This WWE 2K24 preview is early; we’re playing on the Saturday morning before the Royal Rumble, and it’s one of the first times press or content creators have had a chance to play the game. There’s only a tiny slice available, but it’s more than enough to get excited about.
But it’s not just the game getting my pulse racing. The room is chaotic. A thumping baseline comes from a DJ that started at 9am and content creators holler and bellow as their matches play out, hopping between different consoles as they collaborate. At one point I look up from my screen and see Xavier Woods, the keen gamer and professional wrestler, whooping with joy as the digital recreation of himself, starring in WWE 2K24, delivers some digital pain.
It’s probably the perfect environment for a WWE game. As we play, developers mingle around the room, eagerly watching as the assembled players nail finisher after finisher. Much like wrestling itself, WWE works better when engaged and marked out.
However, it's not a perfect game. It’s fun to play and technically competent, full to bursting with fan service for wrestling fanatics and followers. But, it’s janky and imprecise, and both the onboarding and AI behavior needs a little work. If the idea of replaying some of the greatest and weirdest matches in WWE history gets you riled up, you’ll probably forgive the wonkiness and have a fantastic time.
I’m a lapsed wrestling fan. I’ve been to a few WWE events, but I haven’t religiously kept up with the storylines since the days of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and whatever identity Mick Foley was rocking that week.
This makes me an easy target for WWE 2K24 for many reasons. As soon as you let me play as an authentic 1997 Stone Cold Steve Austin with his little leather vest, knee brace, and that glass-smashing entrance music, I’ll instantly feel like a kid again - which the game does a bunch. And, with the developers promising 200-plus wrestlers in the roster of the full game, I suspect Stone Cold Steve Austin ‘97 might be joined by a couple of other versions of the Texas Rattlesnake, too.
Secondly, it’s a me problem but the WWE 2K showcases of the last few years have focused on Rey Mysterio and John Cena. While I know both of them, I’m not familiar with the multiple smaller matches that make up their careers. Fortunately, WWE 2K24’s showcase is different, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Wrestlemania. With Wrestlemania being the biggest event in WWE’s calendar, you’ll be playing some of the biggest matches in the business which gets you up to speed.
In my preview there were three matches: Rick Rude vs Ultimate Warrior in 1989, and two matches from 2023’s Wrestlemania Goes To Hollywood (Rhea Ripley vs Charlotte Flair, and Roman Reigns vs Cody Rhodes).
Based on the empty spaces waiting to be filled, there are plenty more all-time matches making an appearance too. It’s a smart way to bring old favorites into the game (there’s a Hulkamania Hulk Hogan that will presumably pop up in a showcase somewhere), but it also goes a long way toward getting players onboard. You’ll play through a copy of the actual matches intercut with archive footage, albeit an alternate universe version where Roman Reigns spends 20 minutes trying to grapple Cody Rhodes from behind and accidentally hurling them into the turnbuckle again and again.
There are improvements from previous entries in the series across the board, too. New throwable weapons are riotous fun, and tossing an opponent into a vending machine before picking up a can of soda and hurling it at them is honestly hilarious. In addition, the backstage brawl weapons are excellent, and throwing a wrestler from a high-up catwalk into a spotlight below provides a solid dose of serotonin every time it happens.
It’s not just out of the ring, either, but these changes are largely iterative. A trading blows minigame will feel like something out of Strong Style wrestling, with opponents battering each other in time with button presses on the screen.
However, there are two big issues with the combat though. There’s a heavy reliance on quick-time events and International Track and Field-style button mashing that means it’s difficult for me to win an ambulance match or even escape the most basic of pins due to the speed and complexity of the inputs. This is a me problem, but feels like something new players will definitely struggle with.
Then, there’s the fact the combat feels a little clumsy. This is a conscious choice: moving from more arcade-y play to something that feels closer to a sim means there are layers of complexity, but it means that the game often gets it wrong when it’s trying to interpret what I’m trying to do. Whipping your opponent around the map is simple enough, but hurling an opponent down from the top of an ambulance or even landing a top-rope aerial attack is a matter of pressing buttons and hoping the game gets it right. Often it doesn’t. This annoys me when I’m aiming to do something precise, and it makes the whole game feel messy.
That’s my big takeaway from the preview. WWE 2K24 is a blast, but I’m worried about whether I’d be happy to pick it up when it feels like this. Wrestling fans will eat well with the wealth of content and fan service available and you can see the passion that’s gone into this from a caring and diligent team, but it feels like it’s got a little way to go to convince casual fans to dig in.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.