WWE 2K14 is exactly what you should expect from a yearly WWE title, but a lot better. The mechanics have been tweaked to great effect, the customization options are mind-boggling and the story mode adds a healthy dose of history to the mix that will make fans both old and new very happy.
Professional wrestling is all about the spectacle: larger-than-life characters clashing like titans in an arena filled with thousands of people, cheering or booing along with the storyline and holding up goofy signs. WWE 2K14 goes all out by basing the game on WrestleMania, the WWE’s largest annual show. The story mode this year, 30 Years of WrestleMania, takes matches from every event to date, showing off legendary wrestlers from the past and superstars of the present.
Each event is as faithfully recreated as the engine allows, and the aesthetic shifts are impressive. The look and feel of the arenas, presentation, and technology are all representative of their respective eras. Outside of the game, each era also comes with high-quality video packages that do a great job giving context to those who may need it, and a great helping of fanservice for older fans. As a newer fan myself, it was exciting to see real footage of not only matches, but promos and storyline material as well.
WrestleMania mode presents an odd situation. Pro wrestling is more of a performance art than a sport, but games tend to focus on competition and combat, supplemented by customization and neat simulation modes. This mode, however, is a swerve in the opposite direction, as the player is now faced with playing matches with predetermined outcomes. The obvious easy ways out to handle this kind of thing are cutscenes and quick-time events, and both are present here, but developer Yuke’s goes to great lengths to preserve player agency as much as possible. It lets the player feel like they’re really reliving these classic moments, without wrestling the controls from their hands too often.
During a match you can play normally, but specific spots and conditions come into play via a list of objectives that the player can go after, each unlocking new content. This lets the player play the game as usual while still including the famous parts of the matches that happened in real life. The game also isn’t afraid to change up the move sets of characters that normally have a specific set of default techniques. Cutscenes generally come up once these objectives are cleared, making them feel more fluid and natural and giving that extra little bit of physical participation.
The quick-time events come in the form of “WrestleMania moments.” Once certain conditions are met, some of the more complicated maneuvers are represented by a series of button presses that pits the player against the AI. If you take too long to press a button, the AI gains the upper hand. These events are quick, and used sparingly to great effect. They feel not only like a last resort for the developer, but a reward for getting in there and putting the work in to clear the objectives yourself. A great balance has been achieved here, and developers of other cinematic games should take note.
Wrestling is a complicated thing to do, and as a result the controls are also fairly complex. That said, the game does a fairly good job of telling you when you need to know things, giving you plenty of outlets to learn and utilizing loading screens as ways to tell the player about some of the more obscure maneuvers and techniques. It can be overwhelming, like much of the game, but everything you can do makes logistical sense, and it’s quite easy to get a feel for things as long as you put some time in. The entire controller is used, but used well. Also, to be fair, there is a lot of fun to be had in just handing four people a controller and letting them have at it. The complication almost works as an equalizer, at least for people not too familiar with how it works already, so group play ends up being a lot of fun even for folks who aren’t necessarily into wrestling or fighting games.
The key mechanic and the source of all frustration and satisfaction in WWE 2K14 is countering. You can counter almost everything, with a few exceptions. Based on factors including animations, stats and damage, the windows for making a counter vary wildly from forgiving to nearly impossible unless you’re really good and practiced. This is offset a bit by visual counter indicators, which seem useless at first. Countering is very unforgiving. However, for this game a “too late!” and “too fast!” also shows up if you mess up, which makes figuring out the timing a lot easier.
Unfortunately, it also makes online play a major pain. Unless you have an excellent connections, expect online matches to be off, either forcing you to adjust to new timing or just scramble for a dusty finish. It also doesn’t do a lot to discourage foul play. Being able to taunt until you have several finishers stored up really messes with the balance, and allowing players to bring in customized wrestlers and superstars (with, of course, maxed-out stats) into ranked matches makes things for legitimate players frustrating. Of course, a “fair fight” option exists, but opponents there are scarce. Unranked matches are more tolerable, but if you’re a trophy person, expect to have a great deal of trouble getting those ten wins unless you’re willing to game the system like the rest of the jerks.
Once you’ve beaten every WrestleMania match and all your friends have gone home, and you still aren’t tired of the game, there is even more content at your disposal. You can customize everything. You can make your own wrestlers, arenas, shows, entrances, finishers and more. It’s crazy. I can’t handle it. You can also play with established characters, and run Universe mode, which is a super in-depth simulation of WWE programming. You can assign your own bookings, titles, rivalries, pay-per-views and tag teams. My head hurts just trying to remember it all.
There’s something here for everyone. If you like just bumbling around with your favorite characters, you can focus on fights. If you’re into the behind the scenes aspects of pro-wrestling, you can run your own promotion. If you want a story mode and are interested in the history of the WWE, that itch is also lovingly scratched. WWE 2K14’s tagline is “become immortal,” and it goes all out in making sure those words mean something.
Pros: Comprehensive, deliberate, and fanservice-y
Cons: Online play does little to discourage tomfoolery, input lag hurts