In the sweaty and brutal ballet that is professional wrestling, numerous names have come and gone. The one constant brand over the decades of sports entertainment has been WWE. And even after the turbulence at the game franchise’s previous publisher, the now defunct THQ, the brand lives on, being quickly scooped up by 2K Sports. With veteran WWE-game developer Yuke's still at the wheel, along with longtime 2K Sports developer Visual Concepts, WWE 2K14 has stepped into the ring. Does this fresh entry mark a new birth for the WWE gaming brand, or can players expect more of the same except with a new publisher logo at the beginning? Read on to find out.
WWE 2K14 is a wrestling fan’s dream in terms of the amount of content on offer. It is packed with enough modes and customization options to keep this disc in the tray for a long time. Replay value here isn't measured in hours or even days, but months. Much of what’s here will be familiar to those who've played these games before, but there are some welcome additions and the signature 2K Sports attention to detail that set this game apart from previous entries.
The standout feature is the 30 Years of WresleMania mode. Anyone familiar with the NBA’s Greatest mode in NBA 2K12 will instantly see the influence of Visual Concepts at work here. It is both a tribute to the greatest athletes and moments professional wrestling has ever produced, as well as a nostalgic trip down memory lane for players old enough to remember Hulk Hogan as a wrestler instead of a reality television star. This is the real meat of the game, and it does a fantastic job of celebrating the history of the sport. Sprinkled with video montages, audio clips, and still images, as well as a fairly comprehensive roster, this mode crafts an interactive history lesson that WWE lovers both new and old will easily get lost in. It’s easy to see the love that has gone into letting fans participate in moments they’d only ever been a passive viewer of. The most impressive move in this mode’s repertoire is keeping a smile glued to the player’s face for most of the proceedings.
However, this mode is where WWE 2K14 can be most problematic as well. As mentioned above, great care has been taken to recreate many of the most iconic moments in WrestleMania history. But it’s this adherence to history that causes the play experience to feel inconsistent at times. In addition to simply winning the match, the player is tasked with Historical Objectives that they may be completed on the road to victory. Checking off these boxes causes the match to play out as closely to the real event as possible with in-match cut-scenes taking over briefly for the big spectacle moments, but these objectives can actually cost a player the match that they can quickly become more frustrating than fun.
A player can dominate a match only to have one of these scenes feature a moment in which the opponent gains the upper hand with a scripted event, breaking the flow of play. Sure it may be historically accurate, but for the player on the couch, having the tables turned despite their mastery of the game can be extremely irritating. Indeed the irony of complaining about a scripted event in a wrestling game is not lost here, but watching a scripted event and participating in an unscripted recreation of a scripted event are two different things.
Another controller-throwing moment often occurs when tasked with implementing a specific type of pin. Players who spend five minutes trying to set up the position for that pin with their opponent in critical condition (i.e. easily beatable with a normal pin) only to get reversed and beaten with a cheap submission hold or pinfall will be forgiven if they understandably drop a flying elbow through their console. Overall it feels like more control is given up than should be necessary, and it’s specific to this mode.
These gripes wouldn't be so bad if not for two flawed design decisions. One is that the mode is divided into different eras. This actually makes organizational sense and places matches in their proper context, but the eras must be unlocked. Those who want to jump right into a famous match with Triple H, The Rock or John Cena have a lot of other matches to complete before they can. It would have been nice to jump into any era right from the start and progress through the various timelines in any order to keep things from getting stale.
Even running through the matches as quickly as possible to unlock everything isn't feasible since completing the Historical Objectives in each match is the way the bulk of the game’s extra characters, costumes and arenas are unlocked. Every objective per match must be satisfied before any of the related unlockables will pop. This design combination of these makes getting hung up on a tough match particularly infuriating as it becomes a lengthy grind.
Unlocks aside, WWE 2K14 really shines in the amount of customization options at players’ disposal, especially in Universe mode. This mode is the closest thing to playing a “season” of WWE, and it reaches RPG-like levels of control and tweaking. Players can alter matches or start rivalries. Those looking to get creative can even spend hours customizing a ring entrance, with options for style, camera angles, pyrotechnic cues and more. This amount of behind-the-scenes control really does offer a different perspective for those who want it.
But none of this matters if the in-ring action flops. The actual experience of controlling your favorite slab of man meat is, for the most part, an enjoyable one. The pacing is quick, character models are animated well and do feel like they have some weight to them when tossing each other around the squared circle. The biggest change that may hinder the fun for some is the large emphasis placed on countering/reversing. There is no blocking, so the only way to get off the defensive is to reverse a move. These moves are instantly followed up by an attack so that the infamous reversal loops don’t have a chance to occur but the system is oftentimes unforgiving. When the counter prompt is displayed, players have a fraction of a second in which to initiate the reversal. This wouldn't be so bad if there was a consistency to the timing in which the prompts appeared. Instead players are forced to simply memorize the counter moment for each move, and hope they act on time.
Aside from the above complaints and some poor announcer audio, WWE 2K14 is a very worthy entry into the lore of WWE. Die-hard fans will be smiling all the way as they eat up the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode with two spoons, find some familiarity with the rest of the action, and be happy with most of the upgrades. Newcomers may be a little turned off at times by the seeming inaccessibility of the controls, unexplained in-match visual prompts and the staggering amount of options since the game does little to ease in the uninitiated. What’s here is definitely better than being body-slammed through a table, but it’s also not quite ready to be crowned champ just yet. It’s a great transition to a new publisher and clearly has the potential to become another major player in the impressive 2K Sports lineup.
WWE 2K14 is currently available for Xbox 360 and PS3. The Xbox 360 version was played for this review.