Though the Smackdown vs. Raw series went through a reboot two years ago, the true upgrade in quality came last year with the fantastic WWE ‘13. In place of its predecessor’s annoying and unrewarding Road To Wrestlemania mode was the Attitude Era mode. This love letter to wrestling’s boom period was a treasure trove for longtime fans, with plenty of recreated matches, retrospective video packages, and tons of unlockables. To follow up on that great addition to the series, the developer (now under the 2K banner instead of THQ) has widened its historic lens to focus on the 30-year history of The Showcase of the Immortals, WrestleMania. It’s handled with the same amount of love and knowledge as the Attitude Era mode, but it comes with a few disappointments as well.
Pulling the roster from 30 years of wrestling history provides a higher concentration of legends than focusing on a few years in the late ‘90s, meaning you see more Randy Savages and fewer X-Pacs. Most of the big names of WrestleMania history are here, with a few exceptions. You can’t tell the story of WrestleMania without Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior, or Hulk Hogan, and you find them all grimacing and flexing on the character select screen.
The roster may be packed with Hall of Famers, but the wider scope comes at the expense of a shallower dive into wrestling history. WWE 13’s Attitude Era mode featured plenty of big, iconic matches that are etched into the minds of wrestling fans, but it also came with the occasional “Oh yeah, I totally forgot about that!” moment that uncovered some forgotten nostalgia. Given WWE’s obsession with reminding fans of the grand history of WrestleMania, almost every match in 2K14’s campaign comes with a certain amount of predictability. You know you’re going to slam Andre the Giant, you know you’re going to kick Ric Flair into “retirement,” and you certainly know that The Undertaker is never going down for the count. Despite its predictability, these matches are still a blast to play. 2K’s attention to detail is evident in the recreations of each WrestleMania arena, font, logo, and wrestler attire. Matches from the ‘80s and ‘90s even feature a visual filter to simulate the lower video quality of the period.
Most of the historical objectives in these matches work well from a gameplay perspective, but some feel like chores. Triple Threat matches can be a mess thanks to the added AI character, and the Rock vs. Cena rematch from WrestleMania XXIX ends the mode on a sour note. After completing numerous historical objectives and hitting The Rock with multiple finishers, he’s magically granted infinite finishers. The player is granted this as well, but Rocky wiggled out of the Attitude Adjustment every time I attempted it. Reversals weren’t a problem throughout the rest of my experience, but this particular moment felt broken and forced me to play the match over a dozen times.
Most of 2K’s focus was on the campaign mode, because the game is similar to last year’s offering once you venture into other options. Universe mode feels identical outside of minor options like setting the duration of rivalries and applying themes to pay-per-view events. The creation suite is still extensive, but its additions are mostly relegated to new logos and clothing. Even the core gameplay feels familiar, as additions like the catapult finishers rarely come up organically in matches.
WWE 2K14 has some issues, but I still enjoyed the majority of my time with it. THQ attempted similar historical themes in the past with Legends of WrestleMania and WWE All-Stars, but 2K14 complements its historical angle with deep mechanics. 2K’s first stab at sports entertainment is a lot of fun (especially for history buffs), but the feeling of déjà vu left me wanting the developer to move the full experience forward with the same enthusiasm that it embraced the past.
2K's look at wrestling's grandest stage is handled with love and knowledge, but it comes with a few disappointments.