There is a cliche that a room full of chimpanzees with typewriters, given enough time, will eventually produce a work that rivals the likes of Shakespeare. “Given enough time” is the operative phrase here, as 2K’s latest edition of its yearly WWE video game is a triumphant love letter to professional wrestling.
But then any letter that was worked on for more than a decade is hopefully a really good one.
The game was developed by Visual Concepts, with 2K Sports only serving as the publisher. Visual Concepts has been making the WWE games since 2013, one every year. With 2K23, Visual Concept’s initial work has been iterated on and polished to a brilliant shine.
If you have played any of the past WWE games, even beyond its 2K branding – when they were still being released using the SmackDown! brand, and beyond when the games were called Smackdown! vs. RAW – you can feel the same DNA here.
In fact, the Create-a-Moveset menu, where you can customise the holds and punches of the wrestlers, is still basically the same as the one that can be found in WWF SmackDown! (2000) for the original PlayStation.
Visual Concepts has chosen to not change what doesn’t need changing, and while this may hinder innovation, it allows them to focus on adding new things. This focus on iteration and improvement may not always work (WWE 2K20 was so poorly received that the company skipped 2021 to right the ship) but when it does, it’s downright rad.
But enough of the preamble. Let’s get to brass tacks.
Should you buy this game?
If you already have a AAA budget waiting in your wallet and you love WWE or professional wrestling then this is an easy yes.
WWE 2K23 is a game of enormous depth, and the best thing about it is how much customisation can be found. If you want to create your own professional wrestling promotion and its universe, you can. You can customise everything, from championship belts, to wrestler entrances, the movies that play in the background, the moves that the wrestlers do, the shows that they wrestle on and more.
You can mix and match everything and play the wrestling game you want to play. Don’t like WWE and its roster of wrestlers? No matter, create AEW within the game and download that promotion’s wrestlers from the online community. You never even have to look at Roman Reigns ever again.
Now it’s AEW 2K23 and no one can stop you.
There is so much to do and change and adjust, with the largest amount of custom options found in the Create-a-Superstar menu. You begin by choosing from four classes, which affect the body type and the initial gear of your wrestler, but we aren’t sure if this affects anything else because you can still assign any wrestler a custom moveset and your wrestler’s attributes (strength, speed, etc.) are entirely adjustable.
It’s basically a template to make your life easier, and it doesn’t limit your creativity. Afterwards, you can pick from any body shape, size, height, skin colour, and hair and you can adjust the bone structure of your wrestler.
There are so many options here, from the smallest detail to the largest.
It seems that the options to create a wrestler are in the thousands, and the mix-and-match potential is nigh endless. Add to this the ability to upload JPEG images like logos and pictures directly to your game using 2K’s image uploader tool and you can have your wrestler look like whatever you want.
Wrestling is a superficial business
Looks are important here too, and even on PlayStation 4, WWE 2K23 is a graphical delight. Wrestlers will get sweatier as matches progress, and they get bruises on their faces the longer and more brutal the bout.
This is nothing new for games from 2K Sport who often have the most realistic virtual people in all of gaming thanks to their likeness-capturing technology. Graphical improvements are one of the reasons that people keep buying these games yearly and while 2K23 doesn’t offer too much in terms of raw visual upgrades, the difference is in the details – the lighting is better, and the cloth physics have been improved extensively.
Superstars look more real than ever, especially top stars like John Cena, Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes.
Even things like the way the ring ropes shake after a big move in 2K23 go further in capturing that 2K realism and keep your disbelief well suspended.
In-ring work rate
WWE 2K23 utilises the simplified wrestling mechanics first introduced in 2K22. Here the reversal buttons have been reduced to one (triangle), with one button for light attacks, and another for heavy attacks. There is no longer a dedicated grapple button, but somehow there are still loads of different moves available to wrestlers, they have just become more situation-dependant.
This new system may be a bit tricky to use at first, especially for veterans like us who grew up with the old one. We’ll sometime hit the wrong button on muscle memory, so this definitely takes some getting used to.
An overbloated control system was one of the complaints of WWE 2K20, so the developers saw fit to address the problem with a simpler method. We’re not too sure if we like how simplified the new system is. By its nature, it removes depth from the wrestling gameplay – the thing that you will be doing the most in the game.
Perhaps a combined system would have been better here. Was there no way to simplify the old system without removing most of its depth? Maybe we are alone on this, or maybe we’re relying too much on nostalgia.
Apart from creating your own wrestling company, 2K23 has a host of gameplay options and different ideas to try out. GM Mode returns the famed General Manager mode from previous games, which sees you go up against an AI or real players in a competition to see who can run the best weekly wrestling show.
Showcase follows the career of John “The Invisible Man” Cena, where you get to play through his most important matches and get to hear from the man himself. My Rise is an RPG-like mode where you create a wrestler and follow a storyline from their beginnings in WWE’s developmental space, all the way to superstardom.
Finally, Universe Mode is the all-around go-to and where we spent most of our time. This is basically long-running story of your own WWE world, where you can set your own champions, rivals, shows and story beats.
Just ignore the My Faction mode. It’s linked to WWE’s card game thing, and you need to link your 2K account. We certainly did.
WWE 2K23 is the kind of game that you yearn to play while cooking dinner, or walking the dog. It is 2K and Visual Concept’s most polished effort to date, replete with a near abyss of creations and customisation options, fantastic visuals, and a genuine passion for the spectacle of professional wrestling.
You can tell that some real wrasslin’ nerds are behind this game, and the games that came before it. While its new combat system is still taking us time to get used to, we are always eager to boot it up and plumb its depth.
While many will balk at its AAA price (R999.00), wrestling fans should get this one, because honestly, you may not need any others ever again. It is highly unlikely that a video game about professional wrestling could get much better.
We believe it’s best you stick to the base edition. The Deluxe Edition (R 1 789.00) comes with access to five future DLCs (usually new cosmetics and attires), and you get rapper Bad Bunny as a wrestler and that’s it.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10.
FULL DISCLOSURE: THE CODE FOR WWE 2K23 WAS SEEDED TO HYPERTEXT BY THE LOCAL DISTRIBUTOR OF PUBLISHER 2K.