Wrestling fans are some of the most dedicated on the planet: fans of wrestling videogames, even more so.
Loyal to a point of denial, they defend their love of wrasslin’, pontificate inane plot points in storylines and celebrate the big moments in the squared circle. They also know how to spot a dud.
WWE 2K14 is the videogame equivalent of a rest-move, an unpopular but necessary maneuver in professional wrestling used by Superstars to catch their breath and co-ordinate their next tussle. Rest-moves are ugly, slow and unpopular with fans, but accepted as what needs to pass before something amazing happens.
As 2K Games first published entry into professional wrestling, WWE 2K14 continues the series’ Frankenstein development process; where a North American publisher creates a blueprint to be coded by Japanese developer Yuke’s.
Many fans will have expected wholesale changes since the release of WWE ’13, but short development cycles for an annual sports franchise means baby steps towards innovation. When the THQ/Yuke’s WWE series first appeared on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, many complained then the engine hadn’t progressed beyond its heyday on PlayStation 2.
Seven years on, WWE 2K14 has the same inherent problems. Stilted character animation, flat textures and straw-like hair clipping through shoulders aren’t attributes that should still be listed in WWE videogame reviews at the end of a console generation.
However, despite its visible shortcomings, WWE 2K14 manages to show signs of life, and while it doesn’t successfully kick out of the pin, it does raise a shoulder off the mat.
The game boasts the most impressive roster of current and former WWE Superstars, Legends, Managers and Divas. Characters from across 30 years of the WWE and WCW are present, including fan-favourite stable the NWO. In recent years, key Legends and future Hall of Famers have been brought in from the proverbial licensing cold; WWE 2K14 is the first simulation to feature the big three of Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan and “Machoman” Randy Savage. What WWE 2K14 lacks in quality it makes up in fan service.
WWE 2K14 also continues the WWE videogame online offering, where players can create, upload and share their own custom user generated content with others in the online community. Severs host free custom wrestlers, arenas, storylines, finishers and much more. WWE 2K14 certainly doesn’t want for anything, though it can be difficult to navigate the sheer volume of the user-generated-content due to antiquated menu systems.
All downloaded content can be incorporated into WWE Universe mode, a persistent world of the players making that can be as true to real-world professional wrestling organizations or as farcical as you decide.
The most significant inclusion is the does-what-it-say-on-the-box 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode. Drawing heavily from previous WWE videogames, this mode condenses 2009’s Legends of WrestleMania with WWE ’13’s Attitude Era experience. Players reenact big WWE moments from the past 30 years, serving as both a history lesson and greatest hits celebrating WrestleMania. Along the way, new content is unlocked (including a seemingly infinite number of variations of Hulk Hogan outfits).
It would be remiss not to mention The Streak mode, where players attempt to thwart the longest running undefeated series in the history of professional wrestling. Much like the rest of WWE 2K14, the fanfare is better than the actual gameplay.
A few years ago, someone likened the ailing WWE videogame franchise to a good steak restaurant. For a long time, ordering a steak for dinner was the done thing, but over the years, interest in steak waned. Instead of changing the menu, the restaurant owners added a huge variety of side dishes, hired new kitchen staff, and gave the venue a lick of paint and new carpet. They even changed owners, albeit recently. But the people stopped coming, because what drew them to the restaurant in the first place was no longer central to the experience.
Despite everything, WWE 2K14 shows signs of life. Under the ownership of 2K Games, here’s hoping it can shed some of its baggage to join the NBA 2K series in leading the way for sports games into the next generation.
The Author: Paul "Hoops" Houlihan is host of The Fourth Player Podcast. Connect with Paul on Twitter at @paulyhouly