With THQ bankrupt, 2K snapped up the WWE license like a title belt hanging from the rafters in a ladder match. WWE 2K14 has entered the ring, let's see how it fares.
Like many kids from decades gone by, I had a pretty strong interest in the WCW and WWF for a few years. Hell, to this day my avatar on this very website is that of Sting from the late 80s and 90s. Most wrestling fans eventually "grow out of it" or otherwise move on, but even non-wrestling fans can appreciate a fun wrestling game. Afterall, who doesn't get a kick or at least a smirk out of seeing a big elbow drop from the top ropes or an acrobatic takedown? While I have for one reason or another missed most wrestling games over the years, I was a huge fan of WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, thanks to it's, well, arcade-like speed and over the top action. Having never really gotten into any of the THQ WWE titles, I was eager to see what 2K could do with the series.
The first gameplay element I was eager to discover was the "clunkiness" factor -- granted, many pro wrestlers are gigantic, and they should have some 'lumbering about' feel to them. But for a videogame, especially in the pro wrestling genre, I'm looking for something less "sim" and more arcade-like. Combined with a simplified and accessible control scheme, I'm happy to say that the disagreeable 'feel' that previous wrestling games I had played in the past decade was largely gone, but not entirely. The control scheme is vital to the success of practically any game, wrestling included. With WWE 2K14, I thought Yukes did a fine job of making the controls highly accessible and functional. Purists and the more hardcore wrestling gamers are likely to find fault with them, but not being either of those and simply seeking quick fun, what 2K14 did works for me. To give you the rundown, L2 is for running, which is great for bouncing yourself off the ropes or for closing the gap to your opponent(s). L1 is used to climb the ropes, step in and out of the ring, and attempt to climb out of a cage in a cage match. The all important R2 is for Reversals; you have to time the pressing of this button just right when the prompt flashes. The harder the difficulty or the match, the harder it is to time that reversal. X is used for initiating a grapple, while Triangle is used to execute Signature and Finisher moves. Square is your basic attack button, used to lay into an enemy with a flurry of big haymakers, chops, or boot stomps, depending on your wrestler and positioning.
I don't recall which WWE game it was in recent years that I played, but I do remember there were meters for just about everything -- for deciding who won a standard grapple to breaking out of a submission hold, etc. It felt like 2K14 reduced the amount of meter based gameplay mechanics and I thought that helped. A meter is used for submissions (the text "Breaking Point" appears and starts to fill-in with red color) and a quick 'speed meter' (where you tap a button once as a quickly-changing meter goes up and down) is also used for escaping the cage, but overall, the use of meter-based gameplay seemed more balanced in 2K14.
Actually, while I'm on the topic of balance, I would submit that the difficulty of the AI can be sporadic and feel unfair at times. My first encounter with this was in 30 Years of Wrestlemania, which is 2K14's most impressive single player mode. The Macho Man / Steamboat fight (where you control Steamboat) is still one of the top three or four matches I have ever seen. Getting to "play it" was pretty awesome, but despite thrashing the crap out of Macho Man and taking little damage in the process, the speed at which the tables turned and I couldn't recover was suspiciously stunning and frustrating, feelings that would come back reguarly the further within this mode that I got. On the other hand, in just random one-off matches for example, the AI seemed to pause and think sometimes; their brief hesitations to act is painfully noticeable when it happens and it disrupts both the immersion and flow of the game -- hopefully something that could be addressed in a patch.
Better players are going to have less issue with the difficult-side of the AI I suspect, and while I had my fair share of disagreements with the AI, I found playing to still be enjoyable overall. It definitely shouldn't keep you from playing the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode, which is setup similarly to the Attitude Era of last year's title. There are several sets of matches, totaling almost fifty, that are unlocked as you advance through the available set. The matches go in chronological order, with the opening match between Big John Studd and Andre the Giant. With brief text descriptions, still images, and sometimes vintage video acting as bookends to the matches, reliving the WWE when it was at its prime was a reward usually worth fighting for. Optional secondary and even hidden secondary objectives accompany each match too, giving the experience more replay value for the completionists or uber-passionate fans.
Another interesting mode centers around The Undertaker's amazing 22-0 win streak in Wrestlemania. You can either try and continue his streak or take him on and end it. I have yet to come close to ending the streak, as the AI for Undertaker in this mode is just out my current skill level, but again for the hardcore and passionate WWE fans, it's likely they'll really enjoy this mode; it doesn't hurt that leaderboard integration is included.
So the roster for 2K14 is huge, but, at least initially it's loaded with modern day stars. I actually had never heard of most of these guys, but obviously recognized the big names (John Cena, The Rock, The Big Show) as well as some of the lesser-knowns like Christian and R-Truth, both of whom used to be in TNA Impact Wrestling. For wrestling fans that either A) want to see more WCW stars or B) do not or have not followed wrestling in five-plus years, the 2K14 roster out of the box may leave you underwhelmed, but rest assured there are dozens of other wrestlers to unlock.
Despite being packed with numerous wrestlers, match types, match rules, etc., the WWE Universe mode is sure to knock the socks off of anyone that has an interest in either tweaking existing assets or completely overhauling. Players can make up to 100 customizable characters that can be saved, but it's more than just making characters -- you can create branching plotlines, manage PPVs, play around with wrestler intros, change and make your own finishing or signature moves, and much more. It's fan service that can practically overwhelm most folks, but hey, give Yukes and 2K credit for knowing their audience is a passionate one.
As for presentation, 2K14 is serviceable, but it's not going to win any awards per se. The graphics lack a certain visual punch to them and there are some awkward animations at times. The voice of ole Jim Ross (JR) and Jerry Lawler are great on paper, but in-game they're not used to their full potential due to either delayed reactions or simply too much repetetion. Don't get me wrong though, this game would be even worse off if JR were not doing the commentary. With that, let's get to the summary...