GamingPreview: Early Hands on with WWE2K17

Preview: Early Hands on with WWE2K17

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2K UK kindly invited us along to the O2 on a grey Wednesday morning to have a cheeky early hands on with the gameplay of WWE2K17. This would be my first chance to try out the new refinements and gameplay for the next release in the WWE2K series.

I do have to stress that the demo we were trying out was extremely limited to purely the gameplay side of WWE2K17. None of the actual modes were available and only a handful of WWE superstars were playable. But what was showcased really has me excited for this game more than ever with clever refinements made based on community feedback as well as 2K’s continued desire to make the best possible pro-wrestling video game there is.

The available players to try out were Alberto Del Rio, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and new to the roster current NxT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles. The demo had three match types available, one vs one, Triple Threat and Fatal Four-way but the One Vs One included the new Backstage Brawl fight, a return from WWE games of the past and the Fatal Four-way was a ladder match but I will come to that a bit later.

So as I sat down at the PS4 demo pod, I opted for the simple One Vs One and created a personal dream match of AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens and sat back to take in their entrances which look even more impressive in WWE2K17 than ever before. There is a new lighting system which really enhances everything now about the entrances and action in and outside of the ring. Visually you can see that tweaks have been made from last year’s game engine with the wrestlers looking as close to life-like as you can in a video game. The detailing from their wrestling attire to body tattoo’s really was impressive.

Straight it was clear to me that extra work has been put into getting the animation of the superstars even more fine-tuned for this game as the grappling feels far more fluid and natural in how moves are triggered and executed. Trying to grapple your opponent definitely felt less cumbersome now as the control system has been improved so limb targeting is now on the right bumper and to activate the grabbing of an opponent to move them into a desired position such as a downed opponent is simply on the right trigger now. I really felt as though the feedback from last years control system has been taken on board for WWE2K17 and having a real level of extra control in and out of the ring allowed for better positioning for desired set piece move executions.

Countering has been vastly improved now, with the on-screen prompts now featuring a colour code to show how much time you have to counter a move and the animations of counters are a lot slicker this year. It still uses the stamina bar introduced in WWE2K16 which again can be turned off if the player prefers, but it still works well to help change the flow of a match and felt far less button mashing to try to trigger the counter each time R2 popped on-screen which again gave me the feeling of having more control over the action in the match.

The rather marmite submission mini game system introduced in WWE2K16 has returned but we were told by 2K staff that this can be turned off in the full released game which will no doubt please many fans myself included. Targeting the appropriate limb area that a submission hold would punish actually felt that it helped when the mini game began, so when I focused my attacks on the legs of Kevin Owen in order to use AJ Style’s Calf Crusher signature move but the AI was able to beat the mini game, but I am pleased to know this can be turned off in the final game.

Signature moves and Finishers can now special ringside versions of them helping to highlight the action which can so often move away from the ring itself and the animations were spot on for me. The ringside OMG moments are back and can be triggering by using a stored finisher at the right position. In WWE2k17 when you use the ringside OMG to break through the audience panels, you can now continue the fight amongst the fans instead of how in WWE2K16 once the OMG moment was done the wrestlers involved would simply be at ringside. Now that you can fight in the crowds, countout time limit permitting of course, it increases the size and feel of the action to not just being in the ring or doing some limited moves at ringside.

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The return of the backstage brawl is a welcome one to long-term fans of the WWE games series even before 2K took over from THQ in 2013. You can now fight in the back stage areas, brawling in the corridors or taking the action to the locker rooms or even the office of Triple H}{H or Stephanie MacMahon, which back in the day would have been Vince’s office. Objects can be used to beat down your opponent and a nice split screen will appear should you and your opponent become separated. I created a match up between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins where I left Ambrose in a heap in the locker room after hitting him with a big screen TV, left him there as I made my way to the office of H}{H and with the split screen I could see Ambrose getting back to his feet and following me to the office where the action began again. This all gives WWE2K17’s matches the same TV broadcast feel of a show like RAW, the transition between the split screen to normal is seamless and keeps the action right on-screen where it needs to be. It is definitely a welcome return to have Backstage Brawling back this year.

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The largest change I found to WWE2K17 was trying out the new overhauled Ladder match that was showcased in the Fatal Fourway match demo. As one of the most popular matches types in WWE, when it came to recreating it in past WWE games it often suffered as a result of the AI and control systems which could leave the match a little flat to play. But it was immediate to see just how much the feedback has inspired the updated version that will be in WWE2K17. It was a little chaotic having 3 AI controlled superstars to battle in this new look match, but I was glad to see that now whenever you are facing multiple superstars and are close together, the name of the closet opponent that you are targeting will now appear above your head, so when I as Kevin Owens was next to Ambrose and Rollins, the game told me be it was Ambrose I was targeting with any strikes and grapples allowing a much easier understanding of where my attacks were being aimed.

The effort into trying to recreate how a real WWE Ladder match feels has gone into the addition of new animations for when superstars are hit with a big move. If say you are on top of the ladder about to grab the briefcase for example, and you are grappled off the ladder and you land hard, you will have an animation showing the impact before your wrestler rolls out the ring to land on the floor where you will need to button mash in order to get back to your feet and rejoin the match. It is that little extra detail that fans will instantly recognize from the Ladder matches they see on WWE programming that enhances the recreation of such a match.

The main change however is the new mini game that has been added to when you reach for the prize at the top of the ladder now. In previous game versions all you had to do was to reach up, grab the prize and then pulled down on the right stick until you pulled the prize down, something that could allow the AI superstars to steal it from you in a very frustrating way. The new mini game now has a segmented wheel and as you pull at the prize, you will need to time it just right in order to hit each segment with a red ball between a gap in the segments. Ok now I know that sounds very complicated without being able to actually show it in action, but as a mini game it does add that extra challenge to get the case or belt from the top of the ladder. Sadly with the match being a Fatal four-way, there was simply too much going in the ring to really get to grips with this new mechanic in the short time we had with the demo. However the new feel to and approach to recreating this iconic WWE match feels more solid and a more faithful representation as to what fans would see for a ladder match in a WWE show.

This preview was a superb first look at the gameplay itself which to many fans of the WWE2K series is the main reason why they buy it every year. With the largest roster of Superstars, NxT talent and WWE Legends, WWE2K17 is looking just great ahead of its launch. The refinements to the grappling, move animations and countering systems all feel like natural improvements and in the little touches you can see around the return of the backstage brawling and in the new look Ladder match just how much effort has been put in to give fans a genuine WWE experience when playing WWE2K17 this year. From the amazing entrances to the action in and around the ring, I could really feel the improvements made from the subtle ones in the control systems to the visuals in the animation and character models of each wrestler.

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With the promise that the refinements and improvements continue through the modes in the final game such as the creation suite and WWE Universe mode, WWE2K17 is on track to give a WWE fan experience with every single match.

A big thank you goes to 2K UK for the opportunity to try out WWE2K17 early. It releases for the first time globally on October 11th for Playstation 4 and Xbox One as well as legacy consoles Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy
Freelance writer but also a Gamer, Gooner, Jedi, Whovian, Spartan, Son of Batman, Assassin and Legend. Can be found playing on PS4 and Xbox One Twitter @CockneyCharmer

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