I am not a sporty person. I’m skinny and have the hand-eye coordination of a drunk. As a result I never really got into any team sports, and as a result most annual release sports games don’t interest me. What I like is theatre. Big melodrama, preferably with fireworks. Enter professional wrestling. It's basically a soap opera where every problem in their little world is solved by hitting it with something (a chair, a table, a fist...) until it isn’t a problem anymore.
After a long hiatus, I rediscovered my passion just in time for the release of last year’s entry, WWE '13. I thoroughly enjoyed that game and I have used it in the past to wash the taste of a certain other fighting game out of my mouth. With WWE 2K14 coming out under a different publisher, with THQ closing its doors last year and passing the reins to 2K, I was a little worried, but now I think I have found an annual franchise I can get into.
If you’re unfamiliar with World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as the WWF before a lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund), it is - and has been for over a decade - the number one company when it comes to producing pro wrestling, or as they prefer: "Sports Entertainment" (athletic competitions with pre determined results). WWE 2K14 is a fighting game, based around this franchise. Choose your favourite wrestlers, set up the match, and go at it.
Gameplay-wise, not a whole lot has changed from last year. The controls feel natural and are easy enough to learn without too much hassle. There are a few tweaks to the engine, like faster strikes and a great improvement in the reversal system, which make the game flow noticeably better.
Most of your favourite superstars are here, with one or two glaring exceptions (this is the problem with releasing a game just before the company goes through one of its biggest roster reshuffles in years). Hopefully, this will be fixed via DLC at some point down the road.
If I do have a complaint, it’s that the game has a tendency to spike difficulty, particularly during the story mode. One of the major selling points of last year's game was the Attitude Era “Story” campaign, which faithfully revisited a number of my favourite matches from the time I first discovered Sport Entertainment. Each match was lovingly recreated in high definition with the express purpose of reliving these moments. The big question for this year’s release was always going to be “How are they going to top that”?
The campaign this year revolves around The Showcase of the Immortals, Wrestlemania, commemorating the upcoming 30th anniversary of the event in 2014. The game provides matches from each of the events, often with vignettes explaining the background. The win conditions here are a little different to traditional bouts, with certain moves needing to be performed at certain times to complete “historical objectives”.
The AI in this mode can be a little unforgiving if you haven’t been through the type of match before (the ladder match at Wrestlemania X was particularly difficult) and it isn’t going to take it easy on you. I’ve seen computer controlled characters move out of the way of unblockable attacks during these “Wrestlemania Moments”, and playing the same match several times over to get that last moment can be frustrating. That said, the unlockables (which include arenas, costumes, match types and even new playable superstars), make the hard work worth it.
The Wrestlemania mode is fun, but what it represents is the real selling point. The idea of recreating fantasy matches from any period in wrestling history is where the meat is in this game. Big Show vs Andre the Gaint, John Cena vs Hulk Hogan... Personally, I set up Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bill Goldberg in a No DQ match the second they were both unlocked, because that was the match I always wanted to see as a kid.
The only real issue I have with WWE 2K14 is that there are a few stars who are significantly conspicuous by their absence. As a result some of my personal favourite matches from several events were not included. Some of these omissions, due to real life tragedies, are completely understandable. The ones that were obviously not included due to clearly sour business relationships do undercut the idea somewhat. It’s especially disappointing considering how many people they WERE able to cut a deal with. The Ultimate Warrior, whom the WWE released a documentary about how terrible a person he is/was, was included as a pre order bonus and produced the funniest commercial I have seen in years. The other problem is that the matches can only be as good as they were at the event, leading to some matches chosen for their historical value rather than whether they were entertaining to watch/play.
I do feel however, that it’s unfair to blame the game for that. It was clearly made by wrestling fans, for fans. Every great match they could include, they did. Vince McMahon, owner and chief creative force behind the WWE once said: "To those who believe in the beauty of professional wrestling, nothing needs to be said. For those who don't appreciate wrestling, nothing could be said to change their minds”. and I think that sums this game up. if you have no interest in pro wrestling this game isn’t going to turn you into a fan. It’s a decent fighting game with solid controls But if you are even a casual fan who’s interested in learning a little history, or a fan who hasn’t been back for a while, there is certainly enough here to make it worth your time.