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Thickly coated in an overwhelming rainfall of technical mishaps, WWE 2K20 is an absolute train-wreck that still manages to be vaguely enjoyable the more you delve into the always-amiable world of wrestling.
As the first official WWE game since 2000 to be created entire by a developer outside of series veteran Yukes, 2K20’s publisher restriction as an annual franchise has certainly damaged what could have been another solid entry in the series. With less than one year to develop the title without the 19-years of experience that Yukes had, how has previously-assistive developer Visual Concepts done on their own? Not very well.
As with every wrestling title, my first dive into the refreshed title was a simple one-on-one. No special rules, no fancy arenas, just two wrestlers squaring off. In a title designed as a fighting game we should test the fighting first: it’s not great.
While it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the fighting structure of wrestling games has never been smoothly translated into video game form, 2K20’s take on the entertainment sport is bizarrely unfinished. It reeks of cut corners and unpolished mechanics, but with the developmental troubles that plagued the game it’s hard to blame the development team entirely.
For those who’ve played the last two entries in this long-running franchise, 2K20 looks noticeably worse than most of the modern titles it succeeds. Animations are far from smooth, skin shaders look flat and creepily plasticine, a handful of arenas appear lifeless. Bizarrely, pausing the game and using the highlight reel’s free camera revealed that most of the referee models were vastly more detailed than the wrestlers themselves.
The downgraded visuals are one thing, but the fighting systems have taken similar stumbles over the past year. While reversals in WWE games have never been entirely predictable, 2K20’s newest system feels downright broken. Enemies will go from not reversing a single attack for minutes at a time to consistently reversing every single attack you throw at them, the same works for your character. For minutes at a time, the reversal prompt may never appear. We’ve suffered through an entire match without being able to reverse.
Standard hit detection is also bizarrely broken: punches or grapples executed right in front of characters sometimes fail to connect whereas attacks from meters away teleport for a direct hit. Sometimes a character will throw a punch only for them to get stuck on the ring, the ref, the air or on the person they’re trying to attack.
And yet with all the technical shortcomings, there’s still a soul to WWE 2K20 that other awful games, like Ghost Recon Breakpoint, could never match. There’s a horrendously written story mode that shows the journey of create-a-superstar characters Red and Tre – or in our case Monstro and Flanjeus. It attempts to be silly even if it’s jokes and set pieces are pure cringe, but you’ll probably be too busy laughing at your Eldritch creations to pay attention.
Unfortunately, the series’ in-depth creation systems are still locked behind loot boxes and paywalls that, while thankfully do not require real money to purchase, still lock away a lot of the pure creation that made people love the series. But when you do get into the game and start creating horrendous fighters, move-sets, entrances, arenas and more, it’s hard to not enjoy aspects of the experience, even if bugs stop you from experiencing the title as it should be.
It’s clear that WWE 2K20 needs a lot more time in the oven. The departure of Yukes has clearly had an effect on the series’ annual development, an effect that publisher 2K should have realised and accounted for. Even with the countless bugs and crashes, there’s still a soul here that’s hard to extinguish and for all its faults, at least we know the bigger company is to blame.