Visual Concepts takes us inside WWE 2K24's fierce innovations

Visual Concepts takes us inside WWE 2K24's fierce innovations
Image via 2K | WWE

Written by 

Joseph Kime


22nd Jan 2024 13:00

Perhaps unfairly, we come to expect that sports games come back year after year with little to show for it. Of course, some franchises cobble together a release for a yearly turnaround, but even for gamers from the outside, it’s easy to point at the entire sporting world as an amorphous blob of repetition, even though their gaming habits might not stand at the height of originality either.

Some outliers are unfortunately dragged into this presumption, and one of them is perhaps the grandest reflection of showmanship in the world. Wrestlemania has come to life in video games for decades, with modern WWE titles often feeling as though they're trapped under the expectations set by No Mercy, Smackdown Vs Raw, and others.

There is a lot for these games to prove, and WWE 2K23 made huge strides towards this, flipping the script on its Showcase mode by taking players on a trip through icon wrestler John Cena’s iconic losses, rather than his soaring wins. It was a bold step towards refreshed attitudes, and as the new day dawns, it’s clear that 2K isn’t done with breaching expectations just yet. 2K24 is finally here, and though gamers think they know what to expect, they truly haven’t seen anything yet.

WWE 2K is going further than ever to innovate

Hulk Hogan faces off against Andre the Giant in WWE 2K24.
Click to enlarge
Image via 2K

Fans have wondered just how WWE 2K could improve on its gameplay shifts with its Showcase, and now we know that it'll go further than ever before to ensure an experience that captures the lightning of history’s greatest wrestling moments in a bottle. Showcase of the Immortals plans to bring the greatest matches from the last forty riotous years of Wrestlemania to life once again, from Hulk Hogan dropping Andre the Giant to Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker - and in speaking with GGRecon, the team at Visual Concepts revealed that a mode like this has been a long time coming.

Every match feels different,” starts Lynell Jinks, Creative Director at Visual Concepts. “The opponents and the objectives just feel fresh, every single one. It’s playing to each superstar’s strengths. I know people are like ‘oh, you’re just following a script,’ but we’re leading you to almost like a history lesson, like we’re leading you to this really cool end result, and giving you a history lesson at the same time. And who’s better at storytelling than the WWE?

Fresh takes aren’t limited only to the Showcase of the Immortals, though - the cultural input from the 2K Wrestling series is clear, and it seems to finally be embracing this by giving women the chance to shine on its cover, with Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair coming together to make the first-ever women-only wrestling game cover. It’s been a long time coming, and VC knows that we’re long overdue for the appearance of two women as the true stars.

This year we chose Cody [Rhodes, the standard edition of WWE 2K24’s cover star], and we’re like yeah, that’s a great choice - but something else also felt missing. When you look at who’s been holding it down, not just even in the Women’s Division, just in WWE, it’s hard to argue that Bianca and Rhea haven’t been up there with some of the top names like Roman [Reigns, 2K20’s cover star] and Cody, right? So it only makes sense, and it’s way overdue.

The best scrap of your life

Rhea Ripley as she appears in WWE 2K24.
Click to enlarge
Image via 2K

All of these puzzle pieces come together to create a vision of the future of WWE 2K, but of course, its roots remain in the past, throwing back to some of the greatest matches the sport has ever seen. It doesn’t just amount to the true champions of the sport, though, as Visual Concepts knows that everyone has their favourites. Of course, there will naturally be some sad omissions, but as Cody Rhodes takes the cover, and the likes of Mick Foley, Andre the Giant and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin make their return to the franchise, it’s clear that 2K doesn’t simply boil down to a rehash of the olden days - it’s still the Wrestling champion it’s always been.

These shifts to the past aren’t just skin deep, though, as new features are looking to return to wrestling games in 2K24 that we haven’t seen in some time.

Throwable weapons is something that I’m really excited about,” says Associate Gameplay Producer Bryan Williams. “We haven’t had this feature in a game since Smackdown Vs RAW in 2011. But yeah, I think all of the improvements that we’ve made to the gameplay have got me very excited for this year’s game.

One of the most impressive ways that WWE 2K immerses its players in the worlds of its great clashes is via its impressive Slingshot Tech, the means that the team uses to catapult from gameplay cutscene into real-life footage, and back again. Jinks suggests it’s a tough process to bring it to life, but as we can see in the game, the sacrifice has been worth it.

It’s one of the hardest things that we have to do every single year because you can’t cheat. You see exactly what it’s supposed to look like, a superstar looks how you see it in the live-action video," He explains.

"Every year it gives us a new bar to chase when it comes to realism, so it keeps us on our toes, and you know what? I love it. I think it looks really cool, and the transitions are so smooth, but it also creates new challenges not just from an animation standpoint, but from lighting, to characters, to arenas, everything has to be on point.

This tech permeates 2K24, and it’s perhaps more important than ever - with some of the Showcase of the Immortals’ matches being so truly revered and burned into fans' memories, it’s going to take some work to drag it from the history books and put you in the boots of Hulk Hogan and the like.

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History has led us to WWE 2K24

The Undertaker looms as HBK lies in a casket in WWE 2K24.
Click to enlarge
Image via 2K

The team at WWE 2K24 have put in the work, it seems, and though they’re mindful of their deadlines, it seems they’re not willing to skimp on fans either way.

I’m just really excited about some of the improvements we’ve made to gameplay this year,” Williams explains. “With the addition of super finishers, expanding the number of signatures and finisher slots from 2 to 5, the implementation of trading blow," he adds.

"Basically, the thing you see on programming, and being able to reflect that and participate that in a gameplay fashion is what gets me excited the most about the game this year.

I’m amazed every year about what we’re able to pull off, and this year is no different, and if anything, I feel like we went above and beyond,” Jinks adds. “And in some of these matches, I can’t believe how accurately matched some of these matches are. It’s phenomenal.

A lot is coalescing here in this year’s game - a lot more than many yearly sporting title naysayers might have expected. The future might owe itself to the past here, but who said that was a bad thing? Some of wrestling’s greatest moments are buried in dusty old history books - and come the game’s release, we could be eternally grateful to the Visual Concepts team for breaking some spines. We can’t promise that we mean the books.

Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.