In wrestling parlance, WWE 2K22 is a tweener. Neither heroic babyface nor treacherous heel, the successful tweener must straddle both personality types in order to connect with the crowd. It’s mighty tricky, but when done right, the results are impressive. Just look at what Bryan Danielson is doing right now in AEW. Is he a face? A heel? It really doesn’t matter, as he is one hundred percent awesome. WWE 2K22’s balancing act is no less tricky than the plight of a prospective tweener, does it want to be a great video game or a great wrestling game? Unfortunately, the developer’s Visual Concepts just can’t decide which they want it to be and as such WWE 2K22 is neither.
First of all, the good news. Unlike WWE 2K20, the last game in the series, WWE 2K22 is not horribly broken. Congratulations, 2K Sports, you have successfully achieved the minimum expectations for a modern video game. That’s not to say that 2K22 doesn’t still have its share of hilarious glitches, because it does. Skilled airborne wrestlers, flipping dexterously through the air, will miss every single opponent with hilarious regularity. Ladders appear to be made of rubber and will boing to the mat as soon as a wrestler even looks at them. Then there are the wrestlers themselves, who mostly look great but have the peculiar power to make their limbs insubstantial like a ghost. I cried when the Rock and Steve Austin briefly became one during a match. It was equally disturbing and beautiful.
Also, don’t believe the ‘It Hits Different’ slogan of the marketing campaign. Bar a few slight changes to the gameplay formula, this is essentially the same WWE 2K experience we’ve all been playing for years now. There are the overly confusing mini-games that there have always been, such as the inexplicably naff job of retrieving the Money in the Bank briefcase. There’s also the dopey AI that gets confused navigating tables. Sure, reversals may well be activated with the tap of a different button now, but they are still as unresponsive as ever. The game will seemingly decide on a whim if you’ve successfully managed to evade a grapple in a really cool way. There’s an additional opportunity to reverse an opponent’s attacks by guessing what button your foe has pressed and then matching their input. This is as much of a mess as it sounds, simply resulting in even more random button mashing.
It all adds up to a sense of the player having too little actual control over proceedings. All too often it feels like you’re watching wrestling rather than playing it. This sense is exacerbated by the fact that one button press can result in your fighter unleashing a string of moves with no further input from you required.
This gets to the core issue with WWE 2K22. It hedges its bets and wants to be everything and as a result, doesn’t do anything particularly well. As a video game, it lacks the sense of control and response that makes for a great video game fighter. However, as a wrestling game, it falls short in ways that are harder for a lifetime fan to forgive.
Take the Showcase game mode. At first glance it’s a neat idea, letting you play through the storied wrestling history of Rey Mysterio Jnr. Every wrestling fan will delight in the fact that the legendary luchador turns up to discuss his matches in great detail. I must admit to experiencing absolute joy when I discovered that each of Rey’s costumes, opponents, and the arenas they fought in had been recreated with an intense eye for detail. As you play a match the game will insert footage from the real event into the video game recreation when the player fulfils certain requirements. It’s a really slick feature and works tremendously well, up until the point where the gameplay requirements placed upon you become frustratingly obscure. Trying, again and again, to set up a foe in just the right way on the ropes to hit the correct move – all whilst combating with WWE 2k22’s inherent control randomness – is just tedious. Recreating Mysterio’s finest moments is no fun when you must do them repeatedly until the game finally decides that you got it right. Showcase will soon be forgotten and left unplayed.
Then you have the MyRise game mode, in which you can make your own wrestler and take them on a career from the performance centre to superstardom. The ‘create a wrestler’ function on offer is perhaps the most varied and detailed of any wrestling game ever, though this all proves for naught when the storylines your creation becomes embroiled in are so very boring. Professional wrestling is meant to be big, loud, and over-the-top, but you wouldn’t know it from MyRise, where you’ll spend most of your time scrolling through Twitter watching other wrestlers have a conversation. The storylines you do get are uninspired and make the current WWE TV product look coherent by comparison. Not only that but the vocal performances are lazy. The WWE wrestlers are definitely phoning it in from beginning to end.
There are a ton of other game modes but, even with the additional development time, they all feel undercooked. Plus, the wrestling roster available to play as is woefully underwhelming, not to mention inaccurate. I was genuinely surprised to find numerous wrestlers who are now either fired or under contract with AEW are still included. I guess that without them (and the 62 different Undertaker variants) there would be too few superstars for players to choose from? Perhaps Visual Concepts poured so much time into recreating Braun Strowman that they just couldn’t bear to let his model go? Either way, the blame for this state of affairs must be placed squarely with WWE, whose excessive firing policy and inability to create new stars has led to a very stale roster.
This leaves us with multiplayer, which actually manages to be rather enjoyable. Taking on a friend in a Hell in the Cell is quite simply a good laugh. Multiplayer instantly rids WWE 2K22 of many of the issues that are so obvious elsewhere, from dull storylines to dodgy AI. Get a few pals together and you will have fun, smashing, slamming, and grappling your way to victory. Multiplayer allows you to recreate and create your own wrestling moments in a far more intuitive and engaging way than any other part of the game. The flow of the matches might even start to emulate the back and forth of a real wrestling match. Fancy that!