WWE 2K19 is an outstanding example of how yearly releases should be done. As I sit here writing this review, all I can think about is getting back to in-game to carry on throwing fools around the squared-circle. While the list of new additions are just enough to fill a sheet of toilet paper, that’s okay, because instead 2K has opted to focus on the most important F-word in gaming: Fun. It’s charming, engaging, and often times daft. In that way, it’s just like the real thing.
This year’s Showcase mode centres around Daniel Bryan and is easily the most relevant mode we’ve seen in the series to date. Fans were heartbroken when Bryan, having been released twice and suffering numerous injuries, was forced to retire before his time. The Return of Daniel Bryan puts players in his boots, as an unknown wrestler facing John Cena on Velocity, to his second release for going off-script (read: choking an announcer), all the way to his world title wins and, as the name of the mode suggest, his return after being given the all-clear from the doctors. It’s a heart-warming tale of adversity and never giving up on your dreams, regardless of how many mountains you need to climb.
Rather than every match being a standard affair, each has its own conditions that need to be met. These may include thwacking an opponent with a standing strike, perform an OMG moment, or legging it to the backstage area to attempt to murder your opponent. Typical wrestling stuff then.
This adds to the matches while convincing the player they’re acting out something that happened. At times, when you execute certain sequences, the game will take over and play out the larger scenes without any input. It’s kind of like you’re watching a simulated version of the match you’re emulating. It’s also worth taking a moment to appreciate the level of effort that goes into the exceptional motion capture when the game takes control. Bryan has the right lightness to his faster moves, Triple H has that sturdy, oppressive movement. Even Kane has the right slow-moving methodology. Every wrestler moves exactly how you’d expect them to, which keeps the immersion going without ever bursting the virtual bubble.
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Moving on, it wouldn’t be a WWE 2K game without the option to create a superstar, and this year is no different. The usual create options feel more streamlined. Everything you need is just a few clicks away. Lag when previewing certain items is at an all-time low, and create-a-superstar animations now appear to mask smaller loading sections.
One of the new features this time around is the introduction of Minecraft bodies. They’re referred to as ‘Block Bodies’ in-game, but c’mon, they’re Minecraft bodies. I’m certain online wrestling purists will lament the idea of having 8-bit wrestlers in a wrestling sim. I think it works, though. Fite me. As I mentioned earlier, wrestling is daft (undead cowboy!), so having blocky bodies fighting realistic superstars doesn’t look that odd. As for the customisation aspect, the blocky bodies become flat-packed like a cardboard box, and can then be drawn on. It sounds like it should be complex, right? But it’s all strangely intuitive. I managed to make me, complete with a Binding of Isaac T-shirt, in around 10 minutes, proving you don’t need to be talented in the slightest to be able to utilise the new options to create something semi-decent.
This year’s My Player storyline left me pondering something as I loaded up the first chapter. How many times can fans play through ‘Rags to WWE Superstar,’ before it becomes stale? How many times have we done this dance already? Will this time be any different? It turns out, yeah, actually, it is. Who saw that coming? Early on you get the WWE try-out contract, only to have it unceremoniously ripped away. It’s then back to the bingo halls with five people in the crowd as you try to uncover who sabotaged you and why in this often laugh out loud funny, hokey romp.
The other main event attraction in 2K19 is the introduction of Towers. If you’ve ever played Mortal Kombat, you’ll have a good idea of what these entail. Each tower has its own difficulty setting, with rewards increasing depending on how well you perform. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but as an option to give players more to do, it’s a solid addition.
Despite how much WWE 2K19 gets right, it’s not without its flaws. Smaller issues like using a hot-pink square to highlight create items, on a white background, end up grating as it’s near impossible to see, and results in frequently losing track of what it is you’re trying to highlight. Then there’s the voice acting. While Daniel Bryan seems thrilled to be telling his story, other voiceovers feel lifeless. Triple H, who has been in actual movies I might add, sounds dead inside. And not in the Undertaker way. Even Braun Strowman, whose whole schtick revolves around deep grunting, comes across like his bus is due any minute and wants out of the sound booth ASAP. I even had an odd moment where the AI decided to climb the turnbuckle, drop down, climb again, drop down, then climb once more before finally launching into a move that missed — though AI issues, for me, were few and far between.
None of the aforementioned issues are deal-breakers, of course, but when the gameplay, the online, the creation suite are all so tight, it’s a shame when you’re pulled out of the action because of minor irritants.
WWE 2K19 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it try to. It takes the gameplay of previous year’s and refines it. It adds to the create-a modes. It captivates with meaningful storylines. And with the introduction of Towers and tying the online with the My Player modes, it offers something that will keep fans happy for the next year. Yeah, sure, it’s not perfect, but when you open a review with how much you can’t wait to get back to playing it, you know you’re on to a winner.