The yearly spectacle known as Wrestlemania, once called the “Showcase of the Immortals” lives again in the annual series’ “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode, replacing last year’s “Attitude Era” themed game. Your enjoyment of this mode, and the game in general, as a whole, will be determined by how nostalgic you are to relive some of the most iconic moments in wrestling history and how patient and forgiving you are at overlooking the competent, but ultimately flawed gameplay elements.
Never lacking in modes of play, WWE2k14 features a plethora of ways to get you and your opponent in the ring for a good ol’ slobberknocker. Matches include the standard variety and more exotic flavors like hell in a cell, steel cage, iron man, and even the Elimination Chamber. In ring combat can occur solo, with or without friends in tag team, triple tag team, or even fatal four way. Special matches like the yearly Royal Rumble, Battle Royal and Elimination Chamber can have up to six participants on screen at the same time.
There’s also a WWE Universe mode, which basically has you participating in weekly shows of Raw, Smackdown, Superstars and Main Event, plus a Pay Per View at the end of the month, culminating in a match at Wrestlemania. You can customize almost every part of this mode, from the teams, to the rivalries, to the match ups on each show and even the story lines. It’s a nice addition, but the lack of a cohesive story mode and clear objectives means that there’s little reason to replay it after going through a year or two.
If you’re the creative type, you’ll find a lot to like about WWE2k14. The customization options are actually quite robust. You can create your own superstar from a wide array of body parts, facial types, pieces of clothing, abilities, move sets, etc. But the creating doesn’t end there, You can also create your own entrance, with specific lighting, poses, etc. You can even import your own entrance music from tracks that you’ve uploaded to the PSN/360. You can create your own arena as well, using preset crowd and stage types. You can create your own title belt as well, using the preset ones in the game, or do it yourself, using a rainbow color palette and a variety of designs.
The featured mode in the game is obviously the “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode, which lets you relive many classic moments from the WWE’s yearly extravaganza. You start at Wrestlemania One, and progress onward through the Hulkamania Era, The New Generation Era, The Attitude Era, etc and so on. Just winning a match lets you move on to the next bout, but if you want to unlock that particular match’s participants and arena, you’ll have to complete a series of historical objectives that play out just as the original matches did.
Video packages before each match help set the stage and give you a glimpse into the early days of the WWE, when stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant reigned supreme. It’s a nice touch, but a little bittersweet, when you consider how many of these guys are no longer around.
The base gameplay itself revolves around grapples and strikes, like most of the WWE games. You can mix this up with running attacks, top rope moves, moves on the ground, from behind, while stunned, etc. Each wrestler also features at least one signature move, one finisher and usually a few abilities that range from an increased ability to regroup (called comeback), to resiliency, letting you out break out of submissions easier. The submission moves are handled by a meter that slowly fills up as you mash buttons, while your opponent tries to do the same to lower the meter.
It’s a shame that the gameplay itself doesn’t quite live up to the level of the creative modes and the visual presentation. The frustrations start when trying to pull off reversals of moves. The reversal window is so small that you’ll often find yourself hitting the reversal button much too early or a bit too late. Combine this with the fact that different moves require you to reverse at different times and you get a system that feels more luck based than skill based much of the time.
Since reversals are such an integral part of the gameplay, it really puts a damper on the overall experience when you fail to execute them properly, especially when on the higher difficulties the A.I can seem to execute them at will. There are balance sliders that you can tinker with, to fine tune the behavior of the A.I opponents but you shouldn’t need to, just to make up for aspects of the game that are underdeveloped.
Visually, the presentation elements are spot on. From the various Wrestlemania arenas, to the Undertaker’s dry ice laden entrance with its eerie blue lights, everything looks quite nice. The crowd sometimes looks less than human, but then again, this was the 80’s. The menus are slick and streamlined and the various on screen elements that pop up during entrances are arena specific and even feature Facebook and Twitter information for various superstars, which is always nice for stalking purposes.
The commentary is done by Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler and they do a decent job, more or less. It does get repetitive, but a welcome addition is their historically specific commentary, spotlighting the superstars of the past. A nice touch is that while Tony Chimmel serves as the ring announcer for most matches, when you get to Wrestlemania, you hear the familiar voice of longtime announcer Howard Finkel ushering you to the ring.
There’s also a Beat the Streak mode, which places you in the unenviable position of taking down the Undertaker, at a difficulty level harder than the hardest difficulty setting in the game. You can also Defend the Steak, as Undertaker, and take on a series of opponents in rapid fire, gauntlet style matches.
Online mode is pretty seamless, at least. You can participate in ranked or non ranked matches, ranked matches earning you points where you level up. The online matches are pretty lag free, even if your opponents online seem to be masters of the unforgiving reversal system. Gone are the days when you’d look up your favorite wrestler, print them out and go to work in the game’s create mode, now you can just download wrestlers, arenas, and even story lines and custom logos from the community center. You can review downloaded items as well and let everyone know how much you liked that reasonable facsimile of Booker T you just downloaded.
The only caveat is that you have a mere ten slots to save downloaded creations, which will hamper your ability to increase the size of your roster to umpteen amounts. With a roster of over eighty superstars, both past and present, limiting saves to only ten seems more than a little limiting.
WWE2k14 serves as a contradiction of sorts. It’s visually impressive, yet playing it often requires patience and precision. More of a tribute to heroes, villains and battlefields of old, its legacy may ultimately lie in it being a bridge from the storied past of THQ’s wrestling games to a new era of titles published by 2K. In more ways than one, WWE2k14 is a glimpse into the past, while embracing the present. Its future may be uncertain, but not unwritten. There will always be heroes, a squared circle, and those crowds who come to cheer them on. “Showcase of the Immortals” may define Wrestlemania itself, but it is a shared definition, and one that defines this game as well.