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    Thursday, November 1, 2018

    Never Say Never: The Official WWE 2K19 Smark Henry Review

    WWE 2K19 was released early this past October, at quite possibly the earliest release date of the franchise. In the time since we got our official copy here at the Smark Henry offices, I've found myself popping the game into the PS4 at every possible opportunity. After years of getting the latest version of the game from the same franchise, it's easy to fall into the trap of being a jaded fan who assumes that save for the rosters, the upgrades are minor. That's also because it's equally easy for game developers to fall into the trap of relying on the name value of a video game franchise and phoning in this year's version.

    Thankfully, that wasn't the case with WWE 2K19. If I had to identify only one thing that separates 2K19 from its previous iterations, it's replayability. It's the type of game you can replay over and over and over because there's just so much to do; and it is neither a bore nor a chore to get through. As someone who's followed the WWE video games dating back to Here Comes The Pain, having all these various reasons to keep playing the game is a plus. After all, I'm a semi-functioning adult with a job (or three), too. So if I'm going to spend my time playing a video game, it better be worth the time I'm devoting to it.

    A Bigger Locker Room, With Even Bigger Exceptions

    This year's roster is—once again—the biggest in a video game to date, with 252 different characters to choose from, DLCs included. The most remarkable thing about this is the fact that the female Superstars are at an all-time high of 42, compared to last year's 32. On the flip side, the game features several Superstars whose different versions are considered as separate characters altogether, with the most egregious ones being Daniel Bryan and Triple H—who have five and four versions of themselves, respectively—as well as Chris Jericho, Kane, and The Undertaker, who have three versions of themselves.

    I understand that these different versions have their own stats and attributes and are unlockable when you accomplish certain game modes. Don't get me wrong. I love that there are all these different versions of Daniel Bryan, for example, which is a result of the Showcase Mode devoted entirely to his career—more on this later. But do we really need five different Daniel Bryan characters? But after having worked on these games for years, you'd expect the developers to have figured out a way to condense them into one character as alternate forms within the same model.

    On a positive note, it's great to see more of the Cruiserweights and NXT Superstars on this year's roster. Last year's roster felt underrepresented on the NXT front, while the Cruiserweights felt really lacking. For one thing, it was frustrating not having mainstays like Mustafa Ali, Drew Gulak, and Tony Nese on last year's game.

    Then again, it's absolutely mind-boggling that Tommaso Ciampa—who is the NXT Champion, by the way—Nikki Cross, and The Brian Kendrick are nowhere to be found on 2K19. Thankfully, the good samaritans who supplement the built-in rosters with the Community Creations will have you covered.

    Your Time Is Up, My Time Is Now!

    One of the reasons that's made MyCareer mode in both NBA 2K and WWE 2K so laborious is upgrading your attributes. I've always hated how all of the skills are broken down into categories and subcategories. Picking and choosing which attributes and skills to upgrade takes up so much time because your Skill Points (or Virtual Currency) are limited that when you finally decide, you'll realize it's time to stop playing and start being an adult again.

    WWE 2K19 takes care of that problem through the MyPlayer Tree, which is one of the best innovations to this game mode. From the get-go, you get to select which fighting style you want your MyPlayer to have. Last year, I tried to be a Cruiserweight in the TJP mold; so this year, I decided to try something new and be a Striker.

    From there, you get to use your Style Points to upgrade your skills through a literal tree. It's like a game of Choose Your Own Adventure, to a certain extent, because you still get to select which attributes to focus on. If you want to overload on a part of your game—like, say, defense—while not really upgrading your stamina or speed, that's perfectly fine. What makes the MyPlayer Tree easy to use, though, is how it automatically sets the amount of points upgraded per attribute. It's no longer a matter of whether or not you can afford to buy X points for, say, arm power. Now, you can just climb to the next level of this particular tree if you have the Style Points.

    I mentioned that I wanted to be a Striker this year, which led me to a second MyPlayer tree, determining my specific fighting style. As a Striker, you get to either be a Brawler (think Dean Ambrose) or Strong Style (ex: Shinsuke Nakamura). Naturally, I went the Nakamura route and fashioned my MyPlayer as the next great Strong Style star. That also meant I could no longer upgrade the other sub-style, which makes sense because you can't have it all.

    I also almost forgot to mention that the Creation Suite is much more user-friendly this time around. It's as if 2K finally realized that there are too many tables to set before you actually start enjoying the game, so they decided to streamline a lot of things to save time, like attribute upgrades, backstage interactions in MyCareer, and building your MyPlayer from scratch.

    Instead of spending hours just to get started—especially if you're the type who wants to go straight to the actual story mode like I am—you're offered a basic platter to choose from when you pick your outfits, moves, and stats. Don't worry, you get to upgrade these later on. I'm just really glad that there weren't too many choices to pick from because within minutes of setting up MyPlayer, I was able to go straight into MyCareer.

    Well, This Story Sounds Familiar...

    The story mode in MyCareer is also way more interesting than it was in 2K18. Funnily enough, it's very similar to the arc you'll encounter in NBA 2K19's MyCareer mode. You go through the indies, get the attention of NXT, but then the rug gets pulled out from under you. So you go on a me-against-the-world quest to get back to the big stage. It really is the same storyline, except it's appropriated for pro wrestling. Somehow, I can let it pass because the story gets interesting enough that I'd actually watch this on TV if it were a WWE angle. 

    Unlike 2K18 where you get to roam around and interact with all sorts of characters backstage, much like in Here Comes The Pain, this time around, you just have a screen depending on where your character is at. You could be in the WWE locker room, backstage at an indy event, or at a parking lot, and then you have the choice of talking to the different characters you can interact with or going straight to your next match. This is way more efficient because it saves a lot of time. Instead of spending five minutes going through the entire locker room area to look for side quests, you can just toggle left and right to talk to Baron Corbin and then Jinder Mahal. Imagine wasting five minutes every "week" in MyCareer mode. Compounded together, that's a lot of time wasted.

    Speaking of side quests, they return this year in the form of Side Matches that yield different rewards like Style Points, which you can add to the development of your MyPlayer. It's up to you whether or not you want to take them on. But when you're a struggling Rookie with an overall rating of 55, you kind of need them to rise through the ranks.

    And, of course, you still have some form of choice in the things you say on the mic, as well as what you say to the different Superstars/authority figures backstage. There are certain things you don't have control over since the story does go in a specific direction like an RPG. But when that direction is choosing SmackDown Live over RAW because it's the better wrestling show, do you really want to have that choice in the first place? I didn't think so.

    Have You Met the Boss?

    Here's the real reason why you can play the game over and over again: Showcase Mode and 2K Towers. 

    As a Daniel Bryan, going through the key moments in his WWE career and recreating them in the game was already a treat in itself. Having Bryan himself narrate these experiences gives it a WWE 24 feel, which I appreciated from the jump. Some matches can be pretty easy to get through, like Bryan's first match against John Cena on Velocity in 2002. But then you'll take on The Miz for the United States Championship at Night of Champions 2010 and find yourself unable to get through him multiple times. It's a fun challenge that is reminiscent of old school video games, where there are bosses you have to overcome to ultimately defeat the game.

    Speaking of old school and bosses, 2K Towers really gave me serious Mortal Kombat feels when I first went through it. This is the game mode that will not only take quite a bit of time to finish altogether, but has serious replay potential. The towers have varying levels of difficulty, depending on how you want to challenge yourself today—or how much time you're willing to spend. Some of the towers have checkpoints, which you can come back to later on. But the harder ones are those that you can't really pause and come back to later—basically a Gauntlet Match. The point is, you don't want to be the idiot that messes around on these Towers and selects Curt Hawkins for shits and giggles. You'll regret that the moment Eddie Guerrero sneaks up on you with increased Momentum gain, while yours is really, really slowed down.

    These towers can really mess with you, depending on the level of difficulty. You may start off in a normal match, and then suddenly you'll be in a match where your health recovery is impeded, while your opponent's is heightened. Or you'll start a match where your opponent has one or two finishers stacked, while you'll be like The Script because you wanted finishers, but all you got was nothing. Great times!

    Off the Top Rope, So Look Out Below!

    Not much has changed in terms of actual gameplay this year. Some would say that Reversals are actually easier to execute this time around. What's more noticeable is how the Submission System remains the same, but is harder to get out of when you're on the receiving end. That's nothing, though, compared to the improved Battle Royal/Royal Rumble mechanics.

    In the past, the only ways to eliminate opponents in a Battle Royal or Royal Rumble were through (1) executing a grapple move while your opponent has been sent to the apron over the top rope, (2) executing a strong Irish Whip on a severely weakened opponent, and (3) executing a Carry move on a much smaller Superstar. 

    This year, you can now use Reversals as a way to eliminate opponents, much like we see on TV or in real life. You know how one Superstar could be charging towards their opponents to perform a clothesline and then their opponent quickly ducks and pulls the top rope down to eliminate the charging wrestler? You can finally do that now, and it's made for easier eliminations, as long as you get the Reversal timing right. It's also led to some hilarious moments like these, as provided by our very own Lance Tan Ong.

    Man, is this going to make the annual Smark Henry Royal Rumble way more fun? I can't wait for December!

    WOOOOOOO! Edition

    This year's Collector's Edition of the game features the legendary Ric Flair, and while there isn't an action figure of Naitch this time around, the exclusive items make a great addition to any collection. First off is the box art design on its own, which features images of paintings of both The Nature Boy and his daughter, Charlotte Flair. I boo the Woo a lot on SmackDown Live, but seeing Ric and Charlotte looking classic and regal just emphasizes how they are indeed wrestling royalty.

    As a casual Funko Pop collector, having the WWE 2K19 exclusive Ric Flair Funko was a real treat, especially now that resellers have been driving the prices way more than before. It's also pretty cool seeing Naitch immortalized in his Four Horsemen look, especially since I got into wrestling when he was already a part of Evolution.

    I know a lot of fans were really after the numbered WWE Hall of Fame ring replicas, so that was pretty fun to open and try on. While I'm not exactly a fan of rings myself, I had a hoot wearing the ring and imagining it as an NBA Championship ring. And of course, the best of the collector's items has to be the framed piece of an actual robe that Ric Flair once wore. I especially love that the piece that I got a piece that had sequins on because that's a trademark of the Ric Flair robes. What's funny was how my dad and sister—both casual wrestling fans at this point—saw me marveling at it and going, "So this is a relic now? When did Ric Flair get canonized as a saint?!"


    If there's one thing WWE 2K19 has an absolute edge on compared to its predecessors, it's the fact that you won't tire of the game as quickly because of the replayability factor. An improved MyCareer mode, along with the completely addicting Showcase and 2K Towers modes, makes this year's version hard to put down.

    Yes, there are still hiccups along the way, including the notable absences of Ciampa, Cross, and Kendrick on the roster, as well as the robotic and monotonous delivery of the voice acting. The commentary can also sound sloppy at times, especially when the lines being delivered don't make sense in the context of the match. The best examples are when Cole, Saxton, and/or Graves reference something that hasn't happened yet in Daniel Bryan's career when you're going through his earlier matches in Showcase Mode.

    But on the flip side, creating your very own MyPlayer is much easier (and hassle-free) now. Plus, loading times are much quicker, too. That goes a long way towards saving time and spending it actually playing the game instead of waiting for it to load. If 2K19 is the foundation for the improved direction of the games, then this isn't a bad takeoff point at all. Hell, I'd love for 2K19 to be the standard for wrestling video games going forward. It gets an A-.

    Images of the Ric Flair collectibles and screenshots with the WWE 2K19 logo are from 2K, all others are personal screenshots.

    A PS4 copy of the game was provided to Smark Henry for review.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

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    Item Reviewed: Never Say Never: The Official WWE 2K19 Smark Henry Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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