Given that the WWE license changed hands last year, there's the preconception a huge change is on the cards. It's not. With the minds at Yuke's and those formerly at THQ starting production on WWE 2K14 way back in September 2012, there's been a plan in place for a while. 2K has simply bought into that structure.
It results in two very direct paths. The first is, come 2014, it may be a very wise bet to assume a different, and more 2K-centric, wrestling experience is coming. It also means, then, that potentially we're saying goodbye to the WWE games as we know them today.
It's no big secret that the pro-wrestling format on the 360 or PS3 is very rigid. Based on a similar template to one which was created around a decade ago, it's both peaked and fallen in equal measure. For every Here Comes The Pain, there's a SmackDown vs. RAW 2011. When WWE 13 was released in November 2012, however, it did something incredibly smart, namely, shock horror, played up to the wrestling fan. Obviously realising that its core demographic wasn't going to change hugely until the main blueprint shifted, Attitude Mode was introduced, intelligently playing on the warm memories that even lapsed followers would enjoy reliving. The game itself was solid, if not more of the same, but getting to see those encounters again - along with the excellent multiplayer - justified its existence. The same remains true months on.
30 Years Of WrestleMania may take the exact same premise and simply work in 45 classic matches from the Showcase Of The Immortals, but it carries the same weight, enjoyment and giddy sense of nostalgia that sparked when looking back at WWE's most successful period. Throwing long time absentees like Goldberg and Razor Ramon back into the mix is one thing, but layering that with bouts such as Shawn Michaels retiring Ric Flair, or Hulk Hogan taking on The Ultimate Warrior (still the most important moment in anyone's life... were you the right age when WrestleMania VI aired originally) is a mouth-watering prospect for those who proudly wave the pro-wrestling flag. The fact it can do so in completely different eras only strengthens this further.
Such is this mode's importance, if you've just read that paragraph in complete bewilderment, it's simple: WWE 2K14 is not for you.
There lies its appeal, too. While there's plenty of talk of animations improving, or visuals tweaked, that's not the overwhelming sensation that'll hit you here. You may not even notice. A large reason this is so attractive is the single-player offering, surely meaning you're already aware if it's something you want to invest in or not.
The fights themselves, mind, require a bit of expansion. Playing through Hogan vs Andre from WM III, the aforementioned coming together between the Warrior and The Hulkster, or the much more recent scraps like Undertaker vs HHH from WMXVIII, it's not just a case of having the setting replicated and then leaving you to your own devices. Much like its predecessor, 2K has added in objectives and 'WrestleMania Moments', specific instances where a famous sequence of events plays out, usually around same time it occurred in the match. From a purely entertainment angle, these are excellent. Who doesn't want to see Hulkamania literally clash with the power of the Warrior as the two digitally reenact the impact of their double clothesline?
This strand of thinking runs throughout, be it with 'The Slam Heard Around The World', or 'The Game' violently attacking 'Taker with chair shot after chair shot. They evoke memories that have either cemented portions of your childhood, or stand as tokens of joy that worked their way into your adult life. Nostalgia is a powerful tool.
The only problem, though, is how you get to experience these angles. As all 'WM Moments' are quick-time events (currently slow ones at that), control is, essentially, taken out of your hands. It makes sense - to showcase the match how it was requires a certain amount of structure - but it can be a little disappointing to watch such highlights (again) rather than directly involve yourself with them. Furthermore, bouts can be cutscene heavy too. When Triple H does go ballistic on 'The Deadman', it's a case of sitting back and having a quick break from an interactive standpoint.
Naturally your wrestler will have the appropriate wounds, and react as such, but continually having to work yourself into a specific position before the game takes over may cause a small tear to run down your cheek. Suspension of disbelief is always key.
Thankfully, given the quality of the matches, or at least the showmanship that exists within them, there's other parts on hand to make up for this. Whether that's dropping the leg on Andre The Giant, or Stone Cold Steve Austin's winning Stunner on The Rock (sold as ridiculously as you remember), getting to perform these slices of history, even with a press of a button, is genuinely satisfying.
Small touches also add to the ambience. As you're progressing through WWE's 'Superbowl' (it's laid out in history order), older matches are greeted with a pleasant grain filter that conveys the sensation that what you're participating in is not part of the modern-day HDTV era.
Mulitplayer, too, remains a forgotten gem. Not enough people mentioned that WWE 13 was insanely fun in this regard; the same seems set to be true here as well. Admittedly online is always a question that can only be answered once the servers are switched on (the pain of WWE 12 still runs deep), but in an age where same-room playing is a dying art, 2K and Yuke's buck the trend. False finishes, near falls and devastating bumps are made all the better by a few people reacting to the action as they do on the TV, giving 2K14 something it can't replicate anywhere else - a crowd made up of polygons is never going to be as powerful as the real thing. Find someone even remotely interested in sports entertainment, and it may be impossible to have a bad time.
Other, smaller changes rear their head also, chief among them being the adaptations to the game's reversal system. Whereas before two good players could endlessly perform counters into almost an interpretive dance, the decision has been made to strip this right back to its most basic form: successfully execute one, and you'll instantly pull off a move. There's logic to the choice, but reverting it all back to a single manoeuvre feels a little extreme. It takes away from the back and forth nature that did previously exist.
2K has made amends by adding in more OMG! scenarios and, more importantly, catapult finishes. Opening up the door so you can now hoist someone into the air before performing a superstar's special move - which we all knows is the perfect excuse to pull-off ridiculous RKOs - it's the perfect compliment to last year's 'catch finishers'.
Seemingly a transition year for WWE (that's backed by a very good mode) as it tries to take on the world of next-gen without actually making the jump across, 2K14 is very much, as said, aimed at people who live, breathe and love professional-wrestling. Admittedly many could and most probably will go berserk to live through previous WrestleManias again, but it very much feels like a nod to those who have never let the flame burn out. The franchise is still in need of an overhaul, even if such a change runs the risk of reducing the feature-set one year; the sheer depth in what's on offer has always been the series' trump card. Attitude and WrestleMania mode have and should prove to be fantastic extenders, but as the late, great Owen Hart once said: 'it's time for a change'.
The power of warm memories holds more than enough weight to see WWE through another 12 months, even on current-gen, but given there's not too many other angles in this mould to explore, the focus will soon have to shift to the game's fundamentals... brother.
Flights and accommodation provided by 2K