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When 2K games took over the WWE license from THQ, fans immediately turned to the publisher's successful NBA series as an omen of where future grapple-em-ups would go. Skipping next-gen systems last year also nourished the notion that WWE's next-gen debut would see a much-needed revamp of a series which had started to need one three or four years ago.
Having seen the game in action and played a few matches, I can say that the changes are immediate and impressive. Screenshots released in the build-up to the game's gameplay debut at Gamescom showed detailed character models that are perfectly reflective of what is in the game.
A lot has been done to renovate the game. Behind closed doors, developers told us of a huge motion capture studio with its own wrestling ring, used not only to increase animations five-fold, but also to capture all new audio as flesh meets canvas, the ropes are run and burly men are thrown into steel steps.
If one aspect of the game was most in need of an overhaul however it was the commentary. In the face of UFC, NBA and pretty much every other sports title on the market, Yukes really should have been embarrassed to pass off the commentary of past games.
With this in mind, commentary has been completely re-written, with lead announcers Michael Cole and Jerry 'The King' Lawler recording three times as many lines as before, and for the first time in the same room as well, for extra authenticity.
The new commentary will also focus more on story-telling than the calling of individual moves. While to core wrestling fan this will be off-putting (and cause a few fond daydreams of Jim Ross in his prime I bet) it is certainly reflective of the current product.
This quest for authenticity also saw the implementation of the facial scanning techniques utilised by the NBA series, this comes from new co-developers Visual Concepts whose work on NBA has made them indispensable to 2K's new WWE set-up.
The developers were even keen to express the lengths they've gone to, saying they flew the bulky equipment out to Shawn Michaels' home in remote Texas just to scan him in... that said, the eyes could still use some work, they're a bit creepy.
Grappling with the new system
So what about the wrestling? You'll notice a difference as soon as the bell rings, but for the most part it's not far removed from last year's iteration, with button prompts flashing on screen to tell you when to activate finishers, go for the pin or counter a move. That is, until you feel comfortable enough with the system to turn the prompts off.
That difference that you'll notice immediately however is the new grapple system, which utilises simple mini-games to decide where control lies from the first collar and elbow tie-up to the eventual body slam, suplex or strike. When you first tie up you'll be asked to press Circle, Square or Triangle, each representing a certain hold. Who gains the advantage is decided by a simple rock, paper, scissors mechanic – Triangle beats Square, Square beats Circle and Circle beats Triangle.
Then right stick prompt will appear on screen with players tasked with quickly finding the hotspot first. Find it, fill the circular prompt and you'll gain the advantage, then the same configuration will appear a second time, win twice and you'll be able to execute a move.
On paper this sounds a little clunky maybe, but in action it works well, never feeling cheap in its outcome and open to enough variation to accurately replicate the actual product. As for the rest of the matches, they play out largely the same as before, only with the benefit of huge influx of animations that give wrestler movement a greater flow, though not quite enough to rid the game of all its little glitches, which could yet be ironed out.
The HUD has also been changed. A percentage will now grow with each move and taunt, granting you signature and finishing moves as the number grows. The familiar body, flashing yellow, orange and red as damage grows also appears when needed, but for the most part is hidden. The comeback system is also present once again.
Finally as the demo wound down we were promised the returns of WWE Universe mode, the creation mode (of course) and an all new career mode which will be given further detail at a later date. The showcase mode of the new game was also detailed. Two years ago it was the Attitude Era mode, last year Wrestlemania mode and this year the focus is on famous rivalries in wrestling history.
The two announced so far are the Shawn Michaels vs Triple H feud of the early noughties and the more recent John Cena vs CM Punk feud. We saw a short video not far removed from the superbly made hype videos made by WWE themselves that detailed the history of Cena vs Punk in the build to their 2011 Money in the Bank clash.
It was an impressive means of set-up which then gave way to the match itself, taking place in an area designed to look like the actual set-up in 2011. The match was stopped before it began as we returned to the menu, but we were told that the mode would feature historical objectives based on what actually happened – as in past showcase modes.
WWE 2K15 is a huge step in the right direction for the series, and 2K's guidance has on this evidence been nothing but positive. There are still a few hangovers from past iterations, but the positives far outweigh the negatives and it'll be welcome relief that the series as back on the right track.
WWE 2K15 is set for release on 31 October 2014.