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WWE 2K22 review: Don’t like the show? Book it yourself

Kevin Owens punches Rey Mysterio in WWE 2K22.
WWE 2K22
MSRP $69.99
“WWE 2K22 rallies from 2020's near-fall with a robust, if imperfect pro wrestling simulator.”
  • One-on-one combat is strong
  • Tons of modes
  • MyGM is a hit
  • Excellent customization
  • Chaotic multi-man matches
  • Still janky
  • Lacking roster

For frustrated wrestling fans, WWE 2K22 provides the ultimate power fantasy — and no, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the fighting itself. For anyone who’s found themselves annoyed watching WWE over the past few years by such things as controversial creative decisions and a revolving door of promising talent, it gives players a chance to prove that they actually could book the show better than Vince McMahon.

To make that possible, publisher 2K Sports did something that WWE itself would never dare to do: Take a break to try and fix the product. After the much-maligned WWE 2K20, the studio canceled the game’s 2021 entry and resolved to come back stronger with a cleaner 2022 edition. It wasn’t enough time to pull off a total reversal, but there’s a renewed sense of momentum this time around that could set the studio up for a big spot down the line. Think of it as a table carefully set up at ringside, ready for someone to crash through it eventually.

For wrestling fans, WWE 2K22 is a robust tussling simulator that seemingly packs two years of content into one game. Even if it doesn’t land all of its big moves, it snaps the series’ losing streak when it needed a win the most.

A series reversal

Like previous installments, WWE 2K22 is a professional wrestling simulator that captures the spectacle and action of a WWE show. It reproduces everything from superstars to entrances to arenas (it even includes the virtual “Thunderdome” experience created during the COVID-19 pandemic as an option).

For longtime fans, it’s a detailed simulation, even if it’s visually inconsistent at times. Big-name wrestlers like The Rock look incredible, approaching uncanny valley levels of realism. Lower-card fighters don’t always get the same treatment, though — a wrestler like MVP is just off enough that I laughed out loud when he stepped onto the ramp.

The Rock and John Cena face off in WWE 2K22.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The most important part of a wrestling simulation is, of course, the wrestling. Luckily, this year’s edition gets the basic, one-on-one combat right. Gameplay primarily revolves around strikes and grapples, with combos leading to a variety of wrestling moves. It’s a bit of a button-masher, but that kind of works for this game. I love that I can hammer three main buttons and watch my wrestler suddenly pull off a Canadian Destroyer out of nowhere. It’s casually satisfying, but still has enough depth for people who want to nail its systems down.

What’s especially notable about fights is the major focus on reversals. When getting grappled or set up for big moves, players will get a very small window where they can anticipate what button their opponent is about to press and completely turn an attack around. The system can feel incredibly fluid during standard matches, adding a sense of surprise to a brawl. In that sense, it nails the drama of a good wrestling show. It’s an improv acrobatics performance that rarely feels static. A powerbomb can always backfire in some spectacular way, even when the person on the receiving end of it looks down for the count.

Kevin Owens fights Rey Mysterio in WWE 2K22.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are lots of little details that make the basic combat work, even if it can still feel clunky at times. For example, targeting a specific body part on an opponent will soften them up and make it easier to win via submission. There are also nice touches like the ability to run in on an opponent during their entrance, getting a cheap shot to start the match. It’s difficult to keep track of every nuance, and the game could benefit from deeper tutorials, but I appreciate how committed it is to the little ticks of wrestling.

It’s an improv acrobatics performance that rarely feels static.

While traditional bouts can be thrilling, matches get exponentially worse the more people that are in the ring. Tag-team matches are a nightmare, especially against A.I. players. Unless your opponent’s tag partner is stunned at ringside, they’ll seemingly always break up a pin at two, which makes matches a never-ending drag. In my most chaotic test, myself and a friend put together an eight-man tornado tag-team match where all competitors were in the ring at the same time. It was a completely unplayable mosh pit with no strategy or flow. It made me laugh very hard, but I wouldn’t call it good.

That’s how I tend to feel about the WWE 2K games in general. I’m never really sure if I’m enjoying them sincerely or ironically, though that’s kind of the essence of wrestling itself. It bridges the gap between low and high art without pretension. A proper WWE game needs to taste a bit like junk food if it’s going to be accurate to the real deal and 2K22 is a full-on Taco Bell menu.

Give ’em the book

By taking a year off, 2K Sports was able to pack this game with a double dose of modes with mixed results. In the Universe mode, players pick a wrestler and put them through the usual WWE weekly TV grind. The simulation is a shockingly good storyteller. In my run, I chose Keith Lee (who now wrestles for WWE rival AEW), who started his career with a triple-threat win over U.S. Champion Damien Priest and Titus O’Neil. Lee and Priest were scheduled for a match the next week, but I sneak-attacked Priest during his entrance instead. He returned the favor by jumping me before a match with MVP the following week. That storyline culminated in a heated U.S. Championship pay-per-view match, where I won the title off him.

That’s better creative work than a usual month of WWE programming.

Rey Mysterio stands on the ramp in WWE 2K22.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Those natural gameplay stories are often better than the ones the game actively tries to tell. In MyRise, players create a custom superstar and grow from a developmental trainee to a global superstar. It’s a fairly generic rookie tale delivered via wooden performances by dead-eyed NPCs (no disrespect to Road Dogg).

This year’s Showcase mode fares much better, though it’s not quite a knockout. Players essentially fight through a 30-for-30-style documentary about cover star Rey Mysterio that recreates some of his iconic matches (and some comically insignificant ones). To do that, players need to pull off specific move sequences. Doing so correctly will seamlessly intercut footage from the real match into the game, which makes it feel like you’re playing a historical document. It can be a pain to actually pull off those moves, though, especially when the game hides how to do them in the pause menu rather than putting them on screen. I was pausing every 30 seconds just to see what buttons I would have to press next. There’s no penalty for just wrestling the match freely, historical accuracy be damned, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

A fully drafted roster in WWE 2K22.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The best of the game’s new experiments comes in the form of MyGM, which adds a long-requested General Manager mode to the series. Here, players get to run their own wrestling promotion. They’ll hire superstars, book weekly TV shows, and even use their budget to buy ads, special effects, and more. I was instantly addicted as I tried to create my perfect TV product, letting the simulation decide the matches and booking based on those results. It feels a little incomplete as is — there’s no online multiplayer mode, limited match options, and no mid-card titles to play with — but it’s a strong foundation for 2K Sports to improve upon in its next game.

Even if the primary modes don’t land for players, WWE 2K22 provides an unmatched creative platform with limitless potential.

I’m a little less enthused by MyFaction, which weaves matches together with a complicated card-collecting minigame. It mostly feels like a transparent way to sneak microtransactions in, though it’s not a throwaway either. For those who want to dive into it, there’s a fair amount of depth to its stable-building system.

All of that is before considering that the WWE 2K series continues to deliver the best customization options in any game. Players can create their own arenas, TV programs, and wrestlers, tweaking everything down to individual moves and mannerisms. Even if the primary modes don’t land for players, WWE 2K22 provides an unmatched creative platform with limitless potential.

Worked into a shoot

For those who remember WWE 2K20 for its absolutely wild visual bugs, the new edition is mercifully cleaner. I haven’t had characters clip through the ring yet or seen ropes explode. It’s still a quirky game, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I started seeing videos showcasing glitches like that pop up again.

The game routinely runs into strange issues, whether it be a wrestler suddenly teleporting to a different part of the ring or a foreign object wriggling around like a ragdoll. Sometimes, it feels like the physics have a mind of their own, which can either be funny or frustrating depending on how seriously I’m playing. A.I. wrestlers can be total jabronis too. In one match, I jump a wrestler before the bell and then roll in the ring trying to goad him into starting the match. Instead, he just stands next to the ring perfectly still until I roll back out, causing him to reactivate like a confused android.

WWE’s baggage becomes 2K’s problem here.

The simulation’s main issue is that it can’t escape the real-world drama of the company it’s based on. WWE has fired over 100 wrestlers since the game began development, and that shows in the game’s comically outdated roster. It features wrestlers like Billie Kay who haven’t been on the company’s payroll in a year, though more recent, high-profile wrestlers  like Bray Wyatt are absent. It’s an inconsistent who’s who of talent that lacks the dynamic potential of previous installments.

WWE’s baggage becomes 2K’s problem here. Parts of the game get downright uncomfortable when you know the context of the real company it’s based on. MyGM gives tooltips about how beneficial it is to fire wrestlers as a cost-cutting measure. Triple H texts me during one of my GM runs to let me know that I can’t book any stipulated matches one week because of a “union thing” (WWE is infamous for its union busting). When wrestling as Vince McMahon, the commentators make a point to talk about how he’s in charge of WWE’s developmental brand NXT, not Triple H. If you know the weird drama behind the company, it comes off as a petty jab.

Becky Lynch stands on the ramp in WWE 2K22.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are times where the game feels like a propaganda campaign for a corporate megapower rather than a fun wrestling simulator. Imagine if Madden games stopped to give you a speech about why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t that bad at his job. If you can put aside your feelings about the company, WWE 2K22 gives players enough powerful tools to let them create the wrestling show of their dreams. It can just be hard to fully ignore that aspect when scrolling through a character select screen filled with wasted potential.

Our take

WWE 2K22 is a robust wrestling simulator that gets the series back on track after its nearly career-ending 2020 installment. It’s filled with modes, impressive combat tweaks, and a truly phenomenal creative suite that turn it into a hoss of a game. There’s still work to do if 2K Sports wants to fully rehabilitate the series. Multi-man matches need a rework, its more promising modes need to be expanded, and there’s still plenty of gunk to clean up. But if this is how much an annualized series can turn itself around by taking one year off, then every franchise like it should consider an offseason.

Is there a better alternative?

Not really, which speaks to how starved fans are for wrestling games. Until AEW releases its own competing simulator, this is the only real option.

How long will it last?

Frankly, there’s no limit to how long you could play this. With several worthwhile modes, full online support, and an excellent creative suite, this game is built to last until the next installment.

Should you buy it?

Yes. For wrestling fans, WWE 2K22 puts the series back on track after a razor-thin two-count. Though if you’re not into wrestling, it likely won’t convert you.

WWE 2K22 was tested on Xbox Series X on a TCL 6-Series R635.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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