WWE 2K22 is a shining example of what taking a year off to reassess can do for a series. Following one of the worst WWE games to ever see the light of day in WWE 2K20, Visual Concepts has done an extraordinary job in executing the ultimate babyface turn – delivering one of the best wrestling games in years.
This starts with 2K22’s gameplay. What used to be one of the worst elements in recent 2K wrestling games has now become one of the best. The redesigned gameplay engine allows newcomers to pull off awesome-looking moves while being deep enough for veterans to seek their teeth into. Animations are less janky when compared to recent entries as well, making every move look closer to the real thing. The camera’s positioning, now much closer to the ring, plays a big role in enhancing the moment-to-moment action and is another welcome change to the game’s general presentation. This all comes together to form a more cohesive presentation package that kept me captivated throughout the many matches I played.
The control system’s revamp is a particular highlight this year. Light attacks, heavy attacks and grapples are assigned to individual face buttons and can be chained together to form devastating combos against an opponent. Reversals can still be performed through the assigned reversal button; however Visual Concepts has added a ‘breaker’ option – a new type of reversal that can quickly put you on the front foot. These are executed by guessing what the opponent is about to press – whether that’s the light attack, heavy attack or grapple button – and pressing the corresponding button at the same time. This will put an end to whatever move they’re trying to execute – whether it’s a chained combo or a few basic attacks – allowing you to then start going on the offensive yourself.
When executed correctly, breakers can change the entire flow of a match. On harder difficulties, these become necessities and ultimately make matches in 2K22 feel more fluid and enjoyable to play. They add an extra element of strategy to the mix, taking a step closer to what we watch on television each week all the while adding to the fun of the experience. After many years of the same old formula each year in these games, 2K22’s gameplay feels as fresh and exciting as a wrestling game ever has.
This year’s Showcase Mode covers the long-running career of one of my favourite wrestlers of all time, Rey Mysterio. Most of the matches included in Showcase Mode are pivotal matches in Mysterio’s career, like the Wrestlemania 21 match against Eddie Guerrero and his match for the World Heavyweight Championship against JBL at Judgment Day 2006. It was great to revisit these with commentary from Mysterio himself, as it provided a deeper insight into the importance of each match. Given Mysterio’s long-running history in the brand I was disappointed that only one WCW match was included, and the recent matches included were all relatively insignificant. It seems like a lot of the classics – like the Wrestlemania 22 triple threat match and his match against Chris Jericho at The Bash in 2009 – weren’t included due to the opponent either leaving WWE and/or joining up with rival brand AEW. All-in-all, it’s a nice look back at one of the most storied careers in WWE history, but it could have been done more justice.
On that subject, WWE 2K22’s roster is the weakest in some time. Neither good nor bad, there’s an odd mix of wrestlers in this year’s entry. A surprisingly large chunk have now either departed WWE or have been released, yet still made it into the game. In some ways this is great, as still having access to wrestlers like Jeff Hardy (one of my other all-time favourites) and Samoa Joe gives the roster some depth. Yet legends of yesteryear and notable up-and-comers are few and far between. Lucky those omissions can be downloaded through the rather excellent creation suite, huh?
MyGM suffers a bit because of this, but that still doesn’t take away from what is one of the best modes in WWE 2K22. Taking the reins of a WWE General Manager and battling it out against a rival with the goal of becoming the top-rated show, MyGM sparkles by shining a light on a different side of wrestling than what’s offered in the game’s other modes. Here, you pick which brand you’re going to take to the top, draft superstars to your chosen show and schedule matches and rivalries that will captivate the crowd.
Throughout the mode you’re able to directly control superstars in matches or simulate to your heart’s content – whatever you do, success is determined by examining wrestler types and setting matches up between wrestlers who can produce exciting matches with each other. This is where MyGM can get a bit confusing, though, as dream matches you thought would be instant classics – like Drew McIntyre vs Goldberg, for example – can earn underwhelming one-star ratings for being too boring. Drew McIntyre vs Riddle, though? Potential gold. It’s a bit bizarre, and it most definitely feels a bit wrong to pit superstars like Rey Mysterio up against Brock Lesnar, but there’s enough offered up in the mode to make it feel unique.
Throughout the MyGM season you’re able to sign free agents (as most of the big hitters won’t be available in the draft, weirdly enough) on either timed or permanent contracts as well as legends. You’re also able to use power cards, which can be earned by achieving a goal set by your commissioner each week. These give you bonuses to use on your superstars, on your own show or against the rival brand and play an important role in coming out on top.
You’re also given a budget in MyGM and need to keep a close eye on it as you progress. You’ll earn money for well-received shows which can be then used to buy more power cards, put on a better show (with a bigger arena, better lighting and pyros) and/or sign superstars to join your brand. MyGM rewards strategy first and foremost, and I enjoyed carving out different rivalries with wrestlers and having them crescendo at PPVs.
It’s a shame MyGM maxes out at 50 weeks long and only allows you to have two titles per brand (alongside a limited amount of match types), though I’m hopeful that this is a starting point for future iteration. I’d love to see more than just one rival brand to take on at the same time, while a long-winded schedule would call for some proper strategic planning. There’s certainly a lot of potential with the mode.
MyRISE takes a solid step forward this year, throwing away the wackiness seen in 2K20’s MyCAREER mode. Starting out at the WWE performance centre, MyRISE takes your created superstar through the ranks of the WWE, ultimately carving a path toward winning titles and achieving ultimate glory as a legend of the business. The voice acting here is still a little bit wonky, but it’s a more refined, grounded take on wrestling this time around. The sheer number of things to do gives the mode more than enough staying power and is a marked improvement over previous iterations.
The well-loved Universe Mode returns in WWE 2K22, too, allowing you to play through as a superstar or control all facets of the WWE in Classic Mode. There’s not a whole lot that’s changed here, but it’s the go-to option for those that want to dive deep into the business, controlling the many different storylines that run each week. Superstar Mode bakes that down to just playing as one superstar, forming rivalries, competing in a variety of different matches and attempting to win championships along the way. I found Classic Mode to be more rewarding than Superstar Mode, given the sheer number of options available in the former. It’s another solid option to sink your teeth into — just don’t expect any shiny new changes.
2K22’s MyFACTION mode, a single-player collectible card game that focuses on building a strong faction and competing against other factions, is rather dull. You earn points for completing objectives, earn tokens to spend on WWE superstars and, of course, buy virtual currency if you so desire.
I found MyFACTION to be the weakest mode available in 2K22 as progression felt slow and I have a particular disdain for 4v4 matches. They’d go on for far too long and I didn’t feel like I was really achieving anything by going through the mode’s proving grounds or towers. Progression in the game’s other modes will give you tokens to use in MyFACTION, but again I couldn’t help but feel like it was the least interesting mode of the bunch by some margin – especially when there’s so much fun to be had elsewhere.
It has its issues, but there’s no doubting WWE 2K22 is the best 2K wrestling game in many years. The new modes on offer, the gameplay revamp and the reworking of controls makes for an immensely engrossing experience. There’s still some way to go in making MyGM feel truer to its strategic aim and the Showcase Mode is missing some major matches in Rey Mysterio’s career, but there’s no doubting this is a significantly better product than what came before it.
After some time away from the ring, Visual Concepts has re-emerged to deliver a wrestling game packing more than a few (superman) punches. WWE 2K22 is a significant step up from what has come before, and I’m hopeful this becomes the building block for future entries in the series.
New animation and gameplay engine works wonders
Revamped controls make for a genuinely enjoyable wrestling experience
MyGM is a nice change from what’s offered elsewhere
MyRISE is a marked improvement over 2K20’s MyCAREER