After an uncertain year for developer Yukes as the WWE licence transitioned from THQ to 2K, you could expecting the newly branded WWE 2K14, to feel less than full featured. But, while I can’t speak with authority on the mechanical refinements, 2K14’s new ‘Wrestlemania’ mode offers the most exciting reason to own a wrestling game in years.
This new mode is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to a WWE game. It offers something for anyone and everyone who has had any interest in wrestling, as it visits the last 3 decades of the sport and draws on many of its biggest names.
Offering matches that span the full 30 years of Wrestlemania, the action unfolds in an almost story like fashion, leading players through the background events that lead to each match. These fights dip into Main Events, and larger rivalries from the sporting spectacle’s history to offer dozens of fights and hours of play.
Some of these events stand in isolation; one offs that need the stage set courtesy of the game’s generous collection of videos. But the more interesting match ups come from those ‘Superstars’ whose legacies span decades of the sport, with multiple visits to the same rivalries.
One of the most exiting of these continuing stories is that of the Undertaker, with his unbeaten 21-0 record. Because every match sees players take control of the historical victor, a lot of time is spent with the ‘Dead Man’, so to keep matches exciting the game places as much emphasis on iconic moments as it does on winning.
These moments manifest as match objectives, a list of moves, attacks, and instances that must be triggered to ‘really’ win the match. This incentivises more inventive play, with many of the greatest moments only re-enacted once certain conditions are met, forcing you to learn a broader range of moves than those required to simply win a bout.
This is fortunate as, with only three basic moves and nothing in the way of tutorial, it is down to this mode to introduce new players to the huge variety of characters, and thus moves, on show. Depending on the character type and build, there are dozens of available attacks, and these are further topped by fighter’s signature moves that make sure every WWE Superstar is well represented.
WWE 2K14 looks okay in motion, but the animation ranges from fantastic to rigid as each wrestler propels themselves around the ring, showing up the dated game engine. Their plastic bodies also oscillate between faithful representations of the individual to over blown toys, but this is as much down to the wrestlers themselves as any aesthetic considerations.
With the huge roster of characters drawing on stars from the WWE’s history and current contenders, everyone should find their favourite somewhere. But, if not, the character creator is always on hand to help.
What impresses most in 2K14 however, is the spectacular fan service. Fights are booked ended with videos from the original events helping to retell the story that lead to the match with an almost documentary like style. These are joined by digital continuations of these ‘plots’, and a host of other additions, to set the tone.
In the ring this attention to detail continues. Each venue is faithfully reproduced, and a grain filter added to simulate the era in which it was filmed. Through out matches the commentators are constantly vocal, setting the scene, and repeating calls from the original event along with a dynamically generated play-by-plays.
With the basics of the game maintaining from recent years, it can be hard to find good match-ups online as a new player. This is partly because the single player isn’t great preparation for real world opponents, as the counter heavy nature of the game requires an intimate knowledge of every character’s moves. But given time, or the right friends, WWE 2K14 offers a fantastic party experience.
WWE 2K14 is the wrestling game for people who enjoy the sport, but are not obsessed by it. With 30 years of history contained within, there is something for fans new and old. So, while the coming years may see the now-dated game engine overhauled to make a mechanically more finished experience, it is unlikely that this historical well will be revisited for some time, making 2K14 the one to grab onto and pin down.