WWE 2K18: Reflections on a Sick and Fractured World

I know, right: this isn’t Wednesday. Well, that’s because this isn’t an edition of the Spain SmackDown Report. This is something far more dark and urgent: the retelling of my experience playing through the MyCareer mode on WWE 2K18. I write this now as a warning to the innocent, and also because Widro very nicely agreed that I could do this as a form of therapy, which I need because those two virtual years of MyCareer have scarred me worse than a razor blade bathtub.

Before I dive into the non-stop insanity and terror that this mode represents, it’s only fair that I should offer some brief commentary on the rest of the game, mainly because those are the parts that I’m going to be able to be nice about. So, here goes:

The creation suite is, once again, an exercise in artistry and minute detail to satisfy the most obsessive of personalities. You can literally raise a fifth of an eyebrow by a fucking millimetre, which is the kind of control you don’t get when you make an actual baby so I really can’t ask any more of it. The catalogue of moves is similarly vast, which should ensure that however many wrestlers you create they will still be quite unique. Some of them are locked when you start off, but the farming is nothing like what EA’s been indulging in recently, so I’ve not been that resentful.

The exhibition mode offers the usual fare, and you can customise matches to a decent degree. I took for a spin with three matches right off the bat: AJ Styles vs. Seth Rollins in a singles contest, Undertaker vs. Demon Finn Balor inside Hell in a Cell and Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman in a no holds barred, falls count anywhere match. Each one of these demonstrated a fluid and intuitive gameplay. There’s a hell of a lot of disparity in graphic quality between certain wrestlers, though everyone I used looked surprisingly good. The matches were all a real challenge: Rollins managed to beat me; Braun Strowman needed to be put through two tables before I made him tap out and what Finn went through before getting pinned made Passion of the Christ look like a fucking picnic.

But, as is my take on movies, the production is only as strong as its story. And, you see, here’s where things get plain weird. What I’m about to tell you here is a tale of one man’s struggle against a shifting reality and the insane beings who inhabit it: a tale which ends in confusion and horror.

Let me tell you the story of Tony DiMambro.

MyCareer started out quite promisingly. After a very pared-down creative suite (thankfully you’re able to put your CAW through the full creative process right afterwards), I had my avatar. Tony DiMambro was all I’ve ever wanted in a wrestler: a light-heavyweight competitor, with some speed and a lot of technical skill. His most important quality, however, was one which had to come from me.

Tony DiMambro was a sadistic motherfucker. Every move I gave him targeted the head and body, because no-one’s ever killed anyone with an ankle lock. Tony DiMambro didn’t care about match ratings, star power or having connections with management. Over the two years of MyCareer that I played, he only ever had two aims: possess every Championship (preferably at once) and murder as many people as he could to get them.

With my Frankesteinian monster created, the story began.

Possibly as a result of some sick joke by Triple H, Tony DiMambro was called up to the WWE Performance Centre after someone tracked him to his residence inside the whittled-out corpse of a homeless gentleman. There were several weeks in which he was trained by Matt Bloom/Albert/A-Train/Lord Tensai. He had the opportunity to tussle with Tye Dillinger, have a bit of a chat with Akam and Rezar and even get taught how to counter by Baron Corbin (which I guess is what happens to you if you mouth off to Dave Meltzer).

Once Tye Dillinger had taken enough knees to the face to make him forget what his mother looked like and Baron Corbin was satisfied that his new student knew “punched in the face = not good”, Tony DiMambro was signed up to NXT.

I’d say that the NXT locker room didn’t know what hit them, but they knew: it was Tony DiMambro, and he didn’t stop until they had lost most of their blood through gaping forehead wounds. So maybe they never did get the opportunity to know, or were only in possession of that knowledge for a short period time; I never saw Hideo Itami in the two years following his fifteen minutes of pain, so it’s possible that people can die in this game.

After a month or so of turning the NXT locker room into a charnel house, Tony DiMambro was offered a shot at the NXT Championship. This was probably out of necessity, due to the now-number one contender’s practice of crippling every opponent he encountered. God knows what Bobby Roode was thinking when he heard the news.

Still, to give the Glorious One his due, the champ strode down to the ring and gave Tony DiMambro his first real fight. This was both very valiant and a terrible mistake: Roode was made to suffer for it, likely losing most of his childhood memories along with his NXT Championship.

It was becoming horribly clear that Tony DiMambro was too aggressive for his contemporaries in NXT to stand any chance of ever getting their belt back, and this was something which was apparently recognised by management. Tony DiMambro was forced to drop the NXT Title after a single defence (Bobby Roode is many things, but possessed of a good survival instinct is not one of them), and transfer to Monday Night RAW.

So far, these events have been quite lucid and could very easily take place in reality, right? Well, this is where that starts to change.

Upon arrival, young Tony was informed that his days of holding Championships were over; from now on he would be ensuring that Samoa Joe kept his position as top dog on RAW, and he would do that by continuously attacking Seth Rollins. Tony DiMambro agreed to this, because he was brought up to be a polite and obliging young psychopath, and because most of my WWE 2K17 experience involved seeing how much I could damage Seth Rollins, body and soul, before the match was stopped. Call it a nostalgia trip.

So for weeks, Seth Rollins was hit with whatever Tony DiMambro threw at him; most of the time this was Tony himself. The Kingslayer valiantly continued to challenge Samoa Joe for supremacy, and the beatings increased in both duration and intensity as a result because Tony and I don’t fucking like being ignored. Samoa Joe was able to retain his title, uttering not even one word of thanks to the man who was truly responsible for that. Tony DiMambro didn’t offer any rebuke: in a short time he would cleanse this locker room man by man, and judgement would find Samoa Joe.

For a time, Tony DiMambro returned to what he did best: crushing the innocent beneath his feet. Some might say that, amongst the ranks of those he conquered, some are undeserving of the description “innocent”. That may well be true, but it’s also true that none of them deserved what Tony DiMambro did to them. Somewhere along the way, practically by accident, he acquired the Intercontinental Championship. There was no coherent reason for this; one PPV, the match was simply booked, perhaps out of hopes that a tribute of gold might appease WWE’s new and wrathful God. It did nothing of the sort, but it was something to hit opponents with during the post-match period.

There was also the opportunity to engage in sidequests, which were their own brand of incoherent hell. One week, Mark Henry asked if Tony DiMambro might do him the favour of putting the boots to Titus O’Neil. Tony agreed, because the only thing he likes more than beating up bitches is beating up more bitches. The next week, Titus received a beating which took him on a tour of the entire backstage area for the low, low price of most of the blood he had inside him at the time. Mark Henry then thanked Tony DiMambro for assaulting…wait for it…Apollo Crews. Tony DiMambro is apparently incapable of both listening to and differentiating between black men. I’d say that Tony wasn’t a racist because he hates everyone, but no: that actually did make me wince.

So, with that unfortunate bit of characterisation that 2K18 forced upon me (playing as a white supremacist was not part of my game plan, but who am I to argue with a clear decision by the game’s creators), it was time to move on. Our next stop, Money in the Bank.

At some stage, Mick Foley had offered my avatar the chance to enter the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. And let me tell you, that offer was like heroin to Tony DiMambro. Foley was standing there, giving this deranged nutcase the chance to smack five human sacrifices around with a ladder before gaining something that would give him the opportunity, nay, the right to attack a World Champion and steal their shit. Tony DiMambro accepted, erection visible.

The match itself was a mass of confusion and desperation which rapidly descended into red-handed butchery. By the time Tony actually managed to win the match (WWE never goes into the difficulty of trying to unlatch a briefcase for superstars with boiled linguini for fingers), everyone was bleeding. If there’d been a referee, he’d have bled too; Tony DiMambro would have made sure (as an aside, the Money in the Bank Ladder Match is one of the best challenges the career mode throws at you; it’s very possible to win, but it makes you fucking earn it).

At any rate, Tony DiMambro raised the briefcase high after slamming a ladder into Roman Reign’s skull something like fifteen times in a row. And now the world was his oyster: an oyster that would be hit with as many heavy objects as possible until a blood-drenched pearl was recovered.

But it turns out that in 2K Sports’ WWE, certain things are different. You know how you can cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase whenever you want in the real world? You know how that’s part of the charm of the whole thing? Yeah, you don’t get to do that at all. No, you cash in when the game says, down to the damn second.

So, speeding ahead (just take the legions of dismembered and defiled corpses between Money in the Bank and this point as read), we reach that special moment. Cash-in time, according to the game that made me roleplay as a racist. Samoa Joe is bloodied, battered yet unbowed, Championship held aloft. You might remember that this is the son of a bitch who got Tony DiMambro to be his muscle with nothing in it for him except the opportunity to concuss Seth Rollins into early-onset dementia. I mean, to be honest that was the entire reason Tony actually did it in the first place, but hush.

Joe is at the height of his triumph, on top of the world. Oh, but here comes Tony DiMambro with a briefcase. Oh goddamn, he’s cashing in. Oh shit, he just superkicked Samoa Joe’s fucking jaw off. One, two, three and new Universal Champion. All hail Tony DiMambro, and all fear his ever-present wrath.

So, all in all a fairly straightforward path to the Championship and Tony DiMambro’s rightful place as Ruler of Fucking Everything, right?

Wrong.

Because, you see, even though he wrecked Samoa Joe’s hefty shit in front of millions of people and, you know, it’s on film…it turns out that that didn’t actually happen. As in, Tony DiMambro showed up to work the next day, and he was not the Universal Champion. I looked at the list of current Champions (I can only assume that WWE outfits its wrestlers with an up-to-date list of this kind every single day), and Samoa Joe was still the Universal Champion.

Tony DiMambro asked around, actually engaging in conversation with those who are rightly his subjects. No-one mentioned anything about it; as far as they were aware last night just didn’t happen. So, either the entire WWE locker room was currently taking part in the most incredible concerted gaslighting effort ever or Tony DiMambro accidentally leapt from one reality to another directly after winning the Universal Championship, like this was all an ultra-violent episode of Quantum fucking Leap.

Tony took the news that reality itself is fucking with him pretty well, and continued his assault upon the world. At one point, he unlocked the ability to attack people anywhere in the arena, triggering a backstage brawl. Perhaps out of fear as to what use he’d put this new power to, or maybe because this game is a hastily-pieced-together lump of shit which received no quality assurance whatsoever, I was unable to utilise this at any point. And believe me, I tried to attack everyone, every day. So…you’re terrible, 2K Sports.

As a further sign that reality was falling apart piece by fractured piece was the realisation that it actually didn’t matter what Tony said to anyone. He could tell Triple H to eat a bushel of dicks (not an actual dialogue choice in the game, much to its discredit) or massage the Game’s shoulders whilst rubbing his crotch against those muscular COO buttocks: it changed nothing tangible in the story. I don’t know if Trips wanted the WWE 2K18 to portray him as some neutral paragon of good management, but this guy pedigreed Jason Jordan a few weeks back for just standing there and being injured, so the experience rang a little false.

As a result, the promo engine devolves into little less than choosing a response – any response – as fast as you can press the button. It doesn’t matter what you make people say; as long as you make the character say it instantly, then they might as well be reciting excerpts from Mein Kampf and it’ll count as a success. I guess this makes sense to a point: Bobby Roode should be shot in the knee any time he tries to pick up a microphone, but I still support the guy. And it’s also, miraculously, still better than what 2K17 managed.

So yes: Tony DiMambro often said the first thing which came into his head, secure in the knowledge that there were no physical reprisals anyone could level against him that he couldn’t make wish they were dead. I mean, the guy mistook Apollo Crews for Titus O’Neil and Mark Henry thanked him for it.

Fast-forward a month or so, and Tony DiMambro gets suspended. Whoops: looks like what you say to your boss whilst you grind sensuously against him might actually matter after all. He’s stripped of the Intercontinental Championship, forcing him to hit people with chairs and baseball bats instead. But he does get entered into the Royal Rumble: possibly the one thing the game does which could genuinely be called a punishment.

I’ve spoken already at length about the flaws in MyCareer, and I will continue to do so, but first there needs to be a brief description of the hell that is 2K Sports’ representation of the Royal Rumble.

You all know the rules to a Rumble, I should assume, by now. Over the top rope, both feet hit the floor and you’re out. And sure: that bit’s in there. Now, imagine that while it takes a good few minutes of grappling and beatdowns to eliminate even a single computer competitor, you can be tossed out of the ring by getting straight-up clotheslined over the top rope. Or by running at an opponent who’s standing close to the ropes: that’ll eliminate your ass too. Oh, and any time you get close to any other wrestler, they’ll target you. I once got a few feet away from Randy Orton and John Cena hammering at each other, and clearly I was the more important target because Orton immediately RKO’d me. Maybe he objected to Tony DiMambro’s blatant racism; I’d at least accept that as an explanation.

Fortunately, if there’s one thing that WWE 2K18 isn’t short of, it’s flaws. And in the vein of sending a flaw to thwart a flaw, there is a workaround to the problem: you can be a part of the worst Royal Rumble match in history. Tony DiMambro was entered into the Rumble at number one, which I guess is another consequence of my avatar’s apparent supremacy or implied sexual harassment of Triple H. In actual fact, this is one of the best positions to be in if you’re going to get through the bastard thing. Because if you’re going to win this, you either have to toss the other person in there over the ropes and rapid-fire them with punches, stopping the game from bringing them back inside until they fall to the ground, or you can set their ass up on the top rope and then dropkick them off. Repeat twenty-eight more times for the dullest Royal Rumble match possible and your only real shot at winning.

After a few attempts to work this system out, Tony DiMambro displayed his dominance by being the only man in the match to last longer than ten seconds. The Royal Rumble, my favourite event of the wrestling year, was reduced to a process: an equation for how to reach the finish line whilst erasing every ounce of fun from it.

To add insult to injury, you’re not even allowed to win. A cutscene at the end has the Rock show up to toss you out, because Tony DiMambro is so powerful that the story must cheat to contain him. You lose the Royal Rumble, adding something else to the list of things the game does not allow you to experience because why would you want to play as a success story?

And yet, despite the fact that both Triple H and Stephanie appeared to despise my plucky serial killer avatar, Tony DiMambro received a title opportunity against Samoa Joe at the final PPV before WrestleMania. Because winning the Universal Championship at the Show of Shows is also something that you’re not allowed to do.

Samoa Joe came, saw and got the hell beaten out of him. Unwilling to leave anything to chance, Tony hit every move in his repertoire on the stout Samoan, busting him open and doing his best to cave in the Champion’s ribcage. By the time Tony DiMambro finally decided to win the Championship (something that was most definitely his decision and his alone), I’d imagine Joe even felt gratitude for the reprieve.

Finally, Tony DiMambro had the Universal Championship, even according to the infamous List O’ Champions. He had domain over RAW, and he ruled with an iron fist (which he frequently slammed into everyone’s faces). Steph and Trips really seemed to hate the fact that he was Champion, but their ability to abuse their power and do anything about it apparently comes and goes with the stages of the moon.

Life continued for a month as the Rock prepared to face retribution for forcing Tony DiMambro to momentarily acknowledge his existence. Tony DiMambro passed the time by having multiple matches in a row with Jack Gallagher, who must have murdered one of Mick Foley’s relatives to deserve that kind of fate. It’s probably time to admit that 2K Sports really didn’t do much research into WWE’s weekly programming.

Somewhere down the line, Triple H booked himself into the title match too, because there are some realities that even 2K Sports couldn’t ignore. Come WrestleMania, Tony DiMambro successfully defended his Universal Championship against two legends of the industry, making liberal use of the fact that there are no DQs in Triple Threat matches and there is always, always a baseball bat and a sledgehammer under the ring. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am: Tony DiMambro retains and two good men probably died to make his dream come true. And by that I mean just that specific, one-night portion of his dream. The actual death toll is likely in the triple digits.

And that’s really where the guided portion of the story comes to an end. Oh sure: you can still play through the game, but from that point on you’re really making the story up in your head and only in your head, because even as Universal Champion Tony DiMambro had literally no impact whatsoever besides the growing number of casualties he left in his wake. It was like he was Jinder Mahal, except for the growing number of casualties part.

There are side quests, but the last time Tony went that route he got trapped in a nigh-endless loop of Neville telling him to assault Titus O’Neil again, and again, and again, which really did nothing for Tony’s reputation as a not-racist. At one stage, Tony DiMambro asked whether he could go after the RAW Tag Team Championships and got a random PPV title shot with Brock Lesnar as his partner. Needless to say, Brock and Tony became the new Tag Team Championships and the belts were never defended again.

It seemed as though the only other option was for Tony DiMambro to hold every Championship on offer at the same time, if only as a means of forcing the game to generate a storyline purely to dethrone him. Next up was the Intercontinental Championship, currently held by one Roman Reigns. After making six requests for a title match which nothing came of, Tony decided to take matters into his own hands.

There followed several weeks of Roman Reigns getting the shit kicked out of him. Before matches, after matches, during matches, in the middle of a promo: it went on for weeks and weeks without Roman raising a hand in anger to DiMambro, nor even speaking a cross word. Like a jacked, Samoan Christ, Reigns continued to turn the other cheek, presenting yet another target for Tony to hit with the big sledgehammer he was toting around. After a series of assaults that would have killed another man, Roman Reigns finally entered into a rivalry with Tony DiMambro.

At the next PPV, Tony defended the Universal Championship against Karl Anderson and never heard from Reigns again.

I guess the point of this rant, mostly, has been to outline what a ridiculous, incoherent mess that MyCareer is. Wrestlers have no personalities, and even less memory. They stand around, spouting random, out-of-character advice like they are the reanimated dead, forced to live in this absurdist hell. Attacking one person enters you into a feud with another; rivalries can be born and die without any contact between the two men involved. After a while you’re reduced to mechanically marching from your car to the ring and then back to your car, having matches decided for you with only the occasional thrill of putting a man through a table to divert from the slog.

With a bloody-mindedness birthed from these weeks of dull surrealism, I pushed on towards WrestleMania. Perhaps after a year of holding the Universal Championship, Tony could leave for SmackDown Live and the game would let him take the belt with him. What the hell; it was worth a try.

But Tony DiMambro would never reach the House That AJ Styles Built: the game was far too broken to allow such a thing. In fact, it was broken enough to allow him entry into the Royal Rumble: something that’s not really what’s supposed to happen to the current Champion. But hey: Tony had never officially won the Royal Rumble, so surely it was time to make amends?

For the second time in the row, a probably-furious audience were treated to a wash, rinse, repeat of wrestlers being tossed from the ring seconds after entering, grinding on and on until Tony DiMambro stood supreme. Tony DiMambro was going on to WrestleMania; Tony DiMambro would be challenging the Universal Champion (currently himself) for the title.

Surely this could never actually happen, right?

Wrong.

Tony DiMambro arrived at the arena for the Granddaddy Of Them All, ready to defend his Championship against whomever they’d found once management realised they let the Universal Champion win the Royal Rumble. He strolled to the match board and looked at the main event.

Tony DiMambro vs. Tony DiMambro for the Universal Championship. Don’t believe me?

Look at that deranged shit.

Well, that sounded like the kind of thing which might crash the game, so I’ll admit that I panicked. I desperately tried to challenge for the Intercontinental Championship again (somewhere Roman Reigns was laughing through his sledgehammered mouth); I tried to start a feud with anyone looking for a free title shot; I even offered the chance to Samoa Joe, who’d been begging me for a match for a literal year with nothing to show for it (I’m kind of a prick sometimes).

No dice. Tony DiMambro was going to have to break the laws of physics at WrestleMania.

Tony DiMambro made his entrance. Tony DiMambro also made his entrance.

They stood across the ring from each other: both the same down to their very DNA. The only difference was that one of them was the Universal Champion and one of them, presumably, was not. It was the best possible definition of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

The match never took place. The game continued to work, but it was impossible to move past the shot of Tony DiMambro, smiling and readying himself for the upcoming contest. No buttons produced a result; nothing could make the match happen. Tony DiMambro stood there, always in motion yet never progressing, for an hour as I made and ate lunch. Time didn’t seem to be passing inside of that arena; maybe backstage the other wrestlers were similarly frozen and yet living. The world itself had eternally paused, not allowing the most dangerous man in the wrestling world to face an opponent that he could not beat. The seconds between that fatal meeting were still there, but stretched into an eternity.

The only man capable of beating Tony DiMambro is Tony DiMambro. But, just as God stays in heaven from fear of his own creations, so too does reality not allow the clash to happen. They’re still standing there now, in some dimension, gazing across the ring at each other in anticipation of the greatest battle in the world: a battle which can never be permitted to happen, and there shall they remain until the end of time.

There’s no going back to Tony DiMambro’s career. Maybe I’ll make another wrestler, and this time not spit in the face of God by entering the Royal Rumble whilst Universal Champion. But whatever I do, and whomever I create to enact my dark will, they will always exist in the shadow of my first. For I have created a man who beat the Rock and Triple H at WrestleMania. My hero was a Royal Rumble winner, Mr Money in the Bank, NXT Champion, Intercontinental Champion, RAW Tag Team Champion, Universal Champion and the man so unbeatable that the world made a second such man to contain him.

Playing the story mode of WWE 2K18 made me question everything: the organisation of WWE, the ability of its creators to make video games, how the world would treat a true and genuine Übermensch like Tony DiMambro, and finally the integrity of our very reality.

6/10, might not replay for while.

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