'WWE 2K15' is a complete overhaul of the franchise

Bill Hanstock
SB Nation

At first glance, the game looks like what you're used to. Once you get your hands on it, however ... that's a different story.

LOS ANGELES -- Last Saturday, WWE and 2K Sports held a press event to discuss the upcoming WWE 2K15, the latest installment in the wrestling company's current video game series. Stephanie McMahon addressed the crowd before 2K executive producer Mark Little gave an extensive presentation of the game, including an overview and insight on what to expect as well as showing off footage of gameplay and video packages that will be included in the game. Most importantly, this was an opportunity to get hands-on playing time with the game.

WWE 2K15, as previously announced, will feature a rivalries mode, where players can recreate some of the most famous feuds in recent WWE history. The first two feuds revealed to be included in the game are Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels and John Cena vs. CM Punk. Little indicated that there would be more feuds included in the final version of the game. Both he and McMahon said that although "WWE Universe" mode would return to the game from previous installments, there would now be a new "Career Mode," where you can create a WWE Superstar, have them train and learn at the WWE Performance Center, get signed to NXT and eventually move onto the main roster and go on to headline WrestleMania. For fans who don't want to sink loads of time into the extensively customizable "Universe" mode, this will be a very welcome addition -- one that fans have been requesting for years.

The version of the game that was available for hands-on play at the event featured the first match in the Cena-Punk feud storyline (at Money in the Bank 2011), as well as one-on-one matches (both a normal match and no holds barred). The wrestlers available for play in the one-on-one matches were Cena, Randy Orton, Cesaro and Goldust.

Much has been made of the updated and souped-up graphics, of course, as this is the first wrestling game designed primarily for current-generation systems PS4 and XBox One. Yes, the graphics look great and occasionally veer off into uncanny valley territory, but the visual presentation isn't going to sell this game. As the saying goes, the name on the marquee is "wrestling."

When IGN was given an opportunity for some hands-on 2K15 gameplay earlier in August, they described the game as being closer to a wrestling sim than a wrestling game in many ways. But it's not quite a sim -- not exactly. The biggest departure (other than gameplay being slowed down considerably from earlier installments to make striking much more realistic) is the new chain grappling system that will start every match. From the standard collar-and-elbow tie-up, the two players will then enter into a rock/paper/scissors guessing game, by pressing buttons and then moving the right thumbstick to an unknown "sweet spot" in order to gain a chain wrestling advantage. It sounds more complicated than it is, as after a half-dozen lockups you will have a good idea of how the system works.

Once an individual has gained an advantage and momentum, it will be easier to hit moves and you will begin launching into attacks without first having to grapple or chain wrestle ... again, a change designed to move the gameplay experience much closer to the product that wrestling fans see on TV every week. There is also a health meter, which Little claims fans are skeptical about. This meter also includes percentage information that is not abundantly clear, but appears to track just HOW in control of the match the individual players are. The meter also shows how many signature moves and finishers players have stored, which is more handy than trying to figure out on the fly who has a finisher available as the icon floats near the character's foot.

There are kinks that are presumably being worked out (like referees being unable to return to the ring under their own power if they accidentally get knocked through the ropes), but this feels like a massive step up from 2K14. While wrestling video game enthusiasts will always clamor for a return to the No Mercy engine, that ship has sailed. Some may dislike the new control system, but it's something fresh and will lead to far less button-mashing. It may just lead to better and more competitive matches between human opponents.

WWE 2K15 will be released in the United States on Oct. 28 and comes out internationally on Oct. 31.

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