WWE 2k14: As We Play

I still find it hard to believe that this franchise is no longer being published by THQ. So many of the year’s big games were once theirs to control. But the good thing for WWE is that this franchise is in desperate need of change. It needs direction and a new company steering the helm. There is absolutely no one better in this industry to do that than 2K. The NBA series is, arguably, the best annual sports release out there and their enthusiasm for WWE is clear for all to see.

30 Years of Wrestlemania

I’m not wasting time. I’m going straight for the poster-mode. This is what separates WWE 2K14 from its forefathers and is, unquestionably, the most attractive mode to me.

Right off the bat, under 2K ‘s direction, Yukes have nailed this. The 30 Years of Wrestlemania montage made me emotional and pumped me full of energy. It made me want to get up, dance around my room and People’s Elbow my coffee table. It made me want to clothesline my clothes horse and take a ridiculous Mick Foley style bump from off my 2nd floor balcony.

Fortunately, I didn’t do ANY of those things. Thank God for that ‘Don’t Try this at Home’ sign, right?

But it was perfect and reminded me just how much WWE has been a big part of my childhood. Vince truly did create something wonderful with Wrestlemania and this shows just how many fantastic memories the show has created over the years. It’s little wonder they’ve devised a game mode dedicated to this very spectacle.

The Streak that never dies

Perhaps the biggest of all Wrestlemania memories is The Undertaker’s undefeated Streak. Currently 21-0, Taker has never lost at Mania.

So it seems obvious what to do for a game mode, right? No, not really.

Frankly, I was a bit surprised at how they’ve gone about The Streak Mode. Rather than follow the career of Taker, fighting through every big match individually, replicating the streak in virtual form, the match is just a glorified gauntlet match, and the opponents are entirely random.

So rather than the big battles with Big Daddy Cool Diesal, Kane, HBK and HHH, Taker just has to keep defeating opponents in a Survival based mode. Pin or submit a guy, another one enters the ring. The aim is to beat as many people as possible, then post your high score to leaderboards and compare with the rest of the world.

It’s not what I was expecting but it’s not a bad mode. Wiping out the entire WWE roster as Taker is pretty good fun considering his move set. Chokeslamming, Last-Riding and Tomb Stoning opponents doesn’t get old, but I can’t help feeling this could have been more. This isn’t really defending the Streak, it’s more like pounding back-to-back faces for thrills.

Still, surfing the menus is pretty pleasurable. The familiar dong and the haunting soundtrack really gets you in the mood, or, if you’re an alien and only watched WWE for the one year where Taker became an American Bad Ass and had that Hell’s Angels esque soundtrack then, yes, that plays as well.

21-0? Pffft. I can dent that!

Players can also put the shoe on the other foot and try to break the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak by picking anyone from the roster and going head to head with the Dead Man in a No Disqualification Match. Good luck, though. Taker is rock-hard, resilient as all hell and will take down anyone you choose. You need to beat Taker to have your score recorded on the leaderboards and players are graded with the moveset they used; how diverse it was and how exciting the match turned out to be.

Oooo look, purple haze…

Something must be said for the entrances, the Undertaker’s in particular. They’ve always been a major part of a WWE game but this year, they really boast added ambience and atmosphere. I don’t know whether there’s improved production values or it’s the need to produce bigger, badder, better due to the significance of Wrestlemania next year. Whatever the case may be, watching Taker come down to the ring, the camera remaining constantly on his dead-pan, stone-hard face, the Shredder-style overcoat dragging along the floor, is mesmerising.

WWE is going through the change

This is where the real fun begins! There are five sections to this. And to begin with, I was able to relive the greatest Wrestlemania moments of Hulk Hogan.

Except the first match was between Big John Studd and Andre the Giant.

It sort of makes sense, though. At Wrestlemania 1 when Studd and Andre faced off, it was a key match for the Giant, one that eventually led him to a title shot against Hogan at Wrestlemania 3. It was also the catalyst for a long-serving rivalry between Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan’s stable and The Real American.

But anyway, starting from Wrestlemania 1, we relive key moments from each event. The first match depicts the infamous Body-Slam Challenge between Studd and Andre. Studd brings $15,000 to the ring in virtual form, with the stipulation being, if Andre wins, he gets all of that money. However, if Studd wins, Andre’s WWE career comes to an end. As Andre, you need to bodyslam Studd, but at the top left are a series of historical things you also need to accomplish during the match.

I absolutely love the old-school, authentic feel replicated for the event. The game treats it as if we’re watching this on TV, right down to the muzzy, cameras, far removed from HD quality. The arena is completely spot-on and a wonderful celebration of the origins of this multi-billion dollar show.

I even like The King and JR providing commentary, detailing the back-story and offering perspective on these great matches from a retrospective point of view. It’s quite wonderful reliving these rivalries with the game providing some build-up through a series of slides, explaining how the match came about.

It’s also fascinating to see a developing curve and a change of eras. Unlike previous WWE games, WWE 2k14 doesn’t just blur into one game experience. The legacy wrestlers are treated with respect and given a moveset that feels relevant to them and the era they wrestled in. So, the crux of an entire match between Studd and Andre is one or the other performing a bodyslam, a move that’s used by every wrestler, every minute in every match in 2013. And as you progress through 30 Years of Wrestlemania, you see these huge changes in the style of match as well.

Progressing through the arenas is quite wonderful and also shows how different rivalries and build-ups to matches came about. The classic match between Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage, serving as a build up to the Mega Powers, which in turn led to an explosive bust-up and a WWE Championship match between Savage and Hogan. All of that is captured here. Particularly through Wrestlemania Moments which pop up during critical moments of the match. These are usually game-changing moments that determine the end-result. For instance, Savage knocking out the referee in the Intercontinental Title match with Steamboat. Wrestlemania moments are basic Quck-Time-Events, dictated by singular button presses.

I’m Gonna Be a Mighty King, so Enemies Beware….SNOOOOOOOOOORRRRTTTTTT!!

Oh, and The Ultimate Warrior? The guy advertised on the box? Well, it’s not quite the glorious return to WWE games one might hope. In fact, he looks like Pubescent Simba with Face-Paint and seems to move quite awkwardly when running to the ring and moving about in the thick of the action.

Still, here’s there, shaking the ropes, doing body-presses and performing body-splashes. And snorting. Always snorting.

So, are you going to tell me how this plays, or what?

Right! Sorry! Pretty important that. Well, this feels much more simple compared to previous years, but that is definitely a good thing. The franchise started to run the risk of becoming unnecessarily complicated. But pretty much anyone can pick up WWE 2k14 and get good at it.

Big moves always feel achievable, and you’ll enjoy the way matches take on dramatic twists and turns. The back and forth momentum makes the overall experience a lot more interesting, a unique quality in WWE games compared to other beat-em-ups.

But a simple one-button effort to counter moves keeps the action dynamic and means the flow of battle can change at any point. Kicking out of pins by holding down A and releasing at the sweet spot also means that, in theory, you could stay in the match forever. (Unless you tap out, of course)

The good news for WWE games is that the action is pretty much nailed at this point. There’s a wealth of experience gone into harnessing in-ring action over the years and this just feels right. Gone is the overcomplicated reversal system and sluggish counter attacks. Instead we’ve got a flowing contest that perfectly emulates the level of action one can expect from a WWE event.

WWE Universe

WWE Universe remains the same as it has in most other years. You can play through all the major WWE events in a Calendar Year, taking one character through, or playing multiple matches. You can even create your own guy and start a whole new career. The perfect hybrid of manager and competitor, Universe captures everything and lets you customise pretty much anything about a WWE show from the bottom-up. Rivalries. Lighting. Angles. Champions. You can be the General Manager for the WWE and run things how you see fit.

Is there really a better job?

Customisation

One thing WWE games have always got right, before most other sport games, is the customisation. And WWE 2k14 continues that tradition. Everything and anything can be edited and adjusted.

There’s nothing especially different of note here. The level of detail is still astonishing and continues to put many games to shame. You can still lose hours of your time here.

Summary

The important thing is to breathe a sigh of relief, the WWE franchise is in good hands. In fact, it’s probably receiving the best care its had in years.

You need to understand that WWE 2k14 was taken on by 2K during development and so this isn’t the sum-total of their ideas and ambitions for the series. Next year, we will undoubtedly see a WWE title that truly reflects that, one that will almost certainly be designed for next-gen, feature a new engine and come chock-full of 2K’s enthusiasm for wrestling.

But the good news is that WWE 2k14 is the most encouraging step the series has taken in years and is an enjoyable, entertaining ride from top to bottom. The 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode is worth the price of admission alone.

I may no longer watch wrestling, but I’ve played each iteration of the gaming series, all the way back to Smackdown in 2001 and this made me nostalgic like no other wrestling title before it. This was a journey I took great pleasure in reliving.

Should you buy WWE 2k14? In the words of Daniel Bryan, YES! YES! YES!

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,