Wrestling video games have been generally underwhelming for as long as the art form has existed. While the occasional notable releases (WWF No Mercy, Saturday Night Slam Masters, WWE Smackdown versus Raw 2006) have inspired millions of fans, the pickings for virtual combat within the squared circle are usually mediocre at best. The problem came to a head a few years back when Visual Concepts released WWE 2K20. Full of bugs, uninspired gameplay, and half-baked modes, the game was relentlessly and deservedly mocked on social media.
Fast forward a couple of years and the team is back after opting to skip the release of WWE 2K21. The resulting game is a clear and obvious improvement over the nightmare that was WWE 2K20, bringing improved in-ring animations, AI, and character models. WWE 2K22 avoids being an embarrassment, but still trips and stumbles over the same issues that have plagued the series for more than a decade.
Jerkin’ the curtain
While the marketing and pre-release hype may have led some to believe that WWE 2K22 is all-new, the truth is that the game is once again built on the same engine and foundation that have been powering the WWE games dating back to the early Xbox 360 days. For WWE 2K22, players will immediately notice the upgraded WWE superstars on offer, each with more detailed models and lighting that make skin and clothing materials look more realistic than ever before.
Adjustments to gameplay are more subtle than I may have preferred to see, but certainly make the game more approachable to newcomers than what we saw in WWE 2K20. The overall pace of combat is faster this time around, with the virtual superstars seemingly responding to button inputs quicker and dishing out quick strikes and kicks accordingly. New animations will be spotted rather quickly by eagle-eyed fans and offer some much-needed variety to the in-ring action.
For what seems like the 17th year in a row, the newest WWE game is receiving a control layout overhaul. Players will enter the ring with the ability to throw light attacks, heavy attacks, or to grab their opponent for a grapple. The fourth face button on the controller has been designated for combination reversal and blocking duty. For the most part, the changes feel arbitrary for those familiar with the series and work against those who prefer to play these games as a pro wrestling purist.
The new control layout will let casual players jump in and start doing things on-screen, but the total number of outcomes will feel limiting. A new combo system has been heavily touted and lets combatants string light and heavy attack inputs for seamless combos. They look very fluid and believable while playing, though they will grow repetitive as they all have pre-determined ending maneuvers. Users can manually edit move lists to adjust said combos to make them more viable for competitive play, but they still feel too much like a gimmick beyond the first 8-10 times you see them.
AI-controlled grapplers are one of the biggest improvements that returning players will notice. In years past, the AI was on a singular mission to down and pin opposing players, resulting in matches that weren’t anything like pro wrestling on TV and lacked fun. In my short time with WWE 2K22, I’ve seen AI superstars actually attempt some big spots like top rope maneuvers, illegal weapon use, and cage interactions. While they are still worthless for competitive play, I can see many situations where the revamped computer-controlled superstars can work well enough for sim-style players.
Once you work through the positives of WWE 2K22, the negatives are still easy to spot. The playable roster in wrestling games is always a bit iffy due to the time constraints related to making big-budget video games and the nature of contracts. For this year’s game, it is really hard to look past the mess presented to players. For more than a year, the WWE has been releasing talent at a breakneck pace and by the time WWE 2K22 was ready for shelves, a giant chunk of its roster is no longer with the company or has been actively working for rivals for months. Lots of legacy superstars are available to play with, but the stable of active, current wrestlers may be as small as we’ve seen in more than a decade.
Visual Concepts talked up their focus on core game modes for WWE 2K22, but the results feel just as half-baked as any other year in the franchise. GM Mode is back by fan demand, allowing players to pick their own rosters for a wrestling show and compete against others for ratings and glory. The mode is here and it works, but ultimately feels like it has less depth than the WWE game from twenty years ago. You can choose for the GM mode to run for a few weeks or an entire year, but once that time wraps, it's like nothing happened. You can’t continue on or bring your progress into a new scenario. Booking is limited to 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 matches only and limited access to belts. Universe mode is back and allows aspiring bookers more freedom, but is mostly unchanged from previous years. GM Mode and Universe Mode should be a single entity encompassing all elements.
2K Sports also replaced the eternally awful Career modes from previous games with a new option called MyRise. It is just a reskinned career mode with nonsensical stories and objectives. Thankfully, they do offer unique stories for female wrestlers this time, which is a positive step. I could see a few folks having fun here, but again, it feels like another time waster that ate up valuable dev resources that could have gone somewhere else. I feel similarly about the Showcase mode. It is focused on Rey Mysterio this time and is just as boring as it always was. There is no commentary for these matches and once you’ve seen it, there’s no reason to ever look back.
Because this is a 2K Sports game, we have the new MyFaction mode this year. Imagine Ultimate Team-style card game shenanigans adapted for professional wrestling and you have MyFaction. Players start with basic card packs and try to assemble a faction to battle other computer-controlled factions. You can earn VC points to buy more packs or simply whip out that credit card to buy everything in hopes of landing high-powered cards. I always hate these modes, so I usually try to ignore them, but WWE 2K22 manages to bungle this even for fans that genuinely like these exploitative card collecting games. All of the money and time spent building your faction is mostly for naught as you cannot compete against other players online or in local co-op with your faction. Faction use is limited only to single-player modes. For more evidence of similar short-sightedness, 2K offers players DLC called the Supercharger where you can pay to unlock everything. After using the Supercharger, you’ll find that it frustratingly doesn’t unlock everything or everyone.
Graphically, WWE 2K22 improves on the dreadful WWE 2K20 but still looks like a last-generation affair. Despite a wonderful new skin shader and sweat-tech, the rest of the game still looks like it came from 2011. Arena interiors, fan sections, and more feel like holdovers. Create-a-superstar now supports fat people for the first time (Yay!), but now you cannot edit body parts, requiring you to choose from some templates. One step forward, two steps backward. Most of the parts for your CAWs are also the same as the old games, though there are a few new options in most categories. Custom entrances have been removed entirely (no!). Considering how long the wait was between games, the state of the creation suite in WWE 2K22 is disappointing.
The game ran fine on my PC and looked more or less identical to the PS5 or Xbox Series X versions. Despite all this hardware power, entrances are still limited to 30 fps. Certain moves in-ring also drop the frame rate down to 30Hz and the result is visually jarring. Performance indicators on my PC showed my GPU was downclocking itself while I played the game at native 4K resolution. The included benchmark (which should serve as a worst-case scenario for performance) showed I was getting over 250fps while trying the game at 8K. For a game labeled as ‘next-gen’ seeing things still tied to 30fps is extremely disappointing. Real-life WWE programming is shot and broadcast at 60Hz, so dropping it to 30Hz for the game to appear ‘more cinematic’ doesn’t even make sense.
Load times for actual matches were greatly improved from older games in the series. Even when I opted for 8-man matches with full entrances, I never saw a match load screen that ran longer than five seconds. The same could not be said for operating within the GM Mode and Creation Suite menus. Create-A-Superstar mode is an exercise in frustration with the constant wait for items to load or for the controls to respond to my input. I spend most of my time in these games within the creation suite and using it in WWE 2K22 feels like it's running on a Super Nintendo with an optical disc drive. Thankfully, there is cross-platform compatibility for user-created content this time, but if all this extra loading and nonsense is the result, maybe it's better if things were left separate.
Doing the job
WWE 2K22 is the definition of a mixed bag. There are clearly areas where the team at Visual Concepts made positive progress with the franchise, particularly in wrestler AI and animations. Many of the marquee talents look fantastic and there is a lot to do within the game. Sadly, most of the modes are half-baked and the series is still suffering from bugs or problems it has carried for far too long. With WWE 2K22 seemingly refusing to make use of the power afforded to it by the new consoles or PCs, what do the fans who buy the game every year have to look forward to? Visual Concepts achieved its goal of surpassing WWE 2K20. The problem is that being better than awful isn’t gonna cut the mustard any longer. 6/10 European uppercuts
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. WWE 2K22 is available now for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, and PC.
- Improved character models/lighting
- Cross-platform Creative Suite compatibility
- More approachable gameplay for casuals
- Creation Suite omissions and problems
- Lack of next-gen visual upgrade
- Half-baked modes
- Half of playable roster arent active superstars