The legendary Shawn Michaels retired from pro wrestling in 1998 after suffering a career-ending back injury at the Royal Rumble. No one expected him to lace up his boots and step back into the ring again, yet the Heartbreak Kid made a triumphant return in 2002, eventually going on to cement his legacy with unforgettable matches against the likes of Triple H, The Undertaker, and Ric Flair. The quality of the second half of Michaels’ career ensured that his surprise comeback would be remembered as one of the most spectacular returns in WWE history, and it’s one that’s echoed in some ways by WWE 2K23. Following the disaster that was 2K20–a game so bad its successor was outright canceled–developer Visual Concepts returned to the squared circle last year with a solid foundation that 2K23 improves upon in a variety of ways, finally putting the long-running series back on form with a surprise comeback Mr. WrestleMania himself would be proud of.
Little has changed since last year’s entry from a gameplay perspective. You still alternate between light and heavy strikes to execute various combos; grapple your opponent to hit them with suplexes, DDTs, and spinning neck breakers; and build up meters to gain access to signature moves and flashy match-ending finishers. Some may bemoan that it still doesn’t play like No Mercy–an N64 game that many still consider the best wrestling game ever–but the series has never tried to. 2K23 is a solid wrestling sim, with most matches swaying back and forth as momentum shifts via desperate reversals and last-ditch kick-outs.
The improvements Visual Concepts has implemented are subtle, yet prove to be welcome adjustments, successfully banishing some minor annoyances from 2K22. The timing window on reversals, for instance, has been tightened up. Previously, it was a little too easy to turn the tide of a contest thanks to the generous amount of time you were given to nullify an attack. With a shorter window, reversals feel more impactful this year, encouraging you to study your opponent’s move set and sharpen your reaction times as a result. This ensures matches are more engaging and also imbues each one with some added tension.
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