WWE 2K14 hands-on: Big victory for old school WrestleManiac

Update: Watch our WWE 2K14 video preview

Take Two’s debut grap effort turns back the clock with appearances from Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, and many other big names from the ‘80s. But is it Goldberg great or Gillberg terrible? We go hands-on to find out.

WWE 2K14 PS3 hands-on

If you’re a British wrestling fan of a certain age, then to this day one pay-per-view resonates above all others: Summerslam ’92. Bret Hart vs British Bulldog. Ultimate Warrior vs Randy Savage. Repo Man vs Crush. (Okay, not all the matches went down in the record books as classics.) Either you were at Wembley for Britain’s biggest ever wrestling supershow and it’s a cherished childhood memory, or you know a friend who was and have secrelty hated them for it ever since. (Seriously, Michelle, let’s never discuss it again.)

Whichever of those categories you fit into, it’s likely you feel the same as most of your peers in one regard: ‘rasslin was better in the old days. And if that is your attitude to square-circled ‘sports entertainment’, you will love WWE 2K14.

On the surface, that conclusion sounds like madness. Why would a game released in 2013 appeal most to fans whose interest peaked twenty years ago? Quite simply, because of 30 Years Of WrestleMania mode, which goes more retro than any grap game before it. (Other than Legends Of WrestleMania, but that was even more cack than The Shockmaster.)

It works like Attitude Era did in THQ-published predecessor WWE 13: you get to play through all the biggest ‘Mania matches of the last three decades, progressing by picking up the win with whichever star won the original contest, and earning treats for mirroring what happened in choreographed reality.

There are 45 matches in total and each is pre-empted with a WWE-created video package, featuring footage of the build up to said scrap. Every Mania from I to XXIX is represented (the 30th happens in New Orleans next March), with accurately-recreated arenas and logos, plus a grainy screen filter on the early shows to really remove you from the modern HD experience. In a brilliant touch, ring announcer Howard Finkel even has three different character models for complete authenticity. (‘80s, ’90s, and current.)

The roster reads like a who’s who of the ‘80s and ‘90s. (Sorry, Repo and Crush, not this year.) Bulldog is absent – Davey Boy sadly never managed a big hitter at WrestleMania – but Hart, Warrior and Savage are in, inevitably. As are Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Goldberg, and – incredibly – Hulk Hogan. I say incredibly because he’s currently the frontman for WWE’s biggest rival federation, TNA, so his inclusion here is a sizeable coup.

“Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Macho Man Randy Savage and Stone Cold Steve Austin are – and incredibly, so is Hulk Hogan despite being the frontman for rival federation TNA.”

My favourite inclusion is Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, if only for his greatest-of-all-time theme tune. Give this a listen and then try to get it out of your head before the end of the day. Impossible. “Everybody’s got a price…”

(For the full 30 Years Of WrestleMania roster, head here.)

During a hands-on the day before this year’s Summerslam, I get to play three of the WrestleMania matches for myself. The first is Shawn Michaels against Ric Flair in the latter’s 2008 retirement match (now that one I did see live – have that, Mich!) from WrestleMania XXIV. To advance I could simply win the bout, but by following a list of onscreen objectives I can trigger cut-scenes which mirror what happened in the original bout, and snare unlockables (what these are aren’t made clear, but going by WWE 13 you can expect additional wrestlers, outfits and belts to be earned in this manner).

One such objective is to hit two super kicks on the Nature Boy. Once nailed, the second boot to Flair’s chops triggers the famous (in wrestling terms!) close-up where Michaels leans on the turnbuckles and whispers “I’m sorry, I love you” at his in-ring rival and real-life friend – before the camera cuts back to the full ring, enabling me to hit a third Sweet Chin Music for the three-count.

Other matches pit me as Hogan against Andre The Giant from ‘Mania III, and Edge against Mick Foley from ‘Mania 22. Again, every major spot is represented if I choose to trigger it – Hogan slamming Andre after multiple failed attempts to lift him, Edge spearing the Mickster through a flaming table from the ring apron. And while the overall experience inevitably feels a bit scripted, my reaction to the end of every match is desperation to try the next one. So in terms of fan service, WWE 2K14 really can’t be faulted.