How WWE 2K16 Will Chokeslam The Hell Out of WWE 2K15

WWE 2K15 was admittedly a work in progress. It takes longer than a year to upgrade an entire engine for such an in-depth 3D fighting game (which it did) with all of the wrestlers and features that the franchise is known for (which it didn't). As 2K was likely beholden to the contractual terms of being required to release an annualized WWE title, WWE 2K15 was the result, a half-step meant to be a polished working prototype for this upcoming installment. Yet I was still dubious about WWE 2K16, since it was strangely absent from both E3 and PAX this year—an ill omen, typically. But after a private hands-on session last week with a build of the game that was about 90% finished, I'm confident WWE 2K16 will crush 2K15 into dust.

The most noticeable difference in WWE 2K16 is a welcome change to the darn reversal system which this time around limits the number of reversals a wrestler can use. Similar to a special gauge in a standard fighting game, characters have a reversal meter that starts full, regenerates over time, and is cut into multiple segments, usually somewhere between three and five segments depending on the wrestler's technical proficiency. A regular or minor reversal takes one segment while a major reversal takes two. Telling the difference between the two, though, is a bit difficult since reversal opportunities pop up quickly, but that's part of the challenge.

The major boon from this new reversal system is that matches no longer boil down to reversals upon reversals upon reversals. Players who recognized reversal opportunities better than their opponents will likely win more often than not. But with this limited reversal system—though reversals still matter quite a bit—the emphasis has been spread out to involve proper spacing, attack speed, and stamina management more than before.

Within a minute of playing a match, it becomes immediately apparent that the animations are much crisper and cleaner than before. Not only are the character models for Superstars and Divas closer to their real-life counterparts, particularly in the facial details, but their movements are more responsive and less lumbering. Apart from a few glitches where some animations moved instantly around the ring in a jarring manner (again, the build I played wasn't complete yet), the fluidity was more or less seamless. While chain wrestling makes a return, new working holds performed when the opponent is in the seated position will restore your stamina while sapping theirs.

Pinning has been altered for the better too, with you having three chances to kick out, synced to the familiar count of 1, 2, and 3. It's similar to how it works before: a circular gauge fills and you have to hit a button when the gauge reaches the blue zone, which diminishes as your wrestler loses health and has limb damage. The only thing you need to watch out for is that the gauge fills automatically, so you won't need to hold down the button anymore. If you're particularly good at hitting the right spot, you can make the match last a long time; one of the matches in the tournament we had at the event lasted at least ten minutes because both players kicked out like they were at Wrestlemania.

Last but not least is MyCareer which has been greatly expanded since its last incarnation. The create-a-wrestler, which you'll be asked to enter right from the start, has been given a lot more customizable parts and plenty of areas for tweaking, like individual body part sizes and clothing materials such as matte, metal, and cloth. However, getting through each of the material options takes a lot of unnecessary loading time. Hopefully this is fixed for the release. As you progress from the Performance Center to the Hall of Fame (one step further than WWE 2K15), you character will earn VC and SP to acquire all manner of abilities (13 with 3 tiers each), skills (31 in total), and stats (32 in all). On top of that, your character will become either a face or a heel, moving between being prideful or egotistical, loyal or treacherous, bold or cowardly, depending on his or her actions.

Furthermore, if you turn on Invasion mode, you may also meet characters that your friends have made while you progress through the MyCareer. With luck, you might be able to become a tag team champion with that wrestler or perhaps have a rivalry that will be known for the ages. Further details of Invasion have yet to be revealed, so we'll have to see if your friend's characters will include stats, belts, and such.

WWE 2K16 is already looking like a much fuller realization of WWE 2K15 with a fuller roster including two versions of The Terminator, more match types, an expanded MyCareer, a better creation suite, and vastly improved action. Be ready when it kicks into stores October 27, 2015 for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360.