WWE 2K14 Review: Ain’t nothing like the real thing

Having taken a few years off from the WWE games, I came into WWE 2K14 with a renewed interest for one reason alone. 30 Years of Wrestlemania. As a lifelong fan of professional wrestling and having an inexplicable soft spot for the mid 80’s to early 90’s era of the sport, and more specifically the WWF during that time, the prospect of being able to play as Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Mr. Perfect and “Ravishing” Rick Rude was enough to pull me back into the fold. That is, until I actually played the game.

It was only a matter of moments before I realized that the roster I wanted to use in the game was hidden behind a wall of unlocks with ridiculous stipulations and triggers. OK, so I wouldn’t be able to jump right in and relive the glory days – that’s fine. I figured I would just play the game as intended and jump through the hoops that developer Yukes asks me to. The only thing is, the game isn’t very fun to play. Opponents are reversal machines, and reversal prompts require lightning quick timing that I either don’t possess or that I have no interest in mastering.

To make matters worse, 30 Years of Wrestlemania chooses only one or two matches per event and I’m forced to play as the winner of said match, meaning I have to use Hulk Hogan against King Kong Bundy or Ricky Steamboat against Savage. Something I wouldn’t do by choice and being forced to play as characters I don’t like is an absolute turn off. What I enjoyed about past wrestling games was being able to play as whomever you want. Being forced to play as wrestlers I never much cared for against wrestlers I genuinely enjoy is the exact opposite of what I want to do and strips away all desire to even put in the effort required to win the matches, let alone make sure I hit all the moments the game requires to unlock said wrestlers. To be fair, it gets much better as the “years” go on regardless of more than too many instances where I had to play as John Cena.

Even more frustrating is that there are missed opportunities abound in this mode. It’s unfortunate that the player is not given the chance to rewrite history by playing as the loser of a historical match up to right the wrongs by winning the match up in the game. Since there are no story threads to keep track of as each match is presented with its historical context leading up to the match, this should have been an easy thing to do and would have gone a long way with fans who felt that Savage should have retained the IC belt at Wrestlemania III against Steamboat, or that Shawn Michaels should have won the bar setting Ladder Match from Wrestlemania X against Razor Ramon. Instead, the player is forced to relive the actual match as it happened. I can just watch the match without the frustration of having to press the R2 button at the exact, split-second moment the game asks me to. And it’s made even worse by the fact that if you lose, you can’t progress the game. It forces you into rematch after rematch. Sure that might not be an issue to some, but as someone who wasn’t having fun to begin with and was butting heads with the entire design philosophy of the game mode, it just makes it all the more annoying.

Another glaring oversite, is the lack of the ability to use your painstakingly created Superstar in any kind of story mode. Sure, the basic premise of the game is the history of the WWE and Wrestlemania, but limiting your creation to online, WWE Universe mode and exhibitions makes me miss the days of WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain.

It’s not all bad; the Creation suite is impressive as ever, and I was able to make a very good version of “The Franchise” Shane Douglas (something I have done since create-a-wrestler has been a thing) and being able to actually use Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” as his intro music goes a long way. Entrances can be customized to an incredible amount of detail, including camera cutaways, pyro placement and timing, and lighting. The only disappointment in this area is the stunning lack of Titantron videos and limited moves for the characters as they enter the ring. This seems like an odd omission considering past games have had this feature.

WWE Universe makes its return and remains as deep and satisfying as ever. You play the General Manager role by either simulating a pre-made show for weeks leading up to a PPV, or you can edit the shows to make your fantasy programs come to virtual life. It’s still incredibly deep, with tons of options, setting up rivalries and their duration, Championships and stipulations for the matches. There’s plenty here to explore and since you can play the matches. It’s actually a lot of fun, if time consuming. I can see myself losing hours upon hours meticulously booking programs, angles and Pay-per-views.

Want to change the outcome so that Michaels wins this epic match against Razor? Well, you can’t.

As per usual with the created wrestlers, they never look as good as the in game models and always look kind of rubbery when compared, but I guess we’re just not there yet in regards to graphics and it’s a minor nitpick overall. That said, most of the in game Supterstars look fantastic and offer a lot of variety taking into consideration how they evolve over time.  It should be noted, however, that there are some jarringly weird looking wrestlers, like Mick Foley, Edge, and Big Show that look more like they were pulled from the Creations suite rather than modeled directly after their real life counterparts.

The rest of the game remains relatively unchanged from years before. There are the same match types that have always been available and the transition animations look as jerky and stilted as ever and strike moves look startlingly out of place with how much faster they are than grapple and running moves. I look forward to the day when the engine can render hands in positions other then flat and open or fists. Most matches look like two stiffly animated puppets walking around the ring until one does a move and then the animation comes alive and becomes more fluid. This is something the series has always, erm, wrestled with and hopefully now that 2K has full control of the series we may see a drastic overhaul.

I genuinely had a tough time scoring WWE 2K14. It started off doing absolutely nothing but disappoint and frustrate me but felt better over time and I began to have some fun with it.  Animations are still wonky, as ever, and some of the in-game roster don’t look much better or at times worse, than the Create-A-Wrestler formulas you can find on the internet. I found the WWE Universe to be a fun alternative from the main attraction and my initial beefs with the design of the main game dissipated over time. Creating a Superstar can and will make hours pass by while trying to nail your favourite non-licensed wrestler’s look to the Tee. Unfortunately 30 Years of Wrestlemania will leave fans of heels in the cold for the majority of its duration, but fans of Hulk Hogan, and the Undertaker will most likely eat it up. While I’m sure there is plenty of enjoyment to be had for those willing to put the time in, at the end of the day I would rather just watch the real thing.

Sean played WWE 2K14 on PlayStation 3 for approximately 15 hours with a copy provided by 2K.

7/10+ Impressive customization suite
+ Lots of variety in match types and rules
+ Universe mode is as deep and satisfying as ever
+ Being able to import Perfect Strangers for Shane Douglas’s entrance music
+ Real life wrestlers look great overall…
-…except for a handful
-30 Years of Wrestlemania forces the player through hoops
-No ability to choose who you want to play as in classic matches
-Inability to use your created wrestlers in any real story mode
-AI are reversal machines
-Clunky transition/walking/striking animations

Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3

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