WWE 2K14 marks the end of an era—the change in Yuke’s’ wrestling series’ title is but one of the many ripples created by the demise of THQ. 2K Sports have stepped in to take over from the now-defunct publisher, and little has changed despite Visual Concepts apparently offering some sort of developmental support to Yuke’s.
There are, however, some changes. Attitude Era Mode has been replaced with 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode. 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode features all 29 WrestleMania matches leading up to the upcoming 30th, presented in chronological order. The matches are complemented by beefy paragraphs of back-story on the loading screens, and relevant archival footage of the lead up to the matches in question. Aesthetically it is immediately engaging, and even for someone whose main exposure to wrestling is that of the meme, a fascinating historical journey. For those who are actually familiar with the matches, the tugging at the nostalgia-infused heart strings must presumably be strong.
The matches are not any simple wrestling matches, though. The choreography of the actual matches are depicted in the gameplay. If one wishes to unlock the extra wrestlers, clips and various unlockable available in 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode, then one must not only win the match, but win it while performing historical objectives. These historical objectives mimic the actual events of the WrestleMania match in question, and give proceedings a sense of authenticity and history. It would be enjoyable enough to have historical wrestling matches unfold to an era-relevant lens filter, but for the matches to actually unfurl with some degree of accuracy is wonderful.
The Streak is another completely original mode. One can play as The Undertaker and wrestle against an infinite stream of randomly ordered opponents. After every five lots of wrestlers, The Undertaker’s health recovers, but within each five lots, the damage accumulates, and there are no breaks between the wrestlers—defeat one, and another climbs immediately into the ring. The absurdity can quickly turn into nerve-wracking intensity as one comes close to a high score and a milestone—only to find oneself on the wrong side of momentum, just one wrestler away from a slight respite. Or one could try and end the streak in a gruelling match against The Undertaker instead.
The wrestling is more of a cerebral affair than a reflexive one. Strategic use of moves and concentrated damage are the order of the day, with targeted throws and strikes slowly building up damage upon an easily selectable part of the opposing wrestler’s body. But one need not follow such strategy dogmatically, and it is not devoid of more athletic delights—mini-QTEs pop up mid-wrestling match in certain situations, and button mashing is the only way out of submissions, while good timing is the greatest defence against being pinned. But most important are the all but instant reversals.
Generally when one is grappled or otherwise under attack, one has the opportunity to counter that attack with a reversal. These allow the wrestling matches to ebb and flow, and for momentum to change in an instant because, just as the player can perform a reversal and interrupt a repeated assault, so too can the AI. This means that matches feel as if they can be turned around at any moment, for both the AI and the player. One can never rest on one’s laurels, and must make every successful move count, because the next move might just be reversed.
Unfortunately, on PS3, the reversals are sometimes awkward to perform. The required timing is precise, and reversals are tied unalterably to the R2 trigger—a button not exactly known for its precision (and good luck pulling them off consistently online, despite the otherwise excellent net code). The clipping detection is just as imprecise, with strikes and grapples sometimes missing an opponent altogether even though they are lined up directly in front of the player’s wrestler who faces them down the barrel. The matches can also develop a sense of repetition due to the heavy focus on the relatively shallow strategy—concentrated damage and little else. But turning one’s focus to flair and variety of moves instead of strategy helps in this regard.
The repetition is offset by the huge roster, with many of the wrestlers feeling vastly different from one another—their unique move sets and special abilities meaning that they must be played with a different style. Some of the big wrestlers move with the same gait and flair of their real life counterparts, and only during the generic wrestling moves does the personality in their animations begin to wane. Unfortunately, others do not move with such accurate clarity, nor are as visually accurate. The great variety of matches that one can play (including making up one’s own) also means that repetition does not become as big a problem as it might otherwise have.
The customisation extends further than the ability to make and edit wrestling matches. Not only can one create their own wrestler with a flexible, powerful character editor, but even give that wrestler their own introduction video—the lighting, pyrotechnics and even the broadcast editing all alterable by the player. It’s incredibly detailed and helps to give created wrestlers a great sense of personality and joie de verve so that they barely look out of place amongst the real WWE wrestlers—unless they were designed specifically to, of course.
The WWE Universe Mode has also been blessed with the power of further customisation (and Divas). Its first impression is that of a simple, lazy way to randomly generate an extended season, but in actuality it is a way to turn the WWE into whatever one wishes, virtually creating one’s own wrestling empire as if one was Vince McMahon. Egotism aside. Story Mode returns only in the form of user created content once more. And once more it is a robust editor that allows for the creation of anything from WWE-imitations to homoerotic soapies.
Despite being more polished than WWE ’13, the graphics still offer few bells and whistles beyond sweating and blood. The sweating is more noticeable during the end of match cutscenes or mid-match close-ups, but the blood shows clearly on the skin of injured wrestlers (so long as they are masculine enough to bleed), and darkly stains the soft surface of the ring. The crowd is chunky and polygonal. The crowd is also lit with festival lights or the fireworks of the pyrotechnics so that they, along with the overly enthusiastic commentary, greatly enrich the aesthetic.
WWE 2K14 might offer few improvements over WWE ’13 in terms of gameplay, and it still leaves it to the players to create a genuine WWE experience, but the WrestleMania Mode and The Streak mode are not only a perfect build up to WrestleMania XXX, but genuinely engaging to play through—and the base gameplay is certainly no worse for the iterative improvements.