First play of WWE 2K22’s next-gen debut shows encouraging signs

WWE 2K20 was so infamously, historically awful that Visual Concepts took two-and-a-half years to fine-tune its follow-up. After playing WWE 2K22, we can confirm that the series is back with a colourful and visually striking bang – which is fitting, considering that fluoro-masked cruiserweight legend Rey Mysterio is its cover star.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

A major issue with that disastrous previous release was Visual Concepts adopting Yuke’s’ code midway through the development process, after the Japanese developer was suddenly axed in 2019. This time around it’s built the entire gameplay and animation engines from the ground up to make the whole sim feel alive and give each character personality. Heavy hitters throw bombs that pack genuine heft, while cruiserweight guys dart around with legitimate swiftness. 2K has been hammering an “it hits different” mantra, and on this evidence, they’re correct. 

Hurt Locker

The in-ring action feels balanced and smooth. Like chain wrestling between Eddie Guerrero (who’s confirmed for the WWE 2K22 roster) and Kurt Angle (who we hope to be) it looks beautiful, is easy to control, and offers a meaty overall experience. You actually feel for Chad Gable as Bobby Lashley squeezes the life out of him using the Hurt Lock. Additional little touches sweeten the build-up to that match-ending submission hold: Lashley grunting while he tosses Gable into the turnbuckle and over the top rope, and Gable hitting the deck after an all-mighty powerslam and screaming in pain as he sells his back.

Even the Thunderdome, which houses our squared-circle experience, plays a huge part. Hundreds of fans looking on via giant TV screens boo and give thumbs down when Lashley is on the attack, and cheer along when Gable manages to snatch his charging opponent into an arm drag and briefly swing momentum in his direction.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

Commentary can feel stale when the action gets going, and is will need to be more closely judged upon release. There is, at least, an improved sense that an authentic conversation is happening, rather than just soundbites triggered by a certain move. The back and forth between Graves and Byron Saxton while Lashley is marching to the ring helps elevate the cut-scene and bring it to life.

Rey of Light

As documented in our November WWE 2K22 preview, Mysterio is a significant focus in this comeback edition, with WWE Showcase focussed on his classic bouts with Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker. Yet it’s the return of GM Mode which is going to be assessed most closely by the always-opinionated community.

Now going under the title MyGM, it enables you to select one of several General Managers, including current onscreen incumbents Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville, and take control of either Raw, Smackdown, NXT or NXT UK. You craft your own experience and compete against GMs across the other rival brands for supremacy.

The mode was always hugely popular in old Smackdown vs Raw games and its overhaul is a welcome one. Both 2K and WWE really ham up the mode, with Stephanie McMahon laying the voiceover for a montage charting her career, and featuring WWE Superstars and former GMs to really hype up the mode. You can watch it below.

The draft itself has been given careful thought. You start with a budget of 2.7 million and cherry pick your superstars, all of whom have various prices and stats. During my play Smackdown, managed by William Regal, selected Bianca Belair at number one overall and looked to have the strongest women’s division, backed up with a men’s contingent headlined by Finn Balor, Lashley, and Seth Rollins.

But it is not as simple as drafting your favourite grapplers and away you go. Stars have certain styles which can be matched with another roster member to make a better overall match. They can be overexposed, get injured and/or have their fan support dwindle if not used correctly.

Million dollar manhunt

Any left over cash from the draft can be used towards better match types, signing free agents and getting better arenas – and money must be carefully managed week-to-week in order to create a consistently good show. If fan numbers and merchandise sales drop then so does your ability to put on brilliant and brutal shows, and you will go the way of WCW.

The entire mode is engrossing as you compete with your rival brand and pray that the tables match between Becky Lynch and Rhea Ripley for the NXT Women’s Title does not overshadow Balor vs Rollins for the Universal Title.

The pop for a returning old feature is doubled down on with the rolling out of a new one: MyFaction. If you ever have looked at WWE superstars and thought “they’d make a great group” then now is your chance to test those instincts. MyFaction enables you to build a personalised troupe and rise to the levels of The Shield and D-Generation X. Where else can you stick Brock Lesnar with Shayna Baszler, Riddle and Sonya Deville to create an MMA/WWE hybrid squad for the ages? Let’s call them the Choke Artists.

WWE 2K22

(Image credit: 2K)

On this evidence, the extended break between series entries has done WWE 2K22 a world of good. The game feels refreshed, smooth and cultured, with characters acting in a more realistic manner to moves, a smoother control and transition system, the return of a beloved mode, and the Lesnar-sized graphics upgrade to top it all off. Let’s hope there’s no surprise heel-turn in store when GR reviews the finished game on PS5 in early March.

WWE 2K22 is released on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, XBox One and PC on Friday, March 11. Wondering who won’t be in it after such a long break between games? Then you need our rival AEW roster guide.

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