Here’s the deal: I’m a huge fan of wrestling. I’m also a huge fan of video games. Yet, I never touch wrestling video games. And I’m confident in saying that I’m not the only one who avoids the mix.
So right off the back, if you loved WWE13 and are looking for an ultra detailed dissection of its follow-up, then you’ll have to look elsewhere. Though I am familiar with the product, somewhat, and will be making some comparisons. But if you’ve long been curious about WWE2K14, and believe that it’s the one wrestling game to finally give a a shot (or would like to believe), then this review might be for you.
And there’s good reason to be interested, given the latest installment’s marquee attraction, the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode. The so-called grandest stage of them all, the showcase of the immortals, or whatever else you want to call it, has long been the one thing that even the most casual wrestling fans are willing to put money down for. Even those who have long since stopped paying serious attention to the product.
Which is why an entire game that’s built around the WWE’s biggest event of the year should attract plenty of those on the fence. Especially those who still resisted the game that preceded WWE2K14, which too was dripping with nostalgia, but of a different kind. WWE13 celebrated the Attitude Era, aka the company’s last boom period, and a point in time that many hardcore wrestling fans all miss dearly.
Hence why WWE2K14 has a very good chance of drawing in the rest of the pack, the casuals once again. And on the surface, it looks to be the most appeal package yet, with the most jam-packed roster to date. Sure you have most everyone from the current day roster, which most folks will be ignorant of. But everyone knows Ricky Steamboat and the Ultimate Warrior, right?
But first let’s examine the primary reasons why many who enjoy wrestling and video games are not fans of the combination, and how they apply to WWE2K14. First you have the visuals. As in past WWE games, everyone in ‘2K14 looks quite close to their real life counterparts. Well, some more than others; it would appear that more time was spent getting Stone Cold’s visuals down than, say, King Kong Bundy. Guess that makes sense to a certain extent.
Yet, like before, everyone still looks kinda… off. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but in this day and age in which hardly anyone talks about the uncanny valley any more (with Beyond Two Souls being the best most recent example; people simply talk about what a bad game it is), ‘2K14’s lime-up still sport that semi-creepy virtual doll vibe.
The other primary point of contention, which is far more important than visuals, is control. Wrestling itself is a fairly complex physical feat; you have punching and kicking, but also grappling and highflying maneuvers. Game developers have tried their very best to distill such complexities in the most simple and elegant manner possible, but it’s never clicked with me personally. In fact, the opposite ends up happening; the whole thing ends of feeling complicated and cumbersome.
Taking its cues from ‘13 (and perhaps earlier; again, I’m not super familiar with the landscape, sorry), the controls in ‘2K14 is by far the most simplified interface imaginable, which sounds great, but it comes to a fault. You basically have one button for strikes, one for grappling, and another to do maneuvers involving the rope. Those work fine generally speaking. The trouble starts with the button dedicated to reversal, which is when you either intercept your opponent’s move or get out of a hold.
Basically, you have to hit that button at the right moment, so you’re supposed to study your opponent’s offense. Problem is, your adversary often moves way too fast, plus the window in which to execute the reversal is way too small, so you just end up button mashing and hoping for the best anyway. If there is a nuanced variety to everyone’s move set, all that is completely undercut and washed away by the one thing that everyone must to do conclude a match.
There are other questionable designs choices as well, like the unnecessary addition of gauges and quick time button presses for certain things. The drama of escaping a caged ring is completely undercut by figuring out arcane button press you’re supposed to follow, for example. Another big issue that has long persisted, and which remains here, is flow.
Unlike in a fighting game, in which you knock down your opponent’s health bar to zero, in which the round is one, you simply have to wear the other person out in order to perform a pin or some other match winning action. The problem then, naturally, is how you’ll find yourself in the same boat. Meaning the latter part of almost every match has two very sluggish wrestlers trying their best to eek that one vital, match ending maneuver.
Which, to be honest, is how professional wrestling is in real life (despite being “fake”, but let’s not get sidetracked here), but that doesn’t necessarily make it a fun game to play. But those are the basic, mechanical problems with the game, which are hardly new. And many people approaching WWE2K14 are perhaps aware of the said issues already, and maybe even expecting them. Those folks simply want to know how the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode plays.
Each Wrestlemania thus far, all 29 of them (the 30th happens in the spring of next year), are represented in the form of a famous, representative matches. You basically have to reenact what actually happened in order to proceed forward. Meaning, there are often one or more hard-locked objectives, like being the winner of the bout (obviously) and with a particular finishing move. You also have additional objectives, like finishing the match in a certain time frame or performing a maneuver that everyone remembers. These are not necessarily to win the match, but help unlock content in the rest of the game.
On paper this sounds great, and everything looks even better. WWE games have always been known for emulating their televised content quite well, and 30 Years of Wrestlemania shines the most in this department, with the same on-screen graphics that you might recall from the 80s, and even a grainier looking feel to the visuals. With everything looking nicer and more polished as history marches forward, naturally. If you want to immerse yourself in the glory days of sports entertainment, but are into more than just crotch chops and chair shots to the head, which was what ‘13 was all about, then ‘2K14 is just for you.
Though that’s not to say that it’s perfect. Aside from the underlining gameplay issues that were described earlier, aka how each match ends up being a war of attrition (and it’s way worse here, since you have to end things with a particular move, but because everyone is tired by the end, they’re a chore to pull off), the biggest problem by far is how the game sticks too closely to history. Basically, for the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match up at Wrestlemania 3, you can only play as Hogan. Meaning, you can’t be Andre, so can’t you change history and squash the birth of Hulkamania. What a golden opportunity squandered, one that will disappoint casual fans the most I feel. But even wrestling purists will all go that this is a video game damn it, why can’t one play around with history?
In addition to the primary campaign mode is a side section dedicated entirely to the Undertaker, whose undefeated streak has become the biggest highlight of Wrestlemania for the past few years, eclipsing even the importance of the championship feuds themselves. There are two components here; first you have to try and defeat Taker, which is no easy task. And that makes sense, given his persona and reputation and all, but his lighting quick speed defies logic (many of the other big guys in the game move way too nimbly as well). And the second mode has you assuming the role of the Phenom, who must defend the Streak against wave after wave of grapplers, which is also tough. Each new worker is as fresh as the one before him, yet Taker’s stamina never fully recovers.
Otherwise there’s the WWE Universe mode, which is ‘2K14’s biggest offense, by far. Correct me if I’m wrong, but WWF/WWE games used to have it set up that you’d either choose a pre-fabricated Superstar or one of your own creation and have them go through a series of matches, with feuds happening along the way, with the end goal being the championship belt at Wrestlemania. But here instead, you play a bunch of random matches that are presented as being part of an episode Raw, Smackdown, or Superstars (the three primary shows at the moment), along with all the monthly pay per views.
The results of the matches are supposed to help form storylines alone the way, or so I believe. I supposed I didn’t spend enough time on this mode to see any narratives form (which was an issue with ’13 come to think of it). But even if I did, I also lack the patience necessary to slog through all the match ups (with the ironic part here being how matches on Raw, in real life, are often way too short). You can always choose the option to allow the game to play out the matches for you, which is pretty boring, or simply cut to the chase and have the game simply choose the winner. If that’s not a message from the developer that this mode is indeed boring, then I don’t know what is.
It’s also worth noting another massive misfire as it pertains to this portion of the game; the commentating is virtually nonexistent, and when it’s there, it’s god-awful. You can thank Michael Cole for that, whose performance is completely phoned in, and who can’t hold a candle to Jim Ross during 30 Years of Wrestlemania (Ross is also the unsung hero of that part of the game as well). Though I suppose it helps that Ross is the best wrestling announcer in the business, period, plus having very tightly controlled scripts to go by can’t hurt either.
Actually, the biggest problem with the WWE Universe mode is this: it illustrates the complete disparity of the actual product the game is based upon, between then and now. The roster here, which is all the current guys and gals, pales in comparison to the WWE Legends in the star attraction. With the exception of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, you’d wish that everyone else had the ounce of personality or charisma of Randy Savage or Sgt. Slaughter.
In the end, those who are way into wrestling and video games, enough to also be into wrestling video games, should theoretically be satisfied with this latest package. It has new bells and whistles that they’ve come to expect with yearly updates, along with the same issues that they’ve also become accustomed to. But the new player, which WWE2K14 will appeal to the most, will also take the shortcoming the worst.
Still, there’s enough to keep one occupied, from dabbling in the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode, to trying to both defeat and defend the Streak. Hell, even the most boring fighting games can still work if there’s a two player mode, and those dazed and confused by the WWE Universe can still have fun setting up one off, gimmick matches with their friends. Point being, if this is your first wrestling video game in a while, maybe ever, you won’t feel ripped off or like.
WWE2K14 is simply a combination of well presented nostalgia, wacky wrasslin’ antics, wonky gameplay, and unrealized potential. More so than any other WWE game before it.
6.5 out of 10
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.