In an effort to get PSVR Move controllers, I traded in my PSVITA. With the resulting money, I had intended to get myself some move controllers. Alas, they were out of stock leaving the credit burning a hole in my pocket. Enter the NXT Edition of WWE2K17. For a huge wrestling fan like myself, the outcome was obvious.
Unlike the previous batch of WWE games, there is no showcase this year. To some, this may be a major distraction and I must admit after touting Goldberg as the pre- order bonus, I was expecting a go at recreating the famous WCW streak. This year with no showcase you get something else. Focus.
In previous years my time was divided between Career mode and Showcase mode. The Austin Showcase in last year’s game took a good ten hours to complete properly and If you were splitting the time between this and the never-ending slog of the career mode you never really appreciated the best of either of them. With no showcase, the single player options are divided into your career and the sandbox mode, WWE Universe.
Beginning with the career mode, this year’s has a heavy focus on the phenomenally successful NXT Brand. Having attended an event this year, I can testify that having the chance to immerse yourself in the NXT universe is something jaded thirty-something wrestling fans like myself should jump at. Because the game starts you there more obviously than last year, the career mode stops feeling like a grind and starts feeling like you are a superstar in the middle of a big push by the company. The game starts with you at ringside watching a title victory by Finn Bálor (Fergal Devitt). The camera cuts to the side and shows your created wrestler standing with two other young hopefuls. After this, you begin training in the performance center before starting the road to success.
With the credits the game gives you this year, it would be all too easy to create a superstar straight off the bat. I made the mistake of using the money to unlock Bret Hart, Ultimate warrior, and Big Van Vader before starting. Last year’s game had two separate currencies at play but this year they have been combined into one allowing you to earn them in every game mode you play in. In the ring itself, you will notice a number of improvements. The character models move more slowly and feel more solid. Punches, Kicks, and collisions between the wrestlers still have the ability to cause the odd amusing glitch and a quick check on youtube will find plenty of examples of funny ones. Despite this the overall feel and presentation are exceptional. The matches themselves are still reversal heavy but we are moving close to the holy grail of the N64 wrestling games like WWE No Mercy and WCW vs NWO Revenge where the whole ring was one big toy set. You could literally do anything you could think off with those games and in WWE 2K17 we are closer than ever to having a real sandbox.
What ruins the sandbox feel slightly is the actual competition from the computer. In the old N64 games you could beat the opponent into a state of ragdoll like submission. After this, they were free to set up for high spots like diving off the cell or off the ladder through a ringside table. In the more recent WWE games, the computer controlled characters never seem to be beaten. While this is a perfect reflection of the actual WWE, it doesn’t lend itself to as good a gaming experience. This could be a choice issue but I believe it is why the old games are so fondly remembered. Despite this, the matches are far more winnable this year. Last year despite putting hours into the game, my character was never strong enough to win anything except the NXT title. This year after the few hours I have had with the game, I feel confident enough to go into any match thinking I can win. The horrible submission mini-game can now be turned off back to a more sensible button mashing variety meaning no more games lost the first time the opponent puts you in a submission hold. Backstage brawls and in ring Promos have been added to varying degrees of success. The backstage brawls feel like the old PS Smackdown games. You can go into different rooms, even Triple H’s office and brawl with any item you find back there. This was a feature that was sorely missed in previous games and will lead to many happy scenarios as you play. Promos are a different matter. Because they are not actually spoken and are text choices they take you completely out of the immersion and just end up being quite tedious. If you are an avid wrestling fan you will know exactly what the wrestler should be saying yet when the options appear in a Dragon Age style, none of them are appropriate. This means it degenerates into a guessing game depending on whether you are heel or face. It is a nice idea but unfortunately needs a lot more work.
The WWE Universe option is still here and as comprehensive as ever. Unfortunately, despite trying to play this in previous editions, I have never really been able to get to grips with it. I like the Idea of being GM of the company and picking all the matches for each show and PPV. It all sounds good with picking the correct champions picking the perfect arenas and so on but the problem for me is the lack of feedback. If you have to fill a match card then decide to play the matches ten there should be some high score or goal to head towards. It should be something like Football Manager where you are still trying to beat the computer. Here it feels like a big collection of wrestling action figures to play with but only after you spend a fiddly amount of time making sure the ring and lighting are correct. Amazing for some, but tiresome for me with no end goal.
The NXT edition comes with a nice Finn Bálor figure, a Topps special edition trading card and a signed print from Shinsuke Nakamura. There is also an XP boost for staying longer in NXT. In all an improvement on the last editions but still missing the gamification of the old N64 days. It’s almost too realistic to be completely fun, just like the current WWE product.