Whenever a wrestler wants to freshen up their persona or their gimmick there are many ways to do so. Some just change their entrance music and attire. Others, like The Undertaker make wholesale changes morphing from the original Deadman to The American Bad Ass roaring to the ring on his motorcycle. Perhaps the biggest switcheroo in wrestling history was when Hulk Hogan ditched the prayers, vitamins and the WWE to become Hollywood Hogan, the leader of the nWo in WCW.
WWE 2K23 is much like Hogan or Taker in the nineties. The successful foundation is in place but the entire face of things is in need of a new coat of paint. That isn’t to say there aren’t any changes in 2K23. There are plenty of those and all for the better I can report. Developers Visual Concepts, known for their work with 2K on the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL game franchises, have refined their advancements and enhancements to the WWE 2K23 making it one of the best wrestling games ever produced. Truth be told, the hashtag used to promote the game, #evenstronger, is not just a marketing tool. It actually describes the improvements and additions Visual Concepts has made to the game.
Since the recent WWE 2K installments are far more than just a campaign and freeplay, I am going to give each mode their space here.
Let it be known I am a massive fan of steel cage matches and when I say cage matches I mean what used to be and still passes for cage matches outside of WWE. Having a cage match without any blood and without that chain-link fence is absolutely pointless to me. It takes away from the drama and the spectacle.
WarGames is a great addition to the already stacked match line-up that is in the game. The only bouts missing at this point are barbed wire or exploding ring matches.
Hint. Hint. Nudge. Nudge. Visual Concepts. Say no more.
WarGames looks good and works well. The set-up is new school though, NXT and HHH’s take on things, with the combatants waiting in smaller cages for their turn to enter the fray so there’s no milling about around the ring. When your time comes though you can decide whether or not to bring a weapon into the ring with you, scour under the ring for plunder.
Pro-Tip: If you want to be a part of the action right away make sure you designate yourself as one of the first entrants or you could be sitting idle for awhile waiting to join mayhem. Before the match begins you can also decide to randomize which team gets the WarGames advantage or you can award it to whomever you want to.
Besides the screen zooming out when the WarGames cage becomes full the only other really shortcoming is that you cannot rely on your allies if using AI partners. They will inflict damage and battle for you but they will get in the way of you taking on a foe sometimes and there is no way to double-team someone. If you don’t expect too much from your brothers in blood you will be fine though.
Like actual WarGames matches in the past the game allows you to fight in that narrow spot between the two rings and you can climb to the top of the cage as well which is cool. Nice of Visual Concepts to put those things in the game. Just another example of the team really doing their homework when it comes to the WWE and wrestling.
This year’s Showcase, campaign play celebrates the illustrious career of John Cena but you aren’t playing John Cena, well, not until the very end. You are in the role of all the rivals he has faced. You control Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Triple H, AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Edge and a host of other stars.
As in past iterations of Showcase, as you wrestle, relive these matches you must complete certain objectives like blocking two of John Cena’s attacks or slamming him through the announce table with your finisher to move on in the matches. For each match you win, playable characters, rings and gear are unlocked.
Nobody can ever claim Visual Concepts doesn’t have a sense of humour. During Cena’s match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014, the game requires that you take Cena to Suplex City and deliver those 1,293 suplexes to him. Funny stuff that.
John Cena himself narrates each match. His thoughts and insights are fantastic but he is dressed in a suit, standing in a dark room in front of a microphone like he is voicing a new cartoon or animated character for a movie or television series. Why isn’t he in a wrestling ring, at the live event or anywhere that is vaguely interesting and character? I didn’t get that at all.
The matches themselves still contain some questionable objectives that we have seen before pop up from time to time. In my mind, since this a combat or fighting game you should never be asked to do anything that could harm your momentum or put you at a distinct disadvantage. That increasing the chances of you taking damage and losing the match. Forcing players to go on the defense and reverse Cena’s moves or punches, even slam him through the announce table in a regular match as the official makes their count, not only goes against the nature of a combat game but in the case of the table spot, could actually cost you the match if you are counted out. These kinds of objectives need to send off to a garbage dump in Parts Unknown or where Bray Wyatt’s career is right now. Other than those issues Cena’s Showcase is an entertaining playthrough.
The 2023 iteration of WWE 2K has two career modes: one for the men and one for the women. In Legacy, you are the niece of a WWE Hall of Famer who is stepping out of her aunt’s shadow and trying find her own path to stardom in the WWE. With your loving aunt showing up all the time it is kind of hard but as The Godfather always said…Pimpin’ ain’t easy…especially if you are a WWE superstar. You aunt’s nemesis was Molly Holly, who now works for WWE behind the scenes. At time she is your mentor and at times your biggest obstacle.
The second campaign is The Lock and it is a new kind of playthrough. Before starting the campaign you will be asked to create your own character including their move-set, their ring attire, their entrance, as you have done before in previous My Rise modes.
The catch here is that you won’t be using that persona or version of the character right away as this story involves you being recruited by the WWE but being given a gimmick, a character of their choosing.
You are: The Lock. No, not The Rock. The Lock.
You make your big debut stepping out of a gigantic safe wearing a padlock around your neck like John Cena used to in his Thugonomics days. The good news is that you are fighting Sami Zayn for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. To complicate matters you are being followed around by a film crew who are documenting your rise in the WWE. Luckily, you can skip, click through those segments.
Even though Shawn Michaels pleads with you to “trust the process” like Rocky Maivia or The Ringmaster did, feelings of doubt begin to emerge as the desire to be yourself, to return to your former identity, your real identity, grows. What hastens the decision to take on the persona you created heading into this My Rise is the fact that The Lock’s wrestling moves, entrance and attire are about as interesting and as exciting as anything Baron Corbin does in or out of the ring for the WWE.
Whether you choose Legacy or The Lock, 2023’s My Rise mode is double the fun.
WWE 2K23’s general manager mode returns this year with more changes attached to it than any of the other modes. Visual Concepts has really expanded what fantasy bookers can do and accomplish as players try to be the top brand leading into WrestleMania.
The number of brands and number of general managers you have to pick from has expanded to include: Adam Pearce, Eric Bischoff, Stephanie McMahon, Mick Foley, Sonya Deville, Kurt Angle, a custom general manger and even Xavier Woods and Tyler Breeze from YouTube’s UpUpDownDown. The brands you can spearhead are: Raw, Smackdown, WCW, NXT and NXT 2.0. Not sure why ECW is not in the mix. I mean, WWE does own it. Perhaps there are issues I am not aware of. Which also brings someone else to mind. What about Theodore Long? How can one of WWE’s most illustrious general managers not be part of My GM?
Yes. That’s a holla at you, Visual Concepts.
As well as fiddling with the difficulty and the number of general managers you will compete against you can increase or decrease the starting budget of each player from a minimum of $2,750,000 to a maximum of $3,250,000. Visual Concepts has also added more matches to pick from when booking your events. Now, you have Triple Threat, Fatal 4-Way, Steel Cage, Backstage Brawl, Falls Count Anywhere, Submission, Iron Man, Last Man Standing and Tornado Tag Team bouts at your disposal.
The bragging rights have expanded as now you can be awarded Hall of Fame and Slammy Award distinctions but one of the biggest developments are challenges and shake-ups during each season. With shake-ups it is time to pick your poison as you are presented with three potential options to choose from to screw with your rival’s season and better your own. You can increase a talent’s ability to regain stamina (A+ Medical Team). You can select a superstar with less than 50 stamina and increase their stamina to 75. There are all sorts of positives to assist your pool and all sorts of hurdles for your rivals.
I get a kick out of my GM even though I still don’t understand the tech voodoo behind it all. I have no middle ground. I either do really well putting on unforgettable cards, events or I bomb as badly as NXT is doing right now but then again I dislike games in which you have to do so much micromanaging that you have to start making handwritten notes to keep everything straight. I understand the mechanics involved, like you are more likely to get a positive reception from fans if you pit a “giant” against a “cruiserweight”. I just don’t comprehend how you can have AJ Styles and Cody Rhodes in a match and it not be phenomenal. I guess even the best wrestlers have bad matches, bad days and performances? I still enjoy the mode a lot even though I still have a long way to go before I reach the level of a Dusty Rhodes or an Ole Anderson.
Visual Concepts has tinkered with some of the gameplay mechanics. To counter players’ complaints that when they are knocked down they stay down for far too long, there is now an Instant Recovery option bounces you right back up. You also no longer have to sit through many of the cutscenes as they are completely skippable. The one thing though that Visual Concepts should cut back on is the number of moves available when you create your own character. We really don’t need ten different kinds of piledrivers and we don’t need moves like slaps or headlock punches. The game would really benefit from Visual Concepts performing a move inventory and dumping the doubles and dumping the useless moves. That would cut the time it takes to create a character which has ballooned to probably an hour or more for most creators.
Pro Tip: For those who don’t know, if you want “blood” in WWE 2K23 you need to go to the options and turn that option on. It is automatically turned off when you install the game. You have to manually activate it. It is like HHH himself is involved in the game design, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
WWE 2K23 continues one of the best comebacks in video game franchise history. From the Installment That Shall Not Ever Be Named (WWE 2K20) to last year’s superb comeback and this year’s astounding entry, the franchise has returned to its former glory. The delimma facing the series is that if they are going to continue to release an installment every year, which I would strongly advise against as they just don’t seem to have the content, they will have to razzle and dazzle gamers to entice them to buy the latest version.
I don’t know about you but I don’t play many sports games but the ones that I do, I am more the happy to stick to version from a few years ago as nothing of any major importance to me is included in the latest releases. Well, nothing that matters to me. WWE 2K has really made some leaps and bounds since that debacle a few years ago. It would be a shame to see the series regress instead of progressing as it has been under Visual Concepts.
There is no better all-around wrestling video game package than this. Whether you like to fantasy book, start your own career or just hack around with your friends online, WWE 2K23 is the total package and has something for everyone. It is money and time well spent.