Words by Jordan Noton
Professional wrestling is an entertainment smorgasbord that throws drama, sporting action and dizzying production values into a blender and hits the switch. The result is essentially a soap opera in spandex, with names like Hulk Hogan and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson becoming iconic. Though there are many who don’t quite get the world of pro wrestling, it’s hard to deny its impact on our culture. Through televised broadcasts, live events, DVDs and videogames the WWE unites fans of all ages. And with the latest WWE game, new publisher Take-Two and long time developer Yukes gives players the chance to relive some of the greatest moments from the Showcase of Immortals (and create their own) in WWE 2K14.
The yearly series is renowned for its dizzying list of features and 2K14 is no exception. The vast array of match types and special stipulations is truly impressive, changing the pace of the game and opening various avenues to the player. Do you destroy your opponent in the ring? Or backstage? In a cage or on top of a cell? The core gameplay and control scheme is relatively unchanged from last year’s WWE ’13, meaning that snapping into a suplex and laying the smack down will be instantly familiar to fans of the series.
The main improvement to the gameplay is the reversal system, which was criticised last year for resulting in arduous chain grappling which killed the pace of matches. This year, most successful reversals result in an instantaneous attack, keeping the action quick and the tension high – especially apparent against friends or online.
Improved too is the AI. The computer opponents seem much more interested in keeping you on your toes rather than wandering away from the action like last year. There are several smaller tweaks to the action including the addition of new ‘OMG!’ moments – high risk spots that change the pace of the match, for example, driving your opponent through the announcer’s table, tackling them at full speed through the audience barricades or planting a wrestler on their head on the ring apron with a DDT and kicking their heads against the ring post. These moves are brutally executed and continue to make me wince.
The new single player mode – 30 Years of WrestleMania – sees you take on some of the most iconic matches from the past three decades. Like WWE 13’s Attitude Era, the goal is to reconstruct various spots and scenes from actual matches, listed in-game as historical objectives. Each match is punctuated by impressive video packages and in-game cutscenes, immersing the player in the action and drama of the WWE. This is also aided by varying degrees of historical accuracy and fan-service. For example, when playing through the late Eighties/early Nineties portion of the mode, the screen has a grainy filter over it to simulate a time before HDTV and the action takes place in authentic reconstructions of the various arenas. Emphasis has also been focused on matching the digital wrestlers to their real-life counterparts from their outfits to their entrance themes. Whilst some inaccuracies do crop up, this does little to detract from the overall entertainment value of the mode.
Universe Mode makes a return from ’13, boasting improved rivalry settings and deeper customisation. The mode gives the player a looping calender year, allowing them to set up TV shows and pay-per-views and fill them with wrestlers. The show creation is incredibly detailed, allowing the player to name it, give it an arena and logo, select which stars are signed to it and which championship titles are defended on it. The same goes for the pay-per-views, which occur once a month by default. The computer sets up matches and rivalries, but the player can change these to anything imaginable. From changing the current champion to starting a storyline between two wrestlers, this mode gives a managerial aspect to the game. However, despite various tweaks to this years iteration such as choosing which outfits the wrestlers wear and choosing how many matches are on a show, Universe is almost identical to last year’s version. The much-hyped cutscenes and branching storylines are few and far between, and I often found myself skipping over certain feuds because I simply wasn’t that interested in the wrestlers in question. It’s an almost perfect recreation of how shows like RAW and SmackDown are structured, but it requires a lot of investment on the players behalf.
The online component allows players to lock up in ranked or unranked matches, and these can vary from insanely fun to woefully bad. This depends entirely on the kind of player that you’re matched up against. I’ve had extremely entertaining matches which centered on reversals, grapples and general skill and I’ve had matches where overpowered created wrestlers repeated moves constantly to secure a cheap win. It’s a shame the community has so many bad eggs, as a match against like-minded players results in tons of fun.
Graphically, the WWE series hasn’t really progressed since WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007, but 2K14 does have polish. The character models are excellently rendered, but bland texturing creates a sometime cartoon-like feel. Long hair is still a limp, floating texture carried over from the PlayStation 2 games and the crowd fidelity hasn’t changed in over a decade.
The game does run smoothly, however, and pops with colour, accentuated by the accurate use of television logos and title cards which make it feel like you’re watching the show. Here’s hoping that under Take-Two’s production and the dawn of a new console generation that Yukes will raise the bar visually, rather than leaving it unchanged for so long.
WWE 2K14 continues the successful formula of the series and improves upon it in various ways. Whilst 30 Years Of WrestleMania may attract new fans to the WWE, the game is definitely focused on pleasing fans of the show. With a huge roster spanning the past few decades and more to come via DLC, WWE 2K14 is a more than impressive title that keeps the legacy of the series alive.
This article is an edited version of Jordan’s full review.
Jordan Noton is a second year English and Film student at MMU who writes about gaming, film, media and current events. You can read his blog at jordannotonblog.blogspot.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @jordanjabroni