Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
WWE 2K22 is back after a bit of a break, and it appears to have been time well spent. WWE 2K22 is a successful return to form for the wrestling franchise, with a bevy of modes and content to keep fans coming back for more.
It’s no secret that WWE 2K20 was rough. A transition between development teams led to some cutting of teeth with this franchise that left the series heavily panned a couple of years ago. I for one appreciated that the developers recognized this and opted to spend some extra time on this new release. The marketing team has done an excellent job of branding this release with this tagline:
It hits different.
It’s bold, sure – but it’s accurate as well. This series has long been a mashup of arcade action and simulation, with WWE 2K22 feeling as though it is leaning just a tad towards the arcade side of things here. Which is fine, frankly. NBA 2K has long straddled that line as well, with equal parts strategic pacing and frantic action, and WWE 2K22 delivers a similar experience.
So what’s going on in this release? A lot of things. There’s quickplay, where you just get to set up your own ideal match with whomever you want from what is an impressively large roster of characters. MyFaction is akin to MyTeam in the NBA 2K games – it’s basically a collectible card game mixed with a sort of fantasy sports approach to wrestling. There are several different types of games and series of matches you can put your roster through, and as you earn currency (probably one of the things that is bound to irk people, as WWE 2K22 does continue the longstanding tradition of offering you virtual currency for real money) to purchase more packs of cards, leading to more wrestlers and ways to customize said wresters in hopes of improving your odds of success in the ring.
There are other options such as MyGM, which is more about running the show than just participating in it. On the other side of things, you have MyRise, which is a career mode. Instead here, the focus is on your character. Or characters. Why did I add a plural? Because the MyRise mode has a very cool branching storyline and it encourages you to play multiple times to experience how things can go differently. There’s even differentiation between a men’s and women’s division. With tons of customization options and a heavier roleplay-like feel to it? I was all-in on MyRise and I enjoyed the hell out of it. There’s a lot to chew on here, and like the NbA 2K games, this is where I spend the bulk of my time. If there’s a quibble I have, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of export / import where you can create a superstar outside of MyRise and bring them in, or any way to export your creation into the other modes. I sort of get it, given that your characters are always progressing and changing, but on the other hand? It seems a bit of a waste to not be able to use your creations in other spaces. Still, I sunk a lot of time into MyRise and kept coming back for more.
I’ve always enjoyed the WWE Showcase modes as well, and that holds true with this year’s iteration featuring Rey Mysterio Jr. As a wrestler, his flashy style is a great way to show off the engine and numerous gameplay options. I played the game’s tutorial when I first fired up WWE 2K22, but I think I learned more about the depths of the gameplay by spending the next few hours on the Showcase mode. Essentially this is a set of some of Mysterio’s most famous matches, with a list of objectives that chain together. Almost all of them start easily enough as you punch your opponent a few times or pull off a special type of grapple, but things certainly get complicated in a hurry. You can of course win the match at any time – but you miss out on rewards and seeing the match fully play out.
To make the most out of Showcase, you have to complete all of the objectives, which are challenging on multiple levels. Sometimes they leave your wrestling in a compromised state, or sometimes they are just plain hard to pull off because they require a specific move at a specific time with your opponent in a specific position. I get why the devs wanted to showcase some of these maneuvers that player might not otherwise ever see, let alone perform, but there were times these conditions were pretty frustrating as well. Thankfully though, with a bit of persistence, I was able to see all of the chained objectives through unlocking a bonus fight and some more unlockables.
There are a couple of aspects that made Showcase pretty memorable. For one, Rey Mysterio Jr. has long been one of the most colorful, flashy wrestlers in the business. As a result, these matches often have highlight worthy moments as the match blends video gaming with movies. Pull off the first three objectives, and the video game fades out to be replaced by actual video footage from the match. This might play out for a couple dozen seconds or even a couple of minutes, before it transitions back to the video game. It’s a really cool effect that I thought would get old after a bit, but I enjoyed it right through to the end. That’s how you wind up in rough spots however, as sometimes you are dominating your opponent, pulling off the desired sequence, and then taking Mysterio back over after he got smacked around a bit by his opponent.
The other nice touch on this mode is that they had Mysterio helping to narrate things. There is video of him being interviewed leading into and out of the matches, often explaining why that particular match was important to him and even how the match’s results impacted his career later. Mysterio also narrates the video sequences that are spliced in, and he’s simply enjoyable to listen to as he talks about some of these bigger moments in his career. It was a thoughtful, interesting mode that serves as a more advanced tutorial in the process.
Of course, all of the modes in the world don’t matter if the gameplay sucks. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. There are times that things feel a bit clunky. These are most evident when objects or multiple wrestlers are involved. Tag team matches – especially with three or four person teams – can be kind of annoying. I know some wrestling matches are long and meant to test the wrestlers’ endurance, but I found them occasionally testing my patience as well. I can dominate the crap out of my opponent, but not get them pinned because unless I do some shenanigans to the opposing person’s partners first, they just come in and break up the pin. Every. Single. Time.
This is especially annoying in a mixed tag match where you can’t strike the person of opposite gender, but they can run in and hit you to break up the pin. First time it happened, I was submitting my opponent to hammering away at the strike button when the female wrestler from the other team dove in to break up my submission attempt and my character immediately jabbed her in the face and got me disqualified. In these instances I just found it easier to take the match out of the ring and try to force a 10 count out. I would appreciate it if my partner AI was better at running interference, like getting into the ring sooner and actually engaging the other wrestler first. For me, this was probably the single biggest annoyance as matches I was dominating from the beginning and should have been over in a matter of a few minutes sometimes took 20-30 minutes unless I resorted to cheap tactics like the 10 second count out.
Additionally, targeting items / the right opponents can be a little dicey in the ring. Pressing the left button to pick up the item at your feet can be pretty hit and miss, and there were definitely times in free-for-all matches where I just couldn’t get the detection to focus on the right person. I might have dropped an opponent at my feet, but been unable to actually target the guy a half-inch further away from him, despite that person actually still being a threat. It certainly handles better than years past, but still feels like a weak spot in the gameplay.
Beyond those aforementioned concerns however, WWE 2K22 provides some pretty great action. Punches and kicks land with a weightiness to them, and splashy dives off of the top turnbuckle or finishers applied to a vulnerable opponent’s head still had a way of making me wince, despite this… you know, just being a video game. I appreciate the variety of different match types out there as well, from cell matches, to Money in the Bank, no disqualification and more – it helps to keep things fresh.
In terms of the overall production values, WWE 2K22 is pretty solid. Sure, there’s a bit of glitchiness around the ropes at times or character model collisions, but that’s to be expected. There is so much going on as characters not only strike and grab, but respond to being hit or pulled or pushed into ropes – the physics engine has its work cut out for it. Even now and again I would see something odd like a wrestler grabbing a bunch of air instead of their opponent’s leg, or ropes getting into weird spots – once my character got ‘stuck’ in the ropes and just could not get out. The ropes vibrated wildly, opponents moved around me but couldn’t engage, things like that. But these types of glitches were pretty rare and worlds better than the buggy release of WWE 2K20. Overall, the character models look good, the announcing is authentic and the music is pretty great. At one point my wife walked in and remarked how it was getting scary how blurred the line between game and reality was getting.
WWE 2K22 is a fantastic return to form for the series, and probably the best wrestling game I’ve played in several years. Admittedly there are some rough edges here and there, but the MyRise mode in particular was incredibly enjoyable and most importantly: the game was just fun to hit. WWE 2K22 does in fact hit different.Score: 8.25 / 10