|Image Source: Amazon|
Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Yuke's and Visual Concepts
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 29 2013 (US) and November 1 2013 (UK)
Consoles: PS3 and Xbox 360
So, at last we have the much-hyped WWE 2K14, the latest instalment of the lengthy WWE videogame series, and the first to be published by 2K Sports. Considering the quick turnaround after THQ folded in early 2013, it was likely that this would be a transitional game in some ways, and that is the case, with little in the way of major new features and a greater emphasis on minor tweaks, for the large part. However, the changes which have been made are almost all for the better, resulting in arguably the greatest WWE videogame since the mid-2000s.
Let's start with 30 Years Of WrestleMania, a mode which celebrates WWE's biggest event through a series of matches from the history of the show, along with in-game challenges. If that sounds familiar, it's because the WrestleMania Tour option from the 2009 game WWE Legends Of WrestleMania offered something very similar. Where 30 Years exceeds WM Tour is that the mode covers the entire history of WM so far (WM 29 is the most recent Mania so this is where the mode ends, despite its name), with a load of unlockables, photos and video content in the manner of last year's Attitude Era mode, and with a greater range of characters and a larger spotlight on the entire legacy of WrestleMania.
The mode is one great gem. From the early years where we can play as Hulk Hogan against the likes of Andre The Giant, Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior, to the New Generation battles that involves Shawn Michaels in famous Ladder and Iron Man bouts against Razor Ramon and Bret Hart, onto the Attitude Era and showdowns as part of the Steve Austin-Rock trilogy, into the time of Ruthless Aggression with major main events for John Cena and Batista, and up to the modern day with the Cena-Rock main events and big showdowns for The Undertaker against Michaels and Triple H, there are so many hugely memorable matches, which provide a load of standout moments. As well as those listed above, there's the classic Savage-Ricky Steamboat match, the unforgettable Bret-Austin Submission match, the Hogan-Rock generational battle and more.
As part of the mode, every single WrestleMania arena is here (and a template WM 30 venue is also available outside of the mode), along with dozens of big stars from over the first three decades of Mania (more on them shortly), and a lot of authentic attires from all of those major matches. As an added bonus, we get a lot of cool added touches, from the pre-match promos by the likes of Savage and Shawn (with the real-life interviews spoken by their videogame counterparts) to the true-to-life cutscenes (such as Ric Flair crying before Shawn superkicked him into retirement at WM XXIV) to the realistic atmospheres (we even get the "You sold out!" chants for Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar from WM XX). And the last match, Rock-Cena II from WM 29, takes on the feel of a final battle from Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat as you enter a super-tough yet ultimately exciting showdown and exchange of finishers and finisher reversals, mirroring what went down that night in MetLife Stadium.
There are some absent matches, including Warrior vs. Savage from WM VII, Austin-HBK from WM XIV and Taker-Michaels I from WM 25. But that's easy to forgive when the mode as a whole is this fun; it is the best relive-matches mode ever in a wrestling game, and it is arguably the best single-player mode in a WWE game for a decade, if not longer. It is that good.
Like WWE '13, there is unfortunately no Season or Road To WrestleMania story mode, but 30 Years is not the only single-player option available. We also get The Streak, which celebrates another major aspect of Mania, that being The Undertaker's incredible undefeated record. This takes on two forms: playing as one of Taker's WrestleMania opponents and attempting to defeat him at said Mania (and Taker puts up a great fight, unsurprisingly), and playing as Taker himself in a never-ending Gauntlet match similar to the old Slobber Knocker option. The Gauntlet bit doesn't quite match what Taker has to do every year to retain his Streak, but it's fun nonetheless, and playing to defeat The Phenom is even more fun; my attempt to beat Taker as Shawn Michaels was actually one of the most fun and realistically dramatic matches I've ever played on a wrestling game.
I mentioned the roster earlier; another massive selling point of 2K14 has to be the line-up. Whereas last year combined the WWE rosters of 1997-1999 and 2011-2012, here the 2012-2013 crew is bolstered by the biggest names from the previous three decades, via their WrestleMania history. Just look at this line-up of stars: Rock, Cena, Hogan, Austin, Michaels, HHH, Bret, Undertaker, Warrior, Savage, Lesnar, Punk, Orton, Andre, Goldberg, The Shield, Mysterio, Eddie, Jericho, Sheamus, Big Show, Bryan, Hall, Nash, Kane and many more. Even Bruno Sammartino makes an appearance as DLC. Of particular note, Hogan makes his first appearance on a flagship WWE game for seven years, despite being under contract to TNA, and we finally get Warrior's debut in the series after appearances in Legends Of WrestleMania and All-Stars (Warrior is the pre-order exclusive). There are so many huge names, many making returns (Goldberg is here for the first time in ten years) or debuts (Razor Ramon and Scott Hall both finally represent the Bad Guy in the series), along with a great line-up of stars from today's WWE (including a series debut for the three members of The Shield). This has the best roster ever in a wrestling videogame; there are only a couple of absentees preventing this being a perfect roster (one of whom, Roddy Piper, is included as a non-playable during 30 Years mode).
The gameplay is tweaked very slightly, but just enough to make matches a little more user-friendly, resulting in a wrestling engine that, whilst not flawless nor massively in-depth, stands as the best in the series for almost a decade. Meanwhile, Universe returns with a few neat changes, and a cool new feature is the Music Jukebox, whereby you can play superstar themes in full and assign them as tunes to play when scanning through menus (certain wrestlers have multiple themes via 30 Years; one of them is the old-school WM song circa 1993-1998, which is awesome!). Matches in old-school arenas have a cool-looking visual effect which makes them look dated (as if you're watching on an old, busted-up television set). The sound is improved mildly so that SFX such as ring bells and weapon blows sound more authentic, as well as having wrestlers speaking during their entrances more frequently (like Sheamus shouting "Fella!", Ryback mouthing "Wake up!" and Fandango reminding people of his name post-match, although Daniel Bryan yelling "No!" as fans respond "Yes!" is the highlight). There are a few more OMG! moments, including Antonio Cesaro-inspired throws into the air for the likes of uppercuts or RKOs, and the chance to hit two opponents with one finisher (think of a stacked Shell Shocked or a stacked Attitude Adjustment). Oh, and a wrestler's Twitter handle now appears on the pre-match namebars.
The final big changes come via the long-established creation suite, which now boasts Create A Championship for the first time since SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, and an option to add real-life Superstar Heads to created wrestlers (which helps if you're creating, say, Mankind or the Straight Edge Society version of CM Punk). Lastly, you can now create 100 wrestlers which, combined with a final roster total of 103 (and that is already star-studded to the max), results in a potentially enormous line-up of wrestlers to mix and match with.
There are some downsides to the game: backstage brawling is not improved upon; there are no new match types; and whilst the wrestling engine is the best it's been for years, it still feels like it's lacking in depth, as alluded to earlier on. The lack of a story mode is not as glaring as in WWE '13, but it's still noticeable. The roster could still do with a few more legends, despite the line-up being packed with star power (besides Piper, there's also The Legion Of Doom, Demolition, The British Bulldog and others who have appeared in games not too long ago). And there is an annoying trend of finishers not being enough to, erm, finish off your adversaries. However, for a game which beforehand seemed like a WrestleMania-based version of WWE '13, this does so much more right than wrong, and is fantastically enjoyable.
Is WWE 2K14 as good as WWF No Mercy, SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain or SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006, the top three greatest WWF/WWE wrestling games ever? Erm, not quite; the flaws, whilst minor, do have merit. Is it the best game since that trio of greatness? Absolutely. In fact, with an additional story mode and a slightly more complex wrestling engine, this very well could have been a contender for Best Wrestling Game Ever. As it is, though, WWE 2K14 is superb; the outstanding 30 Years Of WrestleMania mode, the fantastic roster, the bundle of match options, the refined wrestling engine, the generous number of small yet valuable additions, the increased and more user-friendly creation suite and the entertainment provided by Universe and the new Streak mode, all combine for a terrific wrestling game, the best in almost a decade.
Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding