This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of WWE 2K14.
Professional wrestling is a form of entertainment that moves in cycles, settling in on specific themes or characters for a period of time before the fans or creative forces behind the promotion decide to take them in another direction. Video games based on pro wrestling are no different, and developer Yukes has continued with the streamlined controls and context sensitive actions that they first introduced a few years ago in the latest installment. WWE 2K14 arrives with a somewhat dated feeling Predator engine powering the in-ring action,
The highlight in the first Yukes and 2K wrestling venture after the collapse of THQ is the WrestleMania story mode, a lengthy narrative road that highlights many of the greatest encounters from the beginning of the event that leads up to the recently passed WrestleMania 29. All-time classics such as Hulk Hogan versus the Giant, Macho Man against Ricky Steamboat and Stone Cold Steve Austin winning the belt from Shawn Michaels in the infamous Mike Tyson match are complemented by more modern classics such as the Undertaker’s recent defenses of his infamous streak and the Rock coming back to take on John Cena. It brings in the largest roster of wrestlers ever assembled in a single WWE game (with more to come via downloadable content), but it also likely exhausts the central premise of focusing on an era in the WWE: after addressing the Attitude Era in WWE 2K13 the year before, Yukes will either have to take a big creative leap (I would love a real Monday Night Wars mode with a deep WCW roster or a full on ECW mode!) or move to new creative ground.
By comparison, The Streak mode is an exercise in frustration that I could never come close to beating. A quick check online reveals that the Undertaker has unbelievable powers in that mode that rival even Kevin Nash’s character in late-90’s WCW when he booked many of his own matches, and ruins what should have been a challenging but reasonably difficult mode to celebrate WrestleMania by imbuing the Deadman with a host of powers not seen since the Acclaim arcade classics.
That said, it still looks and feels like a fun if dated wrestling simulator from bell to bell. Players can still initiate a grapple with A, strike with X, throw with B or RB to counter defensively in the heat of action along with some context sensitive cues such as unloading the gear from the announcer’s table or picking up a weapon. Yukes has understandably if artificially limited the number of times that certain actions such as counters can be performed to avoid nearly infinite chains of counters by really skilled players, which feels like a flawed solution to a real problem. That said, it’s still a lot of fun to build up your finisher bar or set up for an OMG Moment and trigger your finishing strike or submission to unleash chaos, especially with an expanded roster of big moments that consume a total of 3 stored OMG tokens like the double Attitude Adjustment or spearing someone into a pod in the Elimination Chamber (bonus points if you smash someone as Goldberg).
You can still create custom wrestlers and use them for a variety of modes such as the story driven WWE Universe, but they feel flat and still suffer from issues dating to previous entries such as repeatedly matching you with the same opponent or creating storyline feuds without a lead up or reason: smarks may argue that accurately reflects WWE booking, but let’s move on. Creating custom wrestlers, belts and arenas can still be fun but limiting, and the restrictions from a modular system that mostly reuses existing art assets results in some uninspired designs.
WWE 2K14 still works as a pro wrestling game, and it should hold up relatively well in the years to come with its huge assortment of wrestlers and variety of special moves that continue to impress. I do feel differently from our preview of the game at PAX Prime 2013 in that the Predator engine has aged fairly rapidly. I may have been a bit caught up in the excitement of the Ultimate Warrior signing autographs about 20 feet away from my demo station at the time, but the tweaks to Predator between 2K13 and 2K14 need to be greater: this is probably the last time that Yukes can go back to this game engine. That said, WWE 2K14 does provide a deep and fun wrestling game with the best custom mode ever released to celebrate the upcoming WrestleMania XXX and a lot of classic wrestlers debuting on a current console (in a non-arcade setting) such as Goldberg and Yokozuna: if you love pro wrestling, you have to pick this up.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars