WWE 2K15's Brock Lesnar Problem
Eat. Sleep. Surprise. Repeat.
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The idea of the perfect wrestling game is something that exists, but the details change depending on that individual fan's perspective on what makes professional wrestling the entertaining spectacle it is today. For some, that perfect game focuses on the technical. The methodical use of holds, throws, strikes, submissions, counters, and other maneuvers that demand respect for the level of physical agility and stamina they require--those displays of athleticism that make some fans defiantly refer to it as wrestling and not sports entertainment.
WWE 2K15 marks a push in that direction, but perhaps just a small one in the grand scheme of things. On the surface, this is represented by some of the most detailed wrestlers to ever appear in a game, thanks in large part to the player-scanning technology Visual Concepts uses for its NBA 2K games. The screenshots do an excellent job of conveying the level of detail they're going for, but seeing the game in motion is an entirely different experience. It's that kind of thing where, at a glance, the game is easily mistaken for a TV broadcast.
That being said, some wrestlers look better than others, at least from what we've seen of a very limited roster. Randy Orton and Cesaro shine as the more impressive representations of their real-life counterparts, while John Cena's Cro-Magnon-like forehead, and CM Punk's relatively indistinct visage, don't quite hit that high mark. Animation, across the board, is impressive, especially when low-stamina factors in and wrestlers start crawling for pins or using the ropes to pull themselves up.
Dig a little deeper beneath the visuals and it becomes even clearer how WWE 2K15 takes up the mantle of wrestling simulation, not unlike NBA 2K and Madden have done for their respective sports. Let's start with punching. While it's still possible to throw a flurry of fists, there's a more methodical and measured approach to landing them this time around. I often found myself jockeying for an optimal angle before throwing a punch, and if it missed, I briefly stepped back and regrouped. This slower, more deliberate pacing also extends to the new collar-and-elbow tie-up system that exists in the opening moments of every match.
In fact, this system is probably the biggest tell in terms of taking WWE games in a more serious direction. While you can bypass it entirely by weakening an opponent with strong strikes (particularly those aided by momentum coming off the ropes), it seems far more likely that you won't. At the beginning of the grapple, a prompt asks you to press one of three buttons--each corresponding to a different, automatic transition move that equates to rock, paper, or scissors. If you select "rock", it'll defeat "scissors", giving you the upper hand as the game transitions into chain wrestling.
The goal of chain wrestling is to smoothly transition from one move to the next, much like what you see in a fair share of matches. WWE 2K15 accomplishes this by displaying two images of a right analog stick, one for you and one for your opponent. If you successfully rotate the stick to find the "sweet spot" (which turns from blue to red) before your opponent does, then you will successfully transition into the next move. If the opponent gets there first, then he or she will eventually break the chain.
Of course, this begs the question, "What about this is a simulation?" It's true that what amounts to a series of quick-time events doesn't necessarily offer the associated depth of a simulation, but the existence of the tie-up is based around the idea that it slows down the early moments of a match because that's what you see on Monday Night Raw or during various pay-per-view events.
More importantly, this kind of gameplay exists because wrestlers don't execute their finishers 30-seconds into a match, except when they do. This past Sunday at SummerSlam, former UFC champion Brock Lesnar faced off against then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion John Cena. It's fair to say that most fans probably thought that this match would be a grueling back-and-forth, as it was hyped up to be. Instead, Lesnar executed his finishing move, the F5, less than 30 seconds in and subsequently dominated for almost the entirety of the match. Outside of Lesnar's win against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, it was one of the most surprising things I've seen in my 30-something years of watching wrestling, and it's something that probably can't ever happen in a wrestling videogame that isn't just a recreation of that match.
The match sent a powerful message that resonates with the audience because it opens up some potentially interesting storylines, but it also illustrated that professional wrestling (even as a scripted event) is regularly unpredictable in the details. To put it in a different context, NBA 2K and Madden have buzzer beaters or last second fumbles in their respective sports that tell a dramatic story all their own. In wrestling, the similarly unforeseen moments of drama, like Lesnar's last few matches, are usually what keep even the most cynical fans tuned in week-after-week, year-after-year. They also make the perfect wrestling simulation a near impossible goal.
Even WWE 2K15 can't achieve that level imitation, based on what we've see so far, Visual Concepts is certainly trying to nail the foundation of the wrestling parts of WWE, and in-turn, push its game in a more realistic direction.