An orphan of THQ’s unfortunate demise at the beginning of this year, the WWE videogame license was quickly snapped up by 2K, and while its role appears to have been limited to simply overseeing WWE 2K14’s completion, the final product is the most comprehensive wrestling package yet.
As the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania steamrolls towards us next April, 2K14’s main focus is celebrating each and every one of the 29 years leading up to it, in the appropriately titled ‘30 Years of WrestleMania' mode. Here you’ll work your way through four chapters – each containing a distinct era of ‘Manias.
The first, entitled ‘Hulkamania Runs Wild’, features the likes of the immortal Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, while ‘New Generation’ spotlights matches from Bret Hart and Razor Ramon. Elsewhere, ‘Attitude Era’ has bouts starring Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H, and ‘Universe Era’ allows you to replay the John Cena, CM Punk, and Undertaker matches from the last four years.
There’s a huge amount of content to play through, with each year of WrestleMania featuring two or three matches from that particular era – although younger fans, that may just want to replay the matches that they remember from the most recent few, will be forced to trudge through over two decades' worth of events before they can relive any of the moments that they fondly remember.
As for the legendary contests themselves, each bout features a match stipulation (usually win by pinfall or submission), and optional historical objectives. These can involve performing a specific move upon a specific person in a specific location – like grappling an opponent while they’re lightly damaged next to the ringside steps. This then triggers a cutscene where a famous moment from that match will play out before you. Sometimes these historical objectives will be a ‘WrestleMania Moment’, which also plays a cutscene, but you must hit certain buttons when prompted.
All of the matches provide you with a text-based explanation of the events that lead up to that particular bout, and some have a video package to the same effect. The problem is that the latter sequences are really well put together, so fights that have a video before them feel so much more important than the others. This problem crops up again with the in-game objectives, as some matches will literally only have two, making them feel a bit basic. It’s a shame that more emphasis was put on some matches over others, and at times it does feel like maybe the developers had to include some less exciting content to flesh out the mode.
Fortunately, for those more interested in The Undertaker’s unprecedented 21-0 WrestleMania unbeaten streak, the deadman’s achievement is honoured in 2K14 with two new modes revolving around the subject: 'Defend the Streak' and 'Defeat the Streak'. Electing to defeat the streak is an arduous undertaking, and while the legend is beatable, the difficulty will be ramped way up and the mode allows for some of Taker’s more supernatural abilities to come into play. The Phenom will reverse almost every move that you throw at him and rapidly build up finishing moves, but just when you think that you’re getting the upper hand, the lights may go out and he’ll get behind you ready to deliver a devastating tombstone piledriver for the win.
Defending the streak works in a very similar way to a Royal Rumble, where you, as The Undertaker, are stood in the ring and one-by-one must defeat every wrestler that enters it. It starts off quite easy, with little to no resistance from your opponents allowing for a quick and simple pinfall victory, but as you push beyond the 30th superstar, the damage you’ve taken will start to take its toll. We managed to slice through 48 superstars before we eventually succumbed to the might of Santino Marella (he’s a bit of a joke) after an hour-long stint. While a nice addition, defending the streak is ultimately an exercise in futility and you’re unlikely to play it more than a couple of times.
Once you tire of defending and defeating streaks, a mainstay in recent games has returned to vie for your attention. In Universe mode, you act as the boss, creating match cards, pushing superstars for titles, and putting together tag teams and factions. While it doesn’t allow for you to take part in a structured storyline as your favourite competitor, Universe mode gifts you with the power to do pretty much whatever you wish, and with the addition of setting up rivalries between two superstars, it can become an incredible time-sink to see how your choices impact what happens during the week-to-week programming.
One problem we’ve always had with the WWE games is how quickly the roster becomes outdated. Not simply in the sense that superstars come and go, but rather frequent changes in gimmick (character) often result in the physical appearance of a wrestler changing – i.e. new ring attire and entrance theme music.
Thankfully something this series has always excelled at is the outstanding customisation options. New ring gear? Create a replica in the custom threads mode. New tattoo? The new custom heads option allows you to select a superstar’s head and edit the body. New entrance? Customise in excruciating detail every aspect of it – the camera angles, the lighting and pyros; you can even select a custom track to play from your HDD if their entrance music’s changed.
Regrettably, there’s still no way to edit an existing superstar’s face, which is a real shame as one of the attributes most frequently altered by wrestlers is their facial hair – but if you’re feeling ambitious you can create your own version of that individual from the ground up, or whatever you want for that matter, in 2K14’s unrivalled create a superstar suite. If you’re not that creatively minded, or just fancy filling out the roster with superstars that didn’t make it into the game, the online community will no doubt have uploaded what you’re looking for to the community creation area.
While you’re visiting the online portion of the game, make sure that you avoid any kind of competition, because we’re sorry to report that it's still completely broken. Horrific slowdown and lag often makes it impossible to reverse moves and kick out of pins, and the only way we found fair competition was to host our own match and crank the connectivity requirement way up.
Fortunately, the local multiplayer remains as excellent as it’s ever been, allowing you access any variation of match that you could possibly imagine. Jumping into a 'Hell in a Cell' with three of your mates is great fun, and in part it’s thanks to 2K14’s accessible controls. There are no complicated button combinations and there never seems to be any need for them – you can quite easily get through a battle using only the square, triangle, and cross buttons. That’s not to say that they’re oversimplified, but the developer's managed to perfectly balance a comprehensive set of controls while keeping them totally user-friendly – which allows for some hectic multiplayer bouts.
Although we appreciate that this is likely to be the last WWE game to be developed on this generation of consoles, many of the faults of last year’s title bleed over. Graphically, for example, the game isn’t great. Everything looks authentic and legitimate except for the actual superstars, who, for the most part, look like horrific melted mannequin versions of themselves. The commentary, too, is appalling. Uninterested, and sometimes inappropriate, lines of dialogue pierce every move that you perform, and you’re likely to hear an identical phrase uttered a couple of times in the same match, which really distracts from the feeling of authenticity the title otherwise nails.
With an incredible variety of things to see and do, WWE 2K14 provides dozens of hours of content that both wrestling veterans and newcomers alike will enjoy. It’s unfortunate that some of the series' previous niggles remain, but we’d like to think that these issues will be eradicated by the time that we get to grapple next year’s inevitable PlayStation 4 release.