It's year four under the 2k branding for WWE Games, and since entering the new era of the series, the WWE 2k franchise has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

From the abysmal WWE 2k15 that was as bare a video game as one could have to the deep WWE 2k14 that closed out the last generation of consoles, fans have seen the best of both worlds from the franchise.

WWE 2k17 is the latest installment of the franchise, featuring the largest roster in franchise history and an updated universe mode that the team at 2K Games hopes keeps fans entertained for hours. But is the latest offering from 2K finally the true title contender that fans have been longing for or is it another ultimately forgettable champion that many have seen come and go?

Gameplay

Inside the ring, WWE 2k17 takes what worked well in 2k16 and nearly improved upon it in almost every way.

Each wrestler now feels more unique in the ring than ever before. Kevin Owens controls differently than Kalisto while Braun Strowman and Tyson Kidd couldn't be more different to play. There were even times where the larger wrestlers just couldn't catch up to the smaller wrestlers, making matches play out how you would expect them to.

A big addition to the gameplay is the brand new rollout mechanic that helps pace a match. For those that haven't played the game yet or even experiences the feature, rollout has players automatically roll out of the ring to recover if need be. It works much like you see on TV during any sort of multi-man match.

When a rollout is initiated – usually after a high-powered move – a meter begins to fill up. As it fills, players can then choose to renter the ring around halfway or wait for it to finish and go back into the fight at near full health. It adds more strategy to the matches simply due to the potential backfire of going back in too early, leading to taking a finisher and a pin fall. It really adds a new dimension to matches this year, making it a much more enjoyable in-ring experience.

Also tweaked is the targeting system that has manually targeting on by default. It's also much easier than ever to keep track of who you are targeting in multi-man matches.

Backstage Brawls are a nice touch to 2k17, but it just feels more like a base of something strong for the future as opposed to something great now. It has it's nice touches, but after fighting backstage once or twice, the actions just become too repetitive and lackluster.

Graphics and Presentation

Yes, WWE 2k17 looks great in a lot of areas, but it takes quite a few steps back in others.

Some wrestlers like AJ Styles and John Cena look flawless while others – looking at you Dolph Ziggler – look pretty terrible. And that's just the men. The women, with the exception of Lita and Bayley, look even worse.

From animations to facial features to the hair, women in WWE 2k17 look like they were designed for a game in the early 2000s not 2016. Dana Brooke looks like she was stung by 100 bees while Alexa Bliss just looks like a poor Bliss impersonator. But back to the hair for a minute, and this goes for everyone in the game, the hair in WWE 2k17 looks like a terrible mesh between a cheap wig and old paper mache. I don't know what it is about 2k Games, but, company wide, hair is just not a strong point for the developers.

On the plus side for presentation and visuals, venues look great, especially the outdoor venues that fans can create, and updated camera angles make the game look even more like it's TV counterpart. Hell, even the commentary is as bad in the game as it is on TV. Michael Cole, JBL, and Jerry Lawler continue to provide some of the most robotic and monotonous commentary ever in a video game. It's best to just mute them right away than dealing with the commentary team for even just one match.

Modes

Gone is the 2K Showcase mode that has become a staple of the WWE 2k series. Unfortunately, that was more due to licensing issues this year than a simple lack of desire to create a new showcase for this year. However, just because the Showcase mode isn't around doesn't mean the game lacks in offerings.

There are a number of match offerings for quick play as well as online – which is still unreliable as a whole – Universe Mode and MyCareer.

With MyCareer, WWE 2k17 continues to improve the mode year over year though it just feels like something is missing. You create your superstar, work your way towards titles and get into rivalries along the way. Sure, there are promos plopped in throughout, but it can be a bit of a grind and drag as you move through it unless you create some of the fun – like storylines – in your mind. The MyCareer mode tries a bit too hard to be like that of the NBA 2k franchise, but that's not what it should be. Facing off against Alberto Del Rio on Main Event six weeks in a row – mixed in with a random PPV match – just doesn't scream fun. The removal of voice overs, aside from Paul Heyman, also take a bit away from the game.

Speaking of Heyman, the Paul Heyman Guy Challenge in MyCareer is similar to WWE 2k16's Authority angle. It's neat, but nothing really memorable.

For those that want to build a character and go from a new NXT signee to a WWE Hall of Famer, this mode will suffice. But there will be plenty of people missing a Showcase mode that helps you relive the “good old days”.

Universe mode is as deep as every before, and the in-depth creation suite allows fans to really create the, well, universe they want. Whether it's an all-women wrestling promotion or a brand split that mimics today's WWE, fans can do almost anything they can think of in Universe Mode. Plus, you can have up to three save slots this year allowing even more freedom from fans. The new promo engine also adds to the fun this time around even if the lines given are pretty campy, corny and ultimately redundant after a while.

Speaking of customization, WWE 2k17 offers one of the deepest creation suites the franchise has seen. Not as deep as WWE 2k14, but it's pretty damn close. Players can create male and female superstars – up to 100 Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) slots –, entrances, move sets, arenas, championships, shows and titantron videos for your superstars. That last addition gives created superstars a bit more personality, and the options for your video are pretty sizable for a first offering.

One issue with the creation of superstars that really isn't sitting well with fans or myself right now is the lack of ability to put tattoos on a wrestlers forearms or go lower than the knees with tight designs. It seems like something easily fixed with an upcoming patch, but, for now, it's a pretty big pet peeve for those who like to go crazy with created wrestlers. That being said, if/when that gets fixed, there's no doubt that WWE 2k17's creation suite is nearly as impressive as it gets.

It's also hard to believe that three years into the new console cycle fans can't do a match as simple as a tag-team tables match or tag-team ladder match? Hell, how can we recreate the classic TLC matches of old with the Dudley's, Edge and Christian and the Hardys – as created wrestlers of course – when it's not even an option for us? Pretty disappointing to say the least.

Verdict

After a terrible installment with WWE 2k15 and a solid step in the right direction with WWE 2k16, the developers at 2K Games continue to move the franchise in the right direction with WWE 2k17.

Despite the graphic imperfections as well as the lack of a Showcase Mode and a MyCareer Mode that can become stale to some, WWE 2k17 offers a great amount of things to do, especially with Universe Mode and improved gameplay, that is certain to keep fans of the series playing for a long time.

SCORE: 7.5/10

**Note: WWE 2k17 was reviewed on a copy of the game for Xbox One provided by 2K Games

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