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CM Punk returns in WWE 2K15's latest historical mode

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

For two years running, history has served as a key pillar of the WWE video games. That focus is continuing in WWE 2K15 with a new mode, 2K Showcase, that highlights two major rivalries from the past decade or so of WWE lore: Shawn Michaels versus Triple H, and John Cena versus CM Punk.

Yes, you read that correctly: CM Punk may have abruptly retired from professional wrestling earlier this year and left WWE on poor terms, but he's one of the cornerstones of 2K Showcase.

Asked about Punk's presence in WWE 2K15 during a conference call with the media last week, executive producer Mark Little acted as if there were nothing notable about the situation, and didn't even mention Punk himself. Instead, Little pointed out that Shawn Michaels, who retired in 2010, is in the game.

"Shawn currently isn't active for the WWE either, but he's still able to be part of WWE 2K15 because the WWE Universe expands through all of the time in the history of the company," said Little. "One of the great things about being able to do the 2K Showcase and look backwards at some of these previous rivalries is to be able to share with the WWE Universe all the people that might not be on current programming."

Of course, Michaels didn't retire on bad terms; he bowed out gracefully, with an emotional 20-minute farewell speech in the ring. And "Macho Man" Randy Savage, who had an even bigger falling out with the WWE in the early 1990s than Punk did, didn't appear in any of its video games until 2011's WWE All Stars.

So Punk's inclusion in WWE 2K15 is somewhat curious. WWE's only official comment on his departure was a brief statement a few weeks after Punk walked out following the 2014 Royal Rumble in January, in which the organization said only that it had not released him from its roster. In mid-July, WWE quietly moved Punk to the alumni category on its website.

WWE 2K15 John Cena screenshot 1920

Punk is featured in one of two stories in WWE 2K15's 2K Showcase mode at launch. So it's clear that Visual Concepts and Yuke's, the game's developers, deemed his rivalry with Cena to be important enough to the idea behind the mode for them to include him on the roster.

The single-player mode will feature a total of 33 matches across the two aforementioned feuds: HBK/HHH from 2002-2004, and Cena/Punk from 2011 to 2013. According to Little, 2K Showcase is designed to deliver a "mini-documentary-style" chronology of the rivalries, complete with original WWE footage as well as cutscenes and commentary. By progressing through 2K Showcase and completing bonus objectives, players can unlock additional characters, championship titles and costumes that can be used throughout WWE 2K15.

Little declined to go into any details on the specific matches featured in 2K Showcase, but said, "It's something that the users will be able to immerse themselves in, and either relive the experiences that they saw live on TV back all those years [ago], or be introduced to them for the first time through this mode."

Shawn Michaels offered his own perspective on 2K Showcase during the conference call. He described his inclusion in the mode, which covers his return to action after a four-year absence due to injury, as "nothing short of pretty cool." Michaels also discussed the WWE 2K15 developers' visit to his home in Texas, during which they used numerous cameras to do a full head scan of the WWE Hall of Famer for his in-game character model.

"You all keep me alive after I'm gone," Michaels added. "It's a very humbling thing."

In the previous two historical modes — the Attitude Era in 2012's WWE '13 and 30 Years of WrestleMania in 2013's WWE 2K14 — the presentation packages were just as important as the matches themselves. It's unclear at this point how, or if, 2K Showcase will go above and beyond the archive footage and real-life commentary featured in those modes. Little did note that 2K Sports will supplement 2K Showcase after WWE 2K15's Oct. 28 launch with additional feuds via downloadable content.

The last two WWE titles did a fine job of evoking nostalgia with their interactive lessons on WWE history, and with so much of that history still left unexplored, this is a well that 2K Sports can keep returning to. Visual Concepts has plenty of experience with this kind of thing from its acclaimed NBA 2K franchise, where the studio crafted a celebration of NBA history with the NBA's Greatest mode in NBA 2K12. And with Visual Concepts managing the development of WWE 2K15, expectations will be high for the game to deliver something truly special in this respect.

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