2K's WWE series has gone through a fair amount of ups and downs over the past few years, but the lowest point was undoubtedly WWE 2K20, which released with a plethora of bugs and ended up scoring a terrible 45 rating on Metacritic. The move prompted 2K to take an unprecedented two-year break in development, and the studio has now finally returned with WWE 2K22, promising that it "hits different" this time around. The good news is that it absolutely does "hit different", and is a definite improvement on WWE 2K20 in every area.
The most immediate change you'll notice is in the visuals and general presentation. Entrances have been redesigned to get you closer to the superstars as they make their way to the ring, and thanks to the game's upgraded character models, environments and lighting, most of them look breathtaking in motion. The superstars in general have received notable visual upgrades over 2K20, with the exception being that some of the female characters in particular are still lacking in detail. There are moments where the ugly side of WWE 2K's graphics can still come to the forefront, but on the whole, this is a vastly better-looking game than its predecessor.
There are some pretty major differences in the ring, too. The control system has been redesigned to allow for things like light and heavy attacks, combo moves, defensive blocking and dodging, a button-mashing pin system and more. You really need to play the tutorial to understand these new features before you get started, and it might take you four or five matches to get into the swing of things, but once you do, you'll be pulling off impressive sequences. The new controls are well-designed, advanced features like combos and combo breakers can help give veteran players the edge (but can be ignored by newcomers), and everything ultimately assists in creating more entertaining back-and-forth matches on a consistent basis. WWE 2K games have never been this fun to play, leading to some terrific edge-of-your-seat moments.
2K says the engine has been redesigned for WWE 2K22, and you can see what that means to a large degree. The way punches and grapples transition from move-to-move is much more fluid and intuitive now, and it's a big reason why the game feels more enjoyable to play this year. But keep in mind that the base of the engine from 2K20 is still in place, so if you've never liked 2K's wrestling games, this isn't a total overhaul. You still get some of the downsides that have been present for years, such as being unable to attack someone who is stuck in an animation, AI wrestlers using strange logic at times, tag partners not coming to your aid quickly enough, accidentally climbing to the top rope when you're trying to exit the ring, and so on. The clunkiness of past titles hasn't been eliminated by any means, but the vast improvements elsewhere make it easier to deal with.
When it comes to game modes, WWE 2K22 does some really good things, but also leaves us wanting more. MyRise is the career mode, split into separate men's and women's careers this year, and it's enjoyable as always. It's your typical rags-to-riches tale of climbing from the bottom of WWE to the top of the flagpole (at least in the Men's division — we haven't tried the Women's one yet!), and while you might be a little bit bored with that idea at this point, there are enough fun storyline elements to make this mode worth your while. Plus, you can switch between being a good guy and a bad guy on the fly, and some of the bad guy responses in particular are great.
Elsewhere, MyGM is the return of GM Mode from the old SmackDown! Vs. Raw games, but it's a different beast. The idea is to take over a brand and try to beat another one by drafting the best superstars, putting on the best shows and managing things like finances, morale, fatigue and other factors along the way. The difference compared to the old GM Mode is that you can only book two titles per-brand, and you're severely restricted in terms of match choices and stipulations. That might sound terrible, but if you take MyGM at face value as simply a strategic game mode rather than a "booking simulator", we think you'll have loads of fun with it, despite the downsides. Seriously, it's really good fun if you can look past the omissions.
The other major addition this year is MyFaction, which is basically Ultimate Team (or WWE SuperCard) for the WWE 2K series. The goal is to collect cards of increasing rarities in order to build a faction of four male and four female superstars, and then compete in a variety of modes to get more cards and in-game currency to build your faction. It's designed really well and has the potential to become a series highlight in the future, but bizarrely it's missing one key feature in the form of online play. Surely the goal of a mode like this is to build a great faction for bragging rights, but there's literally no way to show off your faction to anyone due to the lack of online features.
Finally, Showcase Mode focuses on the career of Rey Mysterio this year, and it's still the same old objective-focused mode it's always been. However, this is by far the best version of it yet in terms of presentation, as the gameplay seamlessly transitions with real-life footage to show you how each match actually played out, which gets us more invested than ever. Universe Mode also gets a minor upgrade for 2K22 with the ability to play as just one superstar rather than controlling an entire brand, but otherwise it's basically the same as 2K20.
How you feel about the rest of the game will depend on what kind of player you are. Online multiplayer is actually enjoyable this year (we know, it's a miracle), suffering very little lag in our early access experience. For creators though, the removal of advanced entrance creation might be a major drawback, but otherwise the creation suite is excellent and packed with as much detail as ever. Oh, and there are no new match types this year unfortunately, although we can understand why given the amount of focus on other new features for this year's game.
WWE 2K22 isn't going to surpass the likes of "No Mercy" and "Here Comes The Pain" in terms of fan favourite wrestling games, but in our opinion, it's the best WWE 2K game to date. The gameplay is improved, the graphics are improved, and there's enough content here to keep you busy for a long time, even if some of the new modes haven't quite reached their potential yet. There are still some unwanted series staples here, such as clunky collision detection, but for the most part it's obvious how much progress has been made across the board over the past couple of years, and it's now up to 2K to take things to the next level with WWE 2K23.