WWE games have come a long way since players could restore Hulk Hogan's health by collecting crucifixes. 2K has taken the WWE mantle for many years, and with every new iteration, the franchise looks to add features, improve gameplay, and enhance the presentation so that matches play out more like they do on television.
As far as wrestling games have come, there will always be places to improve, and ways to connect with the people who follow the product. Sports entertainment is so complex and multi-layered that a game may never be able to match the spontaneity of the action and diversity of the storytelling. But the wall hasn't been hit yet.
Here are just a few ways that WWE 2K17 could improve upon its formula to better represent the WWE product.
It's difficult to balance the effectiveness of finishers so that they actually “finish” a match without being completely overpowered. But having to use them two or three times during the average match is not the answer. Finishers are designed to end the match. That's the way they're presented on television, and that's what makes them so exciting.
So how can finishers maintain their power while also resulting in a more balanced game? They should be easy for the defender to counter when their health is high. On WWE television, Superstars attempt their finishers much more frequently than they pull them off, sometimes going for them at the beginning of a match.
Imagine players beginning each match with a finisher already available to use, and imagine that successfully pulling off that finisher would result in a very difficult pin escape. That would be risky game design, but if reversals were balanced the right way, it would add intensity to the game, while better representing the actual TV product.
Variable Damage From Foreign Objects
Foreign objects have an odd pattern of effectiveness in sports entertainment. When they're legal, such as in a street fight, they don't do that much damage. Both wrestlers end up taking a bevy of chair shots, and it generally takes something pretty over-the-top to actually end the match.
But in a normal one-on-one match when a chair is against the rules, it has the power of an RKO. From a narrative standpoint, this makes a lot of sense, because the rule-breaking wrestler risks disqualification for using the object. It needs to be powerful enough to make a difference. In WWE 2K17, foreign objects should be lethal in matches where they're illegal. Even better, they should cancel the victim's ability to counter finishers that immediately follow the attack. This is how such scenarios play out on television, and this integration would make playing the heel a whole lot of fun.
Better Ref Bumps and Improved Heel Play
WWE 2K16 has ref bumps. That's great! They last about ten seconds. That's bad.
If there are going to be ref bumps, they need to actually make a difference in the match, just like they do on TV. The bumps in WWE 2K16 might affect a pinfall every now and then, but they're otherwise inconsequential. They don't give players enough time to get out of the ring and grab a weapon, nor can you call a run-in or do anything else truly interesting. If they had the potential to last for up to a minute, that could really change the match, and if the ref's unconsciousness bothers you too much, you can always attempt to wake him up.
Let's take this to another level. What if there were multiple referees on staff, and each one had different statistics? Perhaps some had better awareness, better durability, and varying levels of tolerance for rule-breaking. This would reflect the reputation of top-end officials such as Charles Robinson, who are often in charge of title matches. Perhaps what you could get away with against Fandango on the undercard would be impossible against Dean Ambrose in the main event.
But what if you found a way to manipulate the system and win too many matches by cheating? Well, this happens on WWE television, and when it does, the heel is sometimes booked differently, into matches that stifle their rule-breaking. Special guest referees, enforcers, street fights, and cage matches all await you!
Longer Matches During Pay-Per-Views
Of course, finishers don't always finish a match, and at pay-per-views, they often don't. This is why pay-per-views should be built for extended matches, with both wrestlers having more health, more pinfall resilience, and access to high-risk moves and abilities that aren't available during every day RAW and Smackdown matches! Pay-per-view matches are special, and they should feel special.
Delayed Covers During Intense Matches
On WWE television, it's a common set piece to have one wrestler perform their finisher, and then be too exhausted to immediately make the cover. When they finally do, enough time has passed that their incapacitated opponent is sometimes able to kick out. What if this type of circumstance was better written into the game, and can occur under certain conditions?
Say for example that you're below a certain health threshold, and you are able to perform your finisher. In this instance, it would make sense for you to stay down as well due to your own physical condition. The game could handle the next part in a number of ways, but from here, you must work to crawl over to your opponent and make a timely, one-armed cover. Because you performed your finisher, there should always be a chance that your opponent stays down, but that chance decreases with each passing moment before you reach him.
In WWE 2K16, you can occasionally kick out of your opponents' finisher on zero and often kick out of it on one. Unless you're the Ultimate Warrior against HHH at Wrestlemania, this is beyond absurd. To change it, the pinfall mini-game would have to be overhauled, but that's okay. The old button mashing days were better than kicking out on zero all the time.
This one won't happen in WWE 2K17, and can't happen anytime soon, because in the world of video games, kayfabe is still somewhat sacred.
In WWE 2K16's career mode, your matches are rated on a star scale, which takes into account various aspects of your performance. This is great, but imagine a mode that was tailored entirely around working a good match, and completing the right finishes, with attention to time, proper execution of maneuvers, and specific spots, which you could select before playing a match.
In this mode, you would be cooperating with your opponent, and there would be no health bar. You would be allowed to kick out of pinfalls at will, and submit to submission holds with the press of a button. Points would be lost from missing strikes or from performing an aerial move when your opponent is out of range. Points would be gained from kicking out of pinfalls in progressively slower times, and from executing each spot without error within a certain time window. Bonuses would be awarded for playing the mode without any prompts or timers, requiring you to memorise how to cue The Club's run-in, or when to “accidentally” knock out the ref.