisation is there as well, but pretty lacking: there's only a few pyrotechnics to choose form for example, its only given the appearance of many because instead of simply having an additional colour option they've copy/pasted the same design rather lazily to a few basic colours.  The videos available for play are all the existing wrestlers', making "white labelling" stuff for a custom wrestler difficult, with only a couple options available that do not name the existing wrestler and ruining that immersion.  Music selection is pretty dire, again almost entirely existing wrestlers' entrance music.  Of course, it wouldn't be so much of an issue if you could import your own videos (or perhaps replays) and music, but there is no option in the game to do so.  The community has figured out ways to do so, but they involve breaking into the game files and overriding existing game content, which I would hardly consider a viable or appropriate option.

Normally in a wrestling game there'd be a lot more customisation to talk about in this space and it would be much longer, but this game has nothing really beyond the two things here to talk of.  Previous games allowed you to create your own championship belts essentially using a series of blank belt models and some decals, which would not have been difficult to reprogram for this year's iteration, but that's out.  You can import logos, but this is the kind of thing that wasn't even new when sports games started doing it around the turn of 2000.  Custom diva creation is entirely out, as well, as is creating your own stories for the woefully-thin career mode.  It would have certainly helped the woefully bland and almost non-existent storyline we were given in the career mode.

Career mode is stymied by
a paper-thin story and very artificial difficulty

Campaign mode is the focus of the single-player experience in the WWE franchise games, and WWE 2K15 is no exception. You create your own superstar using the creation tools detailed above and then have at it, starting at NXT try-outs, working your way up to the NXT belt, defending it, and moving on through the different WWE brands, Superstars and beyond.

If that description sounds a little dull, that's because much like the rest of the game, the WWE 2K15 career mode is very sparse.  There isn't much going on here except a bland and very mechanical, uninspired progression through the various championships.  What little talk you get from the various stars seems like forgettable flavour text, there's not even voice-overs for the most part.  It seems impersonal and unengaged, and as a result the career mode feels bland and lifeless as a result.  There's only a few meaningful choices to be made across the career mode, and they have very little actual affect on your career - the couple I came across merely affected your consideration as a face or heel wrestler, which only really changed the efficacy of certain skills and tactics.  It made for a very boring career mode that is not really all that engaging or compelling

All of that might make it dull and boring, but what got me truly angry at the career mode is the absolutely transparent artificial difficulty at play here.  This is a game that makes it's contempt for the player quite clear, or perhaps more on point it's lack of confidence in it's own AI coding, and frankly to a certain degree, I can understand why they wouldn't have confidence in that AI.  The AI for opponents in the game was raised on a diet of lead paint chips and beatings about the head, because it's pretty much retarded; I won my first NXT title match when I reversed a dive attack out of the ring and that apparently confused the AI to the point it literally just stood frozen outside the ring until it got counted out, a very anti-climatic way to win.  So to create challenge from what is otherwise an AI that would have embarrassed the Super Nintendo, the game has given the AI a series of advantages over the player: they pretty much reverse any attack that the player throws at them with a much higher rate than a player would be able to (75-90% success rate versus the players 20-30%), they are able to reverse situations that a player is not otherwise able to - I had them pop right up from attacks of mine that connected despite being attacking themselves, a situation that robs players of the ability to attack but not the AI, and the enemies you are put against yourself are usually one or two degrees of magnitude above the player in terms of statistics of the wrestler, which only doubles down on the awful, manufactured nature of the difficulty.

The gap in the attributes of the wrestlers also highlights the poor controls, since it doesn't seem to honour the game balancing options presented, and doubles down on the poor input since the change to the attributes is to widen the window for things like reversals, when it comes to those stats.  Just have the default stat?  You have literally a couple milliseconds of a window, so I hope your controller has literally zero input lag and that it isn't dropping any inputs, or you're going to be consistently fucked, and the fact that the AI has a much higher reversal rate than any player ever could sure does seem all the more inflated when you're basically missing every second one.  Even without any problems with the controls you're still looking at a system designed to be unforgiving, and the AI has the advantage of perfect timing in all circumstances since it's the AI - a fact that a smartly-designed fighting game will fuzz and make seem more amenable, but since we've already established that WWE 2K15 is not a smartly-designed fighting game, there certainly is no attempt to do so here at all, and the functional effect here means you can be effectively curb-stomping the AI for several minutes only for them to utilise that nigh-on-perfect timing to put you away very easily since the window for reversal is as has been said several times now so slim and you have no option to do anything but a reversal.

Oh, and a more minor note - custom Divas are out, so if you, like I, hoped that a wrestling game might have let you play some sort of a Diva career finally, well, shit into one hand and hope into the other my friend, and see which fills up first.  You're stuck playing a male superstar.  Honestly this isn't the huge problem the raging faux-feminist social justice warriors might make it into, but in a game series that has sold itself on how customisable things are, there is a pretty glaring omission there.

The game is at least fairly well-presented

Arenas are recreated quite well from the TV sets - One of the lone shining moments in the WWE 2K15 game is in how well it adapts and recreates the arena sets from the shows, the look and feel of the arena, splash graphics for titles and names, and the like quite accurately remade on your monitor before you.  It only makes it all the more a shame the career mode is so hollow, leaving the experience seeming very skin-deep at best.

Probably the one thing I noticed of positive note during the career mode is that the game does a very good job of looking good with all the razzle-dazzle and polish of the different WWE franchises, NXT, Superstars, Smackdown, and such.  It definitely at least has the look and feel down, and the graphical fidelity is there as well for the most part.  It looks good - and honestly, it almost becomes an indictment of the game in and of itself as well - saying that it at least looks good and they did a really good job with the presentation is basically a tacit admission (well, explicit one now) that the game is very superficial: good looking but not very deep.

That said, however, it is a very good-looking game for the most part, good visual fidelity and clarity - indeed it's very easy to make out stuff, no muddy textures or low definition stuff going on here, though it has the opposite problem of having some rather prominent jaggies even with aggressive anti-aliasing enabled.  Texture quality is good, the shaders applied are not obnoxious at all, and in general it looks good.  The only major complaints I have here are there are minor seams on all of the wrestlers (even prefab, non-customised ones such as Cena or CM Punk) - not large ones, but it's the kind of thing that cannot be unseen, at least to my eyes - and the fact that I had some really frustrating issues trying to get the game to use a high resolution - I had to disable my second monitor to get it to run at 1080p on my system, and I couldn't get it to work at all at the 2560x1440 that is that monitor's native resolution.  I can only assume that it's a porting issue, since one presumes it would work on common television resolutions, but I haven't played the console version, so I couldn't say.

Where the presentation falls apart in a big way is the laughable way the animations cock up constantly.  Decoupling is common enough to annoy, the animations are often not connecting properly, and I had one animation literally have my guy ass-backwards - his lower half literally contorted in such a way that his ass was on backwards.  This was probably the one spot of genuine entertainment in the game, so thanks for the cheap laughs Yuke, I needed them.

There's a variety of fidelity options in terms of graphics, your usual expected ones that are supported are all present, as well as a variety of sound and game options though, so beyond the strange issue of the monitor/resolution support, it's pretty solid in that respect, to be fair to the game.

Showcase and Universe modes seem like an afterthought

If you're noticing a recurring theme in my commentary that the game seems lazy and uninspired dear reader, well, you're not alone, the me of the future editing this will no doubt be editing out a lot of me saying just that, but nowhere is that better exemplified in the game in the Showcase and Universe modes.  Ostensibly these modes are to present a series of historical or otherwise interesting match-ups from the roster of WWE superstars and divas that come with WWE 2K15, but perhaps I'm simply estranged from the current wrestling scene or are allergic to obtaining fun from WWE 2K15, but either way, I found both modes entirely underwhelming.  While there's a depth of match-ups presented here, they're given mostly out of any context and as such lack impact.  There's little difference between a match in the Showcase or Universe mode and simply arranging the same match in the same arena in the exhibition mode, so these modes essentially become a convenience for those feeling lazy about setting up quick matches, I suppose.  There's value to those modes in such a context, but they could be much more than what is presented; ultimately, they're left to the same half-finished and empty state as the rest of the game.

Multi-player match-making is so
poorly-implemented as to render the game unfit for purpose

Oh boy ladies and gents, strap yourself in, because I have saved the worst of this game for last.  First, some back-story: a friend had gifted me this game as stated in the editor's note, and gotten it for themselves too, on the Steam Summer Sale recently, with the intention of us playing some matches together and having some fun playing some wrassling games together in multi-player.  Oh how naive we were to assume that this game would work, because when it comes to multi-player, it just doesn't.  Not really one bit at all.  It is, simply put, unfit for purpose.

There's so many problems with the multi-player mode I'm not sure where to start, so let's simply start with the first problem I encountered and have some chronological order here - the first match we tried, we got into things fairly easily the first time, but almost immediately we ran into major issues, when we connected the voice chat almost immediately dropped out and we were met with a game with so much lag I'm pretty certain I've seen Microsoft PowerPoint presentations with higher frame rates.  This did somewhat improve towards the end, but it's an improvement from "completely unplayable" to "almost entirely unplayable", neither state of which is even flirting with the notion of being acceptable.

It hardly ends there, though - we decided to give a try at me being the host for the game since I have the much better internet of the two of us, and it's then we ran into the second hurdle - the friends list is so hilariously badly coded that I couldn't add him.  Literally.  It populates the invite list from your friends list, so far so standard, sure, but if you, as I do, have a friends list longer than a single page of about 12 people, then if your friend isn't on the first page I hope you enjoy eating shit, Charlie, because it repeats the same page for however many pages you have.  Which is to say, it gives you the correct number of friends and pages thereof, but the list of people on page 1, 2, etc, are the same.  That is just unacceptably bad.  I refuse to believe that QA missed that, the publishers or developers simply decided they didn't give a shit, either about the port, or the game in general, and pushed it out regardless.

Of course, as you might expect that's hardly the end of that tale: we tried games with him hosting again, and were never able to get back into the match.  Indeed, three hours we tried this, in total, and man, I wish we hadn't tried to troubleshoot, because we did the responsible thing and tried to determine what was wrong with the game, Steam refused the refunds on both title with the game playtimes given as a reason.  Hey, Steam: if you're going to dissuade people from doing proper technical troubleshooting on games before returning them, you only encourage shooting-from-the-hip, spurious refunds on little to no actual basis.  So kindly fuck off.

Woes didn't end there though: attempting to do due diligence on the multi-player, the past evening I tried public match-making (both in the background as I did other things in the game, and actively) for a good five hours - I wasn't able to get into a single match that didn't drop or tell me the session was no longer available, so the number of matches I managed to get into is a whopping one (1) match, despite a good many hours over several days trying.

Unacceptable.  Simply and utterly unacceptable.  As a multi-player title, WWE 2K15 is so poorly-designed and technically-incompetent it is completely unfit for purpose.

The Final Word: Not Recommended - WWE 2K15 could have been a contender.  It came to the ring with some good ideas for the design, but it counterbalances each one with a bad way to implement it in game.  Combined with a removal of most of the customisation aspects from previous WWE franchise games, almost entirely unusable multiplayer mode, and poor controls, WWE 2K15 fails in almost every way, and is easily the worst game I’ve played recently.  Avoid this game, it’s as dead as Hogan’s career.