|So that's where Punk is.|
While WWE '13 remains the best in the series, 2K14 introduced a variety of subtle, novel concepts that will hopefully be further refined in the future.
The following is a list of simple suggestions for how to not only improve gameplay, but help offer gamers and WWE fans a wider breadth of opportunities to simulate their favorite sports entertainment pastime.
- Refined Counter-Grappling System - Many fans of the series prefer the more methodical pace of WWE '13 matches, which resulted in large part due to the extensive counter-grappling system. In '13, players initiate a grapple, which can then be countered by opponents setting up a new move, and then that opponents' follow up move can be countered again. This creates a cat and mouse, back and forth grappling mechanic with each opponent countering each new move that, while some might find tedious, can result in some intense, skillful exchanges. In 2K14, in the interest of speed, when players counter an attempted move, the string of grapples is immediately shut down with a quick, predetermined move that sends the opponent to the mat or careening backward. While this system supposedly keeps matches moving more quickly, it's inevitably not much different from the previous system, but leaves room for greater tedium. Players can't choose their counter grapple animations, for one, and they will find themselves in a similar, albeit less satisfying back and forth exchange that can result in an entire match playing out in nothing but counters. Perhaps in WWE 2K15 players should be given the option to choose between these two systems in the options menu, or the old system should simply be brought back and refined. The best addition to 2K14 is the speed of wrestlers' movement. This is what matches needed to feel faster and so it should be preserved and expanded, while the old grappling system should make a triumphant return.
- The Referee - The ref has been a problem in every single game. He is, more often than not, an obstruction that comes between players and the fun. He literally blocks players from crawling to the ropes during a submission at times, and rarely moves out of the way fast enough when an opponent is Irish-whipped into a corner. It's clear the designers have made efforts to improve the AI, but there's still room for greater improvement.
- More OMG Moments - The "hot spots" of the Smackdown vs Raw franchise have evolved into OMG moments. This is a thrilling aspect of gameplay that allows wrestlers with a stored finishing move to perform devastating maneuvers fans often see in brutal matches in real life, such as spearing an opponent through the barricade, crashing through a table, shattering the entire ring, DDTing a wrestler on the ring apron, flying over the top rope out of the ring, or kicking an opponent's head against the turnbuckle. There should be greater transparency and customization with these OMG moments. It's unclear which wrestler is able to perform which move, particularly those against the ropes. There should be a visible list of OMG finishing moves in the create-a-wrestler custom move-set, where players can not only inform themselves of the available animations, but select what they would like their wrestler to perform in each designated OMG spot of the arena. It would also be nice to see these moments expanded to incorporate the ramp and the stage. We've often seen these elements of the arena used to great dramatic effect in real-life, so it would be nice to recreate such events in the game (e.g. crashing an opponent through the set, chokeslaming them off the stage).
- The Ability to "Take Out" Wrestlers When There Are Multiple Opponents - Oftentimes in real-life when there is a triple threat, fatal four way, of six man match of any kind, the choreography of the match will result in a fair distribution of wrestlers. It's rare that three or more opponents will square off in the ring at the same time. Such is awkward and difficult to pace. It would be nice if not only the AI of computer-controlled wrestlers was improved, but if it was possible to "eliminate" such wrestlers for long stretches of time during a multi-wrestler match. Players with a stored finisher should be able to drag a particular opponent out of the ring and execute an OMG finisher that lays out that AI opponent for a long period of time. This would not only reflect reality, it would permit players to focus on one opponent at a time and compete in a fairer fight. As is, triple threats and four way and six man matches (particularly if you throw tables, ladders, and chairs into the mix) are a disaster. No matter how skilled a gamer is, it's very difficult to keep one opponent down long enough to score a pin on another downed foe. Even if savvy gamers toss one opponent out of the ring, score a finisher on the other opponent, the previous AI wrestler will sneak back in and break up the pin. Providing the option to earn more breathing room would greatly improve this particular type of match, and make it actually fun to play.
- Improved Hit Detection - hit detection, particularly when it comes to kicking downed opponents or dropping an opponent on a steel chair or ring steps, has been problematic since WWE '12. The kicks to downed opponents, elbow drops, and punches inexplicably don't make contact, bouncing off an invisible wall around opponents. And while it's nice 2K14 made strides in allowing gamers to perform moves onto an object like a chair or steps, such often results in wonky animations. Opponents also aren't more injured by such moves, particularly when tossed or dropped on the steel steps. Often they seem somehow less damaged. With so many moving parts in these games, I can certainly appreciate an inevitable margin of error, but it would be nice to see these animations and controls finally ironed out on next-gen systems.
- More Pin/Catch-Moves - the grappling and move-set in WWE 2K14 is shockingly extensive. With the addition of pin moves and the awesome "catch finishers" players can seamlessly execute some awesome pay-per-view quality moments. It would be nice to see this further expanded, especially allowing players to go in for a pin immediately after any finishing move by pressing the pin button during the animation. There's an added level of satisfaction that comes from immediately transitioning from a move into a pin, and doing so after a Stunner, Rock Bottom, AA, or GTS would be amazing.
- Improved Royal Rumble - The Royal Rumble has been a pretty disheartening mess in each game. It's a very difficult match to execute without incorporating quick time events and button-mashing mini-games so I appreciate the designers' dilemma. I don't really have any suggestions for how to make the gameplay in the match any better, only that it should probably be completely reimagined. The most important and simplest improvement to make is permitting players to enter the match with their chosen wrestler at their chosen spot and for the match-experience to begin then. It's not only boring to watch thirty minutes of an AI controlled match, it's disheartening to get quickly kicked out after having endured such downtime. In order to remain invested throughout players have to enter at no.1, and it's risky to invest that much time in something that could easily result in defeat because of a flawed system.
- Special Counters - The "Beat The Streak" mode in 2K14 is a great deal of fun, in large part due to the absurdity of The Undertaker's resilience. The mode subtly introduces some novel concepts, however, that should possibly be added to the main experience. When players have a stored finisher of their own, but find themselves on the receiving end of a devastating move or a finishing-submission hold, they should be able to press the finisher button in a last ditch effort to kick out or counter the hold, initiating one of their own in a surprise-counter. Also, much like Undertaker in "Beat The Streak" it would be fun, and accurate to real-life, if players with a stored finisher (or perhaps with a new sort of 'comeback' ability) could suddenly, and unexpectedly initiate a hold or finisher. This could easily result in an obnoxious "win button", but if it's refined it could be awesome.
- Custom Entrance Videos - I think I'm certainly in the minority when it comes to those who actually used the Custom Entrance Video feature in WWE '12 and '13, as it was entirely nixed from 2K14. The video creation kit was cumbersome and unintuitive, not unlike an archaic version of Windows MovieMaker or iMovie. Regardless, it was an excellent concept and, once mastered, could result in some amazing videos that helped flesh out your created superstars. To improve on this, firstly, the menus themselves need to be simpler, making it clearer how to import saved clips into the video editor. Secondly, the editor itself has to be more intuitive with the controller and, visually, user-friendly. It's unlikely most gamers will utilize this aspect of the creative-suite, but it should remain present for those avid gamers eager to make use of it. With the advent of DVR for both next-gen systems, the prospect of custom videos in general, and the ease of sharing them with Upload studio is very exciting. It would be nice to craft an entire match using the video uploader, complete with commentary via Kinect. As far as the custom entrances themselves are concerned, (while amazing) they need to be easier to craft. As is, players have to watch each section over and over again, unable to control the speed of each animation. This requires them to make educated guesses on where to insert camera cuts, name plate displays, and pyrotechnics. Even in the advanced version, which offers more depth, the inability to scroll, frame by frame, through a section of the entrance results in a tedious, unnecessarily difficult process.
- Improved Create-A-Finisher - In each of the latest WWE games the create-a-finisher moves are, inexplicably, much less effective and powerful than regular finishers. Players might spend thirty minutes or more crafting their perfect finishing moves for their custom superstar, only to discover, in a match, that their special move has the same effect as a back drop or suplex. Custom finishers are almost always kicked-out of on the first and second attempts, sometimes more. It would be nice to see this weird little bug fixed.
- Simplified Menus - As someone who's played many wrestling games, and played WWE '12 - WWE 2K14 consistently for the past three years, I'm very accustomed to the menus in the create-a-wrestler portion of the game. But when I think back to before I was acclimated to the unspoken nuances of menu navigation in these games, I remember being completely overwhelmed and downright confused. Even now, I find it difficult to remember the series of button presses required to copy one attire to another attire-slot so as to then begin crafting a new outfit. And that's relatively easy. When you get into editing your wrestler's layers, entrance outfits, logos, and colors it becomes even more convoluted. The running theme of the creative-suite in these games is that they're remarkably in-depth and result in some truly beautiful, unique creations, but the practicality of the systems in place is almost nonexistent. It's not impossible to figure the menus out, obviously, but it would benefit from some reimagining. Keep in mind I'm not suggesting the creative-suite be any less deep or detailed, only presented in a clearer, more user-friendly manner. There needs to be more transparency and direct communication with the gamer in all aspects of these games.
- The Crowd - So far, the crowd was best in WWE '13. It was overpoweringly loud and raucous and that's how it should be. The chants in 2K14 are great, but the crowd itself is far too mute. Also, regardless of whether or not your wrestlers' crowd reaction is set to boo or cheer, the audience will cheer or boo based on what seems to be the popularity of a star. For example, CM Punk is almost always booed whereas The Rock is always cheered regardless of whether they are a heel or face in you custom rivalry. In 2K15, hopefully the crowd will be louder, better, and more manageable. It would be particularly fun to have Kinect integrated into the game for this - imagine chanting "YES! YES! YES!" or "CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!" at the Kinect and then hear the audience join in. Such would add a nice touch of interactivity and immersion and make use of the Kinect in a manner that is genuinely fun and innovative.
- Weird Bugs - WWE 2K14 is probably the buggiest in the series. There's nothing game-breaking that I've encountered - just disorienting. Computer controlled wrestlers often miss their first grapple-attempt whenever a character's head is poking out from the bottom rope and resting on the apron, there isn't a cutaway to the audience during certain sections of a custom entrance which results in a stilted animation, character models go all wonky when they're dropped on the steel steps (it's pretty funny actually), if a custom wrestler with custom music interferes in a match then their music will continue to play over other music after the animation is complete, and sometimes your wrestler will shoot off into the sky. Certainly all the bugs can't be fixed, but I particularly hope those which effect the entrances are ironed out. I take great pride in my created wrestlers and it's frustrating when their entrances are a bit off (either due to an inability to choose when the music plays or that previously described no-cutaway bug).
- Improved Universe Mode - Universe mode is the bread and butter of these games and both WWE '13 and 2K14 did things right and wrong. The advent of rivalries in 2K14 and other subtle management touches in Universe Mode are very welcome, while '13 handled the implementation of its systems better. There are some bugs in 2K14 with recognizing the Royal Rumble winner, and there's a lack of variety when it comes to interference-cutscenes and crafting your own small wrestling stories. So in '15 it would be great to see this section of the game evolve further, and for it run more smoothly.
- A Good Road To WrestleMania Mode - In past games, players could use their created wrestlers to participate in a Road to WrestleMania storyline. Such often involved frustrating cutscenes, terrible dialogue, and lots of backstage brawls that were, at times, seemingly impossible to overcome. WWE '13 and 2K14 have done a great thing with Attitude Era mode and 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode, and I'd like to see this trend continue. But if the developers ever want to create a mode for your custom superstar that isn't just Universe, then I'd suggest a Road To WrestleMania that is akin to Attitude Era or 30 Years, where players simply have a series of matches with optional goals in each match. And between each section of your wrestlers' career fictional WWE Video packages play, highlighting the accomplishments of your superstar. This would allow players to go through an entire create-a-wrestler's career, perhaps each with different outcomes resulting in different video packages not unlike a Fallout game or similar multi-path RPG. Players could work toward enhancing their wrestler's stats over time, their primary goal being to 'get over' with the crowd, unable to progress into the next section of their career until doing so. Players could even choose to be a heel or a face at pivotal moments in their career so as to remain relevant, all leading to a main event match at WrestleMania for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. And players could watch their wrestler age over time, perhaps choosing between a short, medium, or long career. Imagine experiencing an interactive career-documentary of sorts for your very own custom wrestler. This mode, without cheesy digital cutscenes and absurd stipulations, just straightforward WWE-style CGI-video packages and narration, mixed with a string of playable matches, would be amazing and unparalleled by any other sports game. You would become so much more invested in your wrestler and the game. Hopefully next-gen tech will permit such a potentially exciting game mode to come to fruition.
- Style Points - wrestling games would benefit from incorporating RPG-like elements that reward players for executing high-risk or stylish moves. This is a brilliant concept somewhat implemented in 2K14's "Beat The Streak" mode, and it should be applied, in greater detail, to all matches. Custom-wrestlers should also have to earn their prowess by gradually maxing out certain abilities. The way gamers play should determine the stats of a wrestler. Someone who focuses on submission holds should see their "submission skill" increase over time, for example. Such systems, implemented well, would add greater depth and excitement to an already stellar gaming experience.
So these are my primary suggestions for what might help WWE 2K15 become the greatest wrestling game of all time. If you liked what you read, please pass this along through The Internet ocean so that it might wash up on 2K games' shore. Also feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments.
You never know. The movers and shakers just might be listening.
Live long and prosper. Follow Maximus the WWE 2K14 Champion on Twitter @MaximusWrestler. And have nice day!