The WWE video game franchise now appears under a new publisher’s banner but developer Yukes continues to build on the foundation that it worked with when the now-dissolved THQ still held the license. As much as this year’s WWE 2K14 evolves the ideas of its predecessor, WWE ’13, the latest entry also celebrates a major milestone for the franchise, coming as it does in WrestleMania’s 30th anniversary year.
Crazy for WrestleMania. The marquee modes in WWE 2K14 revolve around World Wrestling Entertainment’s annual WrestleMania championship bouts. Players get to revisit all 29 WrestleMania events, going all the way back to the event’s 1985 debut back when it was the World Wrestling Federation. This “30 Years of WrestleMania” mode unfolds over 46 matches, each of which highlights the annual event’s most historic fights. Everything from Hulk Hogan and Mr. T squaring off against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff to this year’s epic showdown between John Cena and The Rock. Adding to the sense of authenticity is a set of sub-objectives for each fight that attempt to capture key moments from the past. Players aren’t required to complete these, but doing so unlocks an assortment of bonus content.
Ending the reign of The Undertaker. “The Streak” is another new mode for WWE 2K14 that gives players the opportunity to either defend or end The Undertaker’s unbroken string of WrestleMania victories. He’s got 21 of them in all, thanks of course to his superior conditioning and his incredible will to win. In The Streak, players get to either live through that series of successes or disrupt it. Defending the streak is essentially a survival mode in which you face a series of opponents, one after the other, with no health restored as you proceed. Disrupting the streak, on the other hand, pits a fighter of the player’s choosing against The Undertaker with all difficulty sliders turned up to the max. Maybe Andre the Giant can bring down The Undertaker’s reign where other wrestlers couldn’t. While these are solo modes only, both will rank players’ performance on the leaderboards.
Build your own wrestling universe. Outside of the WrestleMania-specific content, WWE 2K14 brings back “WWE Universe,” a mode built around allowing players to construct their own take on professional wrestling, from the roster of fighters to the daily schedule of events to the logos, messaging, and staging connected to said events. You’ve got control over every facet of your own vision for the WWE. Want WrestleMania to just be a showcase for WWE Diva fights? Wish you could see Hulk Hogan feuding with CM Punk? Have your own vision for what a real championship belt should look like? All of this is possible in what appears to be a very robust, if complex mode.
Beatdown theater. There are few functional changes in WWE 2K14 over previous years once you step into the ring. Fighters square off and start trading blows, slowly wearing one another down using a mixture of punches, kicks, throws, and submission holds. The HUD showing your video game-y energy meter is off by default; you can turn it on, but it’s also easy to tell how banged up your fighter is from how much damage is visible and how nimbly he or she is able to move.
The only truly significant change comes in the way reversal moves work. Whenever an opponent attempts to perform a grapple or some other specialty move, a button prompt appears briefly over the defending fighter’s head. Time your button press right and you’re able to reverse the move. In previous years, a successful reversal would send both fighters back into a grapple animation, making it possible to reverse endlessly back and forth. WWE 2K14 switches things up by turning reversals into an attack unto themselves, which helps to quicken the pace of a given fight.
It’s all fake. From a visual standpoint, WWE 2K14 falls in line with the most recent games. Player animations are the product of freshly recorded mocap work, but the fighters themselves aren’t nearly as detailed as they could be near the tail-end of the hardware generation. That’s not to say the game looks bad, merely that you shouldn’t go in expecting a lot of eye candy. The graphics are better than serviceable, but only just.
The overall presentation, on the other hand, is all about serving the fans. Everything from the fight commentators to the arena design to the period-specific broadcast filters are meant to capture the different eras of professional wrestling through the lens of the annual WrestleMania event. This includes a video archive of 29 shorts that each set up different rivalries and standout moments in the franchise’s history. As you dig through three full decades of WrestleMania events, you’ll note that even the crowds gathered to watch the fight capture the flavor of the period in the way that they’re dressed.
All of this is held together by the a rich pool of content, highlighted by a roster of 80+ fighters pulled from various eras of WWE (and WWF), along with seven playable Divas and an assortment of managers. You’ve also got 60+ matches and match variants to choose from, as well as a customization option that allows you to tweak rules and fight conditions. Want to stage a Royal Rumble inside a steel cage? Then do it.
The WWE license seems to be in good hands at 2K Sports. Yukes continues to deliver a content and feature-rich game in WWE 2K14. Changes to the gameplay are minimal, but the newly re-tooled WWE Universe and completely fresh WrestleMania-focused modes promise to give fans of these man-soaps a lot to dig into. You’ll be able to find out for yourself when 2K14 bodyslams into stores on October 29, 2013 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.