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WWE 2K23 (PS5) Review

March 31, 2023 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Cody Rhodes WWE 2K23 Image Credit: 2K Games
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WWE 2K23 (PS5) Review  

I’ll admit I’m of a few different minds about this game. When I first started it, I wanted to automatically give it a 0 out of 10 for not having a Crush Hour 2 mode/mini-game in it. Then I thought I should review it objectively, so here we are. I’ll sum it up with a “It seems fine?” sort of feeling. Nothing is really broken, at least on a gameplay level, but MAN, the roster is a bit of a bummer.

I’ll also admit it’s been a fairly long while since I’ve actually played a WWE game at all. The last one I remember playing had CM Punk on the cover, so that was around WWE ’13, which is over a decade ago. It’s been a long, mostly bad slog for WWE games for a lot of those years but the recent WWE2K22 helped revitalize the franchise somewhat, and 2K23 continues that trend.

The basic controls are paradoxically simple and complex. At it is fairly straightforward, square is light attacks, X is heavy attacks, circle is used to grab/Irish whip, and triangle is the counter/block button. L2 is used for running, L1 is used for picking up stuff/getting a weapon under the ring. R1 is used to climb stuff, like ladders, but is also a dodge move to get out of the way of attacks. R2 is kind of the situational button, you’ll use it to do your signature, finisher, payback and submission attacks, depending on what face button you use.

This seems fairly standard and somewhat in line with past games. HOWEVER, trying to do other moves, that are barely explained, can be an exercise in frustration. Like, you can Irish whip your opponent into the turnbuckle, which is standard fare for this type of game. From here, you can strike them a bunch, do a simple grab, or whip them into another turnbuckle or the ropes. OR you can position them onto the top turnbuckle ropes to do even different moves. How do you position them? You have to hold R2 and use the right analog stick to get them into position.

Some characters are able to bounce off the rope, others not, but it’s not in the tutorial. It’s not explained how to do the Ladder Match “pull the item off the wire” mini-game in the tutorial, it’s barely even explained how to do certain reversals. In one particular match, you have a goal of, basically, Irish whip your opponent into the announce table and do your finisher on them, and I tried about 7 or 8 times and failed every single time. The ninth time, it finally worked, though I did nothing different about that try than the others I attempted.

There are three big modes I focused on with this review: Showcase, MyRISE and MyGM, so I’ll go into a bit in-depth on each of them. This game also has the usual raft of online, creation, MyFACTION (card game) and so on. While I did dip my toe into some of this stuff, it’s frankly a LOT and this game is overwhelming with all the content you can really get into, so I opted for the big stuff to really talk about.

This year, with John Cena being the highlighted superstar, the Showcase mode is all about him. It is, in a word: hysterical. I mean that with absolutely no disrespect to Cena as a performer or a person, but it is one of the funniest things I’ve seen so far, this year. Past modes were all about celebrating the long careers of superstars: Rey Mysterio, the Undertaker, Stone Cold, etc. Going through most of their career, and highlighting their victories, championships, and such.

With this Cena mode, you are celebrating John Cena’s loses. Yes, the entire point of this mode is to kick John Cena’s ass with the likes of RVD, Randy Orton, The Undertaker, The Rock, etc. Like, before every match, around 13 or 14 or so, there is a FMV bit of John Cena wearing a tux, in a studio room talking about the history of the match, what it meant to him/his career, etc. That’s all mostly fine, though I would’ve had him in his Peacemaker outfit myself. But the WHOLE crux of this mode is beating the tar out of Cena and it is at irony level ten.

As for the mode itself, it’s actually kind of fun, except the last match. You are given move tasks to do to make the replicate the actual history of the match. At certain cues, the match will go from gameplay to historical FMV of the actual match, which I think has been done before in prior WWE games, but is still a nice touch. I actually understood the pacing of these matches more than the regular ones, because the regular ones have a fairly nebulous ratings system that I just don’t get. Here, it’s just about you completing the tasks and winning. Doing all the tasks unlocks certain historical wrestlers, arenas, etc., so that’s nice.

The “MyRISE” mode is the story mode for your created character. Here, you have two different storylines “The Lock” for male wrestlers and “The Legacy” for female ones, with different plots and such. The Lock is all about your character being the next big thing and is a “lock” to be a future champion. He has some really dumb safe-themed vignettes and also stole the chain and padlock from Cena’s gear bag, since he wears it on the way to the ring.

The Legacy storyline for women is a bit worse. Wouldn’t you know that every woman wrestler within the WWE is two-faced and conniving? That’s how they are all presented here. You play a character whose aunt was a former superstar who got injured in the ring, though they don’t actually see how it happened. The aunt, Justine, comes across as one of those old football players who still thinks they can get out on the field and play. Also, the mode is weirdly built around Molly Holly, who while a decent enough wrestler and now an actual backstage producer, never had a great character gimmick, outside of Mighty Molly (which she doesn’t reprise here). It’d be like the Lock storyline being spearheaded by Sylvain Grenier, instead of Shawn Michaels, though HBK is actually in both modes.

The Lock mode does have a fictional wrestler/mentor named Tavish that you deal with a lot but compared to Justine, in The Legacy storyline, he’s not critically important

Outside of the wrestling, which generally works the same as the Showcase mode, though obviously without the FMV stuff, this mode is actually pretty annoying to get around in. It’s pretty static, all you kind of do is hang out in various backstage areas or airports, looking at boring menus, especially the social media page, and not much else. There’s no walking around the locker room or randomly meeting superstars, it’s very stagnant in how it is all presented.

Lastly, the “MyGM” mode is something I got weirdly into, which is odd, even for me. I don’t really like fantasy football or any of that nonsense. Basically, you are given a certain budget, a show and are told to draft a roster of superstars. Then, you can book whatever show you want, matches, promos, hiring the stage crew, picking the arena, etc. A lot of this stuff is gated by progression, like you can’t pyro for intros till week 10, or you can’t really unlock advertising till around week 15. Some of these unlocks can take a long time, like in the advertising tier, the last one will unlock on your fourth year at week 20.

You can simulate a lot of this mode, from your own show to the enemy GM’s you go up against. Your general goal is to obviously have a profitable/successful show. There is an overarching goal to win 10 Hall of Fame trophies though, which are season/mode goals like “Earn $20.0m in lifetime revenue” or “Finish 3 seasons ranked in 1st place”. Whoever gets the first ten trophies gets put into the Hall of Fame.

The only problem with this mode, really, is something I mentioned above. It’s really hard to actually get a five star match because the game doesn’t make it that clear on how to do it. You can use “Power Cards” which are temporary power-ups to do a variety of things like decreasing your production costs, raising your opponent’s costs, stealing their wrestlers, rehabbing your own roster, or improving a specific match on your card. But it’s still this kind of hazy metric of trying to get great matches. Most of the time when I would simulate matches with my roster I’d get 1 or 2 star matches, despite them having a good feud going, being compatible class-wise, being in a gimmick match, etc. I just couldn’t crack this nut of having awesome matches, because it seemed like the game wants me to play a certain way that is antithetical to how I want to play.

It’s not all bad though and if I seem a bit negative in the review it’s because this game almost does come close to being excellent. There’s a ton of match types and wrestlers allowed, up to 8. Matches go from the usual ladder, extreme rules, table, steel cage, etc. There is a new match type in this game, a throwback to a WCW match: Wargames. In a Wargames match, you have two teams of three wrestlers inside of two interconnected steel cages. One wrestler from each team will start the match with one team having an advantage over the other. After a bit of time, one superstar from one team will come out, then a member of the opposing team will come out and so on. Once all the wrestlers are out, the match can actually begin and you win by a pinfall or submission.

As a quick aside, if you’re going to bring back an old WCW gimmick match, they should bring back the best one: the Monster Truck Sumo Match! If not that, then at least the Junkyard Invitation match.

The AI in the game is uh..questionable, to say the least. Most of the time, it’s fairly alright but it does make the occasional dumb decision. Here are two good examples: in the Cena showcase, the last match is a fatal four-way with you (Cena) and three other wrestlers. Now, in a fatal four-way, it’s not whoever is pinned first wins the match, it’s whoever is pinned first is eliminated, then it becomes a three-way fight, another person is pinned & eliminated then it just becomes a fight with two people. I had it happen numerous times where I would beat someone down hard enough to pin them attempt to pin them and another of the wrestlers would then break it up. WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS?! The other wrestlers weren’t in a stable together so there was no allegiance there. Meanwhile, if one of the CPU wrestlers pinned another CPU wrestler, and the third CPU wrestler was in the ring also, he’d just stand there with his thumb up his butt, doing nothing at all.

The other good example of the AI breaking was during a match in the Legacy story mode. I had a match against Tamina with the rule that you could not leave the ring. Like, you couldn’t even try to, it was disabled in the gameplay setting. After getting hit a few times during the match, Tamina threw my wrestler on the ropes and I was kind of dazed, leaning against them. She then ran at me and clotheslined me out of the ring, then she was stuck. She would constantly run at the ropes but because the “can’t leave the ring” rule was enabled, she couldn’t leave either. She just ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, until I taunted/rested enough to restore a large chunk of my health and I got back in the ring. These are only two examples I noticed, like I said, most of the time the AI is functional enough, but it did stick out a bit.

The last two things I’ll actually talk about is how the “MyRISE” mode could be improved and the roster health overall. If they went for a more realistic bent on the mode, it would be great. Instead of being granted upgrade points over every match, they should scrap that and give you a flat salary every week or month or whatever. You could use your money to train, buy better gear (getting you more fans/money), restoring your health, better intro effects and such. It could be way more immersive and interesting than what they have going on now.

The roster in this game is a bit odd. This is actually probably my own issue, admittedly I’ve been out of the wrestling hobby for over 15 years but I don’t have a clue who at least a fourth of the roster is. I legitimately thought guys like “Axiom” and “Giovanni Vinci” were CAWs (Create-A-Wrestlers). It doesn’t help that the MyGM mode literally does have randomized CAWs in it that you can recruit to your show. The game does have over 160+ wrestlers and it has its fair share of old classic guys, which is helpful, but a lot of the current superstars and especially the NXT guys, I don’t have a clue.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
WWE2K23 continues in the line of rehabbing the WWE2K franchise after the mostly disastrous run for the better part of a decade. While it’s not perfect, it’s certainly solid enough, especially since there isn’t any alternative when it comes to wrestling games, at least until that AEW if/when ever does comes out. If you hate the Cena character than you’ll certainly love the game just for the amount of times you get to beat him up but any wrestling fan will likely be able to find something entertaining and rewarding to do in this game. Even if they haven’t included a Crush Hour 2 minigame.

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WWE 2K23, Marc Morrison