When you really stop and think about it, translating wrestling into a fighting game framework can be an impossible task. The sport itself is a collaborative effort whereas most gaming is a solo experience with explicit win conditions. Wrestling games have been many things over the years but I struggle to think of a modern one that truly felt right. WWE 2K23 continues the trend, although I feel there’s improvements along the way.
In the ring, it’s much like last year. You deliver light and heavy attacks and grapples on the face buttons. You can string these together for combos or dish out isolated attacks to keep the pressure up. The HUD looks as complicated as ever but things like targeting specific body parts never really felt essential in the bouts I’ve played.
I can be quite clinical in keeping my opponent cornered but there are times where the tide will turn. Wrestling on TV always seems to have a flow to it and turning that into a game mechanic can be very tricky. There’s a reversal and dodge available with windows of opportunity sometimes being too short to capitalise on. My best bet was to pre-emptively hit triangle but, depending on the incoming move, the prompt might change to a different button. One on one fights gave me ample chances for comebacks but busier brawls quickly saw me struggling to turn it around. Other combatants would get up and I did find myself being cornered.
You can probably work a realistic enough match but there are plenty of moments where the engine seems starts to show some cracks. Sometimes it’s in service of showing moves at their best angles, sometimes animations take priority over something more immediate. It’s a far cry from the unstable games of the past but you still see the gears whirring underneath the veneer. There is a real attempt here to replicate the TV experience but it’s often at the cost of pacing. Some of it can be levelled at the AI.
In multi-person matches, targeting incoming danger isn’t as smooth as it could be. On top of that, I feel the CPU will prioritise fighting you over the smarter option. There’s a textbook delay before tag partners sprint in to break up pin-falls and there’s very little cooperation when tornado tag rules apply. I wouldn’t mind something snappier and a bit more coordinated. It’s not awful but there are moments like that take you out of the experience. As does animations snapping into place so a move can truly land.
For better and worse, the engine represents an approximation of the real thing that doesn’t quite mesh with the different demands of a fighting game. Within the confines of the series, it’s better at its job. Having animations take control for those periods helps keep the players in their place but it’s all at the cost of immediacy.
Presentation is largely well done with the WWE’s famed video packages getting a good run in this year’s Showcase mode. John Cena is the man under the microscope and, in a twist, it focuses entirely on some of his defeats. Unfortunately, it doesn’t run chronologically and tends to group matches by opponents. It begins with his title loss to Rob Van Damme in front of a raucous ECW crowd. Honestly, it’s a strong start and the integration of real footage is always a neat trick.
You can progress through these matches landing victories but beating objectives will help secure unlocks. Objectives require the right context so getting John in the right position can be a little fiddly, especially if you’re unfamiliar with a person’s moveset. Assistance is readily available in the pause menu, although having it bundled in with the on-screen objectives would certainly have kept the momentum of the match up. It’s an interesting mode with WWE’s penchant for historical accuracy allowing for the right arenas and décor to show up. There’s 16 matches to tackle but I do feel these could’ve been arranged to give a better sense of John Cena’s progression in the industry.
For something more substantial, MyRise returns with two campaigns. The Lock puts you in the shoes of someone hand-picked for greatness whilst The Legacy sees someone with familial ties to the business lace up their boots and stamp their own path. I’ve only played the latter to completion but, whilst it is occasionally goofy, it does come with a nice pay-off. Following in the footsteps of her aunt, LJ has a shadow to overcome whilst also making new partnerships along the way. It’s mostly focused in the women’s tag division but, as singles stardom beckons, the story does well to keep track of all those threads. It does falter with a couple of free-for-all scraps that can be hard to control but I largely enjoyed the story it was telling. The decisions you take as LJ are given a surprising amount of weight.
The rest of the content is kept intact from last year. There’s a staggering amount of match types and a stacked list of wrestlers to compete as. Community creations are already filtering through and the strong fanbase will always fill any gaps in the shipping roster. MyGM sees some small tweaks but that mode has never really interested me. I’d rather spend time in the ring. As frustrating as it can be, I do enjoy picking apart opponents and aiming for five-star matches.
Voice acting is very hit and miss. Commentary remains a little stilted can sometimes sound unnatural. The wrestlers’ deliveries vary from person to person. Whilst likenesses are mostly great, there’s a few that clearly lack some polish. As with all of these games, ring attires and gimmicks are never quite up-to-date. This can be heard in some lines of commentary which is unfortunate. Despite this, I think Visual Concepts handle the look and feel of a WWE event well. They use the license to the best of their ability and it does help sell the pageantry.
Truth be told, WWE 2K23 is a decent wrestling simulation that builds upon last year’s effort. Progress is glacial but I feel steps are being made in the right direction. It can still frustrate, especially when dealing with a full ring of competitors. Flow is something the real product lives and dies by and the virtual representation can sometimes stumble. Showcase and the MyRise modes remain compelling and do help structure the fighting well.
+ A wealth of content and match types.
+ MyRise tells an interesting story.
+ The in-ring action is enjoyable.
- Multi-person free-for-alls can be a struggle to control.
- The pacing of matches can be diminished by the need to show long animations.
- Not all the wrestler models have been given the same amount of care.