Squared circle scholar.

Somewhere deep in the heart of every hardcore wrestling mark, there's a rowdy little kid recreating their favorite matches with six-inch plastic figures. They're pitting the irresistible forces against the immovable objects. They're dropping elbows and raising eyebrows. They love reliving old memories, but they're hungry to create new ones, too. WWE 2K14 gives that wrestling fan in all of us the tools required to do both. Though it continues to suffer from many of the same AI and commentary issues that have plagued the series for years, it also builds on its many successes, delivering a sports-entertainment extravaganza that can easily steal dozens of hours of your time.

Last year we saw WWE ‘13's fresh approach to story mode, The Attitude Era, which felt like the start of something special. This year's greatly expanded version, 30 Years of Wrestlemania, collects 46 of the most memorable matches to ever grace the event, leveraging historically accurate objectives to make bouts like Ric Flair’s retirement match against Shawn Michaels feel like more than just another fight for the old 1, 2, 3. Developer Yukes has outdone itself with its faithful curation of WWE history here, utilizing tons of archival footage, photos, and historical accounts to frame each match. Even the TV overlays and ‘80s film grain are accurately represented.

Pro wrestling is nothing if not a form of physical theatre, and having the option to play along with the true-to-life highs and lows of each historic match honors that element of performance without hamstringing player freedom. Following the script accurately nets you some nicely done mid-match cutscenes, as well as some unlockable goodies, so there's incentive to play along even if you aren't old enough to mark-out over Hulk vs Andre or even Rock vs. Austin.

There's also an Undertaker-centric section called The Streak in which you can try to either defend or end The Phenom's 22-0 Wrestlemania run, but it isn't as entertaining as I'd hoped. The latter approach works fine as a sort of optional boss fight, but defending the streak is oddly handled through a slobber-knocker match, which any wrestling fan knows has nothing to do with ‘Taker’s streak. While it’s entirely functional, it clashes with the sense of tradition and reverence to history that otherwise permeates the mode.

That mild disappointment aside, 30 Years of Wrestlemania is still a meaty and varied single-player mode that would justify my purchase all on its own. The choice to lean so heavily on the Fed's history is a savvy one, allowing older fans to reconnect with their most gleeful wrestling memories while giving new fans a fun, interactive way to experience what they've missed.

In the ring, Yukes' WWE games strive to give us almost every option available to real-life wrestlers, and 2K14 continues to do so without making the controls unnecessarily complicated. Once you’ve learned the ropes, matches take on a pleasing ebb and flow that’s not unlike what you see on a typical Monday night. Whether I was working the legs like The Nature Boy, or working the crowd like The Brahma Bull, I always felt in total control.

While there aren't any monumental changes to the way it plays this year, there are some notable tweaks and additions. For one, characters with catch finishers can now set them up by thrusting running opponents up into the air first, which looks especially awesome when big guys like Brock Lesnar use it to pancake helpless little cruiser-weights. Strike combinations have been sped up dramatically, and with the elimination of those endless reversal cycles from last year, fights have gotten smoother and snappier.

Perhaps a bit too snappy in some cases. The increased speed makes striking a lot more strategically viable, but it can also make them look like they're playing in fast forward, robbing them of weight and impact when compared to the more methodical grapple moves. It's a good change in terms of playability, but still something I'd like to see smoothed out visually for next year.

But there are plenty of other things on that fix-it list, including some age-old issues that have dogged the WWE games for years. The slightly improved AI still has a habit of standing there slack-jawed even when it has you dead-to-rights, collision detection gets dodgy when more than two wrestlers are near each other, and the commentary continues to be overly broad and disjointed. I grew up listening to JR and Lawler call matches, and knowing how much they can add to the experience makes it all the more disappointing that they take away from it here instead.

It's easy to complain about a few trees, but this forest is vast and dense. WWE 2K14's creation suite, for example, is dizzying both in terms of breadth and detail. As ever, you can tailor nearly every minute detail, from game balance to rosters and venues to your whim. You can sync up camera cues with custom pyrotechnics for wrestlers’ entrances, create dudes with pink hair and devil horns, or give Chris Jericho a tattoo he should never, ever get in real life. You can even use the powerful story creator to plan, write, and direct branching plotlines for existing shows, or just create your own shows to go nuts with.

Metacritic User Score

Based on 128 reviews

Release Date:
  • 09 September 2023
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