Prior to the reveal of WWE 2K14's new story mode, Vince McMahon came out to announce how their company works. According to the owner and singular force - at least that's how history likes to tell it - behind everything WWE today, it is all about giving the people want they want and putting smiles on their faces. And what better way to put a smile on video game journalists who also happen to be wrestling fans than by tugging on their nostalgic heartstrings and unveiling a mode that celebrates the most popular wrestling event in the world?
While last year's WWE '13 took fans on a ride through the memorable Attitude Era, WWE 2K14 is going for an broader time span, opting to tell the story of how Wrestlemania became the global phenomenon that it is today right up until this year's event in New York/New Jersey. Each Wrestlemania will be represented by a few highlight matches, including the iconic "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat battle during Wrestlemania 3, the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan clash in Wrestlemania 6 and the more recent confrontations between John Cena and The Rock.
The presentation of 30 Years of Wrestlemania feels very much like last year's Attitude Era mode right down to how the game divides the eras. The preview build featured four unlocked eras entitled like "Hulkmania Runs Wild" and "The New Generation", with several Wrestlemanias housed in each era. To highlight the dichotomy of the time periods even more, WWE has put together over 40 minutes of video packages that tell the story of the legendary event and how it has evolved over time. WWE is famous for putting together some of the finest video packages in any form of entertainment and the ones that were shown during the event were no different, as they are bound to get some longtime fans misty eyed for sure.
Considering how well fans took to last year's Attitude Era mode, little seems to have changed with how the matches play out in 30 Years of Wrestlemania. Prior to every match, a checklist pops up on the upper left hand corner of the screen, telling players what they need to do in order to progress through each era. While winning is obviously the main goal of every match, unlockable matches will only trigger if all of the conditions are met. During the Edge and Mick Foley match during Wrestlemania 22 for example, players will control Edge and try to beat Foley but in order to get to the memorable flaming table spot that ended the actual match, players will have to beat up Foley to a certain extent and get him in position to be speared through said table. Like last year's Attitude Era mode, there still exists that disconnect between the action that the players were just a part of to setting up a Wrestlemania moment - the Warrior-Hogan Wrestlemania 6 double clothesline that was a turning point during the actual match takes place way too early in the game - so hopefully the build up to each moment can be fine tuned before the game ships in October.
In what is quickly becoming a trope in sports games that want their fans to bathe in nostalgic glory, each Wrestlemania is presented as they close as possible to the actual event. That means the earlier Wrestelmanias have a standard definition television filter applied to them and the graphic displays that name each superstar are similar to what they would look like at the time. The sets are also fairly accurate right down to the banners hanging from the roofs to the more elaborate designs found in modern day Wrestlemanias but all of the arenas still look like regular 25,000 seat affairs and not the behemoth venues that the event has come to be known for. Vince McMahon and Jim Ross talked during the preview about how large the stadiums that have hosted Wrestlemania are but none of that is conveyed in the game. That might work for the Wrestlemanias that took place in Madison Square Garden, but when Wrestlemania 3 was held in the Silverdome and the in-game arena does not replicate that, it snaps fans back to reality, more so than having Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler call some of the earlier Wrestlemanias that they were not a a part of (it was weird to hear King repeat Jesse "The Body" Ventura's "Warrior's wasting his energy" line during Wrestlemania 6).
Those looking for a "snappier" experience from last year's kind of plodding pace will be pleased to know that that the speed of the game has stepped up. Reversals are not as easy to do as they were in last year's game but there the possibility of chaining multiple counters is still there. While they were not shown in the game, there will be several new OMG! moments that make use of the ring environment like in last year's game. Another subtle improvement in the look of the game is the more pronounced facial expressions. While some of the character models look closer to their real-life counterparts than others (Hogan and Andre The Giant look freakishly real while Daniel Bryan still has short hair and Diesel/Kevin Nash feels a bit off) the faces they make when they're selling a hit or expressing an emotion is a lot better than in previous games.
As far the change from THQ to 2K Sports goes, the biggest impact the new publisher made seems to have come from their ability to sign WWE legends that have been long absent from the video game roster such as the Ultimate Warrior and Razor Ramon/Scott Hall. Subtle 2K Sports touches that you've seen in their NBA and MLB games like the use of the right stick for menu navigation are nowhere to be found. Because the switch happened so late into development, expect next year's game to feel more like a 2K Sports title.
There is plenty to be excited about in the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode. With 45 matches expected to be featured in the mode (what could they have possibly chose to represent Wrestlemania 11?), most fans will probably be pleased to know that their favorite match made the cut. And with a roster that looks and feels like the deepest it has ever been (Rowdy Roddy Piper is probably the biggest omission that comes to mind), there is plenty of hope that the 2K change is just the beginning of bigger and better things for the WWE games.
The following preview was based on an event held by WWE and 2K Sports on the Saturday prior to Summerslam.