WWE 2K14 Review: Not quite World Championship material, but pretty close

The world of WWE TV is currently undergoing something of a rebirth. Storylines are a tad edgier than they were when the company first went PG. Interesting villains have emerged. And new heroes like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have risen. For the first time in a long time, it's pretty damn great to be a WWE fan. Unfortunately, that slick rebirth hasn't exactly translated over to the WWE brand of video games. Don't get me wrong, WWE 2K14 is certainly a solid, enjoyable offering, but aside from the remarkable story mode, this isn't exactly the evolution the series desperately needs.

The 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is the standout feature here. Replacing last year's Attitude Era mode, this component lets you play several matches from throughout WrestleMania history. You'll relive moments from the Hulkamania days through the Attitude Era and all the way up to the modern Universe Era. It's awesome seeing the rise of Macho Man Randy Savage, witnessing the badassery of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and experiencing a dramatic shift with Edge. 30 Years of WrestleMania is both a major dose of nostalgia and a history lesson. Not every match is a thriller, but the mode as a whole is absolutely stellar.

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Depending on how long you've watched wrestling, you're bound to enjoy certain eras more than others. I've been watching since the Attitude Era, but I have a personal connection with the Ruthless Aggression days, so seeing guys like Edge and Chris Jericho rise to the top and headline the biggest spectacle in wrestling was a pretty big deal for me. Of course, getting to play CM Punk's recent classic with the Undertaker was great, too. And I can't discount how much fun it was to watch as Macho Man lost his mind during the midst of his feud with Hogan.

In addition to historical matches, 30 Years of WrestleMania also includes The Streak, an Undertaker-centric mode that lets you attempt to defend the Deadman's legendary undefeated streak at WrestleMania, or put an end to it. Defending the streak as Taker means you take on waves of wrestlers in a gauntlet-style match. If you're trying to end the streak, you have to do battle with the Phenom while simultaneously combating a higher difficulty setting and Taker's crazy mystical powers. All in all, The Streak is a nice little distraction, though it won't keep you busy for too long.

This year's Universe mode received a few changes, the biggest being the new rivalry manager. You can now set up feuds between singles competitors and tag teams and watch them unfold. You can also assign varying title belts to the different WWE shows, and you can even build your very own shows from scratch. Despite the minute implementations, Universe mode remains largely similar this time around. It's a great mode nonetheless, and being able to build your own shows, match cards, rivalries, and championship chases is a lot of fun.

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As far as match types are concerned, you've got the usual round of WWE gimmick match-ups. Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, ladder, and cage matches are all back, and they're just as fun as ever. You can also have tournaments, elimination tag matches, and the classic 30-man Royal Rumble. All of these match types are available in Universe and exhibition modes, so you have a robust set of options to mix it up in the ring.

As far as gameplay is concerned, not much has changed since the THQ-published WWE 13 from last year. That's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because last year's game was pretty great, so the fact that the core mechanics haven't evolved isn't exactly a problem. By the same token, the lack of change is a bit disappointing because we still haven't really seen what developer Yuke's can do under the publishing banner of 2K Sports, the company that obtained the license following the downfall of THQ. Hopefully the next game will have a new personality and attitude infused into it.

If you like editing content, you'll be glad to know that you can once again go crazy with the creation options on hand. You can create wrestlers, championship belts, moves, storylines, and rings. The options that wrestling game fans have become accustomed to are all here, and they're as fully featured as ever. You can also clone some of the wrestlers and create new attires for them. It's a shame you can't just do it for every wrestler considering the old Nintendo 64 WWE games allowed you to do that.

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Online play is back, and it works pretty well. In the past, WWE games haven't exactly offered the most stable online multiplayer components. With this latest installment, I had no trouble jumping into matches and having fun, lag-free wrestling contests with other players. You may still have trouble getting into matches from time to time, but  when you do, there usually aren't any noticeable hitches.

As far as the visual and audio presentation goes, WWE 2K14 is passable only on the graphical front. Visually, the game looks decent, though not a lot has changed. The wrestlers are at least accurately depicted, but there's no real sense of distinction from the last game. The sound design, on the other hand, is pretty bad a lot of the time. The cheers from the audience sound off at times, and the commentary from Jerry “The King” Lawler, Jim Ross, and Michael Cole is as laughably poor and outdated as ever.

There's nothing inherently bad about WWE 2K14. The game is just too familiar from a gameplay perspective. I was hoping that 2K Sports would offer a leap in quality and mechanics since taking over the series, but that wasn't exactly the case. The game is still entertaining, and its various features are sure to keep you coming back. Additionally, 30 Years of WrestleMania is an absolute joy to play through, and it's almost worth the price of admission alone. If you love the lore of wrestling, WWE 2K14 is a worthwhile investment. It's no World Champion, but it's a good candidate for the Intercontinental Title.

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