April 15, 2024
After taking some time off to iron out the mat creases, WWE 2K23 is back with a bang. Long-time fans will jump straight back in, but what about those newcomers? The Finger Guns review:

The last time I watched the WWE, wrestlers were saying things that were very un-PC. Bubba-Ray Dudley was powerbombing old ladies through tables. Rhea Ripley sounded like an Alien fan-fiction character. So, imagine someone like me reviewing WWE 2K23.

In the intervening years, the WWE games have continued to put out mostly-annual increments. But not for the best, it seems, as more recent efforts have been bug-riddled nightmares. After taking a year off to regroup and rebuild in 2021, 2K and Visual Concepts are back with a bang and have been building ever since.

Will WWE 2K23 be the title that turns that mine and many others back to it, or should I just save that excitement for something more real? Let’s get ready to review…

WWE 2K23 review

Back In My Day

Before I get into the good, bad and whatnot of WWE 2K23, a little preface is needed. The last wrestling game I’ve really invested time in was SmackDown! 2 on the PlayStation. That was when it was still under the WWF moniker, and released in 2000. Other than a dabble in one of the GameCube WrestleMania games, I’ve moved on.

Don’t get me wrong, I rinsed SmackDown! 2 for weeks. But I see wrestling like anime: as soon as it becomes long-running, with many avenues and spin-offs, my brain switches off. I couldn’t tell you much about any current wrestler outside of what I see in social media videos, but I remember the likes of Al Snow, Gangrel and Rikishi.

But I say this with positivity: I was interested when WWE 2K23 dropped into FGHQ. I volunteered, more so out of curiosity but also the trepidation of something to dip my toes back into.

So, bear with me if I’ve missed certain character heel turns or who’s kayfabe, or which wrestlers we don’t lament over not being included. I’m the guy who gets a free ticket to go with a friend and just has a good time watching people in spandex slap each other and do flips.

Right, disclaimer out of the way, let’s wrestle.

WWE 2K23 review

Lock In That Legacy

First and foremost: the two story modes. Again, is this massively changed over recent efforts? You might know, wrestling fans, but as mentioned I wouldn’t know. I know old games, where you start one story and occasionally make differing choices. In WWE 2K23, it’s similar, but there’s two paths to choose from: The Lock and The Legacy.

A bit more fleshed out than the days of playing “mute avatar wrestler”, both stories have engaging enough premises to excite wrestling fans. The Legacy has you play the role of a young woman following the footsteps of her famous aunt, whilst The Lock follows “the next big thing” male wrestlers. Genders are tied to each one, which did initially strike me as odd, but it makes sense when they start rolling.

The Legacy’s start is a quite literally fall from presumed grace, earning that reputation as “the niece of Justine”, a multiple time champion. The Lock is upstaged by Sami Zayn, and follows a similar path to stardom/redemption/delete where applicable. Players will make choices, take sides and follow their own path. They are bloody long paths though, and I’m not going to lie and say I’ve finished either.

The dialogue’s still corny, the cutscenes stilted. But then, I remember as much from the old games, so it feels like the same deliberate cheese with a shinier coat.

WWE 2K23 review

Too Many Chairs To The Face

The other feature that has seen a massive revamp is the character creation mode. Not only are players able to do this for their story characters, but can make a wrestler for other game modes too. Gone are the days of just picking an existing wrestler to reskin, the customisation on display is staggering.

Entrance moves and music, the type of clothing both in and out of the ring, what their taunts are… that’s just the start. Blemishes, deformities, tattoos and scars, contacts and other eye effects, body size scaling to specific areas. Pre-existing damage if you want a veteran that’s been in the Hell in a Cell with Mankind, it’s all there.

Then there’s the movesets, how you want your wrestler to run and stand in battle. The finishers, the signature moves… the list goes on. It’s a mode that only ever sees improvement as increments go on, leaving potential for real-life characters and actors to be portrayed and body slammed.

Me, I lack creativity and patience, nor can I take it seriously. So I made the fellow above who looks like he’s been dropped one too many times. Yes, that’s possible.

WWE 2K23 review

From Asuka to Ziggler, Dolph

But in terms of actual wrestlers designed by actual creative people in employment, there’s a staggering roster to be had in here. Oh, and Logan Paul’s here too because apparently he’s popular now. I don’t make the rules.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a deep dive in who’s who, the current champions or if it’s statistically accurate: tough. As I said, I’m not a modern wrestling fan. I don’t recognise many of these fancy new ring-raiders, for all the spandex and eye make-up in the world. I’m sure your favourite, [insert wrestler here] is in there for you.

A lot of those I remember are all part of legacy packs, DLC and most of what comes with the season. Seeing Cactus Jack but not Mankind was a bit of a lurch though, as was seeing Doink’s character model is digitised rather than a photograph.

Either way, there’s a lot of wrestlers here, from decades to debuts, with quite a few more being hidden behind paywalls and season passes. If you’re a long time fan, you know this is how it goes. Whereas if you’re new: welcome to modern gaming.

What Happened To Just Pinfalls and Punishment?

So, we’ve established that there’s a career mode. Two, in fact, that’ll keep players going through the origin story staple. But what of the other modes? The others besides free play matches, online leaderboards and causing real sofa fights when someone gets eliminated? Turns out, wrestling is a gimmick that can be turned into other angles. Who knew.

I’ll touch briefly on the MyFaction feature: it’s a lootbox, card-based game mode that holds zero interest to me. Any game that incorporates FIFA-esque randomised “chance” shenanigans just gets apathy in my eyes. I’m sure you’ll like if you enjoy Magic the Gathering and burning money though.

On a positive, there’s Showcase mode. This year’s feature star is John Cena, in which players recreate matches over his vast career. Twenty years, in fact, as the introduction movie lets us know. Each match has certain objectives to fulfill, as well as the win/lose requirement to not cause a time paradox (sorry, Metal Gear Solid joke).

Whilst it seems tacked on, I genuinely got investment with listening to Cena’s tales throughout. As a wrestler-turned-actor, I’d ignored his B movie turns, but seeing him in Peacemaker makes you see the man can be entertaining and funny.

And lastly, the most out-there one for me: MyGM. Not out there in its concept, but it’s strange integration into a wrestling game. Again, ever the pessimist, I had no interest in this strange, draft-based, almost-fantasy-football-style game mode. But, and here’s the twist, I could actually see it being quite engaging to the like-minded. Players pick one of the three shows; SmackDown!, Raw or NXT, then fill their rosters with wrestlers from a pool.

These then play out as seasons, with earnings being invested back into each show. Almost like being a real manager, but sped up and without having to deal with the sexual misconduct allegations.

Flies From The Top Rope, Walks Like A Fridge

Of course, with times must come progression. Now, I’m expecting the wrestlers to move like overladen wardrobes, that’s just… how it is. But what could potentially put off prospective players is the staggering amount of button combinations. This is coming from a Street Fighter/Tekken veteran, mind.

The sheer number of very quick on-screen prompts to reverse/counter moves, which type of finisher it is, when to pull off a signature move is quite overwhelming. Sometimes you’ll get stuck in an absolute ass-kicker of a loop because you’re just not quick enough, or the prompts are barely registering. Is it that more skill than game’s fault? Potentially, but I’d like to think my reflexes aren’t that shot yet.

The other issue I have is the stamina system. Now, I know that it’s realistic in the sense that yes, throwing yourself off the top rope repeatedly will knacker you out. What I take umbrage with is that a simple slap, as a match progresses, can knock someone down and leave them there for all the mashing in the world.

It gets annoying, considering matches themselves are already quite sluggish affairs. Again, maybe that’s just how wrestling games are now. You want silly, you go play WWE Battlegrounds. This is merely a subjective grumble that I’m sure long-term are going to shrug off and call me a filthy casual.

WWE 2K23 review

Get Your Head In The… Ring

I’m going to wrap this up because, honestly, I can’t think of much more to say. Don’t worry, I didn’t just pick this game because I wanted to trash it. I wanted to see if this would be the game that gets me back into it, whether I’d want to stick it out or not. I’m also impressed there’s cross-platform play, for my veteran franchise to kick my ass via Xbox if I feel like it.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: if you’re a fan of the series, and wrestling in general, then chances are you’ve already bought this. Higher chances are I’ve been ignorant about certain things and you’re screaming at the screen. I’m not sorry, I just don’t get invested in wrestling.

But whether this will be the game that brings new players into the fold, I would say… yes, absolutely. For all my snark, the tutorials and initial hand-holding are there for that purpose. They are very effective, reminding me of things I’d long forgotten. Whether that makes it fully accessible, however, is still down to player skill.

So for me, I might keep it installed a little longer. Perhaps dabble, keep it on my hard drive for when friends come over. Am I going to finish The Lock and The Legacy career modes? In a time when Mercenaries has just released for Resident Evil 4? No, highly unlikely.

I had a blast with WWE 2K23, and if that’s the takeaway from game reviewing at its core, then that’s good enough for me. But you can’t powerbomb Mae Young through a table. Sends the wrong kind of message nowadays.

After taking a year off to refine the formula, WWE 2K23 is back with a bang. Graphically impressive, filled to bursting with wrestlers and content, it’s a fitting continuation for long-time fans. It’s just that little bit too overwhelming for lapsed fans that are coming in fresh, but it does at least try to accommodate.

WWE 2K23 is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, and PC via Steam.

Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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(Correction – The original version of this review incorrectly said that the WWE games had taken a year off in 2022 instead of 2021, which is correct).

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