When THQ went pop and Take 2 picked up the rights for the valuable WWE franchise, we envisioned that WWE 2k14 would be something of a transitional title. From the outset, it’s clear to see that the usual yearly changes have been made. A few new fighters are in place, and old ones have updated movesets, attire, entrance videos, and music. The popular “Attitude Era” mode from last year’s title has been replaced with a practically identical mode that celebrates thirty years of the company's annual Wrestlemania event. A new “Streak” mode has been put in place, where you’re either playing as The Undertaker in a gauntlet match, trying to defeat as many people as possible before succumbing, or playing against a hyper-powered Undertaker as you try to end his unbeaten streak of Wrestlemania victories.
The Wrestlemania mode is exceedingly well presented, with some incredibly convincing and detailed effects. Running from the simpler days of sports entertainment featuring Andre The Giant in a bodyslam challenge match against Big John Studd, all the way through to John Cena battling it out against Daniel Bryan, via Stone Cold and his cronies, the meat of the work this year appears to have gone into making everything as authentic as possible in this mode alone. There’s a fair few hours of gameplay to be had here, and seasoned battlers will appreciate the inclusion of traditional gameplay scoring and leaderboards for the streak modes.
Outside of this, the usual WWE fare is on display. You can create a superstar or diva from scratch, select their clothes and appearance, pick their entrance music, movie, and walkway moves, and select from hundreds upon hundreds of moves for them to use when they’re in the ring. The problem with this is that once you’ve spent hours tweaking and preening your CAW character’s amateurish hairstyle and trying to find your favourite wrestler’s move from yesteryear (due to it being called something else in the game thanks to expired licences), there isn’t a great deal to do with them. That is, unless you feel like micro-managing your own wrestling federation in the WWE Universe mode.
Aficionados of the squared circle will notice a few tweaks to WWE Universe, but there are some big problems. This mode essentially gives you the licence to become the owner of the WWE, setting up matches and rivalries, pitting warrior against warrior in ludicrous title matches of your own diabolical design. The problem is that it doesn’t do nearly enough for those who don’t necessarily want to play with every little setting. There are a few achievements to pick up via WWE Universe mode, but when you can create a character with the maximum possible attributes (with no restrictions) right from the get-go, and then drop them into a title match in their first week in the WWE, they aren’t really achievements. If you want so much as a rivalry against another competitor, it doesn’t happen organically. You can interfere in your most hated opponent’s match, running in and hitting them with your finisher while the referee is incapacitated, then picking up the ref to count them as their opponent gets the 1-2-3, only to find that it’s done absolutely nothing other than put a “rival” marker against the name of the guy you hit, and an “ally” marker against the guy you helped win. Your next match – if it ever happens, since the matches seem to be generated relatively randomly unless you set them yourself – will be against somebody entirely new. To actually start a rivalry, you need to go into the “rivalries” screen, and providing there’s a free rivalry space (and there only seems to be three available for any brand at any one time), you can start one by selecting how long it should go on for, and which characters will take part in it. After that, the same two fighters go head to head every week (more or less) until the rivalry is over. Hardly intuitive, satisfying or challenging stuff, it has to be said. But the micro-managers will love it, we're sure.
What was needed was a separate career mode for created characters, where you could take your superstar and try to get him to the top of the WWE tree. Something where your character of choice had to work their way up from nothing, gaining skills and fighting it out to be the best in the WWE, while taking part in auto-generated storylines and rivalries would have fit the bill. The awesome WWE No Mercy on the Nintendo 64 had a career mode of sorts, and it was superb, if a bit limited. Why, with the power of the current-generation consoles, do we not have one now?
The fighting engine could do with taking some tips from No Mercy as well. The actual mechanics of the brawling are relatively well done. Tweaks to the reversal system make for a much more entertaining experience, but punches and kicks are still far too rapid, almost as if the game is being played on fast-forward. Momentum is incredibly important in sports entertainment too, and the “comeback” system that allows a fighter to stage a last stand when they’re looking down the barrel of a defeat is particularly good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t wash too well when you successfully pull off a comeback chain, hit your finishing move, and then watch as your opponent kicks out, literally pushes you over, and pins you for the win. We’ve never seen a title change hands in real life due to a simple rake of the eyes or a single chest chop, but it happens here. We’d buy it if a character’s momentum was stopped with a chair shot, or a big-time counter, but a slap shouldn’t be enough to win a match. There are also bugs to be found and some shoddy collision detection. In one notable example, in a table match for the WWE Championship between Sheamus and Wade Barrett, the Englishman was hammer thrown out of the ring, falling through a table that was stood outside. According to the rules, that should have been that and the big Irish lad should have been given the belt, but the game carried on as if nothing had occurred. Weapons such as tables seem to cause problems quite a lot of the time, in fact. On occasion, they'll just fly across the ring to the outside, when all you were trying to do was put them down on the canvas for later use.
With all those complaints documented, WWE 2k14 does manage its share of high spots. The 30 Years of Wrestlemania Mode – as with last year’s Attitude Era Mode – is enough to garner it five stars easily, but a distinct lack of improvements outside of that and the fact that the WWE Universe mode will leave 90% of players out in the cold, means that the game as a whole doesn't earn many more than that.
For the WWE fanatic, WWE 2k14 is a no-brainer. You want to see Hulk Hogan in a modern day Royal Rumble match, defeated by Triple H hitting the Pedigree from nowhere. You want to see insane Hell in A Cell matches. You want tables, you want ladders, you want chairs – oh my! You get all of that. But you also get a fighting engine that still has some rather large flaws and what you don’t get, is anything that’s particularly any better than last year’s effort.