When I first heard the news that 2K Games was going to take a break from the standard WWE 2K series to make something more casual and arcadey, I was instantly excited. As a wrestling fan, I’ve always wanted to play a really enjoyable wrestling game, but for my money, the last good one was all the way back on the arcades in the 90s – WWF Wrestlefest – and even that hasn’t aged well.
More recent titles have focused far too much on technical aspects for my liking – not because there aren’t a lot of technical moves in wrestling (of course there are), but more because it was too much for my feeble brain to come to grips with.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds takes a very different approach, turning humble sports entertainment and simplifying it down to its roots – hitting things and throwing things in a spectacular fashion. The art style is cartoonish (some may describe it as wacky or zany, but I’ll restrain myself), with each wrestler rendered incredibly out of proportion, but still recognisable.
And the Arenas? Now called Battlegrounds (obviously), these are not perhaps what you’d expect, with fires to avoid in one, and huge alligators at the side of another, waiting to take a bite out of the next fool stupid enough to get close.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds Review
Button wrangling, which was where the 2K series was getting out of hand, has really been simplified down to just a few buttons; one to punch, one to kick and one to grapple. There a couple of others that are contextual, enabling players to climb ropes and pick up weapons. The shoulder buttons are used for special moves and the d-pad for power-ups (yes, power-ups), and… that’s about it.
Sure, in order to pull off a specific set of moves – grab, Irish Whip to ropes, clothesline lariat, for example – requires a set of button presses, but it’s still far more simplified when compared to prior titles in the WWE 2K series.
In fact, with all of the simplification, special moves, and power-ups, it almost feels like developer Saber Interactive was going for an NBA Jam feel, another massive arcade title from the 90s. Just like Saber Interactive’s NBA 2K Playgrounds series cribbed from NBA Jam, Battlegrounds aims to replicate that feel with WWE?
At first, I would say yes. When I initially got my hands on the game, I was ecstatic to be able to pull off some simple moves, throws and signature abilities, all resulting in me pinning fan favourite Kevin Owens. The crowd goes wild and the ten-year-old in me was beaming. The same feeling crept up in me the first time I managed to pull off a power move – my fists lighting on fire as I pelted my opponent across the ring.
However, it all began to sour after a few hours. Initially, the game encourages players to enter the campaign mode, which tells the simplified story of WWE mouthpiece Paul Heyman teaming up with Stone Cold Steve Austin to create a new league for WWE; Battlegrounds. Here, Mr Cold heads off around the world to find a number of newcomers, pitting them in their own Battlegrounds against famous (and semi-famous) WWE wrestlers. While I found the story interesting at first, I lost interest when I discovered that each newcomer only had one short storyline before being replaced by the next.
In effect, the campaign is intended to introduce players to the game, teach them some moves, and unlock some initial abilities, powerups, and battlegrounds. It also introduces players to the 5 wrestling styles; High Flyer, Brawler, Technician, Powerhouse, and All Rounder. But… you can skip the campaign if you want, and get into the meat of the title – represented mostly by the Exhibition matches. While there is both a “Mens” and “Women” Exhibition match option, each provides access to the same match types – 1v1, Tag Team, Tornado Tag Team, Steel Cage 1v1 and 2v2, Fatal 4-way, Royal Rumble, Gauntlet, and Triple Threat.
Some of these are really great fun. Royal Rumble, for example, adds a new contender every time someone is ejected (leaving 3 contenders in the ring at a time). Steel Cage matches require players to both wear down their opponents and collect enough money to earn them the right to escape the cage… then they need to work their way out. It’s quite a bit of silly fun – at least initially.
Apart from the Exhibition modes, there are two online modes – Tournament and King of the Battleground (the latter is interesting in that it is effectively a Gauntlet – you continue until you lose). And lastly… there’s the Battleground Challenge.
Battleground Challenge has players create their own fighter and work their way up the ranks, levelling and selecting moves and abilities as they go. I’d probably have preferred the Battleground Challenge was worked into the Campaign, to be honest – it’s probably more interesting than the campaign and provides the same experience. The game doesn’t really need both.
What lets down the whole game, though, is sadly the entire premise. Simplifying and arcadifying WWE was a fantastic idea, but in this case, it seems to have been watered down far too much. Part of what makes WWE (and professional wrestling in general) so interesting is how different each of the wrestlers is – from their personalities to their abilities, to the way they move in the ring. WWE 2K Battlegrounds has reduced every wrestler down to one of five styles – within each style, they play the same, feel the same, and move the same. Yes, each has their own signature abilities and yes they look different… but they all feel the same, regardless of the match type.
Of course, add in the hit detection issues, which not only affect wrestler interaction, but also their interaction with the environment, and you have a generally frustrating and repetitive experience.
The initial shine tarnishes quickly.
If I were to gripe even further, I’d also suggest the menu presentation is somewhat uninspired (excluding the awesome Superstar selection screen, which puts all locked wrestlers in a kind of “carded box”, not unlike a collectable playing figure), and the monetisation unnecessary.
Oh yes, this full-priced WWE wrestling game includes monetisation. Of the 70 playable characters (which is great, I should add – the roster selection is superb), you start with only a quarter of that, and either need to earn them in-game, or purchase them with premium currency. The problem I have is, well… this is a full-priced game. Just make them all unlockable using in-game currency and be done with it. The issue here is that it just takes too long to unlock a character, and the experience just isn’t fun enough to warrant the playthrough… so I fear some people may spend the cash just to fast track their way to Finn Balor or Asuka (or whoever it is they want to play). Generally, I don’t have massive issues with monetisation, provided it’s fair. This doesn’t feel overly fair.
Multiplayer, which can be played locally or online, is much the same – it can be quite fun playing against a friend, particularly as the moves are easy to pull off, including reversals. Often this means that unless a player is super-advanced, the matches feel fairly balanced. However, much like the rest of the game, it loses it’s appeal the more matches you play, eventually feeling dull and repetitive.
So… all of that said, is WWE 2K Battlegrounds worth your time and money? As much as I’d like to say yes, it’s hard to recommend. For the most part, it looks and plays great, but all of that is really skin deep – the enjoyment is short-lived. Still, I feel this title really gives the Women’s division more of a platform, which is great, but it just feels like too much of the “heart” of wrestling was removed in favour of simplicity. Diehard fans are likely to enjoy simply because they get to play as their favourite performers, but for all of the options available, every match just feels the same.
WWE 2K Battlegrounds was reviewed opn PS4 using digital codes provided by 2K.