For anyone weaned on the greased-up theatrics of US professional wrestling back in the glory days of Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant, WWE 2K14 is a nostalgic thrill ride that will make any middle-aged grappling fan feel like a kid all over again.
The heart of 2K14’s single player mode is 30 Years Of Wrestlemania, a celebration of WWE history that challenges you to take part in classic battles while controlling some of the sport’s defining stars, and where the matches are brought to life by archive footage and rare photos that give each bout context and lavishly pile on the drama.
As with previous incarnations, WWE 2K14 will devour days of your life with its deep and complex custom character mode, where you can store up to 100 tailor-made fighters and even use famous brawlers as templates. The excellent Universe mode also adds intrigue by allowing players to mess with the action behind the scenes and create rivalries between wrestlers who were traditionally allies, in turn giving you an opportunity to cook up any crazy scenarios you fantasised about as a teenager.
But beneath the sentimental glitz and glamour, WWE 2K14 lacks the in-ring impact to be considered a wrestling classic.
Although the wrester’s speedy smacks and slaps convey the impact – and stinging agony – of basic strikes, these sharp moves feel too fast and lack the weight and power of the slower, more meticulous grapples, making the fights feel oddly paced as the speed of the action erratically ebbs and flows. An over-reliance on counterattacks also taints the fisticuffs, making it feel as if you’re taking part in a series of God Of War style quicktime events rather than thinking on your feet to choreograph fluid battles, and the multi-man skirmishes don’t capture the chaos of a packed ring and often boil-down to clunky one-on-one bouts as other fighters stand around aimlessly.
Occasionally dodgy AI that sees computer-controlled fighters standing still while you pummel them is also a disappointment, as is the repetitive commentary and ghostly moves that sometimes punch straight through opponents. But while these quirks blemish the action and lose the game a star, WWE 2K14 is still an exciting experience for long-time fans and a reminder of why American superstar wrestling has grown into a global phenomenon.
Reviewed by David McComb