It's been at least 13 years since I watched pro wrestling. Back then, the top organization wasn't called WWE. (I heard they got "the F out.")
I'm still a fan of wrestling games, though. So, I was pleased to find that the latest entry from the top franchise on the market, "WWE 2K15" for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, was a fun time.
In an interesting change, the pacing of matches in "2K15" has been slowed to mirror the way real-life pro wrestling matches have played out since ... well, forever.
Bouts begin with a chain wrestling sequence that integrates a minigame, followed by the customary grapple and strike moves. Once signature and finishing moves are available, that usually signals the end. A good, back-and-forth match doesn't last more than 10 minutes, and it never drags.
This type of gameplay may not be what hard-core wrestling gamers are accustomed to, but they should find it to be a welcome addition. It wouldn't be a bad idea to, in future editions of the franchise, make the old fast-paced gameplay an option that allows gamers to pick their play style. But, that's not a knock unless you can't stand the new pacing.
The roster is sizable, yet still underwhelming. It would be fun if, one of these years, a WWE game were to feature hundreds of new and classic superstars. There's no reason games can't include every WWE Hall of Famer each year, instead of featuring more in some iterations and less in others.
Match types are diverse, including old favorites like Hell in a Cell. Some, like the Casket Match, are only accessible through 2K Showcase, which is a disappointment. However, everything seems to be executed very well.
Speaking of 2K Showcase, this one is a real treat. The mode brings gamers along to play out a pair of major feuds from the past dozen years: the rivalries between Shawn Michaels and Triple H from 2002-2004; and John Cena and CM Punk from 2011-2013. As someone unfamiliar with these story lines, it was fun to see the twists and turns that play out during matches.
Accomplishing specific tasks triggers events that occurred during famed matches. They provide a challenge -- too stiff at times -- but each match unlocks playable wrestlers, attires and arenas. More are poised to come via downloadable content, but it would be nice if this mode offered even more options throughout WWE history (Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon, anyone?).
Other modes are a mixed bag. 2K Universe is the wrestling equivalent to season mode in sports games. Smarks might like the ability to play booker and set up rivalries, but it wasn't as satisfying an experience as it should be.
MyCareer takes a created wrestler from the bottom at NXT events all the way to WrestleMania. It's interesting, but can feel like a slog when many matches have little impact on how your wrestler progresses, other than small attribute point boosts. For many, this will be the meat and potatoes of the solo experience.
Create-A-Superstar isn't bad, but this option has felt deeper before. The ability to download and share custom decals is a nice touch at least, and gamers already have populated the share area with loads of awesome stuff that can be applied to your wrestler.
Graphics-wise, "2K15" looks pretty and smooth, but a bit too sterile. Triple H, for example, looks more like a very detailed wax figure. And long hair still looks stringy. There will come a day when wrestlers' flowing locks will look right, but that day has not arrived in 2014.
It all adds up to a far from perfect experience, but "WWE 2K15" still features enough to sate the uber-fans and casual wrestling gamers.
EDITOR'S NOTE: "WWE 2K15" also is available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but with some different features and scaled-back graphics. This review may not apply to the game on those systems.