WWE 2K24 Review – Showcase Of The Immortals

On the grandest stage of them all!

As someone who’d harass my Civic Video clerk on a weekly basis for new wrestling tapes, I grew up entrenched in both the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras of professional wrestling. Similar to many others, my interest did wane somewhere in the mid-noughties, after the Invasion angle, and I’ve never really thought I’d look to recapture that formative part of my youth. Though somewhere between the Bloodline’s combustion and Cody’s near-miss in “finishing the story”, which has led to a captivating, year-long crusade to end Roman’s reigns over both his family tree and the WWE Universal Heavyweight Championship once and for all, I found plenty that pulled me back in.

During the lead-up to Wrestlemania 39 last year I did dabble with 2K23, which featured a showcase mode built around John Cena, whose near untouchable career is enjoying its twilight years. As with all sports franchises, this video game is iterative when measured against last year’s. However, with it celebrating forty years of Wrestlemania, which is considered to be the grandest stage of them all, and the countless moments it has given fans, this one does feel special.

Of the few modes in WWE 2K24, none deserve your time more than the Showcase mode that combs through four decades of showstopping bouts to put together a who’s who in a roster of immortals. Of course, due to licensing, the never-ending and seismic shifts in talent, and only having some twenty spaces to fill, there are a few curious omissions but there’s no question that every match showcased here is a banger, to borrow a Sheamus-ism. Each match gives a checklist of objectives to hit that recreate key moments within the bout, using its incredible Slingshot tech to seamlessly blend real footage with gameplay.

It’s an astounding trip down memory lane for people who’ve followed wrestling forever and a valuable history lesson for those who haven’t. The whole thing is presented by a relatively new kid on the commentary block, Corey Graves, and features a lot of behind the curtain stories from the legends themselves, including Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, so it’s quite a compelling package for marks and fans alike.

Other modes that people will likely gravitate to are MyFACTION and MyRISE, which won’t feel out of place for people who play other 2K franchises. For those that don’t, they’re analogous to FIFA’s Ultimate Team and ‘The Journey’, which speaks to the breadth of experiences one can have in this game.

MyRISE is a two-pronged story mode where you take a created superstar through a couple of hypothetical futures in the company’s programming. The men’s path, for example, posits a timeline where “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns vacates his Universal strap and makes off for Hollywood to follow in the footsteps of his cousin. After being plucked from the Performance Center, you shock the world by overcoming a one-night tournament and being crowned the new champion after Reigns, once again, prolongs the last chapter of Cody’s so-called story. It’s then up to you to navigate locker room life, shield yourself from the barbs of social media, and emerge from Roman’s shadow as a fighting champion. It all sounds rather cool, and it can be, however, it’s scuppered in part by cheesy dialogue, second-rate performances, and eye-watering lip-syncing.

What I cannot get enough of is MyFACTION. So often I’d pass over these often predatory quasi-live-service modes, but this one gets plenty right. Although I am early doors, I get the sense that the game doesn’t actively wall players out and force them down the path of microtransactions. I received enough cards to supplement my faction, as well as plenty of currency, by merely exploring the weekly challenge towers and proving grounds. I expect that once I become a force in the Faction Wars, a more competitive online arm of the mode, my collection of cards will grow even stronger. If history is any indicator, there’ll be great support around premium live events, so it should give us all more than enough reason to log in regularly.

Another small touch that serves as a bridge between all of these modes is the fact some of the rewards you unlock, like the ones you get for finishing the Showcase for example, serve your goals in other modes, like MyFACTION. It makes the whole package feel like the greater whole, rather than something slapped together piecemeal. 

The spectacular implosion after the release of 2K20, which saw the series take a two-year hiatus before returning bigger and better, will surely go down as a stroke of good fortune because it’s arguable that these games have never felt better. As is ever the case, your vitality and momentum are represented by a few hard-to-miss bars at the bottom of the screen alongside a silhouette that signifies any limbic damage received. Finishing moves are earned over time and can be banked, while signature moves are intrinsically tied to the roll you’re on. With this basic concept being perhaps the one constant throughout the decades of wrestling games, it leaves a lot of room to focus on the wrestling itself. 

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The core mechanics remain largely unchanged from last year’s outing, which is a choice worthy of the Wise Man himself considering the goodwill 2K23 earned its developer. Of course, being an iterative experience, there have been a few small features tacked on in an attempt to build out a more cinematic experience in-ring. Ending exhaustive bouts with a “super finisher” can lead to wild finishes, even if the visual flair is nauseating, while the trading blows mini-game doesn’t prove to be as frenetic as promised, often grinding the bout’s pace to a halt. And unlike the other timing-focused quicktime events, Trading Blows is a tad unreadable with its elements shaking and moving across the screen like they’re in a Ric Flair promo. With that said, while the iterative changes aren’t groundbreaking or even good a lot of the time, the mat work and wrestling in general feel terrific and it speaks volumes of the work that has gone into reinventing this franchise. 

In terms of letting loose your creative juice, 2K24 features just about the most robust creation suite I’ve ever seen in a wrestling video game. 

From superstars to signs, entrances to match types, championship belts to the moves themselves, this game lets a willing player deep dive through a seemingly endless stream of options to hand-craft just about every facet of their experience. I spent far too long poring over my star’s move set, and even longer knocking together a worthy entrance for the man who’d fast become a megastar

This kind of freedom of creativity extends into the game’s Universe mode, which serves as a sort of sandbox for people to book matches, spots, and rivalries at their leisure. As much as we hear about “finishing the story” it turns out that creating your own can be more fun. If there exists a story in your mind, you can practically bring it to life in this mode. It’s big, it’s overwhelming, and it feels kind of like playing God (of sports entertainment). Universe is an unshackled version of the game’s MyGM mode, which thrusts you into the thick of a ratings war against rival brands as you manage talent relations, programming, and a dastardly shoestring budget. As someone whose day job is operations-based, MyGM very much tickled the logistics centre of my brain. 

Post Malone is, unquestionably, a strange cat. If he were any more relaxed he’d be dead, and that shines through in his song choices for the soundtrack he had a hand in curating for this game. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more eclectic assortment of tunes and, somehow, Colter Wall’s soulful country song “Motorcycle” which seems to wax lyrical about rural hardship feels in step with Turnstile’s hardcore-punk stylings. The original soundtrack is one part of the presentation I do love, even as the visual fidelity feels like a mixed bag. 

I feel like there’s never been a bigger night-and-day departure in graphics within a single game before. It’s almost as if all of the budget has been poured into entrances and ensuring the spectacle itself is lifelike, leaving the in-ring work to look somewhat lesser than. It isn’t a bad-looking game, but painted-on expressions, stiff hair, and some likenesses that don’t get close to the mark should, in this day and age, be a thing of the past.

Though I’m sure not everything on offer in WWE 2K24 is going to please everybody, I’d expect there’s at least something for everyone. As far as grand stages go Wrestlemania is the industry’s summit, and revisiting so many defining junctures felt momentous and I do think a certain level of reverence was achieved. And wrestling, so beautifully, casts such a wide net that it’s easy to offer a breadth of experience like this, even if the polish level ebbs and flows.

Conclusion
WWE 2K24 is such a full, feature-complete wrestling game that it makes me thankful for the franchise capitulation from a few years ago. Without it, the digital squared circle likely wouldn’t be what it is today, it certainly wouldn’t have benefited from the three years of care, respect, and foundation we enjoy today. Instead, it'd remain a story unfinished.
Positives
More modes than you can shake a stick at
Showcase is a wonderful, reflective trip back into WrestleMania's history
Near boundless creation suites
Negatives
The newer gameplay iterations, like Trading Blows, fall flat
A visual mixed bag
8.5