WWE 2K22’s greatest strength is its authenticity. While previous iterations have struggled to recreate the feeling of watching WWE television, this year’s release does it effortlessly, from the realistic visuals to the heightened impact when connecting with strikes and slams, it’s a clear improvement on its predecessors in almost every conceivable way.
Upon starting a match, players will be greeted to the first of this game’s many enhancements, its presentation. Entrances have been faithfully recreated, capturing the unique spirit of individual superstars. Roman Reigns, for example, with his slower, stoic walkout contrasts nicely against an audience favourite like John Cena, whose energetic run to the ring and candid interaction with the crowd act as not-so-subtle signs that he’s on their side. This attention to detail extends to the more eccentric entrances too, like Shotzi Blackheart coming out in a literal tank and the emergence of Balor’s demon alter ego. It helps that the character models themselves are vastly improved, some even featuring uncanny resemblances to their real-life counterparts. Attires and ring gear are also enhanced, with materials like cloth, rubber and latex appearing vastly more realistic than previous releases.
The aforementioned visual upgrades are neat, however, the most crucial overhaul accomplished here relates to the animations. The new animation system is a revelation. There’s actual momentum involved in the movement; attacks are sold better by the opponent and thus carry more impact. The core striking has always felt relatively weak in this franchise, as the games had historically struggled with conveying the impact of simple strikes like forearm shots and punches whereas grappling moves such as powerbombs and drivers didn’t share this issue. WWE 2K22 does not suffer from this problem. Strikes and combos are now an important pillar of gameplay, thanks to the newly introduced light and heavy attack buttons and the reduction of overall wrestler health. Hitting a series of forearms and kicks, that now realistically stagger the opponent, feels satisfying and does solid damage, making them a feasible option in a match.
Related: For another sports game that’s similarly authentic but in a very different style, you might want to check out Retro Bowl. Read our review of a gridiron game that effortlessly balances retro charm, ease of play, and depth.
The core wrestling is just exponentially more enjoyable when compared to 2K20. Part of that are the enhanced animations but there’s also a raft of smaller tweaks that feed into the overall improvement. For one, wrestlers have a reduced health pool, ensuring matches end faster and emphasising the danger of being hit with a signature or finishing move, which now do innumerable damage to the opponent. Whereas before, matches could last upwards of 30 minutes between experienced players, bouts in 2K22 end in a fraction of the time as it is much tougher to kick out of multiple finishers. Personally, I played two matches against Roman Reigns on Legend difficulty, after which I kept the setting there permanently and would recommend series veterans do the same, as the lower difficulties rarely offer a substantial challenge, even when facing wrestlers with higher stats.
Circling back to the animations, it cannot be understated how paramount their enhancement is to the wrestling simulation. Almost every aspect of the newly recorded moves, from their speed and execution to the sheer amount of them present in the customization menus, back up the marketing slogan “it hits different”. And boy, does it. Aerial moves like moonsaults, backflip DDTs and planchas especially benefit here, with the extra speed and smoothness of the animations doing a better job of conveying the freakish athleticism required to perform them.
2K22 also squashes two spectres that have haunted the franchise for years: wonky hit-detection and gitches. In WWE 2K20, the hit-detection, particularly in multi-man matches, was inaccurate at best. This issue has likely been addressed in this iteration, as I found my attacks landed on the intended target much more frequently, even without manually changing the target opponent using R3. This culminates in fatal 4-ways and other non-singles match types becoming infinitely more viable and entertaining, with the player’s frustration at not being able to hit the right wrestler no longer being a concern.
As for the capital ‘G’ Glitches, which have plagued this franchise since practically its inception, gamers will be surprised to know they are quite limited in quantity this time around. As of writing, I have invested about 25 hours into the game and can count on one hand the bugs I encountered. Those I did encounter mostly involved the ropes, specifically when I performed moves too close to them and they would glitch out and flail around unrealistically. Other than that, I did not experience anything out of the ordinary in regular gameplay. This result is a far cry from the disastrous 2K20, which spawned entire compilations dedicated to its glitches and game breaking moments.
The effects of all these changes are clear. WWE 2K22 is a ton of fun. Matches are faster and the reduced health and improved animations lead to each manoeuvre feeling consequential and important. I enjoyed the satisfaction of hitting powerbombs and suplexes with heavyweights like the Beast Incarnate. On the flipside, it’s equally enjoyable to play as the more athletic superstars like Ricochet, hitting 630 sentons, shooting star presses and other outrageous diving moves. All the while, playing dream matches I haven’t seen yet on TV and actually being immersed enough in the gameplay to care about the outcomes of the bouts.
In previous games, there was always an in-game disconnect, whether it was from the rough wrestler models, bugs, or sluggish wrestling but here, Visual Concepts has rectified enough of those flaws for me to get past that and enjoy the gameplay on a deeper level. As a fan of wrestling and consumer of the WWE 2K games, it is surreal to finally see a product from the latter that harkens back to THQ era releases like the SVR series, where the quality and care that went into their creation was so clearly evident. Here’s hoping that continues with this series moving forward.
Who’s That Jumping Out the Sky?
WWE 2K22 piqued my interest immediately when the cover star was revealed to be Rey Mysterio. The “Master of the 619” is easily the most recognisable luchador in WWE history and it is wonderful to see him receive his own Showcase mode, dedicated to recreating the iconic matches that make up his career. Mysterio himself narrates the intro to each match, after which the player takes control of Rey and follows a set of objectives that align with what really happened within the match in real life, essentially acting as a detailed, interactive retelling of events. It is worth noting that there are some notable matches missing because the wrestlers are no longer involved with the WWE but it does cover the highlights of Rey’s career, including his feuds with Batista and the Undertaker as well as his WWE title win in 2011.
There is great attention to detail demonstrated in the recreation of each match with era-specific lighting, ring design and Rey’s attire closely matching the real life equivalent. On top of this, there are points after completing certain objectives, where the gameplay transitions into a cutscene depicting key sequences of the real-life match. In previous Showcases, these scenes would also have a QTE component but here, that has been scrapped in favour of the in-game cutscene transitioning to archival footage of the match complete with Rey’s voiceover, before transitioning back into gameplay. When the first of these transitions occurred, I was floored. It was a near seamless fade into footage of Mysterio’s bout against Eddie Guerrero at Halloween Havoc, 1997, with Rey himself chronicling their rivalry, move exchanges and candidly describing Eddie’s impact on his career. It was a sight to behold. All 12 of these Showcase matches maintain that high level of quality, resulting in a mode that is simply brilliant.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the returning GM mode, allowing players to draft their own brand’s rosters and compete against other brands, in an effort to book the best shows possible with their chosen talent. The drafting process is always exciting, as is the ability to tinker with minute details like the lighting, promotion process and contract extensions, which combine to give the player a convincing sense of the work put into bringing these programs to life. It is incredibly satisfying to be able to book good shows that increase fan popularity (the metric used to determine which brand is doing better), using the wrestlers and rivalries that personally interest you. While MyGM is solid, it does feel underbaked compared to the Showcase and MyRISE modes. My main gripe with it is that there are no mid-card or tag team championships, something that renders rivalries not contesting over the world title somewhat meaningless. Another flaw is that only two brands can compete at once. Since there are four total brands, the mode would definitely improve if all of them could compete against each other at the same time, adding to the chaos and challenge of building the superior brand.
Replacing the mode that was previously named MyCareer, MyRISE focuses less on the overly linear storytelling that drove the former into the ground and instead pivots to a different structure that prioritises entertaining substories, without the constricting presence of an overarching narrative pinning it down. Whereas 2K20’s MyCareer was loaded with cutscenes that determined the career path of the players’ wrestlers, in MyRISE the player is given the freedom to sculpt their own journey through the WWE.
The story is also broken up into smaller missions, with the player being able to choose the story threads they are interested in exploring. Most of the stories are progressed through the in-game social media in what are essentially, text-only dialog boxes. I imagine this gave the writers a great degree of freedom to expand the creativity and number of storylines present here, as they didn’t have to record as many lines from the wrestlers themselves. There are entirely unique sets of stories for male and female, as well as villainous and heroic roles, further adding to the replayability and depth of the mode.
The upgrade system has also received a welcome change. Unlike its predecessor, which had an overwhelming, bizarre, and hexagon-filled skill tree, in MyRISE all available upgrades have been consolidated into six attribute categories, streamlining the process. I doubt it’s going to win best RPG at the Game Awards but for a wrestling career mode, it’s undeniably entertaining. The missions themselves are often bonkers:for example, one of the heroic storylines involves the player helping to resolve a familial dispute with a co-wrestler’s father, who has hired an imposter to pose as his son, which culminates in the player and the real son going to Mexico, posing as a luchador tag team to beat and unmask them. Aaron Sorkin couldn’t possibly come up with that and that’s the point, these stories were clearly designed for wrestling fans, in the soap-operatic style that we’re accustomed to. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Summary: Boasting a polished presentation, enjoyable gameplay that more closely resembles modern pro wrestling and two brilliantly executed modes in Showcase and MyRISE, WWE 2K22 is genuinely delightful and a defining chapter in its franchise’s legacy.