WWE 2K22: Can We Just Get the Day of Reckoning Engine Again?

WWE 2K22

One of the biggest events for wrestling fans has come and gone. WrestleMania 37, which was held just last month on April 10 and 11, was two nights of mostly nonstop thrills, feel-good moments, and fun matches. There were some duds — The Fiend got done dirty — but overall, it was a solid show with quite a few highlights, with my pick of the show being the Women’s Championship main event between Sasha Banks and Royal Rumble winner Bianca Belair. Another highlight, though, was the official reveal of WWE 2K22.

That’s right: It’s back.

WWE 2K22

Last year was the first time in a long time that we didn’t get what you’d call a main line WWE game. It’s changed publishers and developers over the years, but the current WWE 2K series traces back all the way to 2000’s WWF SmackDown, which was PlayStation’s response to WWF WrestleMania 2000 for the Nintendo 64. The SmackDown series eventually turned into SmackDown vs. Raw (titled after WWE’s two main shows, each with its own roster of wrestlers). Then it became simply WWE. And then it morphed into its current form, WWE 2K.

Those early SmackDown games were cherished by wrestling fans. I didn’t have a PlayStation, so I grew up with WrestleMania 2000 and WWF No Mercy, which to this day are still considered timeless wrestling games. But I remember going over to a friend’s house, playing SmackDown 2, and being completely blown away by it. That game had heart. It had soul. It had the attitude that the then-WWF was all about at the time.

When I got a PS2 a few years later, things changed. I picked up WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain and WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth — gotta love those titles — and played the heck out of them. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but since the debut of the series 20 years ago, I’ve owned 11 of those games. These things are annual, folks, so I’ve been there for more than half of the series.

WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain

Sadly, it’s gotten pretty bad. The reason those early SmackDown games were so much fun is because they were gritty, arcade-y, and dumb. The action was fast-paced and ridiculous. Depending on the mode, you could brawl all over the arena, throw your opponents off of cages, and even drive cars? Wacky wrestling shenanigans aside, those games were also really polished. Somewhere along the way, though, someone thought it would be a good idea to transform the series from arcade grappling nonsense into a wrestling simulation.

Sports games have become slower-paced in favor of complicated systems and realism, but that doesn’t really work with wrestling games. These games are at their best when they encourage mayhem, and there’s no way to create chaos in a wrestling game with slow animations and super-methodical mechanics. Let’s not forget: This series is based on the same company that saw JBL pummel John Cena in a parking lot, lean his lifeless body up against a car, get in a car of his own, and drive right into Cena’s face… only for Cena to return unscathed!

Stale gameplay aside, the WWE 2K series started seeing major performance issues over time. It all culminated with WWE 2K20, which was filled with outrageous bugs that were absolutely laughable. Janky animations, weird AI behavior, and legit scary skin texture glitches. Seriously, YouTube it. Okay, here’s a screen:

WWE 2K20 Texture Glitch

But honestly, you should YouTube it. Like, show it to your friends, even if they’re not wrestling fans. I guarantee you’ll have some good laughs. The glitches were so bad that wrestlers would go through the mat, their bodies would contort in impossible ways, and they would just freak out all over the place. Not to mention, the textures were terrible, the wrestler likenesses were off, and the game was graphically inferior to several of its predecessors years prior.

WWE 2K20 was so bad that it led to WWE 2K21 being canceled last year. It was the first time in the series’ 20-year history that we didn’t get a new installment. What we did get was WWE 2K Battlegrounds. And you know what? That game was pretty good! It wasn’t perfect. Parts of the game felt generic. There weren’t a lot of moves and too many wrestlers shared similar movesets. But it was fun, and it had this welcome lightheartedness to it. Come on, it was pretty cool sending wrestlers flying high above the ring by performing simple powerslams!

Now, though, the main series is back, and with the teaser trailer that dropped during WrestleMania 37 came the tagline “it hits different.” One can only assume that this is meant to signal that some major changes are coming to the series. But are they really? It’s hard to say because fans have been burned by the WWE 2K games in the past.

If this is just going to be a retread of the past few WWE 2K games using the same engine — or even a slightly modified version of the same engine — then, honestly, why even bother?

Here’s what I propose: 2K Sports and developer Visual Concepts should resurrect the engine from WWE Day of Reckoning. An underrated, underdog gem of a wrestling game, Day of Reckoning took the gameplay that was adored in WWF No Mercy on the N64 and adapted it for the GameCube. The grappling system was fast and fluid, the striking was quick and arcade-like, and the action was nonstop.

WWE Day of Reckoning

A sequel, WWE Day of Reckoning 2, would take that format and expand on it, adding a stamina meter, a fun submission system, and three whole levels of blood — the bloodier your wrestler got, the more tired he got, and the more stained the mat got. It was a simple way of introducing some sim-like elements without slowing the gameplay to a crawl like the WWE 2K series eventually did.

As much as I loved WrestleMania 2000, No Mercy, and the SmackDown games, those mechanics started showing their age after a while. Day of Reckoning is a completely different story, though. I still play that game fairly regularly when I feel like jumping into some pro wrestling antics. It’s fun, it plays nicely, and holds up better than most other WWE video games.

Day of Reckoning was awesome because it encompassed the madness of professional wrestling while being mechanically sound. It was also easy to pick up and play, with mechanics that were simple to learn but never felt boring thanks to just how satisfying the grappling system was. Delivering chokeslams, powerbombs, and finishers was great, and the counter system was intuitive and allowed you to pull off back-and-forth reversals not unlike what you see on WWE TV.

WWE Day of Reckoning

My love of Day of Reckoning aside, I know there are plenty of things the developers could do to modernize that game’s systems. While it had a great list of match types including Hell in a Cell and Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, a wrestling game in 2021 would need Elimination Chamber, Last Man Standing, and War Games match types. And as extensive as the movesets were, a new wrestling game would need an updated list of maneuvers for the create-a-wrestler mode. Oh, and while we’re at it, it would be nice to see the return of the storyline creation mode!

It’s worth mentioning that Day of Reckoning never outsold the SmackDown games, but that was partially because it ended up being a cult classic with a niche fan base on the GameCube. I’ve been playing wrestling video games since 1998’s WCW/NWO Revenge for the Nintendo 64, and I’m telling you right now: No wrestling game holds up today quite as well as WWE Day of Reckoning. It was a master class in wrestling game design, and it deserves at least a spiritual successor.

I know it’s a long shot, but I truly hope WWE 2K22 features a gameplay system that’s more in line with WWE Day of Reckoning. To this day, there’s never been a smoother, more polished wrestling game. Considering fans are always talking about how they want something in line with WWF No Mercy, I’m surprised more people don’t talk about Day of Reckoning since that game was basically No Mercy but much faster and smoother.

2K, Visual Concepts, if you’re reading this: How about it?

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