by Alex Knapp
Well, WWE 2K15 is upon us. Sure, the last-gen versions were released this past month, but really, with how beefed up the graphics are and the major addition of the MyCareer feature, the next-gen versions are the ones we really care about. That’s why I’m delaying my review of WWE 2K15 for the time being; seeing as how I don’t have a PS4 yet, I will be waiting until Christmastime to play it and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. But as I’m anticipating playing 2K15 in between bouts of playing Assassin’s Creed: Rogue to tide me over, I got to thinking about the story mode that 2K15 marketed itself around.
The Showcase mode. When I heard the general concept behind it, I really couldn’t fault 2K’s logic. On paper, it’s the perfect compromise! For the past couple of years, the WWE game series has found new success by tapping into nostalgia and recreating the atmosphere of entire past eras of the WWF/WWE. WWE ’13 struck gold with the Attitude Era mode; it was nothing less than the ability to relive an entire era episode-by-episode, watching every week as the storylines unfolded, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon traded blows in their war, The Undertaker and Kane’s saga took new twists and turns and The Rock and Mick Foley developed into the superstars they would be remembered as. It was enthralling and page-turning, but, of course, it restricted its focus to a particular time period. And so, WWE 2K14 shifted to the opposite extreme with 30 Years of WrestleMania, giving players the ability to go through every era of the WWE since 1985 and play through the most memorable moments on the Grandest Stage of Them All. Ironically, despite being largely founded on the same concept behind ‘13’s Attitude Era, it presented the opposite problems; although it provided a diverse roster of WWE superstars which transcended decades of WWE history, it lacked the interconnected, page-turning appeal of the episodic Attitude Era.
Why not try to find a happy medium? Focus on individual feuds, living through different time periods of wrestling, while also focusing on the storylines and characters which made the product enthralling. Who can fault the conclusion 2K reached? I sure can’t. However, Austin vs. McMahon had already been done in games before. So had Undertaker vs. Kane. And, to some extent, Hogan vs. Andre. But there was still some room for some great epic feuds to relive, some stories that had not yet been fully explored, yet could provide captivating stories to relive and provide the nostalgia.
Shawn Michaels vs. HHH? That lame, off-and-on feud from 2002 to 2004? And who had one of their most important matches at WrestleMania XX, a main event which had a VERY conspicuous third participant who shall go unnamed?
But what else could they have done? If nostalgia really is going to be the key strategy for the WWE’s flagship video game series, what other options could they have gone with that would be fresh, interesting, and present unique settings and story-driven content? Well, that’s what I’m here to discuss. Because it seems to me that 2K, Visual Concepts and Yuke’s may be underestimating just how many tools they have at their disposal when it comes to years of WWE feuds and the opportunities to give fans and gamers a history lesson. And so, I propose four different ideas for what the games could explore in the future, which could lead to diverse rosters, compelling storylines and unique presentation. And so, without further ado, we’ll start at number 4:
4. ECW Mode
If there’s one thing that WWE has proved in the past decade, it’s that they sure have nothing against exploiting the memory of Extreme Championship Wrestling (see: the success of their Rise and Fall of ECW DVD and the first One Night Stand pay-per-view). If there’s another thing they’ve proved, it’s that they really have no place getting their grubby paws on the name and change it into something it’s not (see: December to Dismember 2006 and…no, actually, I rest my case there). In other words, ECW really needs to speak for itself; it needs to be presented in its original form and spirit, as an alternative, counterculture, cutting-edge product which offered compelling storylines and characters, violent matches which American audiences had never seen before, and innovations in the in-ring product years ahead of their time.
Seeing as how WWE owns all the rights to the ECW name and brand, why not parlay that into a video game storyline? “The History of ECW.” “In the 1990s, while the WWE and WCW struggled to maintain supremacy, a small organization in Philadelphia quietly revolutionized professional wrestling. Now, you can relive the glory years of this remarkable organization, as it ushered in a new era…the era of Extreme.” And so begins gamers’ chance to relive some of the best storylines and moments of the original ECW, and the most memorable matches and storylines it provided. It could feature the original Singapore cane match between Sandman and Tommy Dreamer. The introductions and evolutions of Mick Foley and Steve Austin. The epic, unbelievably dramatic saga of Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer. The first pay-per-view, Barely Legal.
And it could bring in new gameplay angles with its hardcore style; barbed wire matches, opportunities for death-defying spots, the whole nine yards. Certainly something better and more true to the ECW character than the Acclaim games we’re stuck with. All in all, it’s the chance to present something really unique and out-of-the-box, give mainstream WWE fans a taste of the things they probably didn’t live through firsthand and bring out some interesting match types in a game series which is running out of new match types to include. What’s not to like?
3. WCW Mode
Okay, Vince. Time to set aside your ego and…
Wow, couldn’t type that with a straight face. Okay, this is a long shot, but if the egos of those in charge of the WWE could be reined in for just a second, and the WWE games could step outside of the “evil Ted Turner tried to put Vince McMahon out of business, but then DX invaded Nitro, WCW collapsed, and everyone lived happily ever after” narrative which the company likes to promote, they could have something really good. And with Sting now making his long-awaited WWE game debut this year, they have a key ingredient which they can use to really make sure that the rise of WCW is fleshed out.
The game could focus on the glory years of WCW from 1996 to 1997, following the introduction of the nWo and the twists and turns that followed from it. It can be limited in its scope, like WWE ‘13’s Attitude Era; a good starting point would be Scott Hall’s debut on Nitro, and a good ending climax would be Starrcade 1997. As we follow the cast of characters, including Hulk Hogan, Sting, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Ric Flair, The Giant, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper and others, we can see how the nWo took the wrestling world by storm and gave us some of the most exciting moments of our childhood years. And it can all be supplemented by the ability to recreate the great undercard matches by guys like Rey Mysterio (assuming he’s not too far on the outs with the WWE in the near future), Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho.
Gaudy arenas. Larger-than-life characters. Stories full of twists and turns. Great movesets. I’d play it, and I think a lot of other gamers would too. Give the people what they want!
2. WWWF Mode
The past two ideas have the handicap of not centering around WWE content, and it’s not likely that WWE will be willing to showcase a promotion other than itself. But what else could they do? They’ve done the Attitude Era, and they went through several decades of WrestleManias. What else could they do?
Well, as much as it tends to be forgotten, the WWF/WWE did, in fact exist many years before the first WrestleMania. Remember back in the 1990s, when they would say that they were, “For over 50 years the dominating force in professional wrestling?” Well, that’s enough potential content to make 30 Years of WrestleMania look like small potatoes! And this idea just got a major shot in the arm over this past year; the long-reigning WWWF Champion and face of the old school World Wide Wrestling Federation, Bruno Sammartino, has patched things up with Vince McMahon, been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and even made his first appearance EVER in a WWE game last year as a DLC for WWE 2K14.
With such an important character ready to be inserted into the fold, the WWE game series has the chance to present not simply nostalgia, but a full-on history lesson. “The WWE has emerged as the face of sports entertainment today. This success was built on the vision and ambition of Vincent Kennedy McMahon in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the WWE also has a rich history even before that; under Mr. McMahon’s father, Vincent James McMahon, the World Wide Wrestling Federation delighted its fans from its home in Madison Square Garden, laid a solid foundation for the company’s future dominance. Now, you have the opportunity to learn about that history firsthand, and follow the path that led to the WWE’s greatness.”
This is an idea that manages to be both nostalgic, yet fresh to young audiences due to its underexposure. The game can take gamers way back to the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, and play through the exploits of Bruno, Andre The Giant, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Bob Backlund and other famous names of the distant past. Relive moments and storylines such as the well-received feud between Bruno and his protege, Larry Zbyszko. Showcase famous events like the Showdown at Shea, including the famous 1980 outing which featured a babyface Andre taking on a heel Hulk Hogan. The game could climax with the birth of Hulkamania in 1984, featuring Hogan’s first world title victory over The Iron Sheik.
A mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces. A rich source of history that has never been seen before in a mainstream game. And it has the bonus of still presenting the WWE’s own former product. A golden opportunity if I ever saw one.
1. What If Mode
And finally, my biggest dream idea, though probably the hardest to pull off from a technical standpoint. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Rewriting the Book series hosted on Wrestlecrap. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a series of stories which was the brainchild of author Jed Shaffer, which present “what-if” stories of turning points throughout the history of pro wrestling. These alternate histories take old familiar characters from our memories watching wrestling, but turn them on their head with new stories born out of different twists in stories and events. What if Hulk Hogan had sold the WWF Championship to Ted DiBiase? What if the Fingerpoke of Doom hadn’t happened? Things like these.
These stories were fun to read on text. What if (no pun intended) they could be played on a video game?
If 2K wants to present WWE content which is both nostalgic and original at the same time, they could try to go this route. Go back to memorable stories and feuds from the past, and present new storylines based on what would happen if matches or decisions had gone the other way. What if Andre had beaten Hogan at WrestleMania III? What if the Montreal Screwjob hadn’t happened? What if The Ultimate Warrior hadn’t left the WWF in 1991? What if The Rock or Mick Foley had won the WWF Championship at WrestleMania 2000? What if CM Punk hadn’t come back to the WWE immediately after Money in the Bank 2011? All of these are stories which can cross over eras, have a diverse cast of characters and can present whole new twists on familiar stories, requiring some creativity on the part of the game developers.
This wouldn’t be without its technical challenges, of course, namely when it comes to recording new promo dialogue for the characters involved (especially if they feature wrestlers who are deceased or have a bad relationship with the WWE). But if they can overcome these, we could have something really unique, engaging, and unpredictable.
What do you think, dear reader? Would any of these ideas appeal to you in video game form? Do you have ideas of your own? Leave your responses in the comment section below!
Photo 1: greydogsoftware.com
Photos 2-3: logos.wikia.com
Photo 4: Daniel Johnson / Johnsontranscript.com
Categories: Wrestling Lists