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WWE 2K23 Review: Gameplay Videos, Impressions for Top Modes and Features

With WWE 2K23, developer Visual Concepts has re-established a nice rhythm for its pro wrestling series.

This year's game is a follow-up to a highly lauded return for the series last year with WWE 2K22. That was the first entry in the series after a hiatus stretching back to WWE 2K20.

Many of the problematic points that sent the series on hiatus are gone. The revamped gameplay from last year returns and as expected, much of this year's offering is fine-tuning and beginning to build upon the now-solid foundation.

Whether that's worth the time of players who spent many hours in WWE 2K22 or are checking out the series for the first time is very much worth a closer look.

Gameplay

In many ways, WWE 2K23 doesn't feel all that different from its predecessor in the gameplay department.

Given the positive dramatic overhaul WWE 2K22 was for the series, that's a good thing.

Visual Concepts decided against trying to layer new things atop what works and mostly resisted possible urges to loop back in joystick and button modifiers.

Instead, the combo system chaining different types of attacks against various defensive options again feels good, like a traditional fighting game. It feels punchy and responsive, making for a system that is button-mashing good for new players and offering plenty of skillful depth.

Breakers return and feel just as good. Guessing an opponent's attack and hitting the corresponding button creates a counter. Guess wrong, pay the price.

Grappling is again consistent and engaging, with stamina playing a key role here. Late in a match, it takes longer for stars to execute a grapple, offering a layer of strategy to how a player approaches a match.

One of the really nice additions to the gameplay loop comes at wrestling's most important, drama-packed moment—kick outs. Players can use the mashing-buttons option still, or use a new timing window on a sliding bar for dramatic effect. The window to kick out of a pin gets smaller the longer a match continues and the player's character takes punishment, which ends up emulating the dramatic kick outs at the last second in real life surprisingly well.


Last year, the series took a massive step forward by making wrestlers perform realistically within their archetypes. A giant, for example, finally felt heavier and different from a cruiserweight.

This year, players can customize wrestler behaviors to make sure, for example, those giants aren't attempting dives out of the ring. There are a stunning number of options to tweak for each and every superstar from the edit menu, including how often they throw strikes vs. grapples, how often they target limbs like technicians or do risky daredevil maneuvers. It's a seriously engrossing thing to mess with that has been missing from pro wrestling games for a long time and might not get the broad attention it deserves.

The in-ring gameplay isn't without problems, though. Some of the exhaustingly inescapable trappings of the genre persist at times such as odd collision detection and phantom whiffs on grapples and strikes. The A.I. remains hit or miss, sometimes going on SuperCena stretches and other times screeching off to do nonsensical things.

None of the drawbacks are enough to overly dampen the experience and in a way, they're almost a part of the charm of pro wrestling video games these days.

As a whole, this is one of the best gameplay systems in the franchise. Controls are snappy and make sense, and it's generally a little easier to position opponents and set up moves.


Graphics and Presentation

WWE 2K23 had big boots to fill in the presentation department.

Among last year's many upgrades was a staggering overhaul to the lighting system, better physics and a battery of new camera angles and zooms that amplified the action.

Much of that returns, with each wrestler looking quite like their real-life counterparts and moving in ways that make sense. New camera angles and zooms feel noticeable, too.

Wrestler attire gets the necessary upgrades and all of the new additions to the exhaustive roster look great—highlighted by new arrivals such as Cody Rhodes.

During actual bouts, the HUD at the bottom of the screen during matches helpfully illustrates super buildup and the limb-by-limb statuses of opponents. Similarly, overall menu navigation throughout the experience is smooth and simple.

The expected music and overall presentation for each wrestler has been updated as necessary and looks great. Cena himself gets a credit on the soundtrack and it's a nice one. Announcers don't wear out their welcome right away either, and special kudos again goes to the smooth blending of real action and documentary footage in the Showcase mode.

With a lack of real presentation issues and upgrading in key areas, WWE 2K23 comfortably takes the title of the best-looking wrestling game to date.


Showcase, MyFACTION and More


Like other sports titles, WWE 2K23 boasts a litany of ways to play, with a few of the modes worthy of being their own standalone titles due to sheer depth and replayability.

Showcase this year focusing on cover star John Cena isn't exactly bold.

What is, though, is the game tasking players with taking control of Cena's opponents. It sounds strange at first, but thinking about the colorful superhero's many catchphrases and themes over the years, it fits pretty well with his personality—these are the pivotal losses in his career that he overcame.

For fans who were tired of Cena always winning, he certainly isn't here. And for everyone else, it's a creative way for what has been a repetitive mode in the past to keep things feeling very fresh throughout. That said, a necessary omission like his loss to CM Punk stings.

Otherwise, the normal brilliant trappings of Showcase return. The documentary-style presentation is fantastic and the selected moments hit all the right notes of a legendary career.

WWE 2K's card collect-a-thon response to similar modes in games like Madden, MyFACTION, returns and takes its offerings online.

Players can still enjoy the mode as a solo offline experience, collecting cards of current and past Superstars and tackling daily and/or weekly challenges for rewards. The mode fleshes out the list of things to do by adding more live events with different match types and challenges, giving a distinct feel similar to WWE's real pay-per-view cycle.


But this is the first year the game goes online with multiplayer, too. There is now a head-to-head quick-play playlist, so it's fun to take a four-star faction online and test it against others.

That said, online functionality sort of opens a cliche can of worms, too. It's a nice thing to have, but it opens things up for that race-to-the-top feeling of a card-collecting game. Plus, there's no auction house or trading like modes found in other sports games, so players are left to sheer RNG of packs that can be earned or purchased.

The long-awaited inclusion of the WarGames match is a big highlight. The side-by-side rings encased in a steel cage with the trench in the middle makes the cut and feels great.

Like the real thing, the match creatively captures the palpable momentum shifts that define any good pro wrestling match. Superstars get released into the match at intervals, so one team is always at a disadvantage and merely has to hold out until a teammate enters the fray to save the day.

Along the way, players can use weapons, the cage itself and trench interactions to pummel opponents. In a nice touch, the game also gives players fun ways to customize the match, permitting the use of created superstars and tweaking the interval rules.


It's simply a blast to play and frankly, the fact players have two rings to work with eliminates some of the inevitable clunkiness that seeps into wrestling video games when there are more than two wrestlers in a match.

MyGM gets some much-needed love this year, too. Players have more general managers to pick from and it has expanded to include more types of matches they can book on shows. Oh, and it actually has mid-card titles now, a glaring omission in the past. It lasts beyond just one year, too, smartly letting players experience a fantasy draft by re-drafting rosters at the end of a season.

The functionality of MyGM has evolved too—it supports four players, now. But the tradeoff, for whatever reason, is the mode doesn't have online play yet.

Still, MyGM might be where players spend a huge bulk of their time. It's a blast to juggle characters, match cards and the budget not only for wrestlers, but things like stadium pyro each week.

Universe mode is again the open-ended mode that gives players full control and some added new storylines keep things at least somewhat fresh.

MyRise returns with unique storylines for created male or female superstars (The Lock or The Legacy). There is plenty of side content to engage with that lengthens the fun experience, but players can also strongarm their way through the storylines without fear. Player choice plays a role, as decisions influence how either story plays out.


The robust Creation Suite returns and offers legs to the game in a way nothing else can.

There, players can tweak and create wrestlers, entrances, entire movesets and even minutia like championships. They can also use uploaded photos for the character-select screens.

The suite boasts cross-platform support, which guarantees another simply fantastic creation community that will churn out created wrestlers, arenas and more from Day 1 and for a long time.

Also included is a bevy of options, from standard things like subtitles and button prompts to more in-depth items such as tuning the behavior of A.I., such as how often opponents hit reversals. It's a highly customizable experience as a result, helping it feel accessible to all.


Conclusion


WWE 2K23 falling comfortably into the "annually updated sports game" column isn't a bad thing, especially compared to the series' recent history pre-dating last year.

While sports games usually sit under an intense microscope of examing what's actually new, WWE 2K23 skirts this by offering so much quality across so many deep game modes. The game is a blast to play and has a staggering amount of replayability even before the community enhances it tenfold via the creation suite. It also boasts an under-the-radar stunner of sorts by letting players tweak how each wrestler performs.


That's enough for it to be the best in the series to date.

Like cover star John Cena himself right now, WWE 2K23 is a welcome sight not bringing a lot of outright new to the table, but that's not always a bad thing when it's a complete package. CHRIS ROLING ( March, 14 2023)


WWE 2K23 Review: Gameplay Videos, Impressions for Top Modes and Features from https://www.forbes.com/

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