WWE 2K19 Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Can you feel the electricity? It's that time of year where yearly franchises arrive to drain the bank balances of dedicated fans and hopefully give them a virtual taste of whatever grand stage they dream of standing on. Some dream of balls in nets or of glory as a team manager, others of field goals or speeding pucks. Beyond that though, in minds where sport and entertainment combine to become something altogether different, others dream of high flying athleticism, improvised violence and the kind of story telling most tv soap writers would roll eyes at.
For those seeking explosive personalities, stunning spectacle and occasionally excessive pageantry, there are few grander stages than those hauled from city to city and put up by the WWE. This year's attempt to wrest hard earned cash from your pocket has arrived and, as usual, the question of whether it's the people's champ or just an easily ignored jabroni is at hand.
WWE 2K19 is the fifth entry to hit current generation consoles and as a result benefits greatly from the refinement and improvements brought year on year to the franchise, with just about every mode and option available in previous years also available here. That means that if you can think up a match variation, superstar or customization option from the last couple of entries to the series, you're going to be able to do that here too. From TLC's to Hell in the Cell and right through to the basics you'd expect like tag matches and battle royal's, it's all available and very easy to get straight into, either alone or with whoever is with you in the room, provided you've got extra controllers of course.
One downside of being the fifth game in the current generation is that the developers have seemingly decided that what's just good enough needn't be meddled with. Controlling the wrestlers is as it has been for a few years now, which is to say less than ideal. In terms of animation, when things work they're very smooth and incredibly life like, but it doesn't take much more than awkward positioning to get wrestlers to teleport, get tangled in ropes or contort in some inhuman manner. As with previous entries, the moves themselves are executed with the press of a button for a fast, weaker attack or with a held button for a hard attack or grapple that dishes more damage but might take a bit longer and be a little easier to reverse. It's a little simple when put next to the likes of Fire Pro Wrestling and there's a distinct lack of depth apparent after a few matches.
If you've previously found the reversal system lacking then you'll be wanting to skip this year's entry as it's a simple retread of the last few years - press R2 at the right time to reverse and you've got a maximum of five, slowly recharging reversals. In practice, you'll find yourself trying to spot the incredibly fast prompts and missing until you've learned the animations of each move and got your timing down. It's not great for first timers and, against the computer in particular, being the first to reverse a move often means you'll also run out of reversals first and will end up suffering. It's not a fun way of dealing with defense in the ring and could so easily have been replaced with something more technical by now.
On a brighter note, the roster has a massive selection of current WWE superstars for those living in the moment as well as an equally huge number of unlockable legends from past eras. The selection of older stars is better fleshed out than previous entries, with a clear effort to represent different eras equally well. Whether you're a Macho Man at heart, longing to see Andre the Giant fight again, or a Stone Cold loving Attitude era kid looking to play out a certain infamous Hell in the Cell match then you're going to get slammed with some powerful nostalgia and every chance to create your wildest imagined showdowns.
A long standing feature, WWE Universe returns again to give you a try at arranging a calendar of events and run the shows as you wish. Events are set up automatically, but you're free to edit every show, decide every roster and fight each and every bout if you like, simulating and picking winners if not. It's a great pseudo-career mode of sorts that works perfectly for a group of friends who might want to maintain rivalries and pit their created wrestlers against each other while maintaining a strong sense of it all taking place within a continuing timeline.
Custom content is at the heart of WWE 2K19, with a creation tool available for everything from arenas and logos right through to the wrestlers themselves. Creating your very own custom wrestler is an involved process, with every aspect of their looks, abilities, clothes, entrances, victory poses and moves open to tweaking and customization. It can take some time, but it's possible to make characters that look incredibly life like, even more so if you make use of the picture scanning option and upload a real face or two. You wont be forced to spend hours making extra characters either, if a custom roster is calling out to you, as it's possible to upload your own creations and download those made by the WWE's dedicated community. Already, the selection of player made content for WWE 2K19 is huge and full of brilliant madness, overlooked classic wrestlers and copyright testing versions of famous characters, just as you might hope and expect.
Another returning feature from previous WWE 2K games is the Showcase - a series of themed matches, based on real events and presented with some nostalgic footage and reaction from those involved. This time around it's the turn of fan favourite Daniel Bryan to guide you through his varied and difficult career. Presented by the man himself, it's a fun and often funny look back on his struggles with the company, his set backs, triumphs, retirement and return. In action, the matches are a combination of the usual slobber knocking and specific objectives, such as throwing opponents out of the ring or putting them through tables just as the match played out when it happened. It's a fun trip down memory lane, but it's also likely to be the kind of thing most will play once and then forget about, unlike so much of the other content on offer.
MyPlayer, the core career mode, is a mixed bag when put next to the rest of the game's open choices and near infinite customization potential. What's great about it is the effort put into crafting a fully voiced, choice filled story mode for you to get stuck into. It's full of amusing characterizations of the current roster alongside some cringe worthy, but mostly amusing puns and goes far further than the last few entries in the series in terms of meeting current standards for story telling and presentation. You'll make a new character with a very limited choice of moves, clothes and looks before getting your start in the WWE at the very bottom, fighting outside the company itself to begin with before quickly invading NXT with the help of a friend and beginning to craft your legend.
What hamstrings MyPlayer is the choice to lock every customization option behind purchasable loot crates. Alongside the career itself, WWE 2K19's MyPlayer mode has a selection of challenges in the form of towers, a concept seemingly swiped wholesale from the Mortal Kombat franchise. Beat the towers, hit score thresholds, get currency to buy more things for your custom character. It's a simple enough routine, but being unable to create your avatar as you might like, having to focus on modes that might not appeal and opening packs in order to access things you've already got available to custom characters outside of this mode makes it hard to feel satisfied. That said, if you feel like skipping this process you can pay for some DLC that unlocks everything from the get go, if you're not fussed about encouraging such cynical and unpleasant business practices and have money to burn of course.
As a complete package, WWE 2K19 is offering a lot of content with a decent amount of polish and effort put into elevating the story mode after lackluster outings in recent years, but there's little that's changed at the core. Whether for good or bad, the gameplay is the same as it has been for the last few years and your enjoyment will likely balance on whether you enjoyed the last few WWE 2K games.