The terms “pro wrestling” and “realism” might not seem like they go well together, but WWE 2K16, the latest entry in the long-running grappling series, is as realistic as it gets. Make no mistake - WWE 2K16 has all the over-the-top characters, ridiculous storylines, and unbelievable maneuvers that you’d expect from sports entertainment, but an extra portion of realistic detail is helping shape 2K16 into, perhaps, the most enticing wrestling game in years.
This added authenticity starts with the same strategic, sim-like game engine that was put to great use in last year’s edition, complete with back-and-forth chain grapples for the opening moments and a stamina system that causes the pace to become more dramatic as the match unfolds. Added to that, however, is a new counter system that limits how many reversals you can perform.
Countering has long been an integral part of the WWE games, but superstars on WWE shows don’t just counter every move like some skilled players can do in the game, so you’re now restricted by a meter below your health bar. You can stock up to five reversals at once, but once those are depleted, you’ll have to gain more by taking action or receiving damage. Though this helps even the playing field by stopping advanced players from reversing constantly, it also makes countering even tougher for players who haven’t mastered the timing.
Further adding to the strategy involved - as well as the realistic flow of matches - are new rest holds that you can apply by holding the grapple button when you’re next to a seated opponent. Rest holds aren’t especially powerful, but they allow you to rebuild your reversal meter, as well as your stamina – again mirroring their real-life use.
Submissions have evolved, too. In WWE 2K15 it was far too easy to trap an opponent in a crippling submission hold simply by mashing buttons; applying a submission hold now initiates a skill-based mini-game that requires you to line up overlapping colored indicators to dish out the punishment. Similarly, pins have changed so that kick outs are performed with well-timed button presses. And for extra authenticity, try unleashing a series of strikes on your opponent to see his chest turn red with painful-looking welts.
The attention to accuracy extends beyond the in-ring action. WWE programming is always experiencing an influx of new talent, with new stars often coming onboard from WWE’s NXT brand, so 2K16 features a record-setting roster of more than 120 characters, including a strong emphasis on the NXT competitors. (And you can expand the roster further still with custom superstars and divas - this year’s creation suite is a vast improvement over last year’s tragic effort.)
Even the game’s audio is getting an extra dose of reality with the inclusion of three-man commentary to reflect current programming trends: you’ll hear Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and John Bradshaw Layfield calling moves and adding color during the bouts. (Unfortunately, the repetitive nature of the commentary from previous WWE games doesn’t seem to have been corrected...although with the addition of Bradshaw, that’s pretty realistic, too.) But don’t expect to hear those three in every mode. When you play 2K16’s Showcase mode, which focuses on the career of mega-over Attitude Era star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, you’ll experience commentary from the man who announced the bulk of Austin’s most memorable matches: good ol’ Jim Ross.
With so much emphasis on a true-to-life wrestling experience, it seems like the only thing that isn’t authentic about WWE 2K16 is that the outcomes of matches aren’t predetermined - that still relies on your skill. Whether the enhanced realism makes it a great game or not remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.