I haven't played a WWE game since way back when 2K12 was out. My brother and I would start 40-man Royal Rumbles and take over our ridiculous character roster of downloaded icons created by the game’s endlessly creative community.
Among the King Kong vs Dwayne Johnson fights and Barack Obama jumping off the top rope on top of Spider-Man, there remained a kind of magic. The fights were cumbersome, yes. It felt like momentum shifted at the drop of a hat, sure. But that's the point, right? If I wanted to watch a boxing match, I would. If I want ludicrous entertainment? That's where a WWE show comes in.
My memories of destroying baddies alongside my brother remain joyous ones, and I was gutted to see how poorly WWE 2K20 performed when it was released in an unfinished state. Thankfully, the year off seems to have given 2K the chance to reset and re-evaluate the franchise’s place. WWE fans and new players alike will be able to experience the utter chaos far closer to the way it was intended this time around.
Let me start with how it actually feels to get into a scrap in WWE 2K22. Admittedly, there are some slightly weird-feeling bits and pieces to the UI when navigating setting up a match. Instead of a Smash Bros-looking roster with a whole screen of all the characters you can play as, you get a scrolling list of five fighters. It's just a weird way to do it, but far from a dealbreaker.
The game has a host of match types and rulesets, from classic 1v1s to giant Royal Rumbles, Table matches to No Holds Barred fights. It's nice to have so many options - although when playing with friends I'll stick to Extreme Rules (the same as No Holds Barred but with a cooler name).
In a one-on-one brawl, WWE 2K22 is a treat. It's easy to get to grips with at a basic level, and learning new combos and moves for each fighter is always exciting. Figuring out a new way to approach with an acrobatic cruiserweight and slamming Circle to pull off a ridiculously fancy move is an absolute bloody joy. As is pressing X in front of your opponent and brutally shoving them to the ground as a heavyweight giant.
Things start to get a bit trickier when fighting with more than two people in the ring. By pressing the right stick, you can switch your target to a different opponent, but it's sometimes unreliable as to what ends up actually happening. I've accidentally targeted the poor referee on multiple occasions. Maybe that's just my rebellious side coming out.
Things can get really janky and messy. I've been in a ring with eight superstars and it's a real struggle. Everyone's attacking the wrong guy. I tried to jump out of the ring but the game didn't seem to realise this and I just jogged on the spot. AI fighters wander about aimlessly sometimes. The worst offender is the Ladder match, though.
I'd advise against playing this match type. The only way to win is by grabbing the belt or briefcase from the top of a ladder you set up in the middle of the ring. Unfortunately, these matches end up lasting far longer than they remain fun for. Everyone is stumbling around the ring and on ringside, desperately trying to set up a ladder in the centre while there are three people laid out in the middle. Move them out of the way to make way for the ladder and two more people have managed to get up, so you have to knock them down again to climb up it. It's one of those ones that's much more fun to watch happen in a real WWE contest than to play in-game.
Despite this though, I'm happy with how WWE 2K22 plays in general. Going for 1v1 or Tag Team matches is just as wild and ridiculous (in the best way) as it always was.
MyRISE is a mode that sees you go all the way from the bottom to the top of the WWE with your custom fighter. It's a bit of a slow starter, but I created a couple of different characters and was impressed with the variety of differences in dialogue you get throughout your rise up the ranks. I created both a former actor and an MMA star looking to make it in the WWE ring, and your approaches are different each time.
I do wish it was a bit easier to inject some personality into my fighter. You get rivals talking smack at you, and you're desperate to jump in the ring with them and show them who's boss, but upon victory, you just get your XP and move on. Unless a rare prompt comes up on your star's social media, you can't talk smack and start major beef like you'd expect to be able to if you were a WWE superstar.
It's a fun mode with a bit of replay value if you enjoy the story and the rise to glory, but I've got other places to be in this game. Also, I once got disqualified by punching The Rock in the nuts by accident when I thought I was doing my finisher. That's on me though.
MyGM is my favourite part of WWE 2K22. It doesn't even really involve jumping in the ring and settling things from the top turnbuckle. Instead, it's your job to organise the best possible show in the WWE by signing superstars, training them up, boosting their popularity, and earning the most fans and money for your brand.
Maybe I just think that every game should be more like Football Manager (or the cabaret club minigame from Yakuza 0), but it works particularly well here thanks to the nature of the WWE and the outlandish character it possesses. Everything is over-the-top, from your fighters sliding into your DMs to ask for a fixed win for them to manufactured feuds and changing a babyface into a heel for the sake of ratings. I made John Cena into a baddie and forced him into a feud with The Rock. The fans loved it.
You can play the matches out to help influence outcomes, and there's a whole load of strategy at play, too. There's a big pay-per-view event next week, so do you save your money and your superstars' energy for that? It might mean a lacklustre show this week, but in the long run, it could be a great thing for your brand. Do you sign up big, expensive superstars from the start, or do you take the long route and train up some young star with potential?
I did the latter, and it meant that some chump wielding a mop became the biggest star in the entire company. Worth it.
This is an area of the game I probably won't touch a huge amount after this review is done. You build a roster of superstars in a similar manner to FIFA's Ultimate Team and NBA 2K's MyTEAM mode. You can upgrade certain fighters through fulfilling challenges, but most need to be obtained by purchasing packs with real money.
It's not a mode I feel particularly compelled by. None of my superstars really have a personality at all, and the requirement for upgrading your roster means that you have to start out with The Undertaker with a rating of 76 - it just doesn't seem to fit with the vibe of WWE and the reason I have so much fun with it.
I'm not here to open packs and get my favourite superstars levelled up over time with the option to pay real money to do it more quickly. I'm here to fly around the ring while the world's most ridiculous soundtrack blasts in the menu screens (seriously, you go from Wu Tang's Protect Ya Neck to Machine Gun Kelly's Body Bag with no warning. It's whiplash-inducing).
The career of Rey Mysterio isn't something I'm particularly familiar with. It was nice though - a combination of real-life interviews and playable fights from Mysterio's story brought me right up to speed. Starting in 1997 up until the present day, it was fascinating to see his sheer longevity, and there were really enjoyable little interview snippets about the matches interspersed.
It's all kayfabe and in-universe, so there's no chance of breaking your suspension of disbelief. Rey is even taking the interview in a suit and luchador mask. I wonder if he wears it to the supermarket.
To be fair, some of the showcase fights can be a bit frustrating in the specificity with which you have to play them out. One time, I had to perform a 619 on Batista, and he countered it - something I have no power to avoid. In order to do it again and progress the fight (even though Batista was basically a dead man walking at this point), I had to spend five minutes charging the finisher meter up again. It got pretty tedious.
All in all, though, Showcase is a great one-and-done feature in WWE 2K22. I'd actually love to see other superstars given this treatment too, although Mysterio's journey was a particularly enjoyable one as he had to play the plucky underdog for his entire career.
Verdict - 7/10
Despite a few problems with the game's responsiveness when in the ring with multiple people, and a couple of lacklustre modes, there's plenty in WWE 2K22 to keep you very happy indeed, especially if you've played wrestling games before.
The real pleasure with WWE 2K22 is in the hilarious community creations and chaotic action in the ring with friends. Download someone's crude rendition of Queen Elizabeth II, jump into an Extreme Rules match, and take them down from the top turnbuckle. At its best, it's an absolute joy.
Reviewed on PS5. A code was provided by the publisher.