As we near the end of the year it’s that special time where we’re bombarded with annual releases of long-running series, whether it be the shooters, sports, or the world of wrestling, and they’re all vying to out-do their previous efforts. The WWE video-games have been through the ringer, with name changes from the long-running SmackDown, to SD vs Raw, to more recent years of simply WWE ’12 and WWE ’13. It’s now time for another new entry in WWE 2K14, but does this signify a new era for the world of wrestling video-games?
The 2K moniker isn’t so much a refresh, it’s not indicative of giving the series a kick-up the arse in order to shake up the tried and tested formula, it’s simply there because long-time publisher THQ is no more, and 2K Games have taken the reigns. They don’t appear to be steering the series in any new directions – at least not for this first outing – WWE 2K14 is very much more of the same, if you’ve played WWE ’13 you’ll be very familiar with what’s on offer.
30 Years of WrestleMania mode – it’s the equivalent of WWE 13’s incredible Attitude Era mode, but with a focus solely on the grandest stage of all, spanning generations, featuring actual archive footage and some cherry picked in-game cinematics for added effect. All the matches typically feature a set of optional objectives to better re-enact these classic matches; from putting your opponent through the announce table, landing several finishers before a pin attempt, and plenty more – these optional objectives also award unlocks, so they’re worth doing to unlock further wrestlers, arenas, etc. There are also unique WrestleMania Moments featured which act as a quick-time event mid-game, some even play out as a unique cutscene, though rather disappointingly, there’s actually very few scenes containing voice-overs of these memorable moments.
The calendar based WWE Universe mode is back too, enabling you to play on the weekly Raw and SmackDown shows, to the big monthly events. All with the option to dive in and tinker with pre-set matches, or just jump in and play them out yourself. Naturally, many of the matches and large periods of the calendar can be simulated quickly to get up to a desired event such as the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania, for example. It’s much the same as it’s ever been, and that’s a rather uninspiring offering. Although a notable nod must be given to the inclusion of an all-new Rivalry system where you can pick a set amount of wrestlers to face off with each other, determine the time-frame for the rivalry and play it out over the weekly shows and events to come. It’s however a very bare-bones feature with just a few brief scenes here and there such as entrances being interfered – but nothing’s really fleshed out beyond that to make it any more significant. It’s much simpler to dive into the Play mode to set-up your own quick exhibition matches and play away. Regardless, WWE Universe may appeal to some fans who don’t want to concern themselves with too many options, though while these choices can also be made in Universe, it’s also very easy to switch between dates, matches and jump in as and where you see something that catches your eye.
It feels as if there’s something lacking from WWE 2K14, much of the content in all of the modes is simply pre-set matches with very little unique content besides those brief WrestleMania Moments in the main mode. Past games often featured more story-related cutscenes using the game’s own visual presentation, the Attitude Era mode of WWE ’13 (and Legends of WrestleMania before it) ushered in more real archive footage to set up many of the matches much like 2K14, but they too still made use of, and took liberty with the more memorable moments and wrestlers in an entertaining manner. This is very much one key area that WWE 2K14 very much falls short of, and in respect to those past games, it was also something that went some way to making them memorable.
The game would have considerably benefited from a more fictitious mode that could have taken liberties with unique story-lines, this could have aided in rounding-up an otherwise impressive, but rather limited package. There is however one other mode, and you can’t talk about 30 years worth of WrestleMania without talking about The Undertaker’s incredible undefeated streak.
The Streak mode attempts to fill some of this gaping hole with two rather challenging sub-modes, it’s essentially Attack and Defend with The Undertaker battling to maintain his WrestleMania undefeated streak. In Defend the Streak players take on the role of The Phenom in a Slobberknocker style match where you face opponent after opponent until you fail – I managed to reach 52 and assume it continues indefinitely as one of the more difficult achievements in the game is obtained after beating your 50th opponent. Attack the Streak however is also challenging, you pick a Superstar or CAW and attempt to go toe-to-toe with The Deadman at WrestleMania – the difficulty can not be altered, and he will counter almost everything you throw at him, needless to say a victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania would be a bitter-sweet achievement.
The Streak mode is disappointingly simple with no real substance, though long-time fans will get a thrill out of facing ‘Taker at the grandest stage of all, and for that first-time encounter it certainly instils a sense of awe as you try again and again to keep The Phenom down long enough for the 1-2-3.
As with the rest of the game the audio and presentation is again much of the same. There’s commentary that often is annoyingly repeated back-to-back, add to that there’s still also basic animations that are several years old now. Although overall the presentation is as strong as it has ever been, and with an emphasis on classic matches there’s even a rather fitting grain effect when playing in the old arenas which is a nice touch. In hindsight, a favourite feature is a simple one, the game jukebox on the main menu enabling you to select your favourite entrance theme music to play out whilst navigating the menus.
Where WWE 2K14 is at its best is in regards to the plethora of available match-types and the varied roster, a chunk of which requires unlocking during the course of play. There’s the expected newcomers and big names from WWE’s illustrious past spanning from the glory years and Attitude Era.
Furthermore, there’s also an impressive tool-set of options within WWE Creations mode where you can of course make your own wrestlers, arenas and even unique story’s, and plenty more. The tools to do so can be quite intimidating at first glance, but for those not looking to tinker there’s WWE Community Creations where you can download content created by other gamers. As for online play, during our time online we noticed quite a step-up in connection quality over past games with more games being consistently stable, and with many of the Play modes available for online play it’ll be the community aspect the most that makes WWE 2K14 appealing over anything else.
WWE 2K14 may manage to appease some hardcore fans of this long-running series, but unlike its predecessor it’s by no means taken a leap forward, or as the new 2K branded name might suggest, a side-step to take a different approach – it’s simply just the guts of WWE ’13 all over again. That might be a formula that works well for the majority of yearly releases, but typically we do see some steps forward from past WWE games.
Clearly then WWE ’13 remains King of the Ring for now, perhaps the change-over from THQ to 2K brought about some constraints for time-frame, but looking at 2K’s other games they’re certainly not ones to take compromises lightly. With a new generation of consoles looming, and 2K now holding the WWE title, they certainly have much to prove with next year’s release.
Regardless, WWE 2K14 plays as well as its predecessor, it’s however just not championing with quality content. Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, as much of what is on offer has been covered one way or another in past games. The 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is a strong offering for long-time viewers, but for avid fans of the gaming series there’s nothing drastically new on offer, at best it serves as a great history lesson for young fans to catch up on and play-out the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time.
Score 7/10 – Review by Wayne Julian.