Oooooh yeah. WWE games, lemme tell ya something. To be the best, you got to beat the best. And you ain’t done that in many a year. Your games have been to the danger zone and never come back. Once upon a time, you were the best there was, the best there is and there best there ever will be. But your time is over. And this Sunday at Wrestlemania, I’m going to bury WWE 2K14!
Sound familiar? That’s the kind of staged shoot before a match that made older WWE matches just so damn memorable. That larger than life persona, the titans from yesteryear who gave way to new superstars, an attitude era and an expansion into ruthless aggression.
It’s also the big selling point of WWE 2K14, as it takes players on a nostalgic dive off the top rope into yesteryear, starting at the very first Wrestlemania and working towards the modern day showcase of the immortals. If ever there was a reason to play WWE 2K14, it’s to relive some of the greatest moments in all of sports entertainment.
And most of the time, WWE 2K14 excels at showcasing that idea. If you grew up on matches that saw Hulk Hogan attempt to slam Andre the giant into the ring, or Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels shave years off of their careers in a ladder match for the ages, then you’ve come to the right place.
The former THQ franchise, now under the direction of 2K Games is looking slick and dedicated this year when it time travels back. There’s an astonishing attention to detail, from the ring gear that Randy “Macho Man” Savage would wear to his Wrestlemania matches, through to the intimidation games and staring matches that these superstars would engage in before throwing fists and wrasslin’ one another.
30 Years of Wrestlemania is a fantastic idea, that falls short thanks to the aging engine that Yukes has been using for several games now, with the excellence of execution not always matching the ambition of the driving force behind the latest game.
The uncanny valley syndrome is hitting harder than a solid left from the Big Show, and it’s high time that the franchise gets a new engine to power it, as the jarring visual effects can distract from an otherwise brilliant presentation.
Wrestlemania matches have been studied in depth, with animations and TV effects matching the era in which they were created, while the long-time commentary team of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler provide play by play commentary.
There’s some great audio from the duo, as they describe matches, but it wasn’t designed for multiple playthroughs and you’ll quickly tire of them repeating the exact same lines if you happen to be replaying your favourite matches.
Much like WWE 2013, 2K14 features matches where you need to hit certain objectives in order to unlock some bonus gear. Historical objectives, such as nailing Kane with three Tombstone pile-drivers, or hitting the Rock with a Stone Cold Stunner. Some of these objectives play the mystery game, but fans who have seen those matches will instantly know what to do.
The objectives also help recreate those matches faithfully, with “Wrestlemania Moments” giving players the opportunity to do a QTE to help set up the scenario for the next portion of the match. As far as match stipulations go, they aren’t mandatory, but they are a welcome challenge that helps sell the Wrestlemania mode.
There’s also a chance to rewrite Wrestlemania history, by playing as or against the Undertaker in a mode where you can either defend or beat is streak. Going up against the deadman is one hell of a challenge though, as you’ll find out when he pulls every single trick possible from twenty years of Wrestlemania out of his book, for a match that can be insurmountable.
Gameplay-wise, the game features a combat system that is about as predictable as a WWE wedding. Strikes, grapples and Irish whips still form the core combat experience, with those moves needing to be cycled through and performed in order to create a WWE match worthy of a pay-per view event.
You’ll need to build up your momentum this way, earning the chance to perform a signature or Finisher attack, with your ring position playing a crucial role in determining what move you use to dish out some punishment.
Reversals also require even more precise timing than before, hitting a decent balance between the godlike reaction speeded needed in WWE 2012 and the less challenging reflexes from 2013. Hitting that right trigger, you’ll find that you have roughly 1/15th of a second to pull off a reversal, a move that requires careful knowledge of body language, timing and predicting your opponent.
When it works, it works beautifully and a little bit of practice could make your in-ring comebacks deadlier than a steel chair to the face. But man, it can be a mission to learn it properly. Some attacks come so damn fast, that you’re going to have to rely on sheer luck to reverse them, while the entire system fails miserably in triple threat and fatal fourway matches, when there is just too much action going on for the brain to adjust to accordingly.
The AI could also use some work, as you’ll often find opponents rubber-banding between brain-dead doofuses and unstoppable phenoms when they get going. Even worse, tag team matches offer little to no support from your partner, with the AI preferring to wait it out instead of giving you a friendly hand.
A launch and catch finisher move rounds out the new tweaks to the gameplay, which becomes available once you manage to throw your opponent into a corner and hit the right move sequence.
Beyond 30 years of Wrestlemania, the WWE Universe mode is back once again. It’s a lean and mean experience, which offers matches, rivalries and big main events while trying to create your own storyline. But it just feels hollow and it doesn’t do enough to really stand out, making the need for a proper career mode that much more wanted.
An exhibition mode allows players to set up their dream match, whether it be a Hell in a Cell bout between John Cena and Dolph Ziggler, or seeing Randy Orton take Mankind to the brink of defeat in an I Quit match.
The creation suite also remains as versatile as ever. I could play around with that mode for hours, as I created everything from derpy titans to midget abominations with more muscles than should be humanly possible. Throw into that advanced options to create your own entrance, stats, move-sets, narratives and finishing moves, and you’ve got a comprehensive tool kit that’ll make the game that much entertaining.
Depending on your connection, online play could be an issue. As usual, there’ll always be a lag of sorts, making reversal timing that much more difficult, but seeing the bizarre creations that the WWE universe comes out with is more than worth it, for some truly off the wall matches.
At its core, WWE 2K14 is a celebration of everything that makes sports entertainment so much fun to watch. The rivalries and hype leading up to colossal clashes. The larger than life personalities, and their commitment to put their bodies on the line for fans of the industry.
For over 30 years, that and much more has helped define the WWE. But nostalgia can only take you so far, and it’s high time that the game franchise got shaken up with some new blood behind the development.
WWE 2K14 was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys on a Xbox 360