Welcome to another annual release of the WWE 2K game series by 2K Sports. And one of the main features we're going to touch on first is the return of the proper Story Mode. In 2K17, the only form of a Story Mode we had was by creating a character, entering him into a Smackdown or Raw Roster, and have him fight week in and week out in events.
Now when I say proper Story Mode, I mean the one I still remember being introduced in Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain. You create a character, and then walk around in the rooms meeting other wrestlers to talk to while preparing for your first NXT matches. As you fight through your first matches, other wrestlers will interfere and your story is pretty much linear from then on. The only control you might have are on proper events that you attempt to win, but everything else is conducted out for you like a Hollywood script.
You will then be invited to Smackdown or Raw rosters later on and build your career to become champion for one or more titles. The one really annoying thing about story mode is the poor acting and facial movements, but let's get to that a bit later. For now, Story Mode's return is welcome, but I still find myself playing the other Single Player and Multiplayer modes more than Story Mode.
There are much more types of matches available, and you can now customize and save your own type of matches. For example, you can select a 6-man match, but you can change whether you want pinfall or submissions active, if you want elimination settings, if you want Iron Man mode active, and so much more. I've been designing my own custom matches, but there are so many modes already available that you may not feel the need to do so yourself.
The graphics are the best I've seen in the 2K series. Even during a match, the visuals are absolutely superb, for the fighters, arenas and the crowds. We are still treated to quick movie action sequences when doing a special move in single player mode. And the colourful costumes of some fighters really make for some great eye candy. Even the 3D crowds sport some colorful clothes in the stands.
Many of the standard WWE 2K fighting control have returned, from grappling to running to kicking and screaming. However, there are some minor changes. You can choose between direct grapple moves, and first grapple and then grapple move. The feature of holding in R1 to select a body part and then attacking that part, introduced in 2K17, has vanished.
The User interface has also improved. While you are fighting, everything you need to know is revealed in a small box at the bottom of the screen. This box shows your wrestler's name, the health / resilience bar, percentage towards your signature moves, and how many finisher moves you have available. This is a vast improvement over previous character info displays in the past.
At the top left of the screen is another new feature. There are fight empty stars with a bar underneath. This will fill up with every new move you pull off, or if you show variance in your moves. Do the same moves over and over, and the crowd boos you and the bar stops filling. This will affect the credits you will receive at the end of the match.
Which brings me to my next point. Previously, you had to do certain actions and play certain matches to unlock fighters. This has been simplified. From the credits you win post-match, you can buy fighters or older versions of fighters. This is very much appreciated, as I spent way too much time in 2K17 fighting matches just to unlock one fighter.
As with every WWE 2K game in the series, 2K18 is the king of replayability. You can spend hours and hours fighting in each game mode, especially the Royal Rumble and Tournament modes. You can also create new characters to replay Story Mode as often as you like to build them up, but I don't see myself doing this more than once. There is also an online championship mode, if you have the guts to take on other players.
WHAT IT COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
I've been saving my rants for this very moment. There are two features in 2K18 that really eek me off that weren't as bad in 2K17. Firstly, the pinning. When you are pinned, there is a circular bar that fills up and you have to press X when it reaches the green zone. The bar fills up so quickly, even after weeks of playing I still struggle to get it in the zone.
I would spend the entire match, pinning the opponent unsuccessfully up to 5 times before he pins me once and I cannot get over it. I've lost many a fight and thrown many a controller for this very reason. I would understand if my fighter was weak, but with almost full health and it being my first time pinned down, I would expect the bar to fill a bit slower and give me a second chance.
Secondly, the R2 counter. There are now three versions of this counter. The quick one, where the R2 visual indicator pops up quick. You would have to time this exactly, as you only have a millisecond of a window. Then there is the grapple and move counters, where your first counter window is shown in green and the second in orange. No matter how quick I press this, even while the green and orange indicators are on, there are just too many times the game says I am too slow or too fast. I am looking at the indicator, pressing at the same time, with it still remaining on screen, but somehow I am still too slow.
I feel there could have been given more grace to button responses in these matters. You are already restricted to counters, with only 5 being available which slowly builds back up after use. Yet, if you're struggling to even use them, counters become useless. You need to become a master of precision with both counters and pins, and this really sets the experts apart from average gamers like myself.
Despite my ranting, when I do get it right, there is a massive sense of a achievement that is unrivaled, leading to wild cheers of excitement that makes me look like a crazy person.
Moving past Gameplay frustrations, I want to focus on one more thing that really could have been done better. With the return of Story Mode comes the return of bad lip-syncing to the words that accompany discussions. I would have loved some real voice acting, while being realistic that paying for each wrestler to lend his voice is an expensive hobby. At least they could have bothered making sure that mouth movements and facial expressions tied into the words. More often than not, characters will still be moving lips and twitching eyes long after you're done talking. This has been seen in many previous WWE games with this kind of Story Mode, and should have been sorted out by now.
Forgiving the annoying pinning and counters, and the poor facial dialogue, 2K18 is a vast improvement from any other game in the series and way more fun to play. Graphics (not acting) has been upgraded and even the crowds are more realistic. Even if you aren't an ardent WWE fan, you will still find 2K18 worth playing, even if just at a friend's house. If you are a WWE fanatic, you cannot miss out on this iteration, which I feel is the best in the series. Story Mode is back, and character creation is far easier and better than ever before.
All in all, worth every dollar you'll be pulling out of your wallet to buy it.