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WWE 2K18 Review: Great in the Ring, Mediocre Elsewhere

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down to watch a spot of WWE, but I still like to dabble in a wrestling game occasionally.

With that in mind, I jumped into WWE 2K18 with both feet, excited to reignite memories of my youth. Despite a number of graphical improvements, new features and overhauled modes, however, this year’s iteration brings just as much disappointment as it does joy.

Said to have been improved with free-roam backstage areas, I made MyCareer my first port of call, which required me to create my own wrestler. Now expanded to allow you to choose a fighting style, the create-a-wrestler wizard allows you to whip up a muscled monstrosity in minutes, with further in-depth customisation possible at a later date. And so Citrus Sid was born, and the horrors he’s witnessed in his short wrestling career will remain with him for life.

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Honestly, MyCareer feels unfinished. The backstage areas feel sterile and lifeless, with wrestlers and other WWE staff just standing around like dummies. When you talk to them their animations are stilted, the dialogue is poorly written and there’s no voice acting. It all feels very thrown-together and amateurish, and quite frankly, a bit dull. But, if you want to take on side quests and progress through your wrestling career you’ll have to deal with it, warts and all. Thankfully, the actual in-the-ring action nearly makes up for it.

Wrestling is all about drama, and boy does WWE 2K18 capture that. From over-the-top entrances to unexpected ring invasions, WWE 2K18 remains as faithful to the sport as you can get. Perhaps even to a fault at times. Animations are long-winded, and great emphasis is placed on performing reversals. It makes for fights that feel authentic to what you’d normally watch on the screen, but it also means that they sometimes feel a bit laborious, with victory more down to luck than raw skill. And then there are the glitches.

Levitating characters and glitchy animations have had both me and Citrus Sid in stitches, but more serious issues like unwinnable matches have only resulted in frustration. Inconsistent visuals have also been the root of much hilarity and alarm. Some of your favourite wrestlers look true to life, whole others look like they’ve been beaten with an ugly stick. Those with long hair will often find it flailing around like it’s got a life of its own. And if the camera ever moves in to give you a close look at the audience you’ll feel like you’ve momentarily entered a time warp and gone back at least ten years.

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Still, for the most part, WWE 2K18′s bouts are exciting and extremely eventful. Great fun can be had pummelling your opposition onto the canvas before grappling them into submission or pinning them for the win. You can now carry your opponents too, opening up new opportunities like throwing them out of the ring. The star system means that it’s all about showmanship, so you’re encouraged to mix up your moves and work the crowd. WWE is all about entertainment, and that’s exactly what matches are: entertaining.

Less entertaining, though, are the Promo events that you’ll find yourself doing from time to time. Allowing you to work the audience with a string of dialogue choices, horrible writing, zero voice acting and unforeseen outcomes means they’re something you’ll tolerate and muddle your way through rather than enjoy.

WWE 2K18 may be rather scrappy, but one area where it really does impress is content. Thanks to the return of WWE Universe and the introduction of Road to Glory – a place to show off and develop your created wrestler’s skills online – there are modes galore. And outside of fiddling with your own divine creation, an unprecedented number of WWE athletes are available for you to take control of. I have to admit, I was rather impressed to find my old favourites Razor Ramon and Diesel among the lineup. Pretty much every type of match you can think of is included too, from Ladder to Hell in a Cell and even Royal Rumble.

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Unfortunately though, a shedload of characters and customisation options are locked, and must be purchased with Virtual Currency (VC) or obtained via loot boxes. You can, of course, unlock them instantly by paying real money for some DLC, but otherwise you’ll have a long grind ahead of you to earn enough VC to buy everything you desire. To the game’s credit, however, it never rubs its DLC in your face, saying BUY ME NOW!

WWE 2K18, then, is the very definition of a mixed bag. When matches work as they should the wrestling is as fun as ever, with unexpected twists and turns making you scream and guffaw at the screen. And outside of the disappointing MyCareer mode you can have great fun getting to grips with an expansive roster of your favourite male and female wrestlers, placing them in nearly any scenario you can think of. But when things go wrong you’ll just be left staring slack-jawed at the screen, thinking how it’s not really acceptable for such a big-name title in this day and age.

If wrestling is your thing, WWE 2K18 does just enough to make it worthy of your attention, but you’ll always be left thinking that it could be so much more.

WWE 2K18 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.

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