It’s that time of year again! We’re hitting the last few stops on the road to WrestleMania, and these days that means the hypetrain for this year’s WWE 2K game is officially underway also.
I was fortunate enough to be one of a small number of press invited up to 2K’s offices in Sydney recently for a few hours of hands-on time with an early build of WWE 2K24. The demo itself was fairly limited in scope, but it did allow us to experience many of the new features and modes that are coming in this year’s edition.
As revealed previously, this year’s 2K Showcase celebrates the 40 year history of WrestleMania itself, which the preview build allowed us to play three matches of. Not shockingly given the games cover stars, two of these were Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair from last year’s ‘Mania 39 and Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns also from ‘39, with the third being Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior for the intercontinental title at WrestleMania 5.
2K’s ‘Slingshot Tech’, which transitions the action seamlessly between real match footage and the game itself during Showcase, is impressive as always. This year’s incrementally small improvements made to character models and animations help sell it all better than ever, as does the new addition of a number of WWE’s actual referees – previously the games just had generic stand-ins which required refs to be blurred when cutting to real-life match footage. Hair still looks completely naff, but effort seems to have been made to mask that fact better than in prior instalments.
Unfortunately we weren’t shown the full list of matches Showcase will feature, but here’s hoping they’re able to include some of the pandemic era weirdness to mix it up a little. As Showcase inherently strives to give players an accurate simulation of historic matches, I really hope that Visual Concepts are able to feature era-correct music for each wrestler and don’t just have their current themes awkwardly inserted. This feels unlikely given WWE’s recent efforts to replace many of the works of their previously contracted composers with new pieces, but depending on what matches they choose to include it may be a non-issue anyway.
He wasn’t featured in anything we saw, but it will be interesting to see if any of Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania moments have been planned for Showcase also, or if he’s featured in either of the career mode stories for that matter, given his resignation amidst horrifying allegations mere days after this preview event occurred. A bigger question mark is the one that hangs over Brock Lesnar after he was pulled at the last minute from this past week’s Royal Rumble event for also being implicated in the whole affair. Given that his ending of the Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania streak is one of the biggest moments of wrestling’s modern era, I’d be amazed if it wasn’t planned for the mode. I guess we’ll see.
The Backstage Brawl environment is much the same as it has been in the last few games, but the addition of a working elevator up to the catwalk area and interactive vending machines that spawn throwable cans and bottles helps refresh it a little, (okay, mockingly throwing beverages one by one at your opponent while they lay dazed on the concrete is actually hilarious and delighted me to no end). It does support up to four players now though, which is nice. It’s still a small disappointment that you can’t seamlessly brawl from the ring through to the backstage area, but c’est la vie.
The ambulance match is the new feature that stole the show for me, though.
For those unaware, this is a gimmick match where you must beat up your opponent by any and all means necessary, then hurl them into the back of an ambulance and slam the doors shut in order to win. The button mashing effort required to close each door in turn is made easier or harder depending on how fatigued you and your opponent are, with the battle over the second door seeming to be made naturally easier for the defender. The whole mechanical design of it ensures that each ambulance match is an absolute riot of tension build and release. It’s limited to 1v1, which is a bit of a bummer, but the ebb and flow of it is so deeply satisfying that I can’t help but feel as if it’s the match type I’m going to keep coming back to more than any other regardless.
As for moment to moment gameplay? Well it’s much as it was in last year’s excellent 2K23, which is pretty much just as it was in the terrific 2K22. It feels a tiny bit faster and more fluid, but the team at Visual Concepts didn’t really try to monkey with what was already working and I’m completely fine with that. There is a new ‘Trading Blows’ minigame that’s designed to replicate those spots where two wrestlers exchange heavy chops to the chest back and forth. I fell into it on a few occasions but couldn’t ever quite manage to deliberately trigger it. Mechanically it functions similarly to a golf game where you’ve got to hit a sweet spot on a meter as it fills. It’s a good bit of banter and a welcome addition to the WWE 2K combat system.
I came away from the preview session eagerly looking forward to the full game, which is about as positive a feeling as one could hope for from any hands-on preview. WWE 2K24 is not going to be the quantum leap forward that 2K22 was, not by any stretch, and when 2K25 inevitably rolls around it may well feel like it’s time for the series to take a year off and do another huge overhaul again. For now though, another year of additions and refinements along with a Showcase as loaded with potential as this one feels like it’s enough.
WWE 2K24 Deluxe and WrestleMania editions are set to launch on March 5th whilst the standard edition will launch on March 8th, and will be available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.