World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE as its better known to most these days has been in a transition between entertainment and sportsmanship for several years now. We’ll get our show and spectacle, with the shoving of social media and John Cena prancing about, but there will be the odd match or contest that will have us marking out as if we were there live. Those times when the spectacle and athleticism merge are the moments that define history so definitively that they actually have a home – Wrestlemania.
For the rest of the year though, the wrestling is often sacrificed for the sake of sports entertainment. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series or a relatively new gamer, that inner struggle manifests itself in WWE 2K14 – the first game in the series published by 2K Games and developed by Yuke’s in conjunction with Visual Concepts. It wants to entertain in more ways than one, but there’s still that desire to be a wrestling game; to have its brawling and instant satisfaction, but to also exhibit some technical prowess that’s becoming more watered down as we progress through the series.
The closest thing the franchise has had to a story mode (if you discount the awful Road to Wrestlemania mode in WWE 12) has been the WWE Universe mode. Here, you play out a typical year of taping schedules in the WWE, which covers RAW and Smackdown along with the monthly pay per views. You’ll have your champions and feuds, and can take control of either challenger or champion to decide on the victor going forward. You could also spectate or simulate matches, often jumping ahead months in advance to witness the progress of the company. Which stars have been elevated? Which are the new contenders? Who’s still the champion and who isn’t? Of course, there’s also a new Rivalry system and stat-tracker to keep up with who hates who.
The real appeal of WWE Universe lays in being able to customize just about anything. You can shift rosters and contender lists around, create your own “universe” – including your own shows and PPV events – implement custom themes and even start your own tournaments. It’s a definite step up from the previous game, and thankfully, Yuke’s has given more customization options towards creating your own WWE championship.
Of course, Create-A-Superstar has returned as well. You’ll be able to use existing wrestlers as templates in the mode, thus building off of them if you’re not a fan of blank slates. The customization options are as far-out as ever, and you’ll easily be able to create your fair share of monstrosities given the chance. You can also customize entrances and theme music depending on how you want your superstar to prance to the ring.
Since WWE 13, Yuke’s has been on a history binge. While that game has Attitude Era mode which looked at key moments in the WWE’s most memorable period, WWE 2K14 has 30 Years of Wrestlemania. You’ll experience matches throughout the history of the company’s biggest show of the year, and the atmosphere captured in these is accurate considering the importance of each.
Whether it’s Hulk Hogan’s meteoric rise to fame when he body-slammed Andre the Giant or Shawn Michaels risking it all to defeat the Undertaker and break the Streak at Wrestlemania XXVI, the mode accurately captures the styles and visual treatment of each era perfectly. It distills the mood of Wrestlemania amazingly well while providing a strong set of challenges and matches to go through. As in Attitude Era mode, you’ll have primary objectives and bonus objectives to recreate key moments in the match. Completing these bonus objectives nets you various characters, arenas, championships and much more as unlocks.
Of course, there’s also The Streak mode in which you can either attempt to break the Undertaker’s undefeated streak or play as the Dead Man himself and attempt to defend the Streak against a gauntlet of foes. Both options offer an interesting challenge, as in the former you’ll need to choose only the superstars who have faced the Undertaker in the past (so don’t look at John Cena to save you this time). Of course, Taker is amped up in difficulty and won’t go down without a prolonged fight.
In the latter, Taker’s damage is carried over from one match to another so you’re pretty much running a train of superstars in a desperate attempt to keep the Streak alive. Both modes have their moments, and it’s an awesome little diversion that doesn’t demand as much attention or effort as a campaign mode would while still delivering the emotional highs.
Every WWE game is built on its controls and lives or dies on the same. This is where WWE 2K14 sadly falters. The striking attacks are now faster than before, thus reducing the potential for reversals, and you’ll no longer have rallies of reversals since each counter ends in an offensive grapple. While this sounds like good news for those fed up with the counter system, it de-emphasizes grapples greatly. Why do moves when you can just punch your opponent to the ground and then running grapple them while dazed as in the previous games to build up a finisher?
This is especially problematic when playing against the computer, which is more skilled at reversals but becomes harder to counter, be it in striking exchanges or in grappling contests. It ramps up the difficulty significantly and not in a good way. How many times do you want to lose because the controls are hard to master and not because of any real challenge?
It does encourage a more methodical approach but in the sense of waiting to see what your opponent will do and hopefully having the timing down enough to counter it. Veterans of the series will be thrown off, without a doubt, and attacks just don’t have the same weight behind them as previous game did. If WWE 2K14 is a signal for the series to become more arcade-like and less “wrestling” based like All-Stars, then it would be more or less fine. However, this approach was meant to fix a problem that arose in earlier games and successfully managed to create a whole bunch of new issues in the process. Talk about bad booking.
For those who manage to find their way around the control system, there will be new “OMG” moments to pull off, the ability to launch superstars in the air and catch them with a finisher and much more added to the “holy s**t” repertoire. There are even some “OMG” moments which can take down two enemies at once. It’s just a shame that they’re stuck with such an annoying control scheme.
WWE 2K14 is able to capture the spectacle that defines the wrestling “business”. But it still looks like last year’s release, and you’ll need a side-by-side comparison to properly gauge how much the animations have improved. Don’t even get us started on the crowd animations, which are as repetitive and alien-looking as before. Playing with six players in a TLC match causes the occasional frame rate drop, though on most other occasions, the frame rate remains steady.
However, the usual glitches of phasing through players, teleporting across the ring, objects getting caught in the ropes and being “pushed” to the outside still remain though. If this is the ceiling that Yuke’s has hit on current-generation consoles, is there really any hope that latter releases for the Xbox One and PS4, when they arrive, will look all that better compared to, say, Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K14? Hopefully their influence becomes stronger as Yuke’s partnership with 2K Games continues.
WWE 2K14’s commentary relies on the team of Jerry “The King” Lawler and Michael Cole, and somehow manages to sound less irritating than their actual TV counterparts. We’ll count this as an unintentional plus.
Regardless of how one feels about controls, it’s still a blast to play with friends and outright smash each other with chairs and ladders while trying to grab the title that hangs precariously above the ring. The roster has been significantly expanded to include previously missing superstars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage along with the New World Order and Ultimate Warrior. So you won’t hunger for variety any time soon, unless you desperately need to play as characters like Virgil (who will be added as DLC later).
WWE 2K14 isn’t the best there is, was or ever will be but it’s not like checking yourself in to the Smackdown Hotel for an extended vacation either. It captures a lot of the manic fun associated with the franchise and expands your ability to craft your own story-lines and characters while still falling prey to a lot of the movement and control snafus even as it attempts to fix earlier issues. And honestly, this series needs a visual overhaul like no other. But if you’ve got the time and patience to tolerate the new wonky mechanics, WWE 2K14 gives you plenty of smack to layeth downeth.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.