WWE 2K23 Review

WWE 2K23 John Cena Header

WWE 2K23 is, without a doubt, the most polished entry in the wrestling franchise for years. That’s fairly faint praise, however, when it is still a mediocre experience when it comes to recreating the sport of kings that is professional wrestling. Why? Well, to quote the philosopher, poet, and voracious YouTube Simon Miller, “Here’s why!”

WWE 2K23 is, even on my bog-standard near-senile PS4, absolutely gorgeous. Thanks to exhaustive graphical detail, each wrestler now looks and moves far more like their real-life counterpart and the big stars in particular look fantastic. Roman Reigns is a thing of beauty – in real life and in WWE 2K23 too – Becky Lynch oozes charisma, whilst Brock Lesnar truly lives up to his moniker of the beast incarnate. What’s even more impressive, is that even the D-list superstars your mum hasn’t heard of look mighty fine too – Ilja Dragunov in a WWE game is as unexpected as it is awesome.

There’s a vast roster of wrestlers to choose from too and, thanks in part to a far more stable WWE since Triple H took the helm, the roster is much more accurate and up-to-date than last year’s edition. Both new stars and old are represented here, meaning that, even if it never actually comes to pass, you can at least have Roman Reigns square off against The Rock in video game form.

Animation has also seen a notable improvement since last year. Clipping is at a minimum whilst visual bugs are mostly absent. Wrestlers move with weight and actually sell injuries, pulling themselves up on the ring ropes when weary, or hobbling around if they’ve suffered a leg injury. Contact between superstars feels impactful too, with strikes and grapples connecting with force. Sure, there are still ridiculous moments, like when moves from the top-turn buckle hilariously miss everything and everyone or a wrestler launches from the ring with a suicide dive only to flop harmlessly on the mat but, hey, would it really be a WWE 2K game without the silly stuff?

WWE 2K23 Bad Bunny

For the most part, the obsession with nonsensical mini-games to escape a pin or to execute a submission hold has been kept in check. They are at least entirely optional, with some good old-fashioned button-mashing being my preferred control option – why would you do anything else when it proves so effective?

In contrast to this welcome simplicity though, are the horrible, horrible controls, which are disgustingly complex. Reverse a grapple, pick up a wrestler, or grab a table as you’re learning to play and the game will pause and present you with page after page of instructions cram-packed with details of every follow-up button prompt. It’s exhausting and needlessly complicated. It’s also bizarre how fiddly some actions are, when in other cases, just one button tap will cause both wrestlers to launch into a fluid series of moves and counters with no further player input. Indeed, you can tell how little confidence the developers have in their control scheme whilst playing the John Cena flavoured Showcase mode.

Here players get to, amusingly, relive the greatest losses of Cena’s career by taking on the role of his opponents. Gameplay is smartly intersected with real-life footage of some genuinely classic matches. To activate the footage you have to perform certain moves in certain locations of the arena. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. In fact, so abstract are some of the controller inputs that pausing the game you literally get a series of instructions telling you what buttons to push, when, and where. It really takes you out of the experience.

WWE 2K23 John Cena

This gets to the true issue at the heart of the WWE 2K series. With graphics and animation polished, glitches fixed, and game modes refined, it’s now all too easy to see that WWE 2K does a pretty lousy job of recreating professional wrestling as a video game. In some respects, this isn’t 2K’s fault. Professional wrestling is a collaborative performance, not a competitive sport with two or more wrestlers working together to draw the audience into a compelling story. Sometimes a plot calls for a wrestler to win, sometimes to lose, but that is always secondary to having engaging characters and an emotive narrative. Some of the greatest and most memorable moments in all of WWE come from when a wrestler loses. Who can forget Stone Cold Steve Austin versus Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13? Losing that match made the Rattlesnake.

Trying to turn those vital aspects of wrestling into a purely competitive video game where winning is the only goal was always going to be a tall order. WWF No Mercy all the way back on the N64 figured out a solution, by having a branching storyline that continued whether the player won or lost, so you could tell some great stories and witness some great moments. WWE 2K23 absolutely misses that trick. Lose a match in the underwhelming single-player storylines and you’ll just have to try again. As such, these campaigns end up pretty boring and don’t immerse the player. It just doesn’t feel like pro–wrestling.

Multiplayer suffers from the same issue. If you meet a fellow player who wants to work with you to have an exciting match then some pro-wrestling fun can be had here. But all too often it’s just about winning and the match becomes a chore. Each player spams the same few moves until they can get a quick pin, whilst furiously tapping the triangle button in a vague attempt to reverse every move. That’s not a pro wrestling game, that’s just an underwhelming fighting game. There’s better of both to be found elsewhere.

As a wrestling fan, I want to create five-star classic matches, with back-and-forth action, near falls, and iconic moments, but ultimately WWE 2K23 cannot facilitate that. Messy and overly complicated controls hamper those efforts, but it’s 2K’s obsession with players winning matches that ensure this professional wrestling game misses the point entirely.
  • Great graphics and animation
  • Stacked roster
  • Controls are a complicated mess
  • Single-player modes are boring
  • Just doesn’t feel like getting to play at being a pro-wrestler