As a lifelong WWE fan, I await each WWE2K game release with great anticipation, and in recent years WWE2K games have improved greatly but still sadly not quite reached the Wrestlemania Main Event level fans and myself need them to be. WWE2K19 certainly ticks many boxes on paper including the return of my favourite feature in the ‘Showcase Mode’ and improvements to the Career mode. But after spending some time with it, for all the improvements that have been made, the same old issues still hold it back from reaching Hall of Fame status.

Having the Showcase mode back is perhaps the big highlight from WWE2K19 and not only has it returned but they have also finally been able to do it the way I always wanted it to be done, on a far more personal level with the star. For the return of Showcase Mode, they have sensibly gone with Daniel Bryan, leader of the YES Movement who has returned to the WWE ring after a 2-year hiatus due to injury. The Showcase Mode takes players down memory lane by replicating iconic matches from the star’s career but what makes this year’s Showcase even more special, is that Daniel Bryan himself introduces and talks about each match before you play them, talking about how that match impacted on his career giving a fascinating insight into the life of a WWE Superstar.

Showcase matches have objectives which recreate moments from those matches as they originally happened such as performing a certain move in the ring to doing something outside the ring. Objectives must be completed in order to unlock the next one although some can be time dependent but will come to that a bit further on. It highlights his first matches in the WWE all the way to the most iconic matches such as his Wrestlemania 30 title win and as a fan of his, this is a true celebration of his career and his return to the WWE not to mention just having him talk about those matches is a lovely touch as previous Showcases simply had a WWE style video with narration that gave little of the experience the actual star had such as Stone Cold Steve Austin’s showcase from WWE2K16.

Where the Showcase does fall down is however something that is also a problem for me in the whole gameplay of WWE2K19. At times the AI deliberately works against you when it comes to certain objectives and as you move through to the later career matches, the AI can be a real hindrance which stops the match from being fun. In some matches where the objective is to position the opponent outside the ring to perform a particular move and they simply refuse to co-operate. I actually had to drop the difficulty to easy just to complete some of the final objectives as the AI just drove me nuts in refusing to do as told or movement bugs made it close to impossible to complete an objective. Outside of that frustration, it is great to have this mode back and the presentation style of involving the star of the showcase is something I hope they keep going forward with the series.

My Career mode has also been revamped so that this year, actual superstars provide their own voices instead of the extremely dull and boring text only style of previous games. It does add some much-needed weight and immersion to actually hear the real voice of a superstar when engaging in dialogue exchanges even when at times, that dialogue is truly cringe awful. It actually has a real soap opera story to how your created character finds their way to the WWE, not the best written one but still works well even if it still has Daniel Bryan as the GM of Smackdown. Creating a superstar with their move-set and entrances now involves unlocking items from item boxes, which thankfully are all earned from playing the My Career mode which is also generous in providing the tokens used to buy the item boxes. This can feel annoying at first as you are left with only default generic items to customise your wrestler and basic moves and entrance styles, but thankfully you will soon start unlocking real superstar moves and items which you can enhance your created wrestler with. The skill tree is also very handy as you build your wrestler’s talents up which again, playing the game gives you the points needed to unlock these which will help when taking on the main WWE roster in the mode. It has a nice RPG feel to it and it does work as you can instantly feel the performance of your created wrestler improve once more skill points are used. I actually quite enjoy the My Career mode this year even with all the corny dialogue but is saved by having the WWE superstars voice themselves.

Universe mode is back and is just as good as previous years but helped by the refinements to the visuals and true to life entrances now for the superstars. I have always gravitated towards Universe mode as you help shape your own rivalries for the superstars and title matches as you take control of every match for RAW and Smackdown each week before the main PPV for either brand. Having the ability to be your own Vince McMahon as well with the power to edit the WWE Universe to make new tag teams or factions, move superstars to different shows and manage who is champion or not really allows full on customisation and a personal fav of mine is look on YouTube to see the fantastic fan made Wrestling federations using this mode online. It is also just a great way to get to use all the roster and match types as you follow whatever show line up the AI comes up with for the mode

A surprise came in the new WWE2K Towers, which very much like the battle towers from Mortal Kombat, will offer players the chance to take on WWE gauntlet runs which differ in match types and opponents. All of these are practice really for the WWE2K19 $1 Million Tower which is the hardest tower in the game as you take the role of AJ Styles and with only a single healthbar, must taken on the best of the WWE Roster on Legend difficulty in various match types as you fight your way to the Beast Incarnate himself, Brock Lesnar. So far, I have only managed to make it through the first 3 matches before being beaten but this is a great addition to the game which actually feels quite organic as a mode.

Sadly though, some of the usual suspect problems are still present which is drives me nuts as a fan of the series because most of the problems have been complained about in previous games and still have not been addressed starting off with the submission mini game system added a few games back which no fan has liked and yet is still used an absolute ball ache to try and use in the game if for example like me, you prefer to use submission finisher moves. The problem with is that no matter which version of the submission wheel you use, the one which is a never-ending chase the segment in the wheel type or the button mashing one, it just never seems to actually work. I can put my opponent firmly beyond the red damage zone which should make a submission move a no brainer only for the AI to suddenly defeat me making it more about the mini-game instead of any damage actually done in the match. I prefer the old button mashing style which reflected the limb damage you have inflicted to this and until they remove it or rethink this method, it will always be something players will complain about.

I will say that the animation is the best it has been in the series yet and the evolution of the chain wrestling has made the matches more life like than previous games but there is still a real clumsiness in the grappling that is far too noticeable from the off that it is hard to see how none of this was smoothed out before release. Trying to throw the opponent into the corner can be hit and miss and trying to perform grapple moves on someone running the ropes is also just as bad which is a shame because so much of the movement now has been enhanced to look so good. Using weapons however is my biggest annoyance as the new animations for say using a chair or kendo stick means unless you line it up perfectly, you can completely miss the target leaving you looking like a complete muppet in a match. It really is a shame that this clumsiness takes some of the shine off what for me is not only the best-looking WWE title yet in the series, but you can see the improvements across the board that having these time old problems still so prominent in the gameplay is bewildering to me how they have not been focused on for fixing.

WWE2K19 is the most solid title in the series yet despite the faults, and with the return of the Showcase mode and the new presentation style this should be the benchmark version going forward but they really have to look into the long-standing problems if they really want to add some more shine to it. It still has a vibrant creator’s community and new looks for wrestlers and stars not on the roster are all freely available from the community creations area. I still have a problem with how the roster, which will always be out of date when the game releases, uses DLC to bring the roster up to date and I am still very disappointed that Ronda Rousey, current RAW Women’s Champion was only available as a pre-order bonus instead of being included in the main roster, I even have the Gold version of this game and not having her in my roster breaks the immersion when you see her on TV each week on RAW and then starring in PPVs. The first DLC pack is already being teased for having Bobby Lashley in it who has been on RAW for months now making me wish such roster updates were just free for the first release in order to bring it the roster up to date for parity with what fans see on TV.

That said, WWE2K19 is still the must have game for WWE fans and now it feels as though 2K have gotten so many things right based on player feedback that this truly is the best WWE Experience you can have in a video game but with the tools to give real freedom to expand that or enjoy being in the WWE universe as much as a player would want. There is just so much to really enjoy in this game both online and offline putting the series back on the map for me, and if the remaining issues can be addressed then WWE and 2K will continue to give the WWE Universe the video game they deserve.

*On a personal note myself and everyone at MoviesGamesandTech send all our thoughts and best wishes to Leati Joseph Anoaʻi otherwise known as Roman Reigns, who has recently announced he is taking a leave of absence from the WWE in order to battle Leukaemia for the second time in his life. We wish him and his family all the best luck going forward*