Wrestling is so wonderfully odd. Grown men in spandex briefs grapple with one another while tens of thousands of screaming fans cheer them on. Every single person in attendance knows it’s fake, but no one cares. It’s a testosterone-driven soap opera. High drama bolstered by silly bickering, draped in the pageantry of dudes punching other dudes in the face while pyrotechnics burn brightly in the background.
Yukes gets it. The longtime developer of professional wrestling video games may fall under the umbrella of a new publisher now, but its WWE 2K14 for 2K Games is cut from the same basic mold that its THQ-published efforts of previous years were before the publisher was dissolved. That’s a great thing if you’re a fan. There’s enough content and depth in the latest WWE game to keep a wrestling diehard occupied for months. And if you’re not… well… how does a 30-year exploration of professional wrestling’s WrestleMania series sound?
The mother of all man-soaps
The spotlight mode in WWE 2K14 is “30 Years of WrestleMania,” which revisits key moments from every one of the annual championship events, going all the way back to WrestleMania I in 1985. Not only does this provide a neat window into wrestling’s past – complete with video packages assembled out of archival footage – it also allows for the massive roster of 80+ fighters to include long-gone favorites like André the Giant, Sgt. Slaughter, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and (of course) Hulk Hogan. Professional wrestling in North America is as much about the story as it is about the “fighting,” and 30 Years of WrestleMania never loses sight of this fact.
There’s enough content and depth in the latest WWE game to keep a wrestling diehard occupied for months.
These centerpiece matches don’t stick to a particular script, but they all reward players for re-creating important historic moments, like Hulk Hogan bodyslamming André the Giant at WrestleMania III. If you manage to complete a set of secondary objectives – some are hidden, some you are told – you can score unlocks like more wrestlers, outfits, arenas, and the like. It’s an effective way to encourage players to skip the easy win without altering the heart of a mode that exists to celebrate the glory of wrestling’s annual main event.
The WrestleMania focus in WWE 2K14 also extends to a separate mode: The Streak. As the winner of 21 consecutive WrestleMania matches, The Undertaken is the only unbeaten fighter in the event’s history. In The Streak, you have the option of playing that out either as The Undertaker, going up against a series of fighters with no health recovered between matches, or by taking on a super-powered version of the WWE fighter and trying to end the streak. They’re challenging, but not impossible, with a fixed difficulty and leaderboards charting the best of the best.
Beyond that, WWE 2K14 also includes a bunch of straightforward play modes that are common to most other sports sims. A “Play Now” option gives quick access to a wide variety of fight types, from straight matches to cage matches to big ticket events like Hell in a Cell or Royal Rumble. You can play these matches on or offline, with or without friends.
On top of exhibition fights, you’ve also got “WWE Universe,” which amounts to a completely customizable career mode. You can stick to the established script if you prefer, competing in weekly match-ups and monthly main events, but you can also shuffle things around however you like. Want to cancel the weekly RAW series and replace it with a show of your own creation? Have an idea for a championship belt design? Want to create a horribly disproportioned wrestler that literally looks like it was birthed from a nightmare? It’s all possible.
There’s an impressive amount of depth in WWE Universe, but it requires a fair amount of patience and no small amount of wrestling knowledge. Even the relatively simple act of creating a wrestler of can take an hour or more, especially once you start getting into editing his (or her, in the case of Divas) movesets, attire, match intro, and the like. The menus are laid out clearly enough, but there are so many moving parts to take in that it feels a little daunting if you’re a casual fan.
That’s the biggest problem in WWE 2K14: outside of the 30 Years of WrestleMania, there’s nothing that feels particularly welcoming for newcomers. Yukes had a huge opportunity with this game’s WrestleMania focus to draw in an older audience of gamers, people with fond memories of the ‘80s and early ‘90s WWF days. The roster of fighters draws from every era since the first WrestleMania, but there’s nothing in the design that helps newcomers take their baby steps.
That’s the biggest problem in WWE 2K14: outside of the 30 Years of WrestleMania, there’s nothing that feels particularly welcoming for newcomers.
You get some light tutorial in the form of on-screen help text that pops up during the early matches in the 30 Years mode, but there’s no dedicated teaching tool in the game. You don’t even get a lesson in the wrestling terminology that the game constantly throws at you. You’re expected to know what “pinfall” means, or how to put an opponent into a submission hold, or what’s involved in winning a TLC (that’s Table Ladder Chair) event. If you’re a returning player and/or a longtime fan, it’s all clear enough, but newcomers are left to struggle.
Here’s a notable example: As WWE 2K14’s career mode, WWE Universe is built to mirror the real-life organization’s calendar. It’s a calendar that doesn’t include your custom-created wrestler, because he doesn’t actually exist. But there’s no mode dedicated to nurturing your custom wrestler’s career, so you need to manually insert him into an existing lineup. The game doesn’t tell you this, nor does it explain (for example) the difference between RAW and SmackDown. All of the pieces are there in WWE Universe, but it’s got a steep learning curve if you’re a first-timer.
Then there’s the gameplay itself. Basic controls are easy enough to grasp. You can punch, grapple, or send your opponent running toward the ropes/turnbuckle. A lot of what you’re doing is contextual, and experimentation is rewarding. You’ll get different results if you grapple someone from behind, or while running. Part of the fun comes in figuring out how to pull off various moves.
All of which is great, until you get to reversals. Just about any attack can be stopped and redirected by pressing the right trigger at just the right moment. By default, a prompt actually appears to signal when you can pull off a reversal; on-screen text even lets you know if you were “too early” or “too late.”
The problem is, the window for pulling off these reversals is often tiny, even with the game’s difficulty set to easy. Your reflexes play a role, but the key to success with reversals is learning the animations for individual moves and knowing in advance when a prompt is going to appear. It gets easier over time, and – in fairness – Yukes is trying to walk a fine line here between making reversals challenging and yet still keeping them accessible.
This isn’t a mortal sin on its own, but it’s one more frustration on top of a sizable pile. Couple the challenging, poorly explained controls with a general lack of attention paid to educating new players and you’re left with a game that is merely the latest in a series, rather than the bid to draw in new eyeballs that it at first appears to be.
WWE 2K14 isn’t an objectively bad game, but it’s not nearly as welcoming as it could be. There’s a lot to like about the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode and the long list of wrestlers it brings to the game, but Yukes didn’t spend enough time on creating a more gentle learning curve for fans drawn in by the promise of matches they haven’t thought about for 20+ years. Longtime fans of man-soaps will find a nominal improvement over past games with a few highlights. Newcomers can expect to grin as they revisit the old days… but there may be a few thrown controllers in the process.
This game was reviewed on an Xbox 360 using a copy provided by 2K Games.
- Fantastic roster filled with many fan-favorites
- 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is a great history lesson
- Serious fans can basically build their own, private WWE organization
- No dedicated tutorial
- Reversal system depends more on memorizing animations than reflex
- Clunky design leaves too much unexplained and in the player’s hands