WWE 2K14 Review
When 2K Sports took over the WWE license from THQ, I think most users were cautiously optimistic that a breath of fresh air would help take the franchise to the next level. WWE '13 was undoubtedly a great step forward for the series, as the gameplay and crowd reaction had started to resemble something approximating actual “sports entertainment,” and the introduction of the Attitude Era mode was a compelling nostalgia itch that helped repackage your memories of a cool time in WWE history into something worthwhile.
The reality is that WWE 2K14 likely had a compressed development schedule, and for the most part, 2K has just done what it needed to do to push the cart forward for one more year. This isn't to say that there aren't some solid changes to the gameplay — and this year's 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode is a fun time, to be sure — but much of what you'll get here is quite familiar if you played WWE '13.
For hardcore users who wanted to see specific changes to the gameplay and Universe Mode, you'll likely be quite satisfied with what you'll find in WWE 2K14. Casual users might not find as much to really change up what they got out of last year's game. More importantly, the feel of actual “sports entertainment” wrestling is still not quite achieved here, even though the action satisfies on a basic level.
2K listed out a bunch of changes that were going to happen to this year's product, and they have indeed executed on these proposed changes. You'll now see a start-up animation for running attacks, slightly reducing the amount of spammed run moves that could happen last year. Strikes are now quicker, resulting in more punch combos and harder strike reversals. This isn't to say that the faster strikes look much better, as it's basically just a comically sped-up version of what was there before, so it doesn't exactly add much to the match flow. Just the same, the superstar movement has been sped-up, and this creates more pace but doesn't exactly address the lingering animation issues and mash-up of gameplay systems that are holdovers from the “Smackdown”-branded games of the past. I didn't find the AI incredibly different than last year, as it is still prone to some odd behaviour and odd move choices, but it's serviceable enough for this type of action.
The reversal system has been addressed for the better, as you'll now bridge directly into certain moves without giving an opponent a chance to reverse. This means less reversal sequences where two users could continuously reverse moves if they knew what the timing was. It isn't the case for every reversal situation, but there's enough of a change to where you'll now gain an advantage sooner than you could last year — or vice versa. The issue of very few two-count situations has also been addressed, as you will see more near-falls in all match types.
The only actual additions for WWE 2K14's core gameplay come in the form of a few extra OMG moments and the inclusion of catapult finishers. New OMG moments include DDTs on the apron and a boot to the head on the outside ring post as well as double shellshock, double chokeslam and double attitude adjustment finishers. These look pretty cool, and they add some nice variety to certain matchups. Catapult moves allows certain catch finishers to launch an opponent into the air with the left bumper and then bridge into the move. Stuff like Sweet Chin Music looks pretty cool, but others, like HHH's pedigree, don't really gain anything from having this extra animation. It's kind of a novelty idea, to be honest.
When you take all of these alterations and additions into account, you have a few new small pieces, but the whole gameplay package seems quite familiar. Matches can still have some entertaining high-spots and impactful moves, but there's a certain flow to “real” wrestling that still eludes this franchise. Part of this problem comes from the holdover animations of the past and overuse of strikes and reversals, but there's also an intangible element to sports entertainment that's more about momentum and emotion than it is about timing a kick correctly. Fights with multiple wrestlers are also still a bit problematic, as the targeting can get wonky and rob these matches of the fun frenzy that they should be. All told, if you enjoyed what was on offer in terms of gameplay last year, you'll find more of what you like here, with a few less frustrations thanks to a bit more speed and less reversals (still too many, though).
The visual and audio package is quite similar to last year as well, with a fairly good representation of most arenas, superstars and scenarios. The action does look a bit dated in some respects, with the spectre of older games dragging down the overall presentation. It's hard not to look hopefully towards the future and imagine what next-gen consoles will be able to do for so many aspects of this franchise, such as hair, cloth, sweat, skin, blood, crowds, pyros, character movement and, most importantly, emotion. Some elements still look quite good in WWE 2K14, such as character entrances, finishers, high spots and certain reversal transitions, but it's hard not to cringe when you see certain wrestler faces or some of the rougher animations that are still present.
The usual mix of commentary teams are also accounted for, and you'll hear almost all of the same quips you've heard for years now. They do some good custom work for the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode, but that seemed to be the only new area for the audio department in this year's game. The crowd noise, which was so promising last year, sounds about the same, and it makes one wonder what could be if they took the frenzied atmosphere of a hot crowd to the next level.
Much like last year's Attitude Era mode, the 30 Years of WrestleMania offering this year tries to recreate specific moments in WWF/WWE history by using video packages and re-recorded commentary as well as event-specific costumes, characters and moments. Like last year, certain spots in a match will become automated or you'll have to complete a one-button minigame to initiate a ref bump or a false finish. These canned moments end up adding the most to the matches, as it's cool to see crazy sequences rendered in-engine. I got particular joy by seeing an entire Macho Man promo recreated with his character model and lip-synching. Big props for a lot of the presentation touches in the mode as well, some of which were seen last year, including grain filters, copyright marks, correct entrance attire and text recaps.
The mode covers five different eras in WrestleMania history, including the Hulk Hogan era (Andre, Hogan, Savage, etc), the mid-90s (HBK, Razor Ramon, Diesel, Taker, Bret Hart, etc), the Attitude Era (Austin, Rock, HHH, etc), the “Ruthless Agression” era (Jericho, HHH, Cena, Edge, etc) and the Universe Era (Cena, Rock, CM Punk, etc).
Sadly, some of the earlier eras get short-shrift, as there are far less video packages and the like for those matches than there is for the later stuff. To an extent I get that, but it's also unfortunate, since those characters and personas resonate a lot more than today's stars. Also, while I was entertained by the mode, I think it is stretched a bit much over that many years, compared to the focused Attitude Era from last year, and that ends up creating less of a through-line for the overall “narrative” (whereas last year had the Monday Night Wars as a framing device).
Don't get me wrong: this mode ends up providing some entertaining matches and memorable moments, but I think a lot of the more recent contests aren't steeped in history, especially when some happened a couple of years ago. I think it's definitely worth playing through this fun nostalgia trip, but I'd hope that 2K freshens up this template a bit for future games.
The endless rivalry/booker mode of WWE games returns this year with some nice alterations, including some revised menus that clean up the navigation and the ability to customize rivalries, including how long they should be and whether you want to terminate them early. Everything is presented well in the WWE.com sub-menu, where you can view title holders, stats and news items that fill you in on developments for each specific rivalry.
Everything loads relatively well in and out of matches, but if you're planning on playing a lot of your angles, it might require a bit of patience. The streamlined nature of the out-of-match simulation works about as well as any other sports game franchise mode, and you have various options for automating rivalries or enabling options such as injuries and tag team breakups. You can even change attires at any point in the Universe Mode. All in all, it's a nice upgrade to an already cool concept, and if you're into booking your own stories, you'll enjoy the choices 2K has made here.
Many users, including myself, wondered what the online would look like for this game, especially when the community creations, downloads and online play were going to be hosted by 2K's servers. With the history of 2K servers being rocky and THQ not being great either, it seemed to be a bit of a toss-up. Happily, the community creations are actually fast to download and easier to navigate than last year. You can preview creations now, which is great since you can see the stats, finishers and various attires for wrestlers before actually downloading them and loading them up. It's also great that the voting system has been changed to a Youtube format, so now it's just a thumbs up or thumbs down, which gives a better indication of how good something is or isn't.
As for the online play, it's about the same as last year, which is to say it's not great. The matches are playable, to be honest, but I certainly encountered the same latency and hitch issues as before. Even when matches did play smoothly, it was hard to time reversals and get a rhythm. The pinfall situations are equally problematic, as the meter is still extended to compensate for the lag. All in all, the action is playable if you're just noodling around with friends, but dedicated servers from next-gen consoles will be a welcome sight for online play.
2K's first foray into WWE wrestling ends up being fairly successful, only because they didn't really try anything too risky in the limited time they had to turn around this product. The 30 Years of WrestleMania will provide some good nostalgia for those wanting to put on the rose-colored glasses for a while, and the Universe Mode has been improved to a good degree, but the presentation and gameplay are begging for next-gen hardware and innovation in order to truly capture the feel of “sports entertainment.”
Learning Curve: The mechanics are quite familiar for anyone who has played in the last couple of years, and the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode holds your hand quite a bit.
Control Scheme: The series continues to use lots of contextual prompts and familiar controls, so anyone with a passing interest in the franchise should feel right at home.
Visuals: WWE 2K14 still looks fine, but next-gen tech is going to be a boon to this franchise.
Audio: The commentary teams are quite stale at this point, and the only new content comes from the re-recording they did for 30 Years of WrestleMania.
Value: This year's game continues to provide lots of ways to play, and you'll get a good deal of game time just out of the 'Mania mode.
Score: 7.5 (Good)
Scoring Note: I felt this year's game was ultimately quite similar to the pros and cons of last year. However, with audio and visuals being one year older and the "30 Years of 'Mania" not quite resonating as much, it brought down the score a bit from last year's grade.