This was a terrible idea.
For the record, I know precisely sod all about professional wrestling. As best I can tell, it’s some sort of slightly homo-erotic soap opera marketed to teenagers, but with a fanbase that extends waaaay past that. Also, The Rock wants you to smell his cooking to make sure it’s not burning, or something. Or possibly it smells delicious. I’m not sure. I’ve never smelled it.
As such, I am obviously the perfect choice to venture into the PC version of WWE 2K16 and see if the PC version itself is any good, because I’m totally not going to spend half an hour just trying to figure out what the living fuck is going on.
As is tradition, let’s start by downloading all 43 goddamn gigabytes of the game, which seems borderline insane. At first I thought this might be because of the amount of video content (every wrestler has their own pair of videos playing on screens when they enter the arena, after all), but that only makes up 10GB. The sound (with lots of announcer quips and the like) makes up another 10GB. The game itself, it seems, is the remaining 20-odd GB, and I’m truthfully not sure how it’s that big. Either way, this is not a small game.
Next on the checklist comes my system specs, so that you can compare and contrast. I’m running WWE 2K16 on an i7-3820 with 16GB RAM and a GeForce GTX 970.
The first time I ran the game, things didn’t actually go particularly well; it seemed to freeze on the loading screen, giving me a long time to admire Stone Cold Steve Austin’s armpits. Alt-tabbing out and back in fixed that and let it progress, buuut it also prevented the controller from working. Quitting out and then restarting the program seemed to make everything run just fine, though. This may have been down to trying to play in Steam Big Picture mode and it was attempting to do the standard Steam “installing all the drivers you already have” first-run thing, but I’m not sure.
And before you say “Aha, you know who Stone Cold Steve Austin is; you do know about wrestling!” I’d like to point out that he has “Austin” emblazoned on his top, so it wasn’t one of my more impressive deductions.
Alright, options. This is a somewhat paradoxical example in that there are loads of options, buuuut not that many of them are PC specific. Here are your graphical settings:
It’s not actually a terrible selection, but it’s also not massively detailed. I can say that the game also supports 3840×2160, which is nice, and I can also say that you can basically ignore the benchmark results on the right because the only frame-drops came when I took a screenshot. The game itself has been running at a flawless 60FPS throughout, on full settings.
This… doesn’t surprise me much, considering how it looks, but we’ll get to that.
In terms of gameplay options, you can tweak practically everything. I’m not going to spam every single one of WWE 2K16‘s options screens (look at the picture below to see how many options menus there are, and bear in mind that most of them contain way more tweakables than the graphics) but you can adjust everything from difficulty and subtitles and audio levels, right the way to the more esoteric bits and pieces like how strong foreign objects (chairs and the like) are, how often the AI will reverse each type of move, whether key pop-ups appear to help you out, and so on. Removing graphics and keybindings from the equation, there are about 50 different options to customise the gameplay experience.
The keyboard controls are also fully redefinable, as far as I can tell, which has its ups and downs. The downside is that you’re somewhat stuck with console-style multi-key bindings, in that things like Signature Move and Finishers are always mapped to the same key, but the upside is that a few nice little touches are included. Chain Wrestling is activated by pressing a modifier key and a direction at the same time, and you can set these separately. By default, the modifier key is Space, and the directions are your basic movement directions (WASD by default) but if you really want the modifier key to be X and Chain Wrestling Left to be bound to L, you can do that. I don’t know why you would, but you can.
Another downside is that there is absolutely no mouse support at all. No, not even in the menus. Everything in WWE 2K16 is driven by the keyboard. Arguably, though, this isn’t a big deal.
That said, I’m both pleased and surprised that the keyboard controls seem to be entirely playable, and a part of me kinda prefers them to using the Steam Controller. After playing with that for a few hours, I decided to try out the keyboard controls, and I haven’t really gone back to the controller since. Now, I’m shit at the game and I don’t understand wrestling, so maybe I’m a massive idiot, but it seems to handle an awful lot better on keyboard than the majority of fighting games I can think of.
The game is… I want to say “clunky”, but that’s got pretty negative connotations, so let’s just say that every movement and attack is slow and weighty. Timing is far more important than speed or precise analogue stick movements or anything, and as long as you can get past the fact that most of your attacks are mapped to the arrow keys by default, all of this actually works pretty well with the keyboard. And – odd as the arrow key mappings sound – they work quite well too, and every button you need is by default mapped to keys that you can reach without needing an extra limb. I didn’t change the keyboard controls at all. Well done for that.
Alas, as flashy as the game’s presentation is, the game itself looks a bit shit, which may or may not be some sort of meta-commentary on how wrestling looks impressive but is fake (it’s probably not). I don’t think WWE 2K16‘s graphical issues are anything to do with this being a PS3 port or anything, though; from the videos and screens I’ve seen online, it actually looks like the PS4 version. It simply doesn’t look very good.
Skin looks a bit off, hair does not look good, eyes are cold and dead, a few of the animations feel very clunky and inhumane, clothing stretches unnaturally to fit the various body types and sizes, and most of the non-wrestlers – like the post-match interviewer and the people on the announcer desk – are excavating the uncanny valley as fast as they can. I’m pretty sure some of the announcer lines were recorded at different times, too, because a few lines seem to have rather different audio levels. Bizarrely, the graphical stuff isn’t true of everybody, as some of the big name wrestlers actually look rather good. The Ultimate Warrior is definitely orange and weird, for instance.
Finally on the port front, I can’t say a thing about online play, because I’ve never been able to find a match. I will say that it seems to automatically use your microphone and there doesn’t seem to be a way to disable this within the game itself, but on the two or three goes I had at finding an online match, I had no luck. I don’t know if this was a bug, or if nobody was around, or if the online playerbase is just that small right now, but either way, I cannot comment as to the netcode.
So, the game itself. Obviously, I am not the right person to talk about whether or not it has such-and-such a wrestler or if this particular championship or rivalry or secret love affair is up to date, or whatever. I can’t even say if it’s an improvement on its predecessor. Instead, I will say that as a complete newcomer, I’ve had a rather enjoyable four hours of confused hilarity.
Firstly, the character creation engine is a thing of mad, beautiful genius. I know I talked about the graphics being a bit crappy, but… I’m just going to leave this here.
You can even map a photo of your face onto the head. And yes, you can adjust things like the muscle tone and size of each arm separately. Yes, there are loads of costume pieces. Yes, you can manually adjust practically every part of the body and face. Maybe not to the extreme limits I’d like, but I’m not going to complain too much when I can do this:
Moving on, the only tutorial the game gives you is to teach you how the basic grappling mini-games work. Beyond that, you’re on your own, so if you don’t know the difference between a Royal Rumble and a Fatal Four-Way (which sounds to me like a sexual adventure gone horribly wrong) then the game absolutely will not help you. It does have a manual, but even that basically just explains the HUD and the controls and so on. Hell, I had to look through character move lists before I figured out how basic strike attacks actually worked, although some of that may be because I’m an idiot.
This led to some unintentional brilliance, though. While desperately trying to figure out the controls, I climbed onto one of the ring corners and then slammed onto the referee, knocking him unconscious. In a tag-team match, my partner was getting his ass handed to him and refused to tag me in. I wondered if I needed to press a button to indicate that, hey, I wanted to be tagged in. I tried pressing buttons. I accidentally lobbed the stairs at the referee, causing an instant disqualification. It was amazing. And then there are all the other great little bits, like how your manager can distract the referee, or you can start a fight while the other wrestler is entering the arena, and so on. Good stuff.
It’s also got what appears to be a shitload of single-player content, so that netcode thing doesn’t bother me, personally, too much. Other than single matches and the like, there’s a big WWE Universe thing which appears to simulate… well, the WWE universe, letting you play out seasons and have rivalries happen and so on.
There’s also a Career mode which has you take a wrestler from newcomer to the hall of fame, and this has a few neat twists, like a levelling system and a popularity mechanic. Do lots of impressive stuff and don’t repeat the same moves, have close matches, keep the drama high, and your matches will always be popular. Be very boring, and you probably won’t get so many fixtures. I like this. The career honestly feels like it could be fleshed out a lot more, and I was somewhat disappointed that it’s for male wrestlers only (“Superstars” rather than “Divas”, if I understand WWE’s parlance), but eh.
That said, I’m not sure I’m a big fan of how WWE 2K16‘s actual fighting plays out. It seems very focused on reversals (which require you to tap a key within what’s usually a very brief window), although this might be my newbie-ness speaking. I mean, range and positioning both seem to be very important too, and the game was hardly helpful in getting me up to speed with what the hell I’m doing.
So while I can’t speak for wrestling fans, I can say that I’ll probably play it for at least a few more hours before I decide I need that 40GB back. It’s not the nicest looking game around, it’s got some polish issues surrounding both the graphics and sounds, and there are lots of little irritants like how you can’t use the menu music as entrance themes for your custom wrestlers, but WWE 2K16 seems to be an adequate PC port if you fancy a bit of sweaty man-on-man grappling.