WWE 2K15: Eat. Sleep. Press RT. Repeat.

WWE 2K15 marks the series’ debut on Xbox One but it’s not the unforgettable, Sting-at-Survivor Series kind of debut that’ll have your grandchildren asking in hushed tones where you were the night the WWE 2K15 disc plopped on to your doormat.

Instead, sitting through the rigid PlayStation 2-era suplex animations for the umpteenth time, a different kind of WWE return springs to mind the diminishing returns of the latest Chris Jericho or Rob Van Dam comeback. A once white-hot superstar reduced to a cheap nostalgia act, stretched singlet struggling to hide the middle-age spread as the fading star goes through his old routine in slow motion.

Except, horrifyingly, half the singlet is missing. Of all the things that disappoint about WWE 2K15’s migration to Xbox One, the hardest to overlook is the amount of missing content. The cuts slice deepest into the customisation suites it’s no longer possible to design a ring, or create your own finisher, or pen your own storylines. Even the number of create-a-wrestler slots has been sheared, from 100 down to 25. That’s a huge blow, given how much weight falls on the community’s shoulders to keep the game current with the TV show (already, the game is badly out of date, with Rollins, Ambrose and Reigns all operating under the Shield umbrella in real life, the group violently disbanded months ago).

Some of the more gimmicky match types have also been abandoned (I Quit, Inferno) and a hatchet has been taken to the roster. The good news is that on the contemporary side of things, the right sacrifices have been made. All of 2014’s hot acts are included Brock Lesnar, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro et al while irritating fools such as Zack Ryder writhe on the cutting-room floor.

Reigns of Castamere
The cuts are more keenly felt when you browse the retro grappler menu. Overexposed mainstays such as Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan are included in the basic package, as they are most years, but you’ll have to cough up some extra dough if you want to sample more exotic offerings such as Lex Luger (DLC) or Sting (pre-order exclusive). This practice of siphoning off the juicier content in order to nickel and dime dedicated fans to death with DLC has to stop, especially given that outside of  roster changes, the WWE games really offer so few compelling reasons to upgrade year-on-year.
“It’s not an engaging enough template to warrant yearly sequels”
Certainly there aren't any from a gameplay perspective. WWE 2K15 is the same fussy, awkward fighting game the series has been for over a decade. Actually, ‘fighting game’ is too generous a word; it’s more akin to performance art, where both participants take it in turns to beat up on each other. going on the offensive is good fun, but being on the receiving end is frustrating; long, drawn-out periods of absorbing punishment, where your only hope of escape comes in the form of RT reversal prompts that flash up on screen for a microsecond. While you can anticipate when they’ll appear based on the wrestlers’ body language, getting the timing right is often as much luck as judgement.

While it lacks the responsiveness or skill of a more traditional beat ’em-up, the appeal of this approach is that it does an excellent job of capturing the to and fro of a WWE match a spectacle where a man can be piledriven through a table, and then bounce off the floor and start swinging haymakers like nothing has happened 30 seconds later. But it feels like a niche game that’s grown out of control; it’s not engaging or exciting enough a template to warrant a decade of iterative sequels, and a fresh approach is long overdue.

But it’s not to be this year, and like many other game series that are stuck in their ways, the yearly innovations eventually come full circle. This year it’s the return of the stamina meter an unpopular feature that was axed half a decade ago because every match ended up in farce, with everyone in the ring out of puff because no one was willing to pace themselves. It’s been implemented with more finesse this time around, however, and is actually quite good  the visual of a battle worn wrestler gingerly limping up a ladder, or crawling across to drape an arm over their opponent after draining their energy on a finisher, adds drama to the moment and boosts the illusion that you’re telling a story in the ring.

Like the other new additions such as a rock-paper-scissors mini-game at the beginning of tie-ups to decide who begins with the advantage it feels like a bolt-on extra, features added so they can adorn the back of the box, rather than because they add something to the experience.

All WWE fans should have at least one of these games in their collection, but there’s no point making it the one starved of content. WWE 2K16 may be a nostalgia act much like this one is, but with an extra year of polish perhaps it’ll do a better job of hiding that middle age spread.

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