The largest of these is the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode, which serves up the vast majority of the single-player content. Starting all the way back at the original WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden, this mode challenges players to step into the boots of some of the most famous WWE grapplers in an attempt to recreate their iconic victories. In a nice touch, the presentation of each match includes era-specific graphics and video quality, and Hall of Fame play-by-play man Jim Ross joins Jerry “The King” Lawler on commentary.
Aside from its obvious nostalgic appeal, 30 Years of WrestleMania allows the unlocking of a ton of extra content for the game’s other modes, things like wrestlers, ring attire, managers, and title belts. Doing so means not just winning each bout, but completing a series of historical objectives as well. Some are simple, like hitting a signature move, a finisher, and pinning the other wrestler in 10 seconds. Others require maneuvering the combatants into specific locations at different points in the match, and these can take a few tries to get right. Occasional “WrestleMania Moments” turn into quick time events that need specific button presses at the proper time to pass.
Things like the Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII don’t take an hour of real life time to play, but there’s still quite a bit of play time in this mode alone, and it’s sure to be a hit with anyone who has even the slightest interest in the history of the WWE’s biggest event. A related mode focuses on The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, giving users the choice of trying to end it before it reaches its real life mark of 21-0 or helping make it to that point intact.
The WWE Universe mode returns from “WWE ‘13” to give everyone a chance to give their inner booker a chance to shine. With control over the whole calendar of WWE events, shows can be created or edited, talent can be shuffled between rosters, and new pay-per-views can be devised and scheduled. Though a fairly complete roster of current WWE superstars is usable from the start, this mode really benefits from obtaining some of the locked wrestlers and letting the past mingle freely with the present.
Rivalries that run between four and 12 weeks keep things interesting, with wrestlers interfering in each other’s matches and even making face or heel turns with the crowd reactions changing accordingly (yes, it’s even possible for John Cena to make a complete heel turn). Any match can be played or simulated, and the level of control is the big selling point. Still, as much fun as it is to play around in the Universe sandbox, the storylines are fairly rudimentary compared to those in some previous wrestling games, and this stands out as an area in which 2K can really sink its teeth into in next year’s attempt.
The nitty gritty aspects of the gameplay haven’t changed much from “WWE ‘13” either. Pulling off moves depends on either beating opponents to the punch or grapple, or timing button presses perfectly to execute counters or reversals. This makes matches feel more like the ones people actually watch on TV each week but also has the side effect of making hitting the reversal button at the proper time the most important skill.
Yuke’s also tinkered with the speed of moves and nerfed running moves so players couldn’t spam them endlessly. As with any wrestling game, there’s a weird dance being done between realism and the nature of scripted combat: for instance, the wrestlers have attribute ratings. In real life, Ryback is certainly stronger than Rey Mysterio, but could the latter pick up the former? The answer is “if the writers say he can and Ryback helps make it possible,” so it’s fair to wonder why giving the wrestlers baseline stats is even necessary.
One thing longtime wrestling game enthusiasts will appreciate is the sheer number of match types. It used to be that players would have to wait until technology permitted things like realistic ladder matches to be included, but that time was long ago. Just about any kind of match the WWE has ever put on is possible in the quick play mode. Okay, not this one, but that’s for the best.
The production values on “WWE 2K14” are top notch, with wrestlers performing spot-on entrances and generally moving in and out of the ring with all of their particular quirks. Facial expressions and small details are about as good as could possibly be expected from current gen consoles, though they do leave one looking forward to the improvement that is sure to come from the PS4 and Xbox One. All of the included wrestler themes make for a welcome walk down memory lane, yet the commentary from Michael Cole and Lawler still feels a bit underwhelming.
This, then, is a step forward instead of the leap some might have expected with 2K taking the reins. That’s probably going to come next year, especially when the power of the next-gen consoles is harnessed. “WWE 2K14” is great for people who haven’t picked up a wrestling game in a while, and probably nice but not necessarily essential for those who own and enjoy “WWE ’13.” Like Triple H and Stephanie McMahon currently say when referring to Daniel Bryan, it’s a solid B-plus, though here that’s meant as a straight-up compliment instead of a sarcastic one.
8.5 out of 10
30 Years of WrestleMania mode is fantastic
Outstanding, era-specific presentation throughout
Plenty of unlockable content adds to replay value
Only minor improvements to Universe mode and gameplay
Graphics have gone about as far as possible on current systems
Nick Tylwalk is an editor at GameSided.com and a writer for Gamezebo.com. You can follow his thoughts on video games and wrestling on Twitter @Nick_Tylwalk.