The Thrill Of Predetermined Victory

HIGH Wrestling controls haven’t felt this tight since Nintendo 64.

LOW Matches with more than four wrestlers can get chaotic.

WTF Wrestling will never lose collision detection glitches near the ropes, will it?

WWE 2K23 is a tremendous game. It’s massive in size, scope and depth of gameplay, and after nearly a month dedicated to exploring all its features, characters, and difficulty settings, I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten everything out of it. While wrestling titles may never achieve unicorn status for flawless gameplay, I can say that WWE 2K23 is arguably the best WWE game since the halcyon days of the Nintendo 64, and easily the best representation of the genre in several console generations.

This doesn’t mean players should run out and immediately buy it, though — especially if they already own WWE 2K22, which is a solid title in its own right.

From the outset, the predictably epic WWE presentation is in full effect. The company is known for its stellar video packages and Hollywood levels of production, and every facet of WWE 2K23 reflects this. From opening video to quality licensed music to brand-accurate menus, fans will immediately feel at home navigating the vast array of options.

Depending on the version purchased, users will have a massive list of characters to choose from, both from current and legacy rosters. The nice folks at 2K provided GameCritics with the “Icon Edition” of the game, which provides users with a wealth of extras, including a fully-unlocked roster of superstars, Season Pass downloads, and even the ubiquitous artist Bad Bunny getting his own set of DLC add-ons.

For the most part, the wrestlers are accurate and realistic, in both appearance and movements. However, it’s clear that certain superstars received a little more attention than others. While John Cena and prominent characters like Roman Reigns are lifelike in their presentation, secondary performers often looked a little generic, with faces and mannerisms that don’t quite match their real-life counterparts.

Arenas and backstage settings are predictably amazing, and the sounds, volume, and even television graphics follow suit. This was particularly enjoyable when selecting legacy settings such as pay-per-view arenas from the ’80s.

Controls, for the most part, have been improved considerably. While not quite perfect, I had fewer instances of missed contact than in previous editions — at least offline. Punches have more weight, wrestlers’ sizes seem to make more of a difference, and finishing moves are more meaningful, so move-spammers may not enjoy this edition quite as much, as users looking to strategically take down opponents will be rewarded more than before, while button mashers may have a more difficult time eke-ing out victories.

Top rope, high-flying moves are still a mixed bag, as opponent positioning is vital for making them work, but the in-game difficulty is fair, making those moments more significant when they do land.

I won’t spend much time on the extensive creation suite, but suffice it to say, if there’s a dream wrestler, arena, or event in someone’s mind, 2K has given them the tools to make it happen. Just a few days after the title’s launch, the Community Creations lineup had tons and tons of user-submitted content. Stars from other companies, arenas from wrestling history, even realistic graphics and entrances — it’s all there, and more lifelike than ever. 

WWE 2K23 also offers a flood of ways to hit the squared circle. The all-new Wargames mode brings back a beloved match type from wrestling’s past, putting two rings side by side, inside of a large steel cage. When the controls don’t glitch while targeting, this mode presents opportunities to create moments unlike any other. The potential for 2-on-1 and even 3-on-1 is tantalizing, and based on what YouTube is showing, gamers are already taking full advantage of the possibilities.

There are several other notable modes to consider. MyFaction allows fans to build their own formidable superstar stables, allowing them to challenge wrestling stalwarts like The Bloodline and Judgment Day. New online challenges are presented each week, with sizable in-game rewards available for the strongest teams. Kudos to 2K for adding a layer of depth to its online offerings.

MyGM is a throwback to the fan-favorite PS2 WWE titles, but this version is a bit different, giving users the chance to ‘own’ one of the company’s weekly shows while using one of the notable general managers. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses which come into play when drafting and scheduling matches for talent. The end goal isn’t as much about having a better roster as it is about having a higher-rated television show, so this is art imitating art that imitates life? Impressive.

The final highlight is the Showcase mode, which takes users through the career of John Cena. However, in a unique take on the mode, gamers will play as Cena’s opponents during some of his biggest WWE moments. Ultimately, it feels a little strange to try and recreate history from the other corner of the ring, but I’m thankful that 2K tried to build on this mode, rather than rehash the same ideas from previous versions.

Other modes, such as the expanded Universe mode, bring a few twists. Now, users can choose to play as a created or actual superstar, or they can choose to control the entire WWE, setting every match and storyline from atop Titan Towers. Though this adds depth, the week-over-week grind can be a lot. Similar things can be said about the story-driven MyRise, which recreates a young wrestler’s climb to glory. While the ‘realism’ is laudable, the endless array of side matches drags users away from the main story too often to remain engaging.

Online, WWE 2K23 performs well, with a few exceptions. Playing simple head-to-head is fairly seamless and responsive, but multiple team matches presented a handful of collision glitches and targeting problems. I found myself kicking the air on more than one occasion, while my opponents sat untouched nearby. It wasn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but in a title so focused on recreating WWE action, this repeatedly took me out of the moment. Fortunately, I didn’t experience any issues finding matches or opponents, thanks to snappy loading times and an easy-to-navigate lobby.

I intentionally delayed releasing this review to sink myself into the countless modes and features, and I’m glad I did because a title with almost RPG-level depth deserves that much. Gamers may never see a ‘perfect’ wrestling game, but WWE 2K23 is about as close as the industry has come in more than 20 years.

Score 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by 2K and developed by Visual Concepts. It is available on XBO, XSX/S, PS4, PS5, and PC. This game copy was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Approximately 21 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately 8 hours of play were dedicated to online multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T. This is a realistic representation of professional wrestling action and storylines, with violence at the forefront of the gameplay. Additionally, some dialogue and themes in the story modes may concern some parents.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the Game Settings menu.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: WWE 2K23 features subtitles and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. (See text examples above.) The game is fully playable without sound and in my view is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

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