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Cheesy, breezy 'WWE 2K22' comes out swinging, plays to crowd

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Posted at 11:11 AM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 11:11:45-05

TUCSON, Ariz. — After taking a year off to recalibrate, Visual Concepts takes its wrestling sim into the current generation.

Boasting dozens of wrestlers that span various eras of pro wrestling, the game carries some nostalgic appeal while attempting to push the series forward in new ways.

With Machine Gun Kelly as an executive producer, "WWE 2K22" saunters into the ring beating its chest.

Phil Villarreal: Including legends such as Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Ted DiBiase, Steve Austin, Yokozuna, and several incarnations of the Undertaker, the stacked character roster put a smile on my face. At the risk of sounding like an old codger, wrestling was just better in the 80s and 90s, and early 2000s than it is now. The personalities were bigger, and everyday people just knew who they were. They showed up in movies and TV commercials. If I play a wrestling game, these are the guys I want to choose from. Which wrestlers were you most drawn to? And which were you missing? I could have used a solid dose of Junkyard Dog.

Sean Newgent: I, like you, Phil, am always drawn to the classics. Modern wrestling in the "PG Era" has its appeal, but it was the Attitude Era that I grew up with and those wrestlers who I will play as. My first spat on the mat was Hulk Hogan versus Macho Man in a Hell in the Cell match because there's something special about wielding a kendo stick and smacking around the digital reincarnation of dead and barely-upright wrestlers. It's a kind of continuation of the era of wrestling we love, and I think this video game series is special because it allows a little fantasy fulfillment.

Missing is Mankind. What do they have against Mister Socko?

But then you have the modern wrestlers. The persistence of mediocrity in WWE has kept me from paying much attention to the current class of wrestlers, so while I was enthused at the prospect of tossing Roman Reigns off the top of a steel cage by Ric Flair, I didn't know the characters enough to gravitate toward playing them especially when I could create my atrocity in the (ironically) beloved create-a-character mode.

Speaking of modes, there's a lot to choose from. Which did you spend your playtime with?

PV: Let me start with the modes that I'm skipping, for the most part. The devs seem to be proud of bringing back MyGM mode, but that sort of thing rarely appeals to me except for Trophy/Achievement completionism. The card-based MyFACTION — which looks like an extension of the card-based, microtransaction-slurping efforts prevalent in the 2K basketball series, just seems inconsistent. Even crafting a wrestler of my own in career mode doesn't appeal to me. I'd rather play like a legend and take on other legends. Also, I lack the skills and patience to compete in multiplayer matches.

So what's left for me is the suite of offline one-offs and tournaments against AI. That sort of thing ignites my imagination and makes me play longer than I should. I'm even OK with setting up dream matches and letting them play out without controlling either wrestler. Some of the scenarios that arise are absurd enough to crack me up.

I was impressed with the backgrounds and presentation but was a little put off by the wrestlers' plastic, action figure-style look. What did you think of the visuals?

SN: The visuals make all the characters look like wet plastic, giving them more the look of one of the cheap action figures you'd find in a toy aisle. And on top of looking less like WWE Superstars and more like the stars of Action League Now, somehow 2K still hasn't figured out how hair works. Twenty years ago, Square Enix was cranking out games where everyone carried the most luscious locks in any medium, and all this time later, Roman Reigns still can't manage to jump off the top rope without his hair phasing through him.

As far as crafting a wrestler goes, that adds even more ways to showcase the jank. That is if you can wait the four or five seconds it takes to load each option. That is entirely unacceptable, especially when there are thousands of options to build your character.

The game offers a lot of content, but much like the third hour of Monday Night Raw, I'm left wondering why I am spending so much time with it. It doesn't play particularly well, look nice, offer much of anything in the way of innovation. The game opens with a huge splash screen announcing, "Do not try this at home, school, or anywhere else," a reference to the moves being performed, but it almost feels like the developers winking at the gamer, telling them not to expect much.

Not to say this is a bad game; at the very least, it's serviceable in short bursts for a bit of dopamine hit. But I'll still rely on "Fire Pro Wrestling" if I want a competent and exciting wrestling game.

Final thoughts, Phil?

PV: While suffering a bit visually and mechanically from the last-gen hangover, "WWE 2K22" brings more than enough content to justify a new pickup for longtime series fans. While it may not push the series forward in any bold directions, it nails the basics and satisfies nostalgic yearnings. This is an excellent party game if you've got a core group of friends into WWE. Here's hoping future DLC drops will round out the missing corners of the squared circle.

Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy
Diablo II Resurrected
NEO: The World Ends with You
Rainbow Six: Extraction
King of Fighters XV

The publisher provided review codes. Phil played the game on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS4.

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Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star, where he was a movie critic, columnist, and reporter. He has penned three books: Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, Stormin' Mormon and Zeta Male. A University of Arizona business graduate, he has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing phil.villarreal@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Sean Newgent is a producer for KGUN 9. Sean has been with KGUN since January of 2020 producing newscasts. Sean graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at ISU, Sean wrote movie reviews for the paper, anchored and produced student newscasts, and was nominated for a student Emmy for broadcast film reviews. He has also written a number of anime reviews, as well as reviewing movies, TV, video games, comics, and books. In his free time he is a voracious reader of history and writes weird horror short stories. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing sean.newgent@kgun9.com or by connecting on Twitter.