2K taking over the WWE franchise led to fans hoping that the company’s first completely published game (they reprinted WWE ’13 months after its initial release) would be the shot in the arm the series needed. For years, the franchise felt stagnant until SvR ’11 shook things up with a Universe mode that gave you unparalleled control over an in-game world. Long-time players used to mapping out mini-feuds with friends on pen and paper didn’t need to resort to such archaic things thanks to it, and while the gameplay still felt stuck in the distant past, things were at least refined a bit and the gameplay flowed better. You could now aim most throws and also slam enemies on objects and they’d actually react in a fairly realistic way – it rarely looked perfect, but when it did, it added a lot to the action.
WWE ’12 saw Universe take a step up in what you could do, but a step down overall due to forced cinematics that killed time. The overall feel of the game took a huge step down as well despite limb-specific grapples being added. Running attacks were made far too cumbersome, object slams looked much worse and less realistic, bugs were far more prevalent than before, and the servers were offline so often that character sharing was rendered nearly useless. Beyond that, online play was still a disaster.
While WWE ’13 greatly improved the server stability, it didn’t fix many of WWE ’12′s gameplay issues outside of the running attacks being much easier to pull off. In-game glitches that could cause the AI to go into an infinite loop, turn into a four-armed crucifix pose (VINTAGE GORO!) or simply freeze the game outright gave it a half-baked feel, although the addition of create a belt (to some degree) and the Attitude era was a nice way to enhance the roster for dream matches, while the addition of flying and running finishers gave you more ways to pull of moves, and enhancements to countering made it possible to have some really good technical wrestling showcases…when things didn’t get all wonky due to glitches. While it still had rough edges, WWE ’13 was a step in the right direction, even if it didn’t overhaul anything. Now, WWE 2K14 seeks to mine WrestleMania nostalgia as its main hook with the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode as the new single-player campaign and toss-up finishers being the new OMG moment du jour.
The 30 Years of WM mode is the single-player showcase mode, and like the Attitude Era one last year, seeks to allow players to recreate some of the most famous matches in company history – no matter how many times you’ve played them before in other games. The gist of the mode is you go through assigned eras – Hulkamania, the New Generation, Attitude, the “Ruthless Aggression” era of ’02-’08, and the Universe Era of ’09 to present day. You’ll recreate classic matches (or just simply old ones) and aim to recreate major moments in them…sort of. The QTEs and cutscenes that pop up seem a tad random and some don’t come with much direction. There are also really strange things like the entire Hogan-Yoko match from WM IX being a cutscene…except for the pinfall. Why even bother allowing the match to be played at all if you’re just going to make such a minute portion of it playable?
The shot-for-shot recreations of moments are pretty good, and the hype videos for the eras and the matches are great – except for how much blurring is used on the footage. That issue hurt the Attitude era last year and is now expanded to everything that shows a WWF logo – despite a deal being reached with the World Wildlife Fund to show all versions of the logo on footage, I guess that deal doesn’t extend to games because it mars the footage badly at times. Like last year, the attempts to recreate some attire is sometimes half-assed – most notably Randy Savage’s WM V gear being orange, as shown in the game itself in photos, and then he’s got pink and black gear on in the match itself. It’s not a huge issue, but does undermine the point of the mode a bit.
The biggest problem with the mode is it comes off as a retread for gamers since the Legends of WrestleMania game was devoted to the first 15 WM shows, and games past that point have all had games recreate pretty much every match in this story mode in some form or another. I guess an argument can be made that this mode is the best because it’s got the best visuals of the bunch, recreates classic promos with the in-game engine, and features JR and King on commentary, but it still feels like busy work to recreate Austin-Rock from WM XV for the billionth time in a game – last year’s game included some of the same stuff as this one, and pretty much every game released this generation would allow you to have the more modern-era matches on it. It’s a nice trip down memory lane, but winds up feeling a bit too similar to warrant a ton of praise – although the presentation of the eras and the characters contained within them is pretty accurate. I love the video filter placed on the older matches to make them appear aged, even if it is a bit odd since that’s not how the matches would actually appear if you were watching them on TV now.
One thing that doesn’t quite make for an amazing bullet point is refined gameplay, and that’s something 2K14 delivers. Everything about having a match in this installment feels better than it did last year and while this isn’t the overhaul some have sought, it does make for a better package. Countering animations are now much smoother, and new additions to them like countering moves into a shoulder charge, or an armbar whip, add a level of ferocity missing from games before. This means that matches feel more natural and flow better. Since some of the moves can leave you laying prone, this change also requires you to think more about what you do before you do it.
I’ve noticed that going for moves more frequently tends to result in more severe counters being done. While this may seem a bit unfair, it also means you need to mix up your offense and avoid sticking to a set pattern. There are tons of move slots available, and there’s no reason to just stick with the up click grapples when you’ve got three whole sets of them to do, plus some strikes to mix things up. The ability to do damage to each limb in a grapple is back, and a new addition to that setup involves basic ground grapples also enabling submissions if you want. Before, if you had a submission-heavy guy like Daniel Bryan, you’d have to pick one submission move for a set position even if he’s got a few of them. With this simple change, you can give him the Cattle Mutilation to replicate his ROH days if you want, and use a Dragon Sleeper or Triangle Choke if you want as well.
The feeling of replicating a real-life match is better now and greatly aided by the lack of glitches and increase in overall gameplay polish. When it comes to landing on the steps and other objects, the reactions are realistic again – like they were in the ’11 installment, as opposed to being all over the place before. The addition of pop-up finishers doesn’t add much, and feels a bit unrealistic for some moves like the Sweet Chin Music where it’s never been done like that in real-life, but does allow for a bit more creativity when matches involve three, four, or fix more enemies.
I love the addition of the double AA/FU or Double Shellshock moves – like last year’s OMG corner moves, you just save up three finisher slots and then boom – instant highlight reel finish. The inclusion of the ringpost figure four is also welcome, and unlike last year, most of the movesets feel pretty much complete without the need for DLC – although you’ll probably still tinker with them a bit just to be able to remember the moves when you’re using the character. Otherwise, the controls work just fine and are as intuitive now as they were in last year’s game. Online play has been improved quite a bit. While you may still run into jerks, the actual online component is smoother now. Long wait times in lobbies for larger matches are a thing of the past since AI bots can fill a spot that would otherwise take minutes to fill.
Visually, everything looks about on par with WWE ’13 as well. This franchise hasn’t really been known for improving by leaps and bounds with each entry. Some characters look fantastic, like Antonio Cesaro, while others such as Ryback just look odd. Ryback’s face looks weird here, just as it did in last year’s game, and his attire-editing options never wind up looking good. His unique airbrushed gear changes constantly, and while you can change it to solid colors, you can’t really do much to match the color gradients used so his edited gear looks odd no matter what. The environments look exactly as good as they did before, while the revisiting of storylines from the PS2 era drives home just how little the graphics have really changed since then. Like with ’13, Tensai looks slightly better here on more modern hardware than he did in the PS2 version of Wrestle Kingdom 2 – or even one SmackDown vs. Raw. Brock Lesnar may actually look better in Here Comes the Pain and Wrestle Kingdom 1 than he does here in either his MMA gear or retro trunks, while Bret Hart’s face continues to look terrible and falls far short of the current gold standard for his character model – the Day of Reckoning games on the Gamecube.
While the character models underwhelm, the animations have been improved – with a lot of new moves joining new roster additions like the Shield. It’s great to see Hulk Hogan back in the fold for WWE’s games as you can finally have his complete moveset again – including Hulking up. Sadly, while they got his yellow and red trunks and Hollywood Hogan gear, there’s no yellow and red long tights gear, so you’ll have to settle for revamping his Hollywood gear to replicate it. In hindsight, it’s a shame they didn’t throw Hogan-McMahon in the 30 Years of WM mode since that would rectify the problem.
The ability to customize the in-game music playlist is great, and allows you to filter out stuff you don’t want to hear. If you’d like to just surround your game with “Cult of Personality”, you can. The sound effects are a real mixed bag this year as things like smacks with chairs and ladders – or throws onto them, sound absolutely vile. They’re about on-par with the out-of-ring sound effects onto steel in WrestleMania XIX. Sadly, the actual out-of-ring sound effects here are quite honestly nonexistent at times. You can slam someone on the floor and it will not make a sound. It really kills the idea of the moves doing damage, and undermines the whole idea of doing moves to the ground to make them hurt more. The commentary is about as poor as ever, although it gets a bit better with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handling the duties for the 30 Years of WM mode – their chemistry is great, even if both guys sound mostly bored reciting lines exactly as they were said by other people.
The refined gameplay is some of the best in the series, and like last year’s game, I can easily see myself having technical wrestling showcases for at least a year – maybe more depending on how the roster lineups wind up. At $60, WWE 2K14′s base game can be a little tough to recommend if you’ve played a ton of other wrestling games – especially with a $20 season pass that gives you a lot of extra characters rather than buying them separately (and offers exclusive red and black Outsiders gear for Hall and Nash). However, since this game will be a $40 Black Friday deal, it’s easy to recommend for that price since with everything, it will only be $60 total. The gameplay improvements make it at least worth a rental if you’re a bit jaded towards the series, but give it a few days and you’ll likely be won over by just how big a difference the small changes make in actually having great matches.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: 2K Games
This review is based on a retail copy of WWE 2K14 for the Xbox 360 provided by 2K Games.