I’ve been playing WWE games a long, long time.
I’ve been playing the WWE video game franchise ever since it started with WWF Smackdown!, produced by THQ and Yukes for the PS One back in 2000. Now it’s 2014, and the franchise has gone from WWF Smackdown! to WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, to simply WWE, and now WWE 2K.
With a new publisher and an additional studio team (2K Sports and Visual Concepts, respectively), Yukes has returned to give us WWE 2K14. But with more than a decade worth of equal innovation and stagnation behind them, how can Yukes make a game that fans and newcomers will enjoy?
Longtime Yukes developer and representative Cory Ledesma sat down with me recently to talk about everything WWE 2K14 has to offer, giving me a chance to get my hands on the new features and content that have been recently unveiled a few weeks early.
For those of you who may have missed some of that recent news, the core aspect of what makes WWE 2K14 tick is, much like WWE ’13, its history.
The main mode of the game is called “30 Years of Wrestlemania,” and is comprised of nearly four dozen matches, each broken down into separate “Eras.” If there’s any comic fans out there, then you may be familiar with how comics are broken up into different “Ages.” Golden for the older superhero comics, published between the late 30′s and early 50′s; Silver for the mid-50′s to the 70′s and so on.
WWE 2K14 similarly breaks down its Eras into historic periods, with “Hulkamania Runs Wild” focusing on Hulk Hogan’s incredible popularity in the earliest Wrestlemanias, “The New Generation” focusing on the rise of iconic superstars like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the well-known “Attitude Era” returning to WWE ’13‘s popular late 90′s/early 2000′s age, “Ruthless Aggression” focusing on the wild post-AE age, and the “Universe Era” focusing on the most recent and current WWE period.
In this mode, players will be tasked with completing match objectives to unlock content. Doing so will trigger cutscenes that show the actual classic footage of what happened, with up to 300 unlockables for players to look forward to, including alternate attires.
Ledesma sees “30 Years” as an educational effort, especially for younger players who haven’t grown up with the same celebrated wrestlers of our generation. Ledesma and I laughed at the thought of younger fans not experiencing Hulkamania, since Hulk Hogan was pretty much everywhere when we were growing up.
One thing that fans of all eras can appreciate is the newly announced WWE 2K14 feature, titled “The Streak.” A sub-mode of the “30 Years” mode, “The Streak” is all about Undertaker’s 21-0 career, and comes in two flavors.
“Defeat the Streak” gives players the freedom to play as any wrestler in the game, charged with trying to take the Undertaker off his thrown. This won’t be easy: where past games have offered trophies for defeating the Undertaker on Legend difficulty, Defeat the Streak will be under an extreme difficult named after the Undertaker himself, and promises to be the most challenging effort fans have faced yet. Not only must players just be really damn good, but they have to be able to take on a super-charged Undertaker armed with his legendary “supernatural abilities.”
This means that should players ever have the Deadman on the ropes for too long, something unexpected may happen to swing momentum back in the ‘Taker’s favor. For example, Ledesma mentions, the stage lights could go out only, to come back on with the Undertaker reappearing behind you, unharmed. Even more unusual is the use of lightning strikes, though I wasn’t shown how those would be used. Either way, taking on the Deadman will be a Herculean task, and defeating him with a “victim” from a real previous Wrestlemania will net players bonus content, so if you have the resolve and patience, go for it. Otherwise, be ready to get a new controller and window.
“Defend the Streak” is more of a traditional fighting game survival mode, with players playing as the Undertaker and taking on wrestler after wrestler, gauntlet-style. This means that when the ‘Taker eliminates an opponent via KO, submission or pin, another wrestler will come seconds later to take him on. The Deadman will not heal much in-between eliminations, but Ledesma did promise that the Undertaker will have some things slightly skewed in his favor to make the mode a little speedier than normal matches.
In either sub-mode an old school points competitive Leaderboard will be integral to “The Streak,” with difficulties fixed and points rewarded for special moments and actions involving factors like Time, Excitement, Drama and Showmanship. Bonuses will be given for not using special abilities, and scores will be kept unknown until the end, to build a little suspense and anticipation during each attempt. Ledesma promised that while “The Streak” is meant to be competitive, “30 Years of Wrestlemania” is meant to be enjoyed at any difficulty, with no penalties regarding trophies or bonus content.
But what would be a WWE game without a revamped Create mode?
WWE 2K14 will include Universe Mode 4.0, which has additional match types like a Streak-esque Undertaker “Slobber Knocker” mode, a Rivalries Manager that allows players to create, edit or delete rivalries between wrestlers, and more than 80+ characters (though a sizeable amount are “retro” doubles of current superstars). Most importantly, Create Mode is giving players even more control over their game, like all-Diva brands, CAW (create-a-wrestler) slots doubled from 50 to 100 slots and more create-options.
A big addition from last year’s installment is the ability to use Superstar Templates to create new wrestlers and increase Superstar Threads freedom, as well as the returning create-a-championship feature.
Superstar Templates allow players to copy a Superstar, alter everything but their face, and have nearly as much creative freedom as when creating CAWs. For the time being, there’s only a small amount of personalities players can use, including Chris Jericho, Kane, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Paul Heyman and about a dozen others, give or take, to be used for new wrestlers or managers.
Players of WWE ’13 will be glad to learn that Superstar Threads has been revamped, giving players the ability to customize colors for both Entrance and in-match attires. Ledesma also promised more available attires for WWE 2K14.
Create-a-championship makes its triumphant return, with players having as much freedom in creating their own championship belt as they have in creating a wrestler. Players can add any logos provided or created in the game, change the colors and strap type, full layering options, announce name options and the ability to add photo-renders of superstars, like Ledesma demonstrated with AJ Lee. This gives players the power to create the “I Heart AJ” or “Batman Heavyweight” belts they’ve always wanted, which can be imported into the Universe Mode.
Belts can be made for the Singles or Tag divisions, for a certain weight class, and for gender. Players can also put titles on the line in the Gold Rush Tournament Mode, though it wasn’t stated whether there would be an added “Prestige” factor like when the mode was first introduced in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007.
No matter how many features have been added to the game, it wouldn’t be worth much without revising the mechanics. WWE 2K14 has been given a small overhaul, specifically to the Reversal system. The developers found that the previous reversal system seemed to slow down the pace, forcing players to reverse into holds over and over again. Reversals now lead directly into a Reversal Move, causing immediate damage and keeping the pace moving. Mimigames have also returned, with the usual timed presses for Comebacks and pins, and button-mashing for submissions.
Ledesma and I played a match, with he as Ryback, and myself as one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, Chris Jericho. The controls were pretty much identical to WWE ’13–instantly familiar. But the phrase of the year for many games, the “moment to moment drama,” was heightened just enough to make the already fast-paced system a little smoother. By the end of what became a ten minutes match, we had devolved from a developer and game journalist to two teenaged boys, groans and shouts every time one of our wrestlers was on the ropes (pun intended). If you enjoyed last year’s gameplay, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy WWE 2K14‘s. Also, I’m proud to say I won, because as we all know, “The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” is the best in the world.
WWE 2K14 looked great running on the Xbox 360, although there were occasionally long loading times (understandable for the tremendous amount of customizable content being used) and I noticed that some Superstar models had been given much more detail (like the Undertaker) while others looked decidedly mediocre (like Alberto Del Rio).
This is not indicative of every character or the final game, and more indicative of just the high level of detail some wrestlers have been given, especially those with elaborate attires. Ledesma also cited authenticity as a driving point for the game’s direction, with little details like how old cameras flashed and getting that perfect old grainy television look being meticulously researched for each Era in the game.
Cory Ledesma said to me that he was as much a fan of the brand as me or anyone else, and after sitting, talking and playing with him for about an hour or so, I’m inclined to believe him. The impression I got from WWE 2K14 is a positive one, one that seeks to make up for past trespasses with improvements across the board. With a story mode that celebrates and showcases the best of WWE history, and a Creation Suite that gives more freedom and control than ever before, it may be a real treat for fans when WWE 2K14 releases to the PS3 and Xbox 360 later this month on October 29th.