WWE 2K14 Xbox 360 Review
Well, it’s autumn again, and you know what that means – leaves change, baseball season winds down, the NFL, NBA, and NHL get in to full swing, and sports-based video games not related to MLB come to market. Of course, that lineup includes pro wrestling, and since roughly 1997, WWE has turned out a new game. Although there was some doubt about the future of the franchise, since long-time WWE game publisher THQ shut down, 2K Sports picked up the WWE video game series and ran with it. However, does it score high marks, like No Mercy and SmackDown vs. RAW 2006, or is it simply average, such as the WrestleMania X8 and SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 (Featuring ECW)? Since Yuke’s and Visual Concepts are still part of the creative process, WWE 2K14 was never going to be a gigantic departure from the previous iterations of the series.
The closest the game comes to a story mode is, similar to WWE ’13, based around historic events that actually took place within the history of the World Wrestling Federation, later renamed World Wrestling Entertainment, and now basically known as WWE. Last year, we played through the events of the Attitude Era, specifically centering around certain individuals that made the Attitude Era what it is. This time around, we’re getting a mode called 30 Years of WrestleMania. Given that WWE has taken to calling the upcoming WrestleMania event the 30th anniversary (it’s the 30th event, but only the 29th anniversary), we can forgive them for their counting error. Either way, the mode takes you through some of the biggest moments in WrestleMania history. They are divided in to five chapters – HulkaMania (hardly surprising, since, as The Rock put it in the lead-in to the actual WrestleMania X8, he’d headlined “WrestleMania after WrestleMania after WrestleMania”), The New Generation (basically WWE post-Hogan), The Attitude Era (though thankfully that is all of four matches, since they already went in to a lot of detail about that four-year span in the previous game), the era of Ruthless Aggression (that nice little spot between Attitude and what the IWC calls the PG Era), and the Universe Era (basically the time since John Cena became “the guy”, i.e. when RAW became a SuperShow and the Brand Split didn’t matter except for who showed up on SmackDown). You get to recreate some memorable moments – Hogan body slamming Andre, Steamboat versus Savage, the Mega Powers imploding, the ladder match at WM X, HBK’s Boyhood Dream Coming True (which thankfully doesn’t actually require you to play through an hour-long match plus change), Rock/Hogan, and John Cena taking on JBL, just as a short list – and even improve upon some of them (playing Goldberg versus Lesnar at WM XX resulted in a much more entertaining match than watching it). It’s a nice little jaunt through history, and the cinematic cuts after some of the historic goals are met are a decent addition.
The other mode in the game is none other than the WWE Universe Mode. Once again, it takes the roster in the game, jumbles it up, and sees what pops out in order to generate an active, living WWE in which a player can participate however he or she wants. It includes the ability to change the schedule – adding shows and brands, or changing the existing shows. There is also the possibility of changing the booking of any given show, which is a nice touch if you want to include either created or historic roster members. There is an addition of a rivalry system in the game, which actually makes it so that certain characters interact with one another in a fashion that keeps some vestige of a storyline going, even if a player just advances each week for the sake of seeing how the game makes things turn out. Of course, the best part of this mode is the ability to play as anybody on the roster whenever you like, instead of being locked in to playing a single character for the entire experience. Playing through the WWE calendar is definitely an interesting experience, and although the random instances don’t seem to add as much to the enjoyment of the game as they could – all of the story in the game is related to the WrestleMania Mode, it is fitting.
The free play mode is just as good as playing through the season, and it’s sometimes fun to just play a match for the sake of playing through a match, without having to worry about how it affects the rest of the game, or needing to fulfill historic objectives. The place where this really shines, however, is in the online games. The AI may be challenging, but it’s far more fun to pit yourself against other players. The fact that instead of a queue, in unranked matches, players can simply jump in to a match of their liking, immediately makes this game’s online mode better than many others out there. Moreover, it seems that no match type that is available in single player is left off the options in the online mode. As for the controls in the game, they are easy to learn, and for the most part, they’re fairly intuitive. A plus to this is that WrestleMania Mode tells you of certain controls that may be required to fulfill the historic objectives of certain matches, but which are also good for use elsewhere in the game. The option to store finishers, and the fact that using a signature move can allow for a finisher is still a smart mechanic, as is the in-ring abilities, which can vary up a player’s style just enough to keep it interesting.
Of course, while I may be singing the praises of much of the game, there are spots that leave something to be desired. Firstly, the graphics are really sub-par. The character models look like they’re out of SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth. I know – I actually checked just to make sure I wasn’t crazy, and besides the 1080p resolution, it’s like looking at the exact same graphics. While the arenas are all rendered faithfully, they all seem a bit flat, which is something of an issue for visually stunning stages such as the modern one for all of WWE’s televised shows except for NXT. The Create Mode in the game, while offering to create quite the plethora of items – wrestlers, belts, move sets, entrances, arenas, finishing moves – seems limited at every turn, and in fact has not added much to its arsenal in a while. The controls, while easy to use, seem a little bit off in their timing and direction. There were times where I would try to climb back in to the ring and pick up the stairs instead. I would try to attack an opponent and accidentally clock the referee. One time, the former happened and I accidentally got myself disqualified because in the process of dropping the steps, I hit an opponent. Also, timing for counters seems to be a little off, since there seems, at times, to be a hair’s breadth between getting a counter properly and being too soon or too late. The announcing is a little frustrating at times, and even cuts out entirely a few times in Universe Mod. It’s truly a travesty that the settlement with the World Wildlife Fund means that WWE can’t use the original commentary for any WrestleMania before XIX. Speaking of WrestleMania mode, there are literally NO TAG TEAM MATCHES AT ALL IN SPITE OF TLC STEALING THE SHOW AT WRESTLMANIA X-SEVEN. Finally, the roster, and even the Universe Mode, are slightly out of date, or just plain limited. Some major exclusions to the roster include Curtis Axel (you know, the Intercontinental Champion), The Usos (been in the company for years, we say “Ous”, y’all say “OH!”), and quite a few Divas (who have their own TV show). Meanwhile, Universe Mode has Superstars instead of Main Event, and even 2K Sports knows they goofed on that one, since Main Event’s logo and arena are available for a custom show.
In spite of these problems, WWE 2K14 is still a fun game, and wrestling fans will enjoy it. Sure, it establishes the face of the WWE as The Rock on the cover (Triple H and Randy Orton, we got two words for you), but it’s still a decent attempt from a first-time publisher. We can only hope that next year’s iteration is even better.