WWE 2K20 has taken its toll on me mentally. It is among the absolute worst and most buggy games I have ever played. It was probably due to the reality of WWE and how they seemed to lose something incredible around that time, too. The WWE 2K series needed to be rebuilt and therefore 2K21 was skipped by the developers. But out of evil came good, both in the gaming world and in real life. The wrestling company encountered a real-life scandal that caused owner Vince McMahon to leave his CEO role, leaving the door open for someone else to start booking the shows, something he had been doing for a long time. In came Triple H and turned the ship around to a much better product. Meanwhile, Visual Concepts has also managed to get their game together and after a successful WWE 2K22, they are back with an even better WWE 2K23.
There was a very long time when I thought the end had come for the series, which never really lived up to the old Smackdown! games of Here Comes The Pain, Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth. There was a long, long cry for the return of General Manager mode, something that had been missing since Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. Last year it was back, but it wasn't quite perfect. It seems that the developers listened to a lot of feedback and have added many improvements. These include new match types, the ability to have midcard champions (each show has its own title) and the ability to play with up to four players/general managers. Another big addition is that after each major pay-per-view, or premium live event as they choose to call it these days, there is an opportunity to choose one of three random bonuses. These can be passive or instant and can give an incredible boost to your team. Unfortunately, perhaps my biggest problem from last year remains and that is that it is only possible to book four matches per show (not including PPV). This makes it difficult to book all the matches and rivalries I want.
Speaking of booking matches and rivalries, there's of course the Universe Mode sandbox. Here you are free to book as you wish and influence the results if you feel like it. It's basically the same as last year where you can play either as a single wrestler or manage whatever shows you want. What is new is a rivalry system that gives a better depth to the game mode.
All the game modes in the world, and I will mention more below, cannot be saved if the wrestling in the ring is not good. WWE 2K20 had neither good game modes nor good wrestling. Ugh, the horror pictures of certain bugs make me wake up with a scream in the middle of the night. It's fortunate then that WWE 2K23 does very well on all fronts. The game modes feel varied and there is something for every type of player. Inside the ring, it feels like a mix of simulation and arcade, but in a good way. It flows well and is easy to get into for newcomers. One button is light punches, another throws out heavier hits, and a third leads to grabs. Which grapple or throw it will be is then determined by following up with another press of any of the buttons and the joystick in one direction. This gives a good variety of "moves" to play with. However, it feels more difficult to counter an attack and the matches are not as much of a reversal-fest, which I think is better. A big improvement in the matches is that we no longer have to hammer our fingers off to get out of a pin attempt (although that option is in the settings and you might prefer it. "It's all about the game and how you play it", as a wise man once sang). New for this year is timing an upward push with the right joystick when the pointer is over a square. The more tired and injured you are, the faster and smaller this square is. The wrestling is fun to play, but there are still some minor problems. Characters can teleport a bit to hit their punches and sometimes they punch holes in the air for no reason. However, it happens quite rarely and does not interfere with the overall experience.
Someone who has always been the greatest draw in the WWE is John Cena. I have never been a fan of his (in the wrestling world) and never will be. It's obviously more his character than him as a person, but I'm totally more into team Cena Sucks than team Let's go Cena. Therefore, this year I can enjoy the Showcase mode which is all about John Cena. But instead of "Cena wins lol" as it has basically been throughout his career, they focus only on big losses. There's everything from his debut against Kurt Angle to the ECW match against Rob Van Dam to the Undertaker at Wrestlemania. However, there are some losses that I think are missing. CM Punk is obviously not there for clear reasons, but nothing from his long feud with JBL is there for example. Also, the matches aren't even in order but jump back and forth in time. The extra little twist here is that we don't play as Cena, but as his opponents in the matches. Unexpected, I know, but I don't mind beating up on different versions of him. It mixes game and movie sequences in a good way, but while this is an entertaining mode, I don't think it comes close to last year's version with Rey Mysterio.
Something that does catch up to last year is the game mode that is possibly the best, MyRise. This is the game's career mode and continues in the same vein as last year with letting you talk to people backstage and advance the story or get sidetracked. This year there are two different stories, one for your featured male wrestler and one for your female. The Lock is the male-focused version and is about a character who competes around the world on the indie scene and has now been brought into the WWE. There he is given the character of The Lock, something he is not fond of at all. The story is then about either following what management thinks you should be or breaking the lock. The counterpart on the female side is called The Legacy. There, our character has made it to the WWE because her aunt was a superstar and is in the Hall of Fame. She's not very popular with others who have fought their way to the top while she only gets in through her family. Follow in her family's footsteps or make her own name is the choice here. Both stories are entertaining and there are many subplots that are unlocked via cell phone messages or talking to people. Some conversations even unlock content, like the old WCW version of Triple H, called Jean-Paul Levesque. The only problem I have with the mode is that I'm not completely sold on the female voice actor.
Something I'm not at all sold on is the rather unnecessary attempt at an Ultimate Team mode. Buy packs of cards and unlock wrestlers in MyFaction. Last year you couldn't even play against other real players. This year you can, but only in friendly matches. I don't understand who, besides card collectors, this game mode is for.
But, overall it feels that the WWE 2K series is back for real. This year's version is light years better than the disaster WWE 2K20 and also a step up from last year. WWE 2K23 is really entertaining with a good mix of game modes and great in-ring action. Fans of wrestling have been waiting a long time for this.