Much like a Vince McMahon-led WWE, the improvements are incremental at best, but the overall package is entertaining enough to get by. Beginning with its in-ring action, I found that even after months away from wrestling games I was able to execute every move without missing a beat. Punches and kicks are a tad faster this year, and most reversals now automatically lead into a move, making WWE 2K14 instantly more fun than the "reversal fest" that was WWE 13. The flow of movement is a bit better overall. While wrestlers will still slide and stagger a bit, moments like going from standing still to sprinting aren't as jarring thanks to added transitional animations. WWE 2K14 includes a few more of it's huge "OMG" moments like double chokeslam moves and catch finishers for wrestlers like Randy Orton. Players controlling Orton can catch opponents in mid-air with his RKO finishing move, just like Orton has performed in the ring a few times. It's an exciting, albeit scarcely-seen addition to the game.
WWE 2K14's AI appears somewhat inconsistent, as some wrestlers walked in place while my character was laying on the mat and others jogged around the ring before entering it to avoid being counted out. Additionally, while Yuke's has clear "weight detection" moves in place to account for when wrestlers are up against large opponents like The Big Show or Yokozuna, I executed different lifting and throwing moves that either didn't feature the kind of strain my wrestler should show or that shouldn't have happened at all, like a simple hip toss to King Kong Bundy.
The single player campaign guides players through the history of the business' biggest annual event, which began in 1985. 30 Years of WrestleMania sports 45 matches across 29 events, giving the inclusion of WWE 2K14's retro wrestlers a sense of purpose. The mode plays out almost identically to WWE 13's Attitude Era mode, as expertly-produced video packages tickle viewers' nostalgia before launching them into classic bouts with a variety of challenges and objectives to meet in order to both advance to the next match and unlock wrestlers and other items along the way. It features some amazing matches and delicious moments that any fan will appreciate.
Over time, the mode starts to dull down, particularly as the game rounds the corner to the WrestleMania 20 and beyond. Fans that are still excited for the more recent fixtures may enjoy the entirety of 30 Years of WrestleMania, but for me it became more of a routine and lost its luster as the in-game years wore on. Luckily, Yuke's included a brief "The Streak," a side mode in which players must either defend or conquer The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania. It's an enjoyable, challenging excursion, though I doubt I'll play it more than once.
Turning away from 30 Years of WrestleMania, I found the rest of WWE 2K14 to be largely the same as WWE 13, with a few notable exceptions. The Creation Suite includes an option to create custom championship belts (yes!), though they don't usually end up looking as shiny and pretty like the real-life belts in the game (no!). Though you can throw nearly any logo onto your created title belts, they end up looking cheap. I still had fun with the creation suite, but not being able to play around with established wrestlers' features continues to be a disappointment. Personally, I'd love to tone down Hulk Hogan's exaggerated in-game muscles or give CM Punk his long locks, but that simply isn't an option. The create-a-superstar section includes 14 templates of real-life wrestlers, so that's at least something.
WWE Universe mode, the dynamically-generated system that develops rivalries and allows players to play through months of schedules to their heart's desire makes a return this year. It brings a few changes, like a slightly more flexible structure, particularly for pay-per-view events and the ability to manually create long-standing feuds in a special management section. It remains an entertaining mode, and its interface has been cleaned up, especially thanks to a "WWE.com" section that serves as a news section for your Universe. Additionally, online play operated roughly the same as it did last year for me, as latency during matches led to a multitude of missed reversals.
The community itself remains one of the best parts of the series, as it's a source of practically endless pieces of user-generated content to bolster the offline parts of the game, allowing players to add things like WCW Nitro arenas and custom wrestlers. Being able to download user-created versions of Jeff Hardy and Sting or the WWF logo greatly expands the possibilities of Universe mode, making it that much better. Players are unable to share their custom championship belts, however, which is pretty unfortunate given that basically every other piece of content that stems from the Creation Suite can be uploaded to 2K Sports' servers.
WWE 2K14 offers a huge dose of familiarity with some welcome tweaks to the formula. The in-ring gameplay still has its quirks, but I was able to run the ropes with ease. As with WWE 13, the core campaign mode is driven by ear-to-ear grin-inducing nostalgia only challenged by collectible wrestling DVDs. Though Yuke's didn't nail down every detail in 30 Years of WrestleMania, it did an admirable job during the series' transition from THQ to 2K Sports.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of WWE 2K14, provided by 2K.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.