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Hands-On with WWE 2K22
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:46pm 25/02/22 | Comments
We managed a short hands-on session with a preview build of WWE 2K22 on PC. Read on for our truncated thoughts...

Two-thirds of the WWE’s product is its presentation. Skill and execution and talent clearly make up the final third, and I can’t understate how important that aspect of the business is. But you could have all the mat skills in the world, and be capable of industry-shattering pipebombs of the highest magnitude, yet without the platform to exercise these skills, and the follow-on audience to engage, those skills and ability would go nowhere. So as a brand and a product, the WWE needs to shine; it needs to pop to use an insider term.

And this is where WWE 2K22 comes in.

To be clear, I only managed a couple hours with the game, and even a slice of that was eaten into due to a delayed preview branch update (on my end). But what I can say with confidence from that brief introduction to the long-gestating WWE 2K22 is that as far as the WWE product goes in this entry, it’s easily the best in the biz. The Tribal Chief of WWE 2K entries, if you will.

What’s interesting about my time with the game is that much of the marketing around it so far, usually across Raw and Smackdown, hasn’t wholly relayed just how far the series has come, and with 2K22 it's a massive leap forward. Visually it’s just better, with excellent animations and animation trees that help sell hits and linking moves and combos. Audio, too, was just on-point and it felt like a grand moment when I put aside the game’s (very helpful) tutorial and decided my limited exposure HAD to include a Hell in a Cell with Big E and “the beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar.

"And even when I smacked back into reality, the game kept throwing WWE realness at me, with a timely “suplex city” crowd chant...”

When Lesnar’s entrance started and Michael Cole exploded through the audio I just sort of slipped out of remembering I was playing a game, thinking instead, if even for just a minute, “hey I’m watching a PPV” (another entrenching positive for the game’s visuals, too). And even when I smacked back into reality, the game kept throwing WWE realness at me, with a timely “suplex city” crowd chant forcing Cole’s commentary even higher. Honestly, this whole moment lasted just a few minutes but in that short time, I was infinitely sold on the authenticity and grandeur of WWE 2K22.

From a gameplay perspective, what really jumped out at me, again, in an admittedly short stint, was the tight and measured approach to the squared dance. There’s a massive emphasis on not spamming your way to victory, though the inputs may look spammable, there’s a dance to moving between light and heavy strikes, and all of this feeds a greater sense of combat fluidity in the revamped system. To be fair, I never sunk enough time into the last WWE 2K outing to be able to confidently explain whether this is leaps and bounds better, but I can say I picked it up more quickly than any other wrestling games I’ve played in quite some time.

"There’s also unlimited reversals which only adds to the game’s lauded fluidity from my time with it...”

New to the game that I’m pretty aware of though is the idea of Breakers, which are a kind of reversal that promotes watching how your opponent is lining themselves up to be able to match and outwit them, and again works to counter (heh) the idea of spamming. There’s also unlimited reversals which only adds to the game’s lauded fluidity from my time with it, but if I’m being fair, less than two hours simply wasn’t enough time to work out whether the depth and accessibility here was game-changing enough. What I can say is that it was easy to learn but that there was a clear spike in how deep the system goes and how varied it could be from a tactical and exciting point of view. And I’m super-keen to dive deeper into it.

The other major addition this time around is of course the new GM mode, or MyGM, which is something 2K is proud to acknowledge fans have been heavily requesting. This mode will let you run a(n) (ir)regular night of one of the key WWE brands where you can choose to play ‘manager’ in the skin of the likes of Sonia DeVille or Adam Pearce, or for the truly hardcore, you can choose to be the heiress Stephanie McMahon. You can, of course, just be your created self, but what these options do is paint the idea of variety and replayability in the mode.

Given the time constraints on offer, I couldn’t dive as deep into this as I’d have liked. Divvying up between learning the ropes (heh) via the game’s excellent tutorial, mucking around in the creator, putting on a dream match and then menu hopping only served to make me want to see and experience more, in an in-depth way. But even at a cursory glance, MyGM could become an immediate fan favourite where you can manage things like investment in the show and prod and promote feuds, and all of this counts towards weekly ratings playing into the management side of things. Again, I just didn’t see enough to know if it’s deep and dynamic or a one-hit wonder that falls into a cycle of disguised repetition.

What I can convey is that for the first time in some time, the full product here feels as complete and as WWE as has always been promised, and wanted. I’m definitely ready to break through that curtain with WWE 2K22, in particular because the controls and the game’s animations finally feel in sync and capable of delivering on my own level of invested skill while relaying the truest sense of not just the massive roster available out of the gate, but of my own avatar I intend to make “Loaf” (or “Lump” -- 20 points if people know where that reference comes from). But I do need to see more. The polish is here, the product is here and the promise, after some added time in development, is here. I just really need enough time to pin the game one, two, three.

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