Good games are usually more than the sum of their parts. You can have an average story and average gunplay going on, but still find that the game as a whole is fantastic fun because of the way it all comes together. On the other hand, you can have the best suite of options and the greatest game world ever, only to find that the entire experience falls flat due to other seemingly less important issues. It's easy to be fooled by a game that falls into the latter section.
WWE 2k16 might fool some, but it probably won't get past anyone who's played wrestling games for more than a few years, even if it does do a lot of things well.
For starters, it has the most detailed creation system to be found in a wrestling game to date, allowing players to upload logos and faces via their web browser to let them make new characters, championship belts, shows, brands, and even entire arenas. It gives you the ability to manage your own version of the WWE universe, allowing you to play the part of the booker and promoter (and in-ring talent too, if you like) simultaneously as you schedule shows (either pre-set events ones or your own brands that you create from scratch) and set rivalries in motion, building up to each month's big pay-per-view extravaganza. Maybe you'll right some wrongs from real-life events, and let The Undertaker get another shot against Brock Lesnar. Maybe you'll see what happens if you take the title off Nikki Bella and give it to Paige. Maybe it would be cool to see if Jake "The Snake" Roberts could hang with Cena, Rollins, Reigns, Ambrose, et al. Maybe you'll ditch the entire roster of wrestlers and import your own from the community's created stars, building your company from the ground up. All of these choices and practically an unlimited amount more are available.
If you want a less hands-on approach, you can create a rookie wrestler to try to work your way up from the NXT division and onto the main roster, creating rivalries and friendships via your actions and interviews that you take part in. You'll start with very few skills and quite limited abilities, but that's all part of the fun, as each match you take part in will earn you points to use to upgrade your various attributes. If a particular combination of strikes isn't working well for you, there's the option to jump into the moveset editor between matches and change them out for something else. If your Straitjacket DDT isn't really getting the job done as a finisher, you can relegate it to be your "signature" move and employ something else from the hundreds of available moves as your big and (hopefully) match-winning coup de grâce.
You can also jump into the popular and ever more impressive Showcase mode which, this year, focuses on the career of one Stone Cold Steve Austin. You'll start out just before the dawn of the Attitude Era and at the inception of Austin 3:16 at the 1996 King of The Ring tournament, before taking on a whole host of stars from the likes of the incomparable and sorely missed "Flyin'" Brian Pillman, through to The Undertaker, The Rock, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Bret "The Hitman" Hart and – of course – Mr. McMahon himself as part of one of the greatest wrestling rivalries of all time. Each highlighted match from the Texas Rattlesnake's glittering career is presented with the actual video promos used at the time, re-recorded commentary from the event, and all the big match build-up that you could possibly want.
Failing that, you can of course play online, in a mode which we have to say is vastly improved over last year's efforts. There are still some quite random issues that crop up, such as disconnections (which aren't indicated anywhere) causing both players to think that they've won because the AI took over as their opponent, but on the whole, things are much smoother.
So, there's a lot to do. In fact, any fan of wrestling will be absolutely over the moon at the sheer amount of options that they have. You could – if you wanted to – effectively create an entire virtual wrestling company, upload the matches to YouTube, do a bit of promotion, and cultivate a fanbase. There's very little you'd have to fake or take care of outside of the game itself. All of the options are there.
Whether you'll actually want to use them or not is a different matter.
It isn't that there's one massive flaw in WWE 2k16, rather that there are a lot of issues that show up to ruin otherwise great ideas.
Take the career mode, for example. Rather than – as has been the case in every other WWE game to date - being able to become overpowered within just a handful of matches, it truly is a slog to get up the rankings of NXT to get a title shot. You'll likely be beaten first time that you get that shot, because (despite Finn Balor winning the belt in July 2015 in the real world) Kevin Owens is still in NXT as the champion, but because he's on the main roster in real life, he's rated just a few points lower than John Cena. By the time we got our first shot, we were rated 73 to his 91, and we took a sound thrashing. This is a good thing, more or less. It means that – if you haven't paid the £7.99 2k wants for the "Booster Pack" which all but makes you unbeatable in MyCareer from the outset - the whole thing is fantastically challenging. You can win a bunch of matches in a row, but never feel as if you're fully in control to the point that it becomes boring. Get too cocky and Tyler Breeze might hit you with a Beauty Shot from nowhere and you'll be in trouble. Fire in too many attacks in a row if you are overpowered and your stamina might be depleted to the point that you leave yourself unable to carry on the assault, or leave yourself open to a surprise pin attempt.
This is good. There are some potentially classic matches to be had. There's a real back and forth about the whole affair that hasn't been seen in a wrestling game for many years.
Sadly, it's all for nothing.
The reason is that the in-ring action (we're focusing on career mode here, but it affects every mode) is so glitchy and unpolished that you can have the most beautifully worked match where you're ahead, then the opponent picks up momentum, then you start to get the upper hand again and the adrenaline is really pumping, then you're both hanging on for dear life to try to avoid the loss, only for the game engine to do something incredibly stupid and cost you the match. You'll reach down for your last bit of stamina and try a running attack, jumping to hit a flying clothesline, only for the game to not recognise that there's been any contact. The opponent didn't block it. The opponent didn't reverse it. You just flew through the air and then sort of fell over, while your target stood there unperturbed by the whole thing. Of course, the other fighter takes full advantage and applies a submission hold which will cause you to tap thanks to the atrociously realised new submissions system.
We'll take a pause to talk about that for a second. In WWE 2k16, when you apply are or placed into a submission hold, a circle appears at the base of the screen featuring two sections that represent the fighters. Using the right stick, you have to rotate your sector so that it's over the opponent's sector to apply pressure if you're the one performing the move, or move your sector away from the opponent's sector in order to escape if you're the one that's being asked to submit. The problem is that not only is this absolutely backwards (someone can escape a hold by not doing anything, since the onus is on the person performing the hold to perform an action, when it should be the other way around) but that the segments control as if they're on ice, meaning that they slide about the place with abandon. It's very much a case of luck as to whether you'll escape or not and if you're playing the AI, they ALWAYS know what you're about to do. Not that the AI doesn't cheat elsewhere, given that they seem to have the ability to perform reversals (including on finishers) even when their reversals meter is absolutely empty.
So, submissions are one way that a match can end abruptly and unfairly. Another would be after you've attempted a pin, got a two count and your character falls to his knees to stare at the canvas in disbelief at not getting the 1-2-3. While he's doing this, the pinned player has stood up and is now kicking him in the back of the head because the "C'mon ref, that was 3!" animation isn't interruptible by you. If they decide to hit a charged finisher at this point, you'll likely lose, even though you were mere milliseconds away from victory just a moment before.
There are general targeting issues to consider as well. Many times, you'll find that you get cracked in the chops because in a one-on-one match, your wrestler has decided to throw a punch that goes nowhere near the target and is now wide open. Or the referee will be down and you'll grab a steel chair to try to take advantage, hold it above your head to take a big swing and miss by a mile because the game decided that your opponent was to your left and not to your right. These things may seem minor, but WWE 2k16 is hoisted by its own petard, somewhat. The numbers behind the game are SO good and SO realistic and the gameplay is so close to capturing the feel of a real-world WWE match that any slight deviation in your control of the whole thing stands out to the point of being catastrophic.
If you wear your opponent down for 15 minutes and lose because you tried to get onto the turnbuckle for a high-flying manoeuvre, and the game (for some reason) decided you wanted to throw a punch instead, allowing your enemy to take advantage and hit your prone character with a big move, that sucks. If you try to hit someone with a baseball bat and find that you take ten swings that don't connect for absolutely no reason, only for the eleventh to hit the spot just as the referee comes around in time to disqualify you, that sucks. When you're 23 men in to a 30-man Royal Rumble and Edge turns up and can't work out how to actually get into the ring, causing the game to go insane and crash you back to the dashboard, that sucks. When you play for three hours and get a title shot, only to lose by count out as your character has decided to randomly get his foot stuck in the floor outside the ring, that really sucks. We're not exaggerating when we say that every single match that you play will be affected negatively to some extent by issues with the game engine that are outside of your control. You'll fail to break up a pin in a Triple Threat match as the game gets confused about what you want to do and just causes you to throw a punch at nothing. You'll try to hit a finisher and perform an Irish Whip instead, even though those commands are mapped to different buttons. You'll try to climb back in the ring and get counted out as your wrestler was too close to the corner post to be able to work out how to slide under the ropes. And so it goes.
But the quality of the proposition of the career mode means that you'll keep coming back. However, WWE 2k16 will try to fight you off at every turn. The skills and abilities system relies on 2k's own "Virtual Currency" which in other games, has been purchasable via micro-transactions. Here, it isn't. You can buy a MyCareer Player Boost as we've mentioned, but not VC itself. The game still plays out as if the goal is to get you to spend money on VC, though, drip-feeding you a couple of thousand VCs after each match. So you start out without the ability to do something as simple as perform a rope break when you're pinned close to the edge of the ring and you have to buy an ability slot using VC to be able to apply that ability. Then the second slot – which you might want to use to enable the ability to perform a dirty "feet on the rope" pin will cost twice as much to unlock, and so on, until you get to the point that you're playing dozens of matches just to be able to equip something very basic. Skills (which are different to abilities, for some reason) also cost VC, with the likes of the "Comeback" skill – which allows you to perform a stamina-boosting Hulk Hogan-style comeback in a match – costing the equivalent of the earnings you get from playing a hundred or more matches. You can't even perform a finishing move on the announcer's table or do moves from the top turnbuckle without "purchasing" the ability to do so. It's far too limiting.
Also, there's a problem in every mode with loading times. Everything seems to require a lengthy period of loading. It's all well and good needlessly forcing us to load and then quit out of matches that our rival is featured in, but when the game takes 30 seconds to load that match, it becomes a chore. At times, you'll put the game to one side simply because you can't be bothered to wait for it to go through another bout of loading, especially when half of the wait will be for the beautiful Renee Young to be turned into absolute nightmare fuel for between-match interviews that are stilted and so bad that they're uncomfortable to watch. The "rivals" system – which is absolutely essential for you to be able to win titles – is broken to the point of being unusable, also. You're the number one contender for Finn Balor's belt and decide to perform an awkward run-in attack (which is the only kind you can do in WWE 2k16) on Balor to start a rivalry. You do that and then before your match later on the card, 8th-ranked Simon Gotch decides to run in and attack you as well. The game flips a coin and (usually) decides that you're now in a rivalry with Gotch, which will take place over the next eight events in-game. So you might (possibly) get to start that rivalry with Balor in an hour and a half, if you're lucky.
We could go on and mention "the largest roster ever assembled" that doesn't include current Divas champion Charlotte or the currently active Dudley Boyz, and that includes Billy Gunn but for some reason overlooks his tag-team partner Road Dogg. We could mention the commentary, which sees JBL repeating the same thing over and over again while Michael Cole, and Jerry "The King" Lawler randomly shout out inaccurate things about the match. "The focus is on his ribs!" says Cole, right after the first move of the match, which was a punch to the head. We could mention the graphics, where every character that isn't one of the male WWE Superstars – including the crowd, announcers, and every fighter in the Divas division – look like they were designed and rendered ten years ago. But we've gone far enough.
There comes a point when playing a videogame that isn't necessarily up to snuff, where you start to think about where it all went wrong. With WWE 2k16, there isn't just one point where it all falls apart. It's a series of really quite obvious and quite amateurish mistakes and design decisions that slowly chip away at your enthusiasm until you just give it all up as a bad lot.
WWE 2k16 provides everything that wrestling fans will want to see outside of the ring. Was it not for the long and annoying loading times, the creation system and general control that you have over things would be enough to get it into the main event at Wrestlemania. A few minor fixes and changes here and there would do wonders, but the constant loading and the frankly abominable issues with the fighting engine that remain unfixed destroy any semblance of realism and are enough to relegate it to the indies.