Note: This article has been updated to correct previous errors.
Nostalgia is a powerful driving force. Even for someone who doesn’t follow wrestling adamantly, I can remember where I was when The Rock took on Hulk Hogan, when The Undertaker had to face his half brother Kane (despite his promise to his dead parents never to fight his sibling) and when Mankind was sent shamed from the arena by a manipulative Triple H.
All that strutting around, chests puffed like peacocks, talking about whooping each other’s “candy asses” – that’s the true definition of modern day wrestling. Yes, the gladiator-style combat is the core foundation of the WWE, but without the drama to give it context, it’s merely a bunch of muscle-bound brutes slapping each other silly. Thankfully, WWE 2K14 delivers a perfect mix of the two, mostly due to the inclusion of the ’30 Years of Wrestlemania’ mode.
’30 Years of Wrestlemania’ functions as WWE 2K14’s main campaign, seeing players grappling, diving and pinning their way through over 45 iconic matches. It’s the recommended way to start the game, as jumping into any of the free play modes straight off the bat can be pretty daunting, offering an insanely steep learning curve that leaves anyone unfamiliar with the controls at the mercy of relentless CPU opponents. The section is split up into different eras, with the first 10 matches available being bundled under the “Hulkamania Runs Wild” era. Each match can be beaten any way the player chooses, but by adhering to specific historical objectives allows the player to unlock new stadiums, characters and outfits, offering a huge amount of expansion for the free play modes.
For example, one of the first matches sees Andre the Giant, Hulk’s longtime team mate, turn on his friend thus causing the two to face off in a match for the ages. Here the player is thrown into Hogan’s boots and, in order to beat Andre, you have to work through a series of tasks. The first is given to you, but the remaining four are hidden, only being unveiled once the prior objective is achieved.
WWE2k14 gives wrestlers four stages of health: no damage, light damage, moderate damage and critical damage. The more blows a wrestler takes the more damaged they become. This can be achieved by either beating the enemy to a pulp or by targeting certain body parts using the easily activated targeting system, eventually leaving wrestlers hobbling around the arena, holding their arms, or with heads lolling from side to side depending on what area you’ve chosen to exploit. In this particular match, the first objective was to “Grapple Andre (light) by the ring steps” which, upon doing so, triggers an in-game historical cut scene in which Andre the Giant head-butts a pole. Upon completion, the second objective reveals itself, namely “Irish Whip Andre (critical) in the ring” and so on so forth.
By adhering to this structure, 2k Sports has cleverly created a way to keep the gameplay fresh and exciting, activating a series of iconic scenes that make the fight feel more organic. It also forces players to adapt to different play styles, avoiding the “rinse and repeat” grapple and pin gameplay that previous wrestling games have fallen prey to. The function isn’t without its frustrations however. Sometimes the game will put you in situations where activating a historical objective will see your player taken down to critical damage, no matter how well you’ve played previously – with the only hope of passing the stage resting on the small chance that you might get a lucky strike in or a well timed reversal. The only alternative being to play that same stage over and over until you finally land one. On other occasions the historical objective might be to work your way up to a special move, requiring you to then land a top rope aerial move. Only once you’ve finally done enough damage to activate said special move, your character refuses to climb the corner post, instead climbing out of the arena and picking up the stairs repeatedly as these actions are all the activated by the same button. Often I found by the time I finally got to the top post, either my special had run out or my opponent was back on his feet, just waiting for the opportune moment to hit me in the nuts.
Most levels provide backstory for each match in the form of pre-show mash-ups of original footage, text and gameplay, but the commentators also do a great job of filling in the blanks during each match. Unfortunately, they’re not so good at following the action, having pre-programmed dialogue that sometimes triggers before a move is even actioned.The worst moment was in freeplay mode when I had assigned my opponent to a human player, even though I was the only one playing, just to get a feel for the controls. I was mashing buttons trying to figure things out, but mostly running into the walls while good ol’ 2p stood stock still. The commentators however seemed to be watching a different game altogether, yelling “these two are going to town on each other!”. Yes, it could be taken ironically, but no, it didn’t come across that way.
But these are very small gripes with what is ultimately a structurally sound game. The character design is impeccable, with 2K’s well honed ability to render lifelike sweaty sportsman shining through, yet this goes beyond mere rendering. Each character’s gait, the way they hold themselves and their actions are all dramatically different, with an insane amount of detail put into recreating the tiny nuances that define these strong personalities.The way Andre carefully shambles around the arena for example, or The Rock sneaking in the odd showboating hand-raise between punches, even down to Rick Flare’s constant mid-game chatter, inaudible as it may be, as he tries to get in the mind of his opponent or smooth talk a member of the crowd. All these actions says a lot about the time and care put into each individual personality.
On top of this, the character creation tool is as in depth and thorough as it’s ever been, with creation enthusiasts being able to spend days tweaking their ultimate superstar to make him or her just right. Not only can you customise your character in great detail, you can even painstakingly customise their arena entry, working out when fireworks will go off, choosing music from your own music library and even pinpointing when they will do what action where etc etc.
A nice new addition to WW2k14 is the introduction of special abilities, giving individual characters a certain edge in different situations. For example, assigning “Ring Escape” to a character will allow players to roll out of the ring, even when dazed, providing a quick escape from an otherwise deadly situation. Utilising “Comeback”, on the other hand, triggers a “quicktime-off” of sorts, giving the controlling player a chance to get back in the game if things are looking dire. These abilities work both in the favour of new players, who haven’t quite mastered the essential timing of reversals – giving them a chance to break up what could otherwise be a painfully long beat down – as well as for seasoned players, who can use the functions more strategically to their advantage.
Despite its steep learning curve (and the odd unresponsive button mash) WWE 2K14 comes as a welcome addition to the already huge array of wrestling games on offer. It has as much personality and flare as you’d hope to find in a wrestling game, as well as offering a large amount of single player/multiplayer content to keep any wrestling fan happy, no matter what their play style. More than anything, WWE 2K14 signals a changing of the guard. Much like The Rock eclipsed Hulk Hogan at the famous Wrestlemania 18, 2K Sports has stepped into the ring and delivered one of the most exciting wrestling games to date. The incredibly large roster, the generation spanning campaign, and the extremely customisable gameplay all work together to make WWE 2K14 the undisputed intercontinental champion of the digital wrestling world.
Large Roster of Characters | "30 Years of Wrestlemania" Campaign | Impeccable character design | Captures the true feeling of the WWE
Steep learning curve | Repetitive commentary | Buttons not always responsive