A fair amount of my childhood was spent sitting in front of a television set watching professional wrestling. In a pair of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Underoos and a plastic chain draped over my shoulders, I would pretend to be Junkyard Dog or "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, dropping elbows and body splashes on stuffed animals and plush wrestling buddies.
I never cared if it was real or not. To me, it was a live-action comic book, physical theater in which larger-than-life characters did battle in the squared circle. While I'm not much of a wrestling fan these days, I still look back on the '80s and '90s with nostalgia, longing for the days when I would watch WCW Saturday Night with my grandmother, who would be kicking and punching at the television, rooting on her man, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
Now I can reclaim those glory days with WWE's latest wrasslin' game. Developed by Yuke's and Visual Concepts, WWE 2K14 is the first wrestling game published by 2K Sports since Take-Two obtained the license from now-defunct THQ.
A follow-up to WWE '13, WWE 2K14 features a navigation system that has been completely revamped, allowing for more fluid walking, running and dragging motions. New animations, such as adjusting wristbands or motioning for opponents to get up, have been added to make interaction more dynamic and lifelike. All reversals now result in offensive attacks, providing faster-paced matches by avoiding never-ending loops of reversals. Several new "OMG moments" have been added, allowing certain finishers to be performed on two opponents, or players to interact with the arena environment.
The near-fall system has also been improved, with more two-counts to give matches a more dramatic feel. All the standard match types return: one-on-one, tag team, triple threat, fatal four-way and six-man matches (including battle royals), and steel cage and ladder matches. WWE signature matches like the Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber and Hell in a Cell are also available.
The biggest selling point of WWE 2K14 is a new single-player campaign called "30 Years of WrestleMania," a nostalgic mode that recreates three decades of WWE history. This lengthy mode features more than 45 matches, classic WWE footage and legendary characters like Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Andre the Giant.
Like Legends of WrestleMania and WWE '13, the campaign revolves around historic matches and memorable feuds. In WrestleMania mode, matches have primary objectives and bonus historical objectives, which allow the player to recreate classic "WrestleMania moments" like Hulk Hogan body-slamming Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.
Each chapter has its own title and focus; "Hulkamania Runs Wild" focuses on Hulk Hogan and the early days of WWE, while "The New Generation" showcases the rise of superstars like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in the '90s. The "Attitude Era" features matches with icons like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley and Triple H, and the "Ruthless Aggression" chapter focuses on the rise of Chris Jericho, Edge, and Randy Orton. The final "Universe Era" chapter focuses on the rise of John Cena and CM Punk as well as the return of superstars like The Rock and Brock Lesnar.
In addition to "30 Years of WrestleMania," WWE 2K14 also features a completely overhauled "WWE Universe" campaign. This sandbox mode gives players the option of completely customizing their own "universe" with unique themes, logos and pay-per-view events.
While WWE 2K14 is heavy on features and nostalgia, it still lacks the brains to deliver an authentic wrestling simulation, opting for strike-heavy gameplay instead of classic grappling. Sure, there's a deep grapple system that allows for multiple moves, but it's often harder to pull off a simple body slam or suplex than a character's brain-busting finisher.
If only 2K Sports' wrestling game would have adopted the old AKI grapple system (think WCW/NWO Revenge, WWF WrestleMania 2000), WWE 2K14 would be one of the best American wrestling games ever created.
You've got all of these match types, creation modes and classic wrestlers, but without a consistently satisfying system of performing key moves, WWE 2K14 might as well be another arcade brawler. There's no finesse to this game — just punch and kick your way to a finisher, then pin your opponent for an easy three-count.
Actually, now I that I think about it, maybe 2K has made an authentic simulation of modern professional wrestling — or "sports entertainment," as it's now known. These days, matches barely last five minutes and they consist mainly of two guys punching and kicking each other until someone hits a finishing move.
When WWE purchased ECW and WCW, it effectively killed American professional wrestling. Without competition, Vince McMahon got complacent — generic "superstars" (spray tans, hair gel, tribal tattoos) flip-flopped between face and heel every two weeks and the in-ring storytelling all but disappeared.
Similarly, it seems the makers of WWE's video games have also grown complacent. WWE 2K14 has no competition — there are no other wrestling games. In order to play a great wrestling game, you would need to hook up a PS2 (Fire Pro Wrestling Returns) or an N64 (WWF No Mercy). The result? WWE can release a good-not-great game every year with a few tweaks and a couple new playable legends and wrestling fans will keep giving them their money. Until someone else develops a great, original wrestling game that can go toe-to-toe in the ring with Vince McMahon's mega-monopoly, WWE 2K14 will have to do.