When 2K bought the rights to make WWE games during the THQ selloff I was genuinely happy because 2K generally makes quality sports games. If any developer was going to take this franchise in a new direction the people at 2K would be able to that. Booting up the game though I noticed that Yuke’s, the developer of the WWE series for as long as I could remember, was the developer on this release of WWE now attached with the 2K14 branding. With all that in mind I jumped into the ring to put WWE 2K14 through its ropes.
With the same developer behind this WWE title I didn’t expect many changes when it comes to the visual quality of the game, but, alas I was wrong and things seem to have gotten worse. The characters are jagged and in some cases look nothing like their real life counterpart. King Kong Bundy looked like some overweight guy with black tights and Hulk Hogan, although recognizable as himself, looked really blocky. All the hairstyles, tattoos, wardrobe, animations, poses, etc. were all there and did help set the wrestlers apart as individuals but overall there is a lack of polish I would expect in a game this late in the generation and also when the graphics to my recollection were much better in last year’s release.
Customizations are a staple part of wrestling games as far back as I can remember and over the years they have been tweaked and improved adding more depth as a whole. Sadly, this year it appears to be the same old stuff from the 2013 release. Creating your own superstar, arenas, stories and championships all have been brought back and do a great job of adding that extra depth super fans will dive right into. However, to be honest this is something that I wouldn’t want to spend hours on tweaking as I just want to put some boot to ass as I compete against my opponents.
Sound has always been of good quality within a WWE game especially with the music and voice acting that comes into play. When your favourite superstar struts down to the stage with their theme music blaring throughout the arena it shoots a jolt of electricity into any fan and sets the tone for any upcoming match. The rest of the game aside from the sound effects from flying punches, aerial attacks or a steel chair to the face is mainly composed of the great voice work from the ringside announcers, Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. Just like you would find on Raw or Smackdown you are given a great commentary from this veteran duo, although repetitive at time the excitement, knowledge and expertise comes through in their work. One pet peeve though with the commentators was they would span the ages, even making appearances ringside during historical matches when they were not even in the business yet. It would have been a nice touch to either get the original ringside crew (if they are still around) or some actors to re-create an experience more authentic from those times. Other voice work comes into play from the raw superstars but for the most part it comes in the form of video footage which always adds to that WWE experience.
The major change to the gameplay comes with a new storyline mode that is called “The 30 Years of WrestleMania”. Last year they had a mode called “Attitude Era” which was a great history lesson for newcomers to the Degeneration X storyline. This time you get a much more in depth history lesson from the times of the Hulkamania, through the rise of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, a revisit to the Attitude Era, along with more current storylines involving HHH, The Rock, Edge, John Cena, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar. For history buffs or newcomers to Sports Entertainment you really have to focus on this mode if you do anything first in the game. It’s a good way to learn the controls without feeling too much pressure from a much more competive mode like “The Streak”.
For those not too familiar with “The Streak” let me educate you a little bit about the phenom known as The Undertaker. The Undertaker has won every single match he has ever competed at in what is known as the Superbowl of wrestling, Wrestlemania. His record of 21-0 has been attempted to be beaten by the likes of HHH and Shawn Michaels to no avail, but, in the video game world you have the opportunity to either defend your streak as The Undertaker or to end it in one of the hardest difficulties that I have ever seen in a WWE game since I have been playing in them. To beat this mode you really have to know your controls, be quick on counters and know how to use the whole environment around you.
The controls remain consistent with previous incarnations with no major changes that I could find. Pulling off strikes, grapples, reversals, submissions, etc. are all quite natural and often you will be prompted on screen what buttons to push to perform specific tasks, or if you pull a reversal too late or slow a message will pop up on the screen. Limb targeting is still a major part of your strategy to weaken areas of your opponent to pull off a finishing move with damaging effectiveness.
No matter how much fans like myself complain, or in this case point out in reviews the AI is incredibly stupid and needs a major overhaul. Perhaps with 2K at the helm we can hope they guide the ship to fix this issue as the AI controller characters will perform the same moves over and over again like there is a specific set they need to complete before switching to a new set. Human players will even find some repetitiveness at the higher difficulties, although not as prevalent, it is still frustrating to find the AI is this predictable with the technology available for developers to use.
This time around there was obviously a focus on expanding more into the stories of the WWE with the addition “The 30 Years of Wrestlemania” and “The Streak” that only one new gameplay mode (Slobber Knocker) has been added which is pretty much “The Streak” but you get to choose your own superstar to run the survival type mode with. Other match types are your typical fair of singles, tag, cage, Extreme Rules, Triple Threat, Inferno and one of my personal favourites the Royal Rumble.
If you are looking for some modern storylines then WWE Universe is for you as you can completely customize and play through your own version of the WWE. The best way I can describe WWE Universe is that it is your GM mode you would find in other sports games, but you also get to play it as a career mode while you pull the strings from the background. In here you set up your rosters, tag teams, titles, storylines and a new addition of rivalries. This is the major change in WWE Universe where you can set up story arcs between rivalries to spice things up a bit. However, if you’re like me and don’t want to go around customizing things you jump in and play the game while the game takes care of the management part for you. Which was exactly what this player wanted to do at the end of the day, sit back and punch some people in the face in a good ole slobber knocker (as JR would say).
WWE 2K14 seems to have stumbled this year presenting a title with graphics that appear somewhat worse then last year, the ever present predictable AI is back, and some historical discrepancies exist. Fans may be able to overlook these issues as the game still boasts a rich story, stellar voice acting and provides an amazing history lesson/reminder for fans but to the average gamer not emotionally invested in this series I would pass on this title and wait for next year in hopes the game will bring a bit more new offerings to the table.