WWE 2K24 makes one small change that goes a very long way

Cody Rhodes stands on a ramp in WWE 2K24.
2K Games

(Editor’s Note: The night before our WWE 2K24 preview event, WWE co-founder Vince McMahon resigned from his executive chairman role at TKO amid sex trafficking allegations. Ahead of the event, Digital Trends reached out to 2K Games to ask if references to Vince McMahon and any other parties implicated in the lawsuit would be removed from the game. We were directed to WWE’s PR team, which has yet to respond.

The WWE 2K series has been living out a comeback story for the past two years. After hitting rock bottom in 2019, 2K Games took the time and effort to rehabilitate the series instead of rushing into another entry with injuries. That paid off in its 2022 and 2023 installments, reestablishing the series as the king of the ring – especially after fighting off competition from the middling AEW: Fight Forever.

The climb to the top is hard, but the battle isn’t over once you reach the peak. Staying on top is a challenge in its own right. That’s what the upcoming WWE 2K24 will have to contend with this year, as it capitalizes on the series’ newfound popularity and pushes the momentum. Can 2K Games keep adding more content on top of a strong foundation, or would the eventual churn of annualization be the series’ downfall?

Based on a demo I played at this year’s WWE Royal Rumble in Tampa, Florida, the championship reign doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. WWE 2K24 builds on its predecessors to tighten up its core wrestling and pepper in even more modes. But its best feature so far is a tiny change that completely saves its signature MyShowcase mode.

No surprises

WWE 2K24 doesn’t really deviate from the series’ last installment, and that’s okay. WWE 2K23 got the basics of wrestling down pat, making matches more dramatic and engaging than ever. The 2024 version only tweaks that slightly. The biggest addition is a new minigame that can pop up during one-on-one bouts, which sees wrestlers trading blows by holding a button and releasing it at the right moment. That goes back and forth until one player ends up on the mat. It’s a simple addition but one that further replicates some of the specific drama of a wrestling match.

If there are any other big differences, they aren’t immediately apparent. The combat tweaks here feel less noticeable than we saw between 2K22 and 2K23. In my very first match (Iyo Sky and Rhea Ripley), I was able to pick up the controller and put on a dramatic, reversal-filled match like it was second nature. I get the sense that 2K Games has reached a point of stability and is focusing more on new content this year. That includes a few new match types. While nothing I played felt as fresh and creative as last year’s WarGames match, the new bouts do make this feel like a more complete simulator.

Bianca Belair spins her hair braid in WWE 2K24.
2K Games

Of the new modes, I tried out the updated Backstage Brawl and the brand-new Ambulance Match. The former is a notable improvement over last year’s gimmicky mode, giving me much more space to move around. It feels a bit more like an arena this time rather than a small set. The additional multiplayer options help, too, as four-player brawls feel sufficiently chaotic.

I struggled a bit more in my Ambulance Match. The concept here is simple: It’s a normal “No Disqualification” match, but I can only win by throwing my opponent in the back of an ambulance and shutting the doors. As a nice dramatic touch, my opponent and I go head to head in a button-mashing minigame each time I try to close one of the two backdoors. When they win that battle, they dramatically burst out of the back just as they would in the real match. The only hitch here is that winning requires players to know how to pick up an opponent, a complicated input sequence that seemingly isn’t explained in the menus. Series veterans won’t have an issue, but I’m sure casual players will be confused.

The only issues I found shouldn’t really come as a surprise to players. Computer-controlled characters are still as quirky as ever, occasionally standing around doing nothing or getting caught in a strange animation loop. Multi-man matches continue to be a bit of a pain, too; the eight-man match I tested went on for an eternity as pins were constantly broken up. It does feel as though wrestlers stay stunned or immobile a little longer in those modes to account for that, though that could be my imagination.

The bottom line is that WWE 2K24 doesn’t seem to feature many surprises, sticking as close to its stable foundation as it can. And I don’t mean that negatively: That’s destined to make it the best version of itself.

Fixing showcase

While I had plenty of fun reacquainting myself with a familiar tussling system, one small change made me jump for joy. For the past two years, the series’ signature MyShowcase mode had me pulling my hair out. I loved the concept of the playable documentary, which had players recreating iconic matches and blending in real footage. Unfortunately, it would accomplish that by giving players specific tasks in the ring … and not telling them how to do them. Every year, I spend half of my time with it in menus as I tried to figure out how the heck I was supposed to pull off an Irish Whip.

My prayers have been answered: MyShowcase shows button commands on-screen alongside the goal descriptions. That may sound tiny, but I can’t express enough how much it changes the mode. For the first time ever, I’d play a completely uninterrupted match during the mode as I recreated Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair’s excellent Wrestlemania 39 encounter. With that little friction gone, I was able to stay fully immersed in the match and better appreciate the story those two women told during it.

Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant face off in WWE 2K24.
2K Games

That change comes at exactly the right time because this year’s Showcase seems like it’ll be the best yet. The genius twist is that players recreate a list of classic Wrestlemania matches. That means players aren’t stuck to one character; instead, they control a broad roster pulled from WWE history. One match saw me taking on the Ultimate Warrior as Rick Rude, with a grainy filter over the screen to replicate the look of Wrestlemania 5. Another would see me controlling Roman Reigns as I crushed Cody Rhodes’ dreams. Each match I tried emphasized the different stories that a wrestling bout can tell through ring psychology.

It helps that the development team is still so committed to authenticity. Wrestlers like Randy Orton look just like their real counterparts, and LA Knight’s entrance is pitch-perfect. But don’t just take it from me: Hear it straight from WWE Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley, who seemed caught off guard when she saw the game for herself at the preview event.

“Yo! So, I watched my Wrestlemania 39 entrance just a second ago,” Ripley tells Digital Trends. “It’s so spot on! Even from the little eye twinges that I do, it captures everything. My whole walk, my whole persona, my cheekiness, my face, my gear — everything was so incredibly spot on. It was a little bit scary but really cool at the same time!”

Rhea Ripley walks down a ramp in WWE 2K24.
2K Games

I have to agree (though you won’t catch me arguing with someone as terrifying as Ripley). Current stars like Ripley shine in 2K24, especially when I watch real footage of them seamlessly blend into game footage without shedding their nuances. Perhaps that’s the benefit of reaching stability in the core wrestling gameplay. Instead of spending time tweaking the basics, the development team gets to spend its time turning screws elsewhere. New modes, more detailed wrestlers, and tiny creative decisions like those in MyShowcase dial the heat up that much more.

I hope this rings true for modes like MyGM and MyFaction, both of which saw steady improvements last year. The benefits of that gradual improvement really showed throughout my WWE 2K24 demo, even if there’s a lot more left to see. Isn’t it amazing what an annualized development team can do when it’s not spending all its time squashing bugs or rushing to win back angry fans?

WWE 2K24 launches on March 8 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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