WWE 2K23, John Cena

WWE 2K23 Review: Invisible Champion Superstar Edition

To say that going into WWE 2K23, I would have gotten my mind around this yearly outdated roster update of a wrestling video game. However, outside of WWE 2K22 & WWE 2K17, I haven’t reviewed these games at all. WWE 2K16 (Though one of my first official news posts here was on the cover reveal), WWE 2K18, and WWE 2K19 were all handled by a former Outerhaven staff member… And we refused to cover WWE 2K20 due to bugs and other issues. However, here I am reviewing something that is dear to me once again… And you’d think that would excite me.

Pro wrestling has been a huge part of my life from an early age. From watching WCW Nitro with my great-grandma, to getting involved with the Australian wrestling industry from production to being in the ring as a wrestler myself. As a gamer, WWE 2K games have always captured that excitement of being in the ring, just like I experienced in real life. However, with WWE 2K23, something felt off about everything. Like I was just going through the motions. Something has changed and I’m determined to find out.

WWE 2K23Name: WWE 2K23
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Steam
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Game Type: Sports
Mode(s): Single-player, multiplayer
Release Date: March 17, 2023

spoilers

It’s your path to choose, but never give up… (Story)

Story Summary – SPOILERS

Click to read story summary
WWE Showcase: John Cena “Never Give Up”

This year’s showcase brings together a highlight package of John Cena’s rise to fame in the WWE. From humble beginnings as “The Prototype” who had RUTHLESS AGGRESSION, to the master of Thuganomics, to the jorts wearing “Never Give Up” and Super Cena years. You get to play as some of John Cena’s biggest foes, all of whom have defeated him at some point or another, but couldn’t stop Cena’s ascension to being one of the top superstars in WWE history

Match 1: One of a Kind (Rob Van Dam) – ECW One Night Stand 2006 Match 2: Gold Medal Debut (Kurt Angle) – SmackDown 2002 Match 3: Dead Man Walking (The Undertaker) – Vengeance 2003 Match 4: An Iconic WrestleMania (The Undertaker) – WrestleMania 34 Match 5: Time to Play the Game (Triple H) – Night of Champions 2008 Match 6: A Phenomenal Clash (AJ Styles) – Summerslam 2016 Match 7: Masterfully Manipulated (Edge) – Summerslam 2006 Match 8: A Revolutionary Cash-In (Edge) – New Year’s Revolution 2007 Match 9: Greatness Acknowledged (Roman Reigns) – Summerslam 2021 Match 10: One-on-one With The Great One (The Rock) – WrestleMania 28 Match 11: Suplex – Rinse – Repeat (Brock Lesnar) – Summerslam 2014 Match 12: Breaking the Chains (Brock Lesnar) – Backlash 2003 Match 13: The Animal’s Rage (Batista) – Summerslam 2008 Match 14: The Viper Strikes (Randy Orton) – Hell in a Cell 2009 Matches 15 and 16: The Choice and Didn’t See That Coming (Your Choice) Match 17: Council of Legends (John Cena)

MyRise “Legacy” – This WWE 2K23 MyRISE story path will have the player start a career as a next-generational wrestler, off to prove themselves that they’re more than just the child of a great wrestler. Exclusive for Women Wrestlers.

MyRise “The Lock” –  This WWE 2K23 MyRISE story path will have the player enter WWE as a top prospect as a top-tier athlete, having to deal with the pressure of high expectations as he enters the company onboard a hype train with him in front. Exclusive for Men Wrestlers.

Both storylines will feature unique storylines based around these premises, however, the path taken is virtually the same with you going from a rookie to the WWE Champion of your respective genders with all the twists and turns that only WWE storytelling can provide.

Story Review – Some Vague Spoilers

Depending on what type of story experience you are looking for, WWE 2K23 kinda has you covered. The WWE Showcase mode returns from last year, though it feels like there was less effort put into more content than last time. For some reason, having John Cena do introductions to matches that he lost seems weird, then having nothing else with the match feels weird too. With WWE 2K22, Rey Mysterio narrated each match with his experiences and memories of each match and each moment as they happened, giving a real deep insight into each moment and making them feel more excited. With WWE 2K23, you get nothing. No commentary, no narration, just some playable match moments with hard-to-read and understand moments to recreate. If 2K Games just stuck to the same premise and narration that they did with the Rey Mysterio showcase, then this mode would be more worth your time. But outside of unlocking arenas, wrestlers, and other things for creative mode, I’m saddened to say that we’ve seen and done this before.

On the other side of things, you have the MyRise modes. These storyline-driven sections have been divided up into Male and Female storylines for the first time, with the Female story, Legacy, focusing on a generational superstar coming into WWE and either using their famous Aunt to jump up the ranks or ignoring their history and making their own path. The Male storyline, Lock, sees you come into WWE as the hot new prospect, the next big thing, and having to live up to the hype that comes with previous fame attachment. Both storylines take the usual WWE grind from rookie to legend in the usual formula that WWE 2K has relied on for way too long now, with this being the 4th time that we’ve done this grind. I know this is the “WWE experience,” hell, this is the wrestling experience in general. But having simple twists on the same grind is becoming boring. At least WWE 2K20 had done some retrospective style formatting and featured some outside-the-ring experiences to keep things interesting. However, we haven’t had a truly great story mode since the THQ days where they weren’t afraid to mix things up with some outrageous story ideas like the Santino Marella “zombie” story. When can we get some of THAT creativity?

Oh, and the less said about MyGM mode, the better. I’ll never understand why people wanted this mode back so much. If I want to play a wrestling management simulation game, there are better management sims out there than what WWE 2K23 offers.

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WWE 2K23, John Cena

No more baby oil!! (Graphics)

One thing I said about WWE 2K22 was that it had a weird cartoony edge to all the characters, giving them a real but unreal look to them. I believe the phrase “More shine than Macho Man’s baby oil in the 1980s” was used. Well, WWE 2K23 has done away with the baby oil and just kept things clean and realistic. As graphics keep pushing the uncanny valley towards its edge, WWE 2K games become more and more like the TV shows, and I’m all for it.

For all the improvement and polish that WWE 2K23 has made for over 150 characters in the game, it has come at the cost of some characters being copied and pasted from WWE 2K22, complete with outdated names and gimmicks for some of them. Doudrop is back to being Piper Nevin, which isn’t a bad thing, as it’s just a name. However, when I see Nikki Cross as Nikki A.S.H. in WWE 2K23, when WWE 2K22 had this gimmick and her normal gimmick, I get a little annoyed. Then there is the high reliance on legends on the roster, a lot of them being created like they were in the creation suite, not scanned from any footage, photos, or whatever is available to them these days. I’d understand this with guys like Macho Man and Andre since they have passed on, but you could get a newer scan of Hulk Hogan, or Jake Roberts, or paint someone in the Doink gimmick without a problem.

In-game, there are STILL some issues with movement, clipping, and even weird teleporting for moves or counters that really should not exist this far into the WWE license with 2K Games. When I see Cena snap from a corner, slide across the ring, then hit an elbow drop; then something has gone wrong in the graphics department. At this point in time, I know WWE 2K games are not going to be perfect, but having these types of issues almost 10 years into the franchise is not something that people are going to keep taking year after year. That being said, if you want perfect, then look no further than the entrances, a highlight of WWE 2K games every year.

WWE 2K23, John Cena

Slick but challenging (Gameplay)

Ok, here comes the complaints. WWE 2K23 is, at its core, a sold arcade gaming experience with enough depth that some simulation fans will enjoy it. However, WWE 2K23 is one of those games that is going to be a really hard game to balance. Go too far one way, you’ll get WWE All-Stars (Remember that?), go the other way and you’ll get WWE 2K20 and no one wants that. The controls in WWE 2K23 are iffy at best, leaning more toward the button-mashing arcade action side of things rather than the context-heavy simulation route. While this is great for the general crowd and kids, WWE 2K23 is going to lose more of the hardcore simulation audience that the game series has cultivated over the past decade or so. WWE 2K fans will tell you that the series achieved the best controls in the WWE 2K17/WWE 2K18 era, where there were just enough arcade and simulation controls that the game was complex buy fast, and fun (The “Easy to learn, difficult to master” idea was done best there). Others say that WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain got the controls right and 2K Games ruined the best system that THQ ever made… But they are idiots. The KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method will always be best for wrestling, both in real life and in the game.

I do have 2 major complaints about WWE 2K23, one about the controls, and the other about the AI, and they both seem to tie into each other more than a collar and elbow tie-up. WWE 2K23 has some of the best and most aggressive AI systems I’ve seen in a long time of playing WWE games, which is not a bad thing if you are wanting that challenge and realism that comes with being inside the squared circle. However, it seems this aggression is not affected by changing the difficulty. Even on the “Easy” setting, the AI in WWE 2K23 is too aggressive, often getting up quicker than your character, recovering quicker, and reversing almost everything that you do. What’s even worse is when you are playing the WWE Showcase mode, Cena is already in “Super Cena” mode and will decimate you no matter what the difficulty is or whatever other meters you turn down.

What made this worse is the reversal timing mixed with controller lag. More often than not while playing any match in WWE 2K23, I would hit the Y button (Triangle for PlayStation), which is meant to reverse moves, only to not have the press register and my opponent hitting moves on me so quickly that my health would drop to nothing in a matter of seconds. Now, I’m no rookie when it comes to WWE games, I’ve been playing them since WWF Wrestlemania on the NES, and I’ve loved the WWE 2K series since 2K Games took over the license from THQ. However, what got me turning my Xbox off in anger more than once was having my opponent hit move after move that either could not be countered (What happened to counter when being picked up huh?), or had a 0.1-second counter timer on it. The AI is abusive to the mechanics so much that you’re going to be flat on your back more times than the Brooklyn Brawler in the 1980s/1990s. Times that by 10 when playing against John Cena in the showcase.

WWE 2K23, John Cena

Enough till 2K24 (Replayability)

WWE 2K23 is one of those games that is made for streamers and fantasy/armchair wrestling bookers. Through the Creative Suite and Online Creations modes, you will be able to update, expand, and change the roster of wrestlers to whatever you want the WWE to be. Luckily the restrictions on names and some other things like logos have been removed this year, so finding someone like “Stevie Richards” (If you know the joke, you know who I’m really talking about) is really easy and not censored like they were last year. Not to mention that a lot of the excellent creators from WWE 2K22 are moving over to WWE 2K23, so you know you’ll find some amazingly accurate creations of WWE returns like Bronson Reed, to AEW, NJPW, and other wrestlers from around the world. You’ll also have championships, shows, and arenas too. Eventually, you’ll have access to some of the best and most accurate recreations of other companies so you can have those dream matches you’ve always wanted… Or just have Adam Cole, Sasha Banks, and CM Punk return to WWE like all you Twitter marks want.

One thing I will say about the online servers though, is that they are REALLY slow at the moment. With so many people jumping online to download wrestlers, belts, arenas, etc, it will take anywhere up to 2 minutes for a single page to load. And no, I’m not blaming that on the Australian internet, as I’m on a 250mb/s download stream, so it shouldn’t be an issue. It might be worth waiting a few weeks before jumping online to download those wrestlers you are missing to fill out your roster. I won’t comment on multiplayer as I don’t have anyone around at the time of writing to play against, but I’m sure that’s not working too well either… Even if the status page says everything is fine.

WWE 2K23, John Cena

Same game, slight tweaks (Closing)

After all the innovations and improvements that WWE 2K22 made last year, to see WWE 2K23 fall into the “it’s basically just a roster update” sports section of gaming feels really annoying and wrong. Seeing the roster full of outdated gimmicks, names, costumes, theme songs, etc really shows the problem with doing yearly sports games in this fashion. WWE 2K23 is a good game at its core, maybe too aggressive at times, but it’s still a good game. However, there seem to be more steps backward in terms of gameplay, presentation, and long-term replayability I feel it doesn’t live up to what WWE 2K22 did last year. Instead of shoving Cena’s greatness down our throats again, turn to someone else for the showcase as there are a lot of great careers who have yet to have their stories told. Balance the gameplay so that it’s both arcade and simulation. For the love of god, allow us to fix names/gimmicks/music so that the game doesn’t come out as outdated at launch. WWE 2K23 could have been great, but it seems like the developers gave up… Cena would be ashamed.

Review Disclosure StatementWWE 2K23 was provided to us by 2K Games for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

Summary

WWE 2K23 takes everything that was considered an improvement in WWE 2K22 and just copy/pastes it over and expects people to buy it for 2 things: A Cena showcase mode and one new match type. While WWE 2K23 is still a solid game, you can feel that there just wasn’t enough of that drive that made WWE 2K22 such a good game after WWE 2K20 almost tanked the franchise. WWE 2K23 could do much more than just be a roster update of a game, if only they didn’t rely so heavily on the past.

Pros

  • Graphics have lost that cartoon edge
  • War Games is fun
  • I get to beat John Cena over and over again

Cons

  • Control input lag is terrible
  • AI can be a little too aggressive
  • Not too much new content to be seen here
Overall
3.5