Maybe it was inevitable. Last year, I started watching WWE – first out of curiosity, then horror and then out of genuine enjoyment for the ludicrous antics found in and out of the ring. So when WWE 2K16 was included in previous Games With Gold selection, I had to try it. I’ve yet to meet a wrestling fan who has too many fond things to say about 2K’s use of the license, but I’m not here for an accurate portrayal of WWE’s brand of ‘sports entertainment’. I launch the game and head straight to career mode. It’s time to create a freak.
Normally, I wouldn’t do this. As much as I enjoy seeing the limits of a game’s character creation, I’m usually too invested in the fiction to make anything outlandish. WWE 2K16 comes with no such emotional attachment. ‘Face Deformation’ is the key to a first-class monstrosity, where each facial feature can be moved and warped independently. There are limits: an eyebrow can’t be moved under the nose, for example (damn). But, by moving each part to an extreme diagonal, I’m soon able to create a lifelike digital Picasso. For the body, I alternate between fat, buff and slim. The result is like seeing a sack of meat through a distorting mirror.
Now for decoration. I try to strike a balance between silly, weird and genuinely upsetting. The hair is very ’70s glam rock, but purple and with random streaks of yellow dye. Tattoos include a full-body anchor, and the elegant ‘it’s yummy time’ across the left arm. I then give him metallic horns, a fox tail and – the pièce de résistance – a pink waist towel emblazoned with the words ‘wiener house’. I call this grotesque specimen ‘Big Bin Tony’ – a name I can just hear the crowd chanting.
I now need to take Big Bin through the WWE Performance Centre training programme – a mini tutorial designed to teach grappling, submissions and kicking out of a pin. This arms me with some basic tricks, but not how to perform a sophisticated, sustained attack. I’d wanted to watch Big Bin fly gracefully from the top rope. Instead, he’s an ungainly mess – flailing across the ring as I spend time wrestling the fudgy controls.
Finally it’s time for my NXT debut. “From The United Kingdom,” shouts the announcer over generic rock music, “Big Ham Tony!” It turns out Big Bin isn’t one of the many recorded names. For some reason, Big Ham is. Wrestling is weird.
I’m joined by Baron Corbin for a tag-team match against Finn Balor and Hideo Itami – two of the most dominant performers in WWE’s developmental brand. My loss is all but guaranteed, and, sure enough, every time I build up a head of steam, Balor hits a counter and goes on a rampage. Two near pinfalls later, my health bar is next to nothing. I tag in Corbin, and hope he can finish the job. Corbin performs admirably, but wearing down Balor and Itami proves too much. He tags me back in, and I get ready for the loss.
Fortunately, wins or losses don’t seem to matter much. The real test is the entertainment bar, which measures how good of a show you’re putting on. We’re doing well; the crowd are into it. Then something unexpected happens: I hit Balor with a couple of big moves, putting him down. I go for the pin, but Balor moves his foot to the rope – meaning the pinfall doesn’t count. The referee doesn’t see, and finishes the count of three. We win! In classic wrestling fashion, the underdogs come out on top. Well played, WWE 2K16.
Over the next few matches, I learn how to compensate for the game’s clumsy controls – even performing a couple of big jumps off the ropes. It’s hardly graceful – I’m not sure WWE 2K16 is capable of that – but it’s increasingly passable, which, it turns out, is enough. I find myself getting into the drama. Then it happens: as I walk out for the finale of my feud against Tyler Breeze, I groan inwardly. I’m enjoying myself too much to justify my ridiculous creation. I retire Big Bin and start again, this time making a plainer man with a nice face.
This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here (opens in new tab).