2K grapples with greatness
With the demise of THQ, 2K picked up the license for the WWE games in early 2013 and on Oct. 29 released their first entry into the series WWE 2K14 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As someone who has played this series religiously since the very first iteration in 2000, and watched it go from good (SD) to amazing (SD2, 4, 5) to pretty bad (SVR, 2008) and back to greatness (SVR 10, WWE 12, 13) I was excited to see what a different company, especially one with so much know-how in the sports game department and a bigger budget, would do with the license.
Now, of course this year’s game was largely worked on by THQ since it was pretty late in the process when 2K took over, but the changes, additions, and influence of 2K are very obvious here and the game improved 10-fold over last year’s entry.
But who’s to say that the same game wouldn’t have been published by THQ had they not gone out of business? I guess we’ll never know, but I still say 2K’s influence shines through in many ways, which I’ll detail below.
Overall, the game doesn’t bring many new features to the table, nor does it do anything particularly innovative, but what it does do is improve greatly on the solid engine that has been in play since WWE 12. Many of the bugs and glitches that made WWE 13 a less-than-amazing experience are gone and all the great WWE game features like the creation suite, Community Creations and the TV-style presentation are here and better-than-ever.
Where the game shines most is in the improvements that were made, especially in gameplay. It’s all the little things that add up to make this game one of the best WWE experiences in recent memory.
Story (Single Player)
30 Years of WrestleMania
The story in this game is a little different from most single-player game modes. Instead of a season mode or something similar, much like last year’s Attitude Era mode, WWE 2K14 features a mode full of recreations of some of the company’s greatest moments. This time, however, the matches don’t focus on a specific era, but rather on the greatest events from wrestling’s Super Bowl, WrestleMania.
With WrestleMania XXX (30) taking place in April of 2014, THQ/2K choose to focus on the past 30 years and all the best moments of those events. The player is tasked with recreating specific moments from these matches and reliving history. Complete with commentary that represents each match’s historical comments, cutscene backstage promos, video packages to set up what lead to most of the matches, cinematic entrances and an all-star roster, the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is a ton of fun.
The mode features approximately 45 matches that run the gamete of the likes of Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior from WrestleMania VI, to Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel from WrestleMania XI, to Undertaker vs. Kane from WrestleMania XIV, to The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin from WrestleMania X-Seven, to Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar from WrestleMania XX, all the way to The Rock vs. John Cena from 2013’s WrestleMania 29. A full list of matches featured in the mode can be viewed at 2K’s website.
Each match has a set of goals for the player to complete, things like “grapple the opponent by the announce table when they are in critical condition”, which will then trigger a cutscene of a historical moment from the match. The player controls whoever won each match and must also win the match. By completing objectives, unlockables like legends, arenas and attires become available for use in other modes.
The mode is far from perfect though. Sometimes cutscenes don’t trigger when they should and some objectives can be confusing or downright difficult to complete because of when they occur or lack of explanation. The AI can be very random as well and will often times go for a pin while you’re trying to set up a move to complete an objective, which can be frustrating because the pin kick out meter isn’t exactly perfect either.
But overall the mode is a ton of fun and the matches, for the most part, are recreated very closely to their real-life counterparts. The mode also features historical photos and videos which are unlocked as the player progresses.
The second part of the single-player experience is the Streak Mode. No, this is not a mode where wrestlers run around the ring in the nude. It’s a mode that pays tribute to the legendary winning streak of The Undertaker. The Dead Man is 22-0 at the event and the game has a great mode to help players relive some of his greatest moments. Well, actually it’s more of a way to recreate history.
There are two parts to this mode: Defend the Streak, a mode that plays like a gauntlet, and Defeat the Streak, a mode that plays like a boss battle.
In Defend the Streak, players as faced with an ongoing number of wrestlers who come out one-by-one as you play as either Undertaker (current) or Undertaker (retro) and try to pin, submit or KO as many opponents as you can.
At the end of the match, the player is ranked against other people who’ve tried to match up to Undertaker’s legacy and an online leader board keeps track of the best Undertakers. There is even an unlockable exhibition mode, called Slobber Knocker (a throwback to the mode from the early games in the series) where players can play through this gauntlet as anyone.
This mode is a lot of fun, especially because of the inclusion of the leader board. It’s a blast trying to beat other people’s score and trying to see how long you can survive.
In Defeat the Streak, players are tasked with choosing a wrestler from the roster (superstars, legends, or created wrestlers) and beating The Undertaker. This mode is set up like a boss battle in that Undertaker is extremely difficult to beat. He can do all sorts of things like turn off the lights and spawn behind your wrestler following a finishing move or like easily kicking out of pins. In order to unlock Undertaker’s extra attires, it is required to beat Undertaker with all the superstars (well, those included, sorry Giant Gonzalez) that Undertaker has defeated over the years.
Again, this mode features a leader board to make replayability a big focus. Though the mode can sometimes be a bit cheap and difficulty can be random, it’s a lot of fun trying to take out the Undertaker. Every time you play it, the match plays out differently so there is definitely a high level of replay in this mode.
The last single-player mode in the game (aside from exhibition) is Universe Mode. This is the fourth game in the series to feature this mode and it gets better and better every time.
This is one of those areas of the game I mentioned before where there aren’t a lot of additions or innovations, but where the improvements from 2K really shine through.
Aside from being able to hold tournaments and have rivalries this year, there isn’t much new that was added, but the cutscenes trigger a lot more often and the settings options (like turning injuries on or off) actually work this year.
Also, 2K/Yukes separated the My WWE option (a feature that allows players to customize show affiliation, teams, etc.) into two separate sections, one for exhibition play and one for Universe, so that if a tag team breaks up in Universe, it doesn’t mess up your teams in exhibition mode. Also, players can have more matches per show now and there are many other small improvements in this mode as well.
The user interface is excellent and easy to navigate, and the presentation, like having an in-game recreation of WWE.com display news and information, really adds to the immersion.
However, the mode still has a lot to improve on and there are still issues with cutscenes working properly. The mode desperately needs better statistic tracking and the rivalry mode, while a great addition, is annoying since it makes a match on every show between rivals. In other words, if CM Punk and Undertaker are rivals, they will face each other on every show until the rivalry ends. This is pretty unrealistic and can be repetitive.
Still, Universe Mode is better than ever and can be a lot of fun to play through. The customization options are great and it really creates a lot of replay value.
Play Now (Exhibition)
The Play Now mode is the standard exhibition/quick play type mode. All of the same match options are here from past games with the addition of the unlockable Slobber Knocker match and the new Gold Rush Tournament (a variation of King of the Ring that allows the end goal to be a championship as opposed to just a tournament win).
The title match mode is also back this year and players can even compete for created championships (more on that later). The user interface has been reworked a bit and is overall smooth and easy-to-use.
The gameplay this year is another area where 2K’s influence has helped a lot. Many of the glitches and bugs have been worked out from the past couple of years and the gameplay is smoother, faster and overall a lot more competitive than in the past few games in the series.
The AI goes for finishers more often and doesn’t just spam reversals all match long. The new baseball bat weapon (in place of the mop) is fun to use, the new OMG moves, like the apron DDT, are great and the reanimated/motion-captured moves make the game look and feel very true to the real-life product.
The addition of occasional gestures, like adjusting one’s elbow pad or motioning for an opponent to “bring it”, which happen automatically, really add to the realism. The added selling of moves is also a welcome change where opponents will look “laid out” after a big move, signaling to the player that it’s time to attempt a pin. This is something that was in past games and I’m glad they brought it back.
Weight detection works better this year, though still not as good as in games like WWF No Mercy. The adrenaline system is nice too because it keeps opponents from spamming running moves as if you run too much, your wrestler will run out of steam.
Overall, the gameplay is largely the same as in WWE 13, but there are so many small improvements, bug/glitch fixes and overall smoothed out elements in 2K14 that the experience has become a lot more fluid and fun. There are still areas that could use improvement like bringing back the ability to walk backstage, the ability to fight off to the side of the ramp or in the crowd, and bringing back the two-button reversal system, but overall the gameplay in WWE 2K14 is the best the series has seen in a long time.
There’s not much to say about the visuals for WWE 2K14. They are the same as they have been in the past few years. However, I will say this: 2K’s budget is obvious in this game. Every wrestler that should has their entrance attires, most wrestlers have multiple attires, the lighting is better and overall, the graphics are smoother, brighter and more vibrant.
The crowd still looks terrible and some of the character models are pretty bad. Kaitlyn, in particular, looks horrible. Created superstars blend with the in-game grapplers better than ever though and the clipping and graphical glitches have been cut way down this year.
For next year’s game, since it will likely be on next-gen systems, I think this is the area I’d like to see the games improve the most. I mean, there are a lot small things that add to the overall appearance of the game, like having facial hair look realistic as opposed to painted on (see picture of Ryback), but in the grand scheme of things, the graphics in these games have been behind for a long time.
The arenas, however, look excellent and the visual presentation of the game is amazing. Yukes does a wonderful job recreating the look and feel of WWE TV and it gets better every year, but the character models and audience can definitely use improvement. Still, the graphics are pretty good and the small changes, once again, add up, making a big difference this year.
The sound in WWE 2K14 is probably one of the best improvements in the game.
Every move sounds brutal now, as it should, with much louder and more accurate crashes and bangs as wrestlers hit the mat. Chops to the chest can be heard as the skin on skin collision occurs. Weapon hits sound great this year and the audience, music and other sounds blend together well.
Perhaps the best new feature is superstar voices like Daniel Bryan chanting “NO!” and R-Truth shouting “What’s Up?!” during matches and entrances.
Unfortunately, the commentary is just as repetitive, uninspired and boring as ever. Let me make one thing clear though, the commentary in the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is really well-done. Jim Ross, Jerry “The King” Lawler and “Mean” Gene Okerlund do an excellent job.
But it’s too bad that outside of the mode, the commentary is plagued with many of the same lines we’ve been forced to listen to for the last 10 years.
Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler repeat the same comments every match and often times say things that don’t even make sense to what’s going on in the ring. While this can be comical, at times, it’s mostly annoying. Along with the graphics, hopefully WWE 2K15 will fix this problem and give players all-new commentary.
It would be nice if there were a way to turn commentary off, but there isn’t. Turning down the voice volume also loses the announcer voices so when wrestlers make their entrances, there is no announcement of their name or hometown. At the very least, next year, there should be separate volume options for announcements and commentary.
Probably the best addition to this year’s game in regards to sound though is the Jukebox Mode. This is a simple addition that the series has needed for a while now. It basically allows players to choose which music they want and don’t want to hear on the main menus. Players can also add custom music to the soundtrack.
It’s a great way to change it up when playing the game for hours, creating that perfect wrestler, but is also welcome in the case of that one song that just drives you nuts. With the new Jukebox function, those annoying songs can be turned off.
The creation suite is back this year and it’s pretty much the same as last year. But that’s not a bad thing. All of the favorites like Create-A-Superstar, Create-An-Arena, Superstar Threads and Create-A-Moveset return in WWE 2K14 along with all the other great modes.
These modes are by-and-large the same as in WWE 13 with only very minor changes being made here and there. The best improvement to Create-A-Superstar is that Yukes untied the weight and height from each other so that you don’t have to have your wrestler be a certain height in order to consider them a heavyweight or super heavyweight.
There have also been improvements to Create-An-Entrance, but again, nothing major. Players can now choose which parts of the entry way to have lit up or turned off and gone is the list of “Superstar 1”, “Superstar 2”, etc. for preset entrance motions – they are now listed with cryptic names like “Father of Extreme” for Tommy Dreamer. This makes it a bit easier to figure out which motions to use.
2K also removed the ability to make custom entrance videos for created wrestlers for some reason. My guess is that it was causing glitches. Surely, they was a good reason to remove it. I can say this though, the save file is much smaller now so maybe that had something to do with it.
Also, Superstar Threads now allows players to customize not only attires but entrance attires as well. So no more John Cena with pink shorts and a purple entrance shirt. He can now wear all pink!
Another mode that was improved on this year is Create-A-Championship. This is a mode that fans have requested for years since it was taken out of the series back in the PlayStation 2 days. In WWE 13, players could customize belts but the mode was very limited. This year, while the belt creation itself isn’t nearly as robust as it was back in the PS2 days, the belts can be saved as new championships and defended in many modes within the game.
The only real new addition this year is the Superstar Heads option in Create-A-Superstar. This allows players to use the head and body of in-game superstars to create wrestlers or new attires for those wrestlers. It’s pretty limited though and only has a few wrestlers to choose from. Still, the ability to save these as alternate attires for the superstars is pretty cool.
However, it does take up a created wrestler slot regardless of whether you want it to be a separate version of that wrestler or an alternate attire. To help with this though, 2K has upped the slots for created superstars from 50 to 100.
While the creation suite hasn’t changed much, it’s as great as always and I guess it’s a case of “don’t fix what ain’t broke.”
The online mode is also pretty much the same as in WWE 13.
Community Creations, ranked and player matches and the WWE Shop for downloadable content are all back this year.
So far, on the PS3 version, lag hasn’t been too much of an issue for me and community creations is working as it should. It’s very smooth and fast, in fact.
Other than that, there isn’t much different here. Let’s hope the servers hold up and the Community Creations section of the online continues to work properly.
The DLC program will work similar to WWE 13’s this year in that there will be 3 packs and a season pass.
The game once again has a robust and exciting DLC plan. This year, the DLC will add Fandango, Big E. Langston and the New World Order!
For $19.99, players can buy the Season Pass for WWE 2K14 and get all the DLC at a discounted price. 2K says players will save about 25% by buying the Season Pass as opposed to buying all the DLC individually.
In addition to saving money, players who get the pass will also receive two more wrestlers and a bunch of badges for online mode.
The Season Pass does not, however, include The Ultimate Warrior playable character, which was a pre-order DLC or the Undertaker (American Bad Ass) playable character, which was exclusive to the Phenom Edition of the game.
The packs included in the season pass are as follows:
Available now: Accelerator (unlock everything, customize in-game superstar attributes) ($1.99 or free with Season Pass)
Pack 1 (November): NWO Pack – The Giant (free for all), Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Macho Man, Syxx, Curt Hennig, Scott Steiner ($8.99 or free with Season Pass).
Pack 2 (December): WWE Superstar and Moves Pack – Summer Rae (free for all), Fandango, Big E. Langston, Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, 30 new moves and taunts ($7.99 or free with Season Pass).
Pack 3 (January): WWE Legends and Creations Pack – Virgil (free for all), Bruno Sammartino, Dusty Rhodes, Rick Rude, Jake Roberts, 14 more Superstar Heads ($8.99 or free with Season Pass).
Season Pass Exclusive (November): Kevin Nash and Scott Hall (Outsiders), over 10 new online badges.
For more information on DLC, please visit 2K’s website.
This is probably the best part about any wrestling game, but WWE 2K14 particularly shines in this department.
With 3 single-player modes (30 Years of WrestleMania, Streak Mode and Universe Mode) that can be played over and over and still grant a ton of fun for wrestling enthusiasts and casual fans alike, a creation suite rivaled by no other game, a robust online mode that, as long as it works properly, can bring hours and hours of enjoyment and a roster that makes games like the first Smackdown jealous to no end, there is a ton to do here and if you really love wrestling, you’ll never get bored.
Grab a few friends for local multiplayer and the experience is even better.
Despite the game’s flaws, areas that still need improvement and lack of new additions, it manages to be one of the better wrestling games, on a pure gameplay level, that we’ve seen in recent years.
This is a game that gamer’s will be playing not only up until the release of the next installment in the series but for years to come as well.
Though WWE 2K14 doesn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of new features, matches, modes, or other such things, it’s a game that can compete with the likes of Fire Pro Wrestling and WWF No Mercy in regards to gameplay. It’s smooth, fast, fluid and fun.
The modes and matches that are here are great, the create modes are in-depth and valuable and the multiplayer provides a great way to take out some anger or aggression against virtual grapplers all over the world.
In the end, the game isn’t perfect but the influence of 2K on this year’s installment to the series is clear and the outlook for future games in the series is bright. WWE 2K14 is a great game and should provide hours of fun for those who choose to step into the squared circle against the immortals of wrestling.