No one is surprised that WWE 2K21 is cancelled. After the living embodiment of hell that was known as WWE 2K20, it’s welcome to see the development team go back to the drawing board and learn from last year’s mistakes. What is worrying, though, is there’s ANOTHER new game on the block titled WWE 2K Battlegrounds, developed by Saber Interactive.
Billed as new arcade-style experience with over-the-top designs, moves and environment, WWE 2K Battlegrounds aims to fill the WWE 2K21 gap this year. The thing is, none of this is “new”—it’s been done before to varying degrees of success.
WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game released in 1995. The digitised game featured the eight top wrestlers of the time in a Mortal Kombat-styled combat system. The gameplay was frenetic as the players pulled off cartoonish and outlandish moves to defeat their opponent.
WWF In Your House followed in 1996. Seen as the sequel to WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, it tried to take it up a notch by introducing individual stages and finishing moves for the players. Unfortunately, the game lacked the charm of its predecessor and didn’t quite light up the homes.
Then, something miraculous happened. Video game developers realised that players actually wanted to wrestle in wresting games. Suddenly, the golden age of wrestling games produced the likes of WWF No Mercy, the SmackDown and SmackDown vs. Raw series, as well as the early 2K series.
In between this, THQ produced WWE All Stars in 2011. It featured over-the-top moves and designs (sound familiar?), and was met positively by fans and critics as it provided an alternative to the wrestling games at the time. WWE All Stars didn’t displace the SmackDown vs. Raw series, providing merely an alternative for fans who wanted an arcade-style button-masher.
Nine years later, though, the landscape of gaming is different. From Mortal Kombat to Street Fighter and Tekken, players are spoilt for choice when it comes to fighting games. These titles have taken the genre to the next level, while reigniting the franchises for a new generation.
Right now, WWE games shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath. While WWE 2K Battlegrounds might turn out to be a decent title, it’s been done before. This isn’t innovative or “new”, despite the WWE’s spin machine. It’s a concept that’s been exhausted in the past.
More importantly, it feels ill-advised. There isn’t a lot of goodwill towards 2K at the moment. No matter how much it claims to “appreciate and value our feedback”, WWE 2K20 was a monumental disaster that shouldn’t have happened. Instead of releasing a “new” game, the publisher should’ve dedicated all of its focus to either rebuilding the WWE 2K series or rebranding altogether. Take a year off and come back stronger. Unfortunately, WWE 2K Battlegrounds feels about as smart as Vince McMahon’s idea to put the belt on The Great Khali.