The Maddenization of video games has been a sea change in the industry, even expanding beyond sports into games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, and it’s a highly criticized strategy at best.
WWE’s gaming entry is no different, coming out like clockwork near the end of October every year come hell or high water; even the dissolution of the title’s decade-long publisher couldn’t stop the yearly, serialized nature of the game’s release. This year we get new branding as WWE joins the 2K Sports family, but other than that, has anything really changed? Is it good?
WWE 2K14 (2K Sports)
For some reason, the true cover is printed on the reverse side. An error, featuring The Rock, is displayed. Be sure to switch yours as soon as you buy your copy.
Right off the bat, the answer to my question above is a somber “not really.” Graphics look largely the same as they have since SmackDown vs. RAW 2010 and even earlier, and you’ll still recognize some animations we’ve been playing around with since WWF SmackDown! on the Playstation One all the way back in 2000. The old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” certainly comes into play however, because although the engine is starting to look pretty damned long in the tooth, it still largely works. There’s certainly something to be said about constant refinement, and 2K14 is certainly an evolution of that refinement rather than a complete overhaul many fans were perhaps anticipating after 2K Sports took over the title from the recently deceased THQ.
That’s not to say they haven’t touched the gameplay at all, however. Strikes are much quicker, which makes the action feel tighter if a little less realistic. Gone are insanely long reversal chains of yesteryear, but that frustration has been replaced by nigh uncounterable striking moves.
There are some more OMG Moments added to the series’ repertoire, some even specific to certain wrestlers (Undertaker’s suicide dive, anyone?), and some other neat tricks as well. New this year is the ability to throw your opponent in the air and then your finisher on your opponent mid-descent if your finisher is compatible with such an action, such as a Sweet Chin Music or an RKO. You can even catch your opponents diving off the top rope into your finisher in much the same fashion. It all adds another dimension of fluidity to the game and lets you more accurately recreate some of the stunts you see regularly on TV, which is largely the point of a game like this.
30 Years of WrestleMania Mode
Strangely, for such an episodic and dramatic form of entertainment, the “campaign” or single player experience has been a difficult one for Yukes to pin down. Last year’s Attitude Era mode was a great blast of nostalgia, but the more cynical players will claim it got by on its nostalgia alone. This year’s 30 Years of WrestleMania mode functions in largely the same way, but they’ve seriously stepped up on the drama that is usually lacking from wrestling video games.
The mode’s premise is simple: You start at WrestleMania 1, a humble but historically important event, and work your way through one to three matches from each of WWE’s 29 events. Nearly every minute detail is there, from film grain making the 80s footage feel decidedly non-HD to historically accurate ring gear and logos. JR and the King do commentary for every WrestleMania—even though in real life they’ve called less than half of them together, and JR wasn’t even with the company until WrestleMania IX—but they play the parts of the commentators of the time, reciting lines as they were actually said verbatim to help sell the match.
It’s all a very immersive experience, and for wrestling nerds, you’ll definitely get a kick out of reliving some of the more memorable moments. I didn’t think it was possible to get chills from watching a polygonal recreation of matches, but man. Shawn whispering “I’m sorry. I love you.” to Flair moments before delivering a career ending Sweet Chin Music to his idol is nearly just as powerful in video game form.
They got so much right in this mode, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t harp on some of the numerous little things they get wrong that takes you out of the experience. Even in entrances that have a long build up (think DX and its 25 second-ish “Are You Ready?” intro), the ring announcer speaks immediately after an entrance begins, something that wouldn’t happen on the program. Wrestlers are well represented throughout the eras, but they do get a tad lazy and try to eek by with close-enough renderings if the same wrestler appears in consecutive WrestleManias. Compare Shawn Michaels of 1994 and Shawn Michaels of 1995 and you’ll see a marked difference, but in the game 1995 Michaels is less the leader of the New Generation and more like his 1992 goofy proto-Heartbreak Kid version of himself. CM Punk’s hairstyle in WrestleMania 28 is the same nearly bald ‘do he’s seen sporting at WrestleMania 29, even though in real life Punk had a full head of hair for 28. It’s nitpicky, for sure, but these are the little things that lose the immersion they’re going for, and that’s arguably the most important aspect of a wrestling video game.
30 years is a long time period to recreate and there are lots of assets to cover, but again, there are strange temporal inconsistencies abound. I noted that JR and the King call matches they weren’t even with the company for, but that’s more of a technical hurdle than an oversight (they couldn’t exactly get Gorilla Monsoon to record hundreds of lines of audio for the game). No, I’m talking more things like WrestleMania X and XX’s entrance being seen from the fixed camera, straight ahead, like it should be in the old Madison Square Garden, but the actual entrance ramp being stage left as it is in every arena in the game. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Triple H’s “Vocare ad Reginum” minitron plays at WrestleMania 2000, years before Hunter fancied himself some strange Latin dictator. You’ll see “I Dig Crazy Chicks!” signs and “Yes! Yes! Yes!” shirts in the crowd at WrestleMania 26, years before those ever became a thing. It’s these weird anachronisms that take continue to take you out of the experience.
A byproduct of encompassing 30 years of wrestling’s grandest stage is having a massive reserve of wrestlers, incarnations of wrestlers, and theme songs to play around with. You won’t find a bigger roster in any WWE-branded game in history, and for fans of the engrossing Universe mode this is a godsend. You easily have enough wrestlers to run two brands, even before the DLC packs that will bring in yet more wrestlers old and new to throw into storylines and fight for championships both active and long since retired. You get even more granular control over rivalries in this year’s version, and every match between two wrestlers in a rivalry will feature some sort of cutscene or storyline progression, further incentivizing you to play the matches.
- 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is amazing
- Action is faster and tighter
- Many of the little things are still overlooked
- Universe mode is still a little obtuse
If you’re familiar with the series, there’s not much to say about the Universe mode. It’s pretty much the same story as with the game itself: Pretty much the same thing, with enough enhancements, granular improvements and updated wrestlers to keep you playing until next year’s comes out. If you’re a fan of wrestling and video games, it’s pretty much a no-brainer, but if you’re looking for something different from years past, you might want to wait until next year. By October 2014 we’ll have nearly year-old next generation consoles and it will be the first full development cycle 2K Sports has been at the helm for.
If you’re looking for a revolution, you might want to wait it out. For everyone else, the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is worth the price of admission alone.