Despite the best intentions of Take Two the WWE licence will never be as valuable as those for Football, NFL and the NBA. But, as WWE ?13 selling over two million copies proves, it?s still series that millions of fans care about and, despite a number of recent disappointments, hold out hope for.
So, with a new licence holder in place and the Ultimate Warrior on-board as a spokesperson will WWE 2K14
finally stop fans pining for the days of WWF No Mercy? The good news is that there are moments of real excellence; the bad is that these are coupled with some disappointing botches ? if you?ll excuse the wrestling parlance (there?s more on the way).
Hulkamania Runs Wild
Without a doubt the main event for WWE 2K14
is the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode. Where as last year?s Attitude Era mode brought fans the stars of the early 90s, 30 Years of Wrestlemania reunites fans with legends like Hulk Hogan, ?Mucho Man? Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Retro ?Word Life? John Cena (chortle).
While some stars are missing for licensing reasons (Kurt Angle) or other issues (Chris Benoit) it?s a stellar line-up. Each Wrestlemania match is introduced through video packages, text and photos before you?re put in charge of a wrestler and tasked with playing out the match as it happened, with unlockables being awarded for performing historically relevant actions (body slam Big John Stud!).
While this way of playing does limit creativity it?s great fun and acts as a superb reference for fans who are new to WWE or just lapsed. Grouped with 30 Years of Wrestlemania is Challenge The Streak sees you faced with defending or breaking the Undertaker?s 21-0 winning streak.
Unfortunately defending the streak doesn?t go through ?Taker?s 21 wins, instead you have to beat a string of opponents with a single life bar ? fun but missing the point.
Beating the streak is much more entertaining as you face off against a super-powered Undertaker ? beat him and your score is added to a leader board and judged on things such showmanship and time, making it a mode I can see myself coming back to as I try to beat my score with different wrestlers.
Graphically 30 Years of Wrestlemania is well produced. Filters have been added to replicate the quality of the original broadcast and dated on-screen graphics introduce every match ? it?s clear that a lot of attention has been paid to entrances and the Wrestlemania moments. As a whole the retro character models are pretty faithful even if some do look bit like action figures ? I know Hulk Hogan was big, but this big?
When Take Two took on the WWE licence I had high hopes that the game?s graphics would mirror those in other 2K Sports titles, like NBA 2K. Unfortunately that?s far from the case and on the most part we?re still left with dated character models which have been looking old for a couple of years now. While skins look great, with sweat and muscles expertly realised, faces leave a lot to be desired. A special mention has to go to Macho Man?s entrance gear, it looks fantastic!
Sound is another area that was in need of an overhaul. Crowd chants and sound effects are fine but commentary is still poor, as Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler trip out the same generic voice work time and time again.
It?s here that I sympathise with Take Two; if you watch an episode of Raw on Monday night, listen to the commentary, very little of it as play-pay-play calls of wrestling moves, it?s storyline work.
While the commentary team will occasionally mention something outside of what?s happening in the ring (The Miz claiming to be a must-see Superstar or telling fans to check out the WWE website) there isn?t an ongoing in-game narrative for them to work with, giving them fewer options and, in-turn, repetitive audio.
It?s also a shame that they had to rely on JR and King to provide the 30 Years of Wrestlemania commentary, while all the nostalgic graphical touches are great it is a shame not to hear the voice of Gorilla Monsoon.
What?s Best for Business
Away from 30 Years of Wrestlemania the core of WWE 2K14
is Universe Mode. Fans of recent WWE games will find little has changed here; you?re put in charge of the annual WWE calendar like a virtual Vickie Guerrero choosing rosters, feuds and match types.
A neat addition is the option to create rivalries and give them a set length of time to play out. Fine on paper but rivalries could be much improved if they were given context and narrative.
My first week in Universe Mode saw John Cena feuding with Daniel Bryan and Brodus Clay with Sin Cara ? why? I have no idea. While it might not appear to be a big deal for non-fans this random feuding wouldn?t happen on TV. Put simply faces (good guys) rarely square up against other faces, an issue which affects other parts of the WWE 2K14
Take the current roster as an example. The playable characters are chosen back in April, a full six months before the game is released. Over that time wrestlers come and go and turn from face to heel (bag guy). Whether a wrestler is face or hell can be changed in the options menu but it is laborious and merely changes whether they?d cheered or booed.
This taken into account, and if you?re being faithful to professional wrestling, it means that the face side of the roster won?t be battling the other faces. This means an extensive and diverse roster is essential. While it?s great to have the Legends of Wrestlemania available I don?t want the likes of Yokozuna and Ricky Steamboat appearing in my Universe.
No, No, No!
The dated roster isn?t telling purely through the lack of new wrestlers, such as Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel and Fandango (the later coming through DLC), it extends to the look of those who have made the cut:
Cody Rhodes enters the ring as a face but is sporting his villainous moustache while Daniel Bryan (the biggest star on WWE for past few months) enters chanting ?no, no, no? instead of ?yes, yes, yes?. As I say, this may appear to be a small issue to non-fans but when a game carries an official licence you have certain expectations.
Credit should be given to the representation of the majority of wrestlers who have made the cut. Dodgy looking faces aside wrestler?s move-sets are accurate (mostly) and wrestling styles and mannerisms well realised ? it really helps to make interesting superstars like Dean Ambrose a joy to control.
It?s Time to Play the Game! Woo-Haa-Haa!
Of course, rosters can be updated through DLC and the excellent creation suit (which although extensive is also looking dated), what really matters is the action in the ring. Not much has changed from last year.
Reversals have been dialled back a notch, short runs are less powerful and kicks and punches are a tad quicker (sometimes they?re comically quick). This helps to create a wrestling game that?s fun to play, even if matches often boil down to a reaction contest as you try to pull of reversals ? of course many games can be boiled down to a simple mechanic, it?s the packaging that stops us realising it.
Unfortunately there are still some bizarre AI bugs ? in my first hour I saw King Kong Bundy try to walk through a steel cage and lost a three-man tag match when an IA-controlled Daniel Bryan was unable to leave the ring in time.
While there?s room for improvement WWE 2K14
is great fun to play. The three DLC packs scheduled for the next three months should help address the dated roster, although I?d much rather these packs continued through the year so in six months time the game isn?t actually a year behind. Seeing what 2K has done with the NBA licence I find it hard to believe that WWE 2K14
is their idea of a wrestling game and I?m excited to see where they take the series next year and on the next-gen consoles.
30 Years of Wrestlemania is great fun
Actual wrestling has improved slightly
The representation of the majority of superstars
Disappointing omissions from the current roster
Dated graphics and audio
Shallow Universe mode
SPOnG Score: 3/5