Anyone expecting a fresh new lease of life for WWE games now the license has been prised from THQ's cold, dead hands may be Stone Cold Stunned by WWE 2K14. This is still the Smackdown! it's always been; already in development during the transition between the two companies and churned out before 2K works its magic for a next-gen revamp.
In (R) truth, though, WWE 2K14 is a more than serviceable goodbye to an engine and mechanical base that has been doling out grappling action since the turn of the century. Last year's effort was a much-needed return to form for a series that's always struggled with the technical demands of modern gaming. It seemed to accept the fact it'll always look like the back end of the Big Show and just place the emphasis on having as much daft, dramatic fun as humanly possible.
WWE 2K14 continues this commitment to the absurd, by presenting matches with more reversals than a driving test and more kick-outs than a pub in Glasgow, and doing so with just enough pomp and bravado that it makes Vince McMahon look calm and collected by comparison.
The big mode this annum is called 30 Years Of Wrestlemania. Why it's called that no one knows, as Wrestlemania 1 was 28 years ago, but nevertheless here we have a vast and lovingly put-together collection of nostalgia-infused scenarios to tussle with.
Anyone who tackled WWE '13's Attitude mode will know what to expect. Some archive footage to set the mood, era-appropriate sets and filters to maintain the illusion, then a selection of in-engine recreations of famous WWE (and WWF) moments. Even fancied recreating the famous double clothesline from Hogan Warrior at Wrestlemania 6? Well now you can... in a QTE, anyway.
Yes, while most of the matches are standard smackdowns, the action will break when you activate a specified condition. So, you might have to hit an irish whip when your opponent is at moderate damage, or climb the top rope after hitting your finisher. Fulfil these conditions, and a cut-scene will kick in, sometimes complete with a button prompt, and you can relieve your childhood through a mere flick of stick and push of buttons. In an ideal world, these moments would happen emergently during the matches themselves rather than in clunkily edited cut-scenes, but given that this is a game that still features animations from the two console generations past, that's probably too much to ask.
30 Years Of Wrestlemania is actually pretty vast, too, far longer than last year's Attitude mode, taking in multiple WWE 'eras' and superstar careers along the way. It's perfect for fans of a certain age (old), and makes for a more fulfilling single-player ride that the tedious WWE Universe career.
We'll find out next year if WWE's stable-change to 2K really changes the world of digital man-squeezing, but for now, like Wrestlemania, WWE 2K14 is a comforting combo of familiarity and nonsense.
By Jon Denton
It's mechanically almost identical to last year's game, but the huge and nostalgia-fuelled 30 Years Of Wrestlemania mode is just about enough to justify reinvestment.
- Good, daft fun with plenty of drama
- 30 Years Of Wrestlemania mode is great
- Huge roster
- Sketchy animations and old mechanics
- Very similar to last year's
- New publisher, same old game