Being a fan of pro wrestling is hard. Partly because others will rag on you about being a fan of muscly men in tights hugging each other, but also because wrestling is misunderstood as a sport in which muscly men in tights hug each other. To be honest, there’s even division within wrestling fandom as to what’s “good” and what’s not.
Not to mention that same old question that people still love to ask – “didn’t you know wrestling is fake?” – as if they were the only ones aware of the sacred secret. It can be exhausting. But to me, there’s a hell of a lot to like about wrestling. Now maybe even more than ever.
But the games have been hit and miss – particularly the WWE 2K games, the last of which was a buggy, difficult-to-play, messy mess. As a result, the team decided to rebuild the game from the ground up, aiming to build something familiar, but more enjoyable – fun, even! This effort has resulted in WWE 2K22. So is it any good?
WWE 2K22 Review
Loading into the game is instantly confronting, as there are a number of game mode options and no real guide as to what choice you should make. There’s of course the quick match option, confusingly hidden behind a “Play” button, suggesting it’s the core game mode. This mode allows you to create virtually any kind of match you like, and even here, there are so many options to consider. I will say this, though, the training is worthwhile and you should do it. It’s short, but it teaches the basics quickly and efficiently, and to cut to what most of you reading will want to know, right up front – moves are much easier to perform this time around.
There are two modes with large, prominent buttons on the man menu – Showcase and MyFaction. This year’s Showcase, which focuses on Rey Mysterio Jr, is a fan’s dream. There’s plenty of video with insight from the man himself, as well as scenes from the historical matches. The bonus is, of course – you then get to PLAY them. That said, the matches they’ve chosen for the Showcase are kind of hit and miss – some of them are not worthy of showcasing (Rey Mysterio vs Gran Metalik, anyone?). Overall, though, it’s a blast, but keep in mind it’s not a full match – these Showcase matches are told in segments, and you need to hit the right moves when the game asks you to – and then it transitions to video. At times, the transition is almost seamless, which demonstrates the visual quality, and it can be really impressive.
However, this segmented approach doesn’t always work, because it’s not so easy to pull off specific moves precisely when you need to, which can be annoying. A little flexibility to allow you to skip to the next objective might have helped. As it is, don’t ask me to do another running dive while my opponent is standing outside the ring.
The other prominent main menu button, MyFaction, is a new addition to WWE 2K22. It’s kind of confusing at first, but your mileage may vary. It’s a card collection game with its own currencies (yes, multiple), but don’t fret, it’s single-player so it’s not “pay to win”! You buy card packs using the currencies made in-game (or, if you like, you can even spend real-world money to acquire one of these currencies faster!), and try your luck at scoring your favourite wrestlers.
You then use these cards to build your own faction – multiple factions, if you want – and take them into the competition. It’s not dissimilar to a mobile gatcha title – it’s all about collecting, and trying to get those rare cards… But it’s also another reason to play more wrestling if that’s your thing. And I assume if you’re playing this game, then that’s your thing. So… Win-win!
As you play more with each card, they level up, making them even stronger, allowing you to earn more credits, and… you can see where I’m going with this. It’s quite fun, and gives you more control over the kind of game you want to play – I found myself spending more time in this mode than I expected. It was great to build a faction out of whoever I wanted, and just let them loose, but it didn’t feel like a core game mode.
MyRise is the main story mode, and it really should have put in the prominent space under the Showcase button, instead of being pushed off to the side. This makes it seem less important than it is, but again – it’s really where the meat of WWE 2K22 is. Thankfully there’s a story built around either the men’s division or the women’s division, and both are different, with plenty of storylines peppered throughout. There’s quite a lot to wade through, building your character from a whelp in the performance centre, through your choice of the brands and ultimately into a Championship belt. I was surprised at the depth and the sheer amount of content here.
There’s also the Universe mode, which has changed a little this time around. Where, in the past, you chose a brand and played around within it, you can now choose to instead focus on a Superstar, and give them the run you think they deserve – or you can go back to the same old Universe if you prefer that sandbox. It’s a welcome change and adds to the already hefty amount of content in the game.
As if MyFaction wasn’t enough, there’s another new addition to try out – GM Mode. This mode effectively puts the player in the shoes of a brand General Manager – draft superstars, book matches and promos, then simulate both them and the crowd reactions (and yes, you can play the matches if you want, and have an endless amount of time to dedicate to this game). There are rules to what you can do to get better reactions – kinds of matches, Heel vs Face, and so on – but given your limitations (in terms of money, mostly), it will take some time and experience before you’re booking good matches.
Plus, you need more money to book bigger venues, legends, better crew, better match types (tables, extreme rules, hell in a cell, and so on)… Plus, your talent gets tired between matches, and there’s morale and brand popularity to think of… and let’s face it – thinking is hard. There’s quite a lot to consider, but only a short time to execute – 15, 25, or 50 weeks. Those 15-week battles are brutal – blink and it’s over.
And keep in mind that you’re not just doing this on your own – you’re competing against another brand, controlled either by AI, or another player. With messages from other execs and Twitter feedback between episodes, a lot of thought has been put into this game mode. I’m pretty sure this will make a lot of fans pretty happy, but me? I found it a bit slow-paced and dull. I’m an “all action, no thinkin'” kind of player.
It Hits Different
Anyway, it’s not the game modes people are interested in when it comes to WWE 2K22 – it’s the gameplay. The reason previous titles in the series didn’t do so well is that the gameplay was clunky and the moves were way too complex to perform. Well, I can tell you that your hopes have been fulfilled – the 2K team has absolutely managed to develop a new battle system, and it works! Mostly.
Light and heavy attacks, block, and grab have all been mapped to the face buttons. Wrestling game purists may scoff at this, but it’s functional – corresponding button presses and directional inputs provide the nuance, allowing players to control the outcome. This, along with combos and contextual movesets, it really is easy to pull off some impressive-looking moves, and the more you learn the button combinations, you really can do almost anything you can think of. Almost.
Pathing and detection let it down, somewhat, as tends to happen in these kinds of games. Pressing a button at the right time will pull off that springboard rope attack you were planning, but pressing that same button at the wrong time (generally milliseconds apart) means you’ll flub that action, doing something quite different, and missing your opponent in the process, opening you up to attack. Eventually, you’ll get your head around this, and it won’t drive you completely mad, but in my experience, there never came a match where I didn’t screw up a move multiple times – and rarely did it feel like my fault.
Of course, reversing an attack is also a thing you can do, and doing so is a hell of a lot easier this time around – which, again, purists may scoff at. A single button press – the same button every time – will guarantee a reversal, if timed correctly. Often you will be able to exploit this, sometimes to the point where it feels too easy, but on the other hand, occasionally the game will not give you a large window for reversal, giving your opponent an opportunity to catch up.
Overall, I felt this was quite balanced when playing against AI, and I really enjoyed the give and take. But tag teams and multi-man battles are still a nightmare. Beat your opponent down, get that pin, and expect to be interrupted by another player, EVERY TIME. Frustrating.
The reversal issue becomes a real problem when playing against another human player – because you can both reverse almost as often as you like. While it’s frustrating in multi-man matches to be constantly interrupted during pinfall, it’s even worse when you can barely pull off your more powerful moves due to constant reversals.
Full of Non-WWE wrestlers…
In terms of the roster… what can I say? There are a bunch of legends to find and play, including all the usuals – Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, that Rock guy, along with variations of each across the years. Given this is celebrating Rey Mysterio Jr’s 20-year anniversary, there are a few variations of him to play as also. And the roster includes the majority of the roster as it stands today.
…with some strange omissions. Some, such as Christian Cage, Adam Cole, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, and Sting because they are currently in AEW. Others, though, like Nikki Bella and Paige – two very popular female wrestlers – are missing for unknown reasons. Perhaps they’ll show up in DLC, but who knows? Considering the inclusion of a huge number of wrestlers that were released by WWE during 2021, their omission is confusing. There are 31 non-WWE wrestlers included in the roster, from my count, and several of them have recently appeared in AEW, such as Keith Lee and Kyle O’Reilly, or Impact, such as Mickie James. The roster – while EXCELLENT – is more than a little confusing.
Of course, the ability to create pretty much whatever you like means that players have the opportunity to play as virtually anybody they can think of. The most popular downloads at the time of writing were all AEW wrestlers, and people had even gone as far as to create AEW Championship belts (almost perfectly, I might add) – and this says a lot. I really hope I can find some of my favourite NJPW wrestlers in there as well. Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega, and Roman Reigns in a Fatal Three-Way match sounds like my kind of fun.
The graphics, I’m divided on. These wrestlers look the part – they look exactly like who they are meant to be, and compared to previous wrestling games, look phenomenal… But in comparison to other modern titles… they can look a little rough at times. The uncanny valley is deep.
Sports games have another aspect that’s not found in other titles – commentary. In the past, commentary has been very clunky. Sometimes poorly timed, never sounding natural – the commentary was never satisfying. However, this time around, they’ve managed to achieve something that’s acceptable at the very least, and even impressive, at times.
Overall, I’m kind of torn on how I feel. Yes, the game has improved, and yes there’s a lot of content, but there isn’t enough direction from the offset. For many, this might not be a problem, as they love the wrasslin’ and don’t care how they go about it, but even for me, who does love the sport, I wish I was guided into a mode that would hook my interest, rather than just let me choose any of the options, all of which are as deep as each other in terms of content. In the end, I found myself floundering from one mode to another, never settling. And while MyFaction is a really interesting new mode, the microtransactions really put me off. I mean, it’s a full-priced game, and there will be paid DLC in the future, PLUS there are microtransactions? It just feels like it’s milking players for all their worth. Then again, this is WWE, so it’s on theme…
And although the game plays much better (or as the 2K marketing goes “It Hits Different”), I’m not sure it plays differently enough to be considered the new poster child for wrestling video games – that accolade still goes to WWF No Mercy, Saturday Night Slam Masters (arguably not a wrestling game), or the old WrestleMania or WrestleFest arcades.
There’s something to be learned from the simplicity and accessibility of those games, and while WWE 2K22 goes a long way in that direction, there are still too many impediments to fun to make this a true classic.
WWE 2K22 was reviewed on PS5 using digital code provided by 2K.