The champ is back? The next entry in 2K’s wrestling series debuted last month, bringing a sharp all-around package with great looks and play.
Note: The following review missed its originally scheduled posting date. The error just came to our attention, and you’ll find it published in full below.
You can’t see me
The WWE-faithful have been on quite a ride for the last few years. While WWE 2K19 didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it was followed up by 2K20, which crashed and burned. The former title took off like crazy after that, pulling in loads of new players and absolutely rolling through the pandemic era, til last year’s release of 2K22.
That game brought the series back to life with a number of improvements, and finally gave fans something fresh to play after the lengthy break. And it appears as though developer Visual Concepts will be getting a title run all its own, because WWE 2K23 is just as good. Actually, in some ways, it’s a bit better.
That’s not to say that you’ll find this year’s WWE game to be all that big of a departure from last year’s installment. There’s a lot in this game that is definitely going to feel familiar, there’s no way around that. But even so, what you will find is a nicely refined and frankly terrifically fun game.
If you’ve played a wrestling game in the modern age, any wrestling game really, then you know what 2K23 is all about. As with all of the successive “WWE 2K” titles, 2023’s builds on what’s come before, enhances certain elements (like looks and sounds), and revamps the roster so that it more closely resembles the current year WWE.
So in that way, if you’re looking for something really different, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. What you will find here is a full cadre of match-types to play, multiple modes to try out that are both online and off, and an incredibly in-depth create-a-wrestler suite. Then on top of all of that, there’s the Showcase.
This year’s Showcase mode, which spotlights a single grappler and tells the story of his career, centers on John Cena. Yes, I know, he’s been the focal point of a Showcase mode before, but this one’s very different. That’s because you don’t play as Cena.
No, instead of lacing up the boots as the Champ, you’ll instead take him on in a series of matches that spans his WWE run. That means taking on the roles of wrestlers like The Undertaker, RVD, and Brock Lesnar, sometimes even variations of them, in differing time periods.
Each match presents a different set of marks that you’ll have to hit too, like landing certain moves and taking the fight to specific areas of the ring. Doing that unlocks new things, including both wrestlers and parts for the creation suite.
While there is a certain level of monotony to fighting more or less the same guy over and over again, it’s also pretty neat to play as wrestlers that you might not have even glanced at before. I never had the desire to play as Lesnar, or the most recent incarnation of The Undertaker for example. But I genuinely had fun trying out their moves, which again isn’t something I’d have done of my own volition.
It’s kind of a tradeoff I guess, but I took to it a lot more than I have in the past. For once, I actually wanted to complete the mode instead of just giving it a shot, then closing it out to go back to exhibition.
Look at the carnage in the ring
While you’re playing through all of those modes too, you’ll notice that the controls in WWE 2K23 are better than ever. The game is even easier to ‘pick up and play’, giving both newcomers and longtime fans a chance to enjoy some grappling. But at the same time it also has a level of intricacy to it that will cater to those who want to take the time to perfect their play.
I hadn’t played 2K22 in a while, so for me it did take a little while to get back in the swing. Once I did though, it was a joy to time out moves, engage reversals, and chokeslam foes through announce tables. All of which comes via a button layout that’s pretty straightforward… at first glance.
WWE 2K23 gives players heavy and light attack buttons, buttons for running, climbing the ropes, exiting the ring, and a number of contextual options like pulling a weapon from under the apron and clearing off those tables I mentioned. There’s also the all-important grapple button, which has a number of uses after it’s successfully engaged.
Once you grapple an enemy, you can dole out a heavy or light wrestling move or hold, choose to carry them and go into a different set of moves, or whip them into the ropes. And even that has options, as you can whip to a corner or whip them over the top rope to the floor too, should you so desire.
I know this all probably sounds like a lot to master for those who’ve never played a wrestling game before, or for those who are lapsed fans. It’s really not though, and once you spend a little time under the game’s learning tree, you should get the hang of things in no time.
King of the Ring
WWE 2K22 already looked pretty good. Of course it had some bugs, I think everybody knows this line has them, but 2K22 was a sharp looking title regardless. 2K and Visual Concepts’ big comeback had both terrific graphics in general and some great animation. So does 2K23 do an even better job of it? Yep.
Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t head over heels better than its predecessor, but WWE 2K23 does indeed up the ante a bit in terms of the audio/visual package. The cast of superstars have never looked better, as Visual Concepts has created a game that’s likely as photo-real as a sports title can get at this point.
Likewise the arenas look great, reflecting the official shows and pay-per-views of the WWE pretty much perfectly. And on the other side of the presentation-coin, the audio is awesome too. Wrestlers all have their signature themes, and the commentary team does a serviceable job of bringing the action to life. That’s not an easy thing to get done, when you consider all the wrestler names and move-titles that are packed into one of these.
But again that’s not to say it’s perfect. I did notice a few little glitches here and there, some animation seemed off at times (particularly with the ropes), and video tended to have stuttering issues on the PC version. I will note that I did not have that problem at all with the Xbox edition, which I was also able to spend some time with.
I want to also touch upon the creation suite here. This probably could go into another category all by itself, but the creation features are superb in WWE 2K23. The options are ridiculously deep, as the game gives players the ability to build everything from shockingly detailed custom superstars to full shows and arenas.
Along the same lines, Community Creations is back as well, meaning you can upload and download creations. And let me tell you, that continues to be a highlight among highlights for fans like myself. If you want to let the incredibly talented WWE 2K community have at the game for a few weeks, you’re going to be able to grab some of the best-looking created superstars you’ve ever seen. Last year’s game is evident of that, so if your favorite isn’t in the game already, just give it a little time and you’ll probably be able to get him or her anyway.
A minor gripe here though, and it’s a grating one for me at least. But it still bothers me that you cannot upload songs to use for custom entrances. A number of wrestling games had allowed for that in past console generations, and the option seems to have drifted into oblivion completely at this point. It’s aggravating to have a fantastic looking Scott Steiner coming down to ringside, Buff Bagwell in tow, without his signature sirens. Yeah, you can place the NWO theme in there, but it’s not the same.
I don’t know what could be done about that though, given the minefield that is licensing and such, but I felt like I had to whine about it for a second.
It’s tough not to recommend WWE 2K23 wholeheartedly. Even if you’re solely a fan of bygone wrestling eras, there’s bound to be something here to keep you engaged and entertained. And if you find the roster lacking, remember that you can always download something new, thanks to the game’s incredible creation utilities and online Community Creations features.
A copy of this game was provided by 2K for this review
Release date: March 14th, 2023
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Visual Concepts
MSRP: $59.99 USD