Review: WWE 2K22 a massive improvement on dreadful WWE 2K20

WWE 2K22 screenshot
If you regret buying WWE 2K20 - and you should - redemption is here. Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

Pardon my indulgence, but I have a wrestling story to tell. It's relevant, so stick with me.

Utter the name Shockmaster to a wrestling fan that was around in the 1990s, chances are they'll probably burst into laughter.

Fred Ottman, the former Tugboat and Typhoon of the WWE, jumped to rival promotion WCW in 1993.

The giant, bearded Ottman - now branded Shockmaster - was to make his debut at WCW Clash of the Champions pay per view, named as a tag-team partner for the legendary Sting and Davey 'The British Bulldog' Smith.

Sting announced his name and Ottman broke through the wall of the set to show just how imposing he was. Unfortunately he tripped on the wooden frame, sending him face first to the ground.

His sparkling silver glittering Stormtrooper helmet went flying - no I'm not joking - exposing his face to all those watching live. He scrambled to put it back on as chaos ensued.

Sid Vicious, one of Ottman's opponents, tried hard not to laugh. Smith, audibly yelled: "He fell flat on his arse! He fell flat on his f***ing arse!".

Ottman's career never quite recovered from the embarrassment of what's now considered the worst wrestling debut of all time.

The reason I tell you this? Because WWE 2K20, the last outing for the wrestling franchise, was Shockmaster-esque.

The cover stars were Becky Lynch and Roman Reigns, two of my all-time favourites and I knew I had to have it, despite the seemingly bad reviews. Those critics never truly understood wrestling, right? WRONG.

It was beyond horrible. Glitches, bugs and gameplay that made even this diehard wrestling fan hate it. I played it for less than 10 minutes. Total. Ever. 

In the wake of the mess, developers Visual Concepts were given an extra year to develop WWE 2K22 in the hope those mistakes could be avoided and fans could be won back over.

So is the new game the equivalent of Ottman struggling to reinvent himself after that disaster or, like so many wrestlers before and since, has it found redemption?

Thankfully WWE 2K22 is much more the latter, a game that is both fun to play and has a depth that will have hardcore fans racking up hours and hours of fun.

It's also much easier to just pick up and start playing than previous versions, with a better control system and more intuitive gameplay as well as a vast roster to choose from - even if some of those wrestlers are no longer with the WWE.

Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

I started as I always do in such games after any tutorial picking the Hall of Fame-bound icon The Undertaker to fight against a no-good jobber (ie someone he can beat up). This time Elias, the guitar-playing bad guy, was going to get his comeuppance.

It was great. On my big screen television, with the soundbar blasting loud, hearing the gong of The Undertaker's entrance music hit sent shivers down my spine.

You can skip entrances (and I skipped Elias's after he continued singing for way longer than necessary), but some are just too important for that. The fantastic graphics made it feel as close to a real Undertaker entrance as I can remember.

During the match I channelled my inner Deadman, built up my combos and power bars and tried to pin Elias. No luck, he kicked out. He mounted a comeback, dazing me and sending me into the corner - but I was able to counter.

It had to happen, and it did. My charged finisher was ready. I picked up Elias, tucked his head between my knees and Tombstoned him off this mortal realm.

As the referee counted 1-2-3, I knew WWE 2K22 had me back and this time I was staying.

One of my problems with previous versions of the game was kicking out of pins. Even as the biggest superstars I was losing to everyone because I couldn't stop the swinging metre in exactly the right place.

Being able to multi-tap the PS5's X button to kick out just feels more inclusive and appropriate for the game. It gets harder as you get beaten up and start to tire and is the perfect balance between testing and giving you a fair chance.

I also liked the new blocking and combo-breaking system. Tapping the triangle button at just the right moment can block your opponent, allowing you to counter.

If they get you into a hold and you guess what kind of move they're going to use by hitting either the square, X or circle button at the right time you can reverse it. Otherwise you are destined to take their combo and end up flat out in the ring.

Not only did I try and guess what move the wrestlers I faced would make next, it also made me think about varying my offence. This also pays off by helping your matches get more stars from the rating system because of the variety of moves.

One thing that binds wrestling fans together is loss - many wrestlers have died too young. Just last week Scott Hall, known as Razor Ramon in the WWE and part of the industry-smashing nWo in WCW, died after suffering three heart attacks following a hip operation.

I loved that I was able to honour the Bad Guy, as he was known, in my own way. I watched his entrance, I beat up Randy Orton, I used the ropes to try and help me cheat and I emerged victorious, with Hall celebrating in the ring and the final words of his Hall of Fame speech still fresh in my ears from all the tributes.

"Hard work pays off, dreams come true. Bad times don't last, but bad guys do."

Rey Mysterio
Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

One superstar who has rarely been a heel (bad guy) and has spent the majority of time as a face (good guy) is Rey Mysterio, the subject of the Showcase Mode in this year's game.

The mode uses interviews with Mysterio and recreates some of his memorable matches over his long career - the first against the late, great Eddie Guerrero. It's a lot of fun to play, and you have to try and hit certain moves at certain points in the game to progress properly.

By doing that, you switch occasionally and seamlessly between the gameplay and video from the time to tell more of the story. Mysterio commentates over the video, offering insight into how it impacted his career.

I'm only a few matches in - and I'm sure there are bigger fans of Mysterio who will have their own thoughts about which ones have been picked to showcase and which haven't - but I have definitely enjoyed learning more about his career this way.

One mode I'm not overly fond of is the new MyFaction, an attempt by the franchise to take a leaf out of EA Sports' Ultimate Team modes, microtransactions and all.

You have to try and create your ultimate faction of four wrestlers, who can be upgraded, replaced as you win or buy new ones until you have your own version of the nWo.

There's no multiplayer mode and I'm really not interested in things like rewards for logging in every day - and I certainly don't want to spend real money on virtual currency so I have a chance of getting one of my favourite wrestlers for my faction.

I suspect others will enjoy this aspect much more than me but it feels too much like a grind and an attempt to make more money out of what's already a full-price game.

Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

Better, although with limited depth, is the MyGM mode, reintroducing General Managers to wrestling games for the first time since one of the older Smackdown v RAW games.

You can choose from pre-existing characters for your GM with Sonya Deville, Adam Pearce, William Regal, Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon all an option.

I chose fellow Brit Regal as the basis of my GM and put myself in charge of Smackdown instead of RAW, NXT, or NXT UK.

Despite the limitations it's definitely an entertaining way to play the game. I particularly enjoy getting angry at the AI controlling RAW who kept drafting wrestlers that I wanted for my roster, though.

Success in the mode all comes down to strategy - how much do you spend on your roster versus how much you keep to allow you to run good shows in the hope of attracting more fans and beating RAW in the ratings.

The limitations come in the number of matches you have each week and the types of matches you can have.

One-on-one matches or tag matches are the only choices, and there are a limited number of options for table matches and for creating run-ins. You also have to leave your pre-existing thoughts about wrestlers and their attributes and embrace what the game tells you about them.

I put on a really solid second show, with Becky Lynch fighting to regain the title she lost controversially the week before. And the crowd just weren't interested.

Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

I started again, paying more attention to the types of wrestlers to ensure more interesting match-ups, while paying attention to who they wanted to wrestle. It got better. 

In the end, though, I got a little bored. Instead of watching matches, I simulated the whole weekly event and just got my results, hoping I would win.

I think there's the makings of something very good but it needs to be expanded to include more wrestlers, more matches and more interest than just trying to keep Triple H happy by doing what he tells you while appealing to virtual fans.

MyCareer mode also returns, this time branded MyRISE. I created my own wrestler, a female version of one of my favourite footballers, just for fun.

I wanted to love it - and there are aspects that I enjoyed. But ultimately it suffered from the same problem it always does.

As a wrestling fan you have to be able to suspend reality to buy into it fully - good guys aren't necessarily good guys, bad guys don't usually go around threatening kids etc.

MyRISE forced me a step too far. On my first day in WWE's Performance Centre I made an enemy out of one of the other trainees. I then had a fight with her, beat her and then got to go and fight (and beat) champion Becky Lynch on RAW that night.

That just doesn't happen. It can't happen. And years of watching the WWE Network subscription service, social media, YouTube videos and particularly the WWE 24 specials, proves it.

Photo credit: Supplied / 2K

I wanted to like it more but that first step was so over the top that I just couldn't accept it. It would be like a random rugby player getting picked for a Super Rugby team for the first time but instead the All Blacks draft them in and they score the winning try in the World Cup Final, all in the same day.

I want more reality, not less. That's why wrestling has endured past the point where everyone believed it was real.

There's one more mode - Universe mode. Unlike in the past, you can now choose to play as a single WWE star instead of running the entire company and, although I didn't spend a huge amount of time playing this, I can see this mode being one of the primary methods of playing in the future.

You can work with Triple H to develop feuds, new championships and tag teams and much more. It feels a bit more thought out than MyGM, probably not a surprise given it's been a staple for 11 years now.

One final thing to point out - the online community has always been a massive strong point of the WWE games and here is no exception.

Users have spent a long time creating characters that aren't in the game - some of which may be available via game add-ons in the past, others, like CM Punk, will never be in the game officially.

In the past even local wrestlers from Impact Pro Wrestling (IPW) have been created and shared with millions.

It shows just how engaged the audience is - and this time they've been rewarded with a game that's a massive step in the right direction.

The animations are great, the mistakes of 2K20 have been resolved and I've already played it 60 times more than the last edition.

So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to tag team with Edge to take down Syxx and Hollywood Hogan in a ladder match. Beating down the former Hulk Hogan never gets old.

Four stars.


Newshub was supplied with a copy of WWE 2K22 nWo 4-Life edition for this review.