My first real exposure to the dramatic world of professional wrestling was with the 1999 Acclaim title, WWF Attitude
. This game not only introduced me to the simple joys of slamming your opponent to the matt with a well placed DDT or suplex, but it also revealed a roster chock full of enthralling personalities with fascinating gimmicks. I had to know more. Who was this chubby man in the mask who enjoyed putting dirty sock puppets into people's mouths? What possessed this group of cocky upstarts - degenerates, if you will - to fixate on their crotches so much? Exactly what is The Rock cooking and what is it supposed to smell like, except sweat? Like many at the time, I was hooked and began watching the shows avidly. This was right in the middle of what many consider to be a Golden Age of the World Wrestling Federation, the Attitude Era, which ran from roughly 1995 to 2001 as it fought in a bitter battle for ratings, known as the Monday Night Wars, with rival brand, WCW.
Those days are now long gone. The WWF eventually bought WCW and, thanks to a legal dispute with some pandas, became the WWE. Meanwhile, in the gaming world, THQ took the mantel of publishing games for the company, along with Japanese developers, Yuke's, and settled into a comfortable annual release cycle, starting with Smackdown!
in 2000. Fast forward to 2012 and, with the TV show's ratings in decline and accusations of the games becoming too repetitive and derivative, this year's release, WWE '13
, promises to shake things up by bringing us a fully featured tribute to the days we remember as some of wrestling's best.The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be
The biggest draw for this iteration of the series is the Attitude Era mode. Split into around 60 matches, across 6 chapters, each focusing on the rise (and fall) of different superstars of the era, such as DX, Stone Cold, Mick Foley and The Rock, we get to take part in a selection of the participants' most historic matches. As you progress, you can also unlock bonus classic match-ups with other superstars, which provide a sideline to the main action.
These aren't simply a case of playing through match up after match up; you are also presented with a mini historical breakdown of the build-up to the match and its context as part of the wider storyline. This is mostly in the form of text in the loading screens, but also occasionally involves recreations of scenes with the superstar models or genuine video clips and montages from the time. We're also treated to a range of sound-bites taken from the actual matches, from introductions and commentary to interviews and taunts. These thoughtful touches raise a smile and, for those looking for a hit of nostalgia with this title, you'll be richly rewarded with this mode.
As well as being able to progress through the storylines by simply winning the matches, you can also complete optional Historical Bonus Objectives, which ask to you to perform specific tasks and spectacular moments in order to correspond to the real-life matches as closely as possible. For instance, you are tasked with locking in Shawn Michael's Sharpshooter during the historic match with Bret Hart that would eventually become known as the Montreal Screw Job. Completing these objectives not only gives the matches an air of authenticity, but also unlocks the over 100 unlockable items available, including wrestlers, alternate attires, belts, arenas and more.
There are some notable omissions from this mode for a variety of reasons, not least of which is WWE's ongoing feud with TNA, where many Attitude-era wrestlers now call home, and I for one missed some of my favourites. It's also a little strange to see all the classic logos with the 'F' missing, but these are petty niggles. On the whole, many will feel satisfied with the wealth of Attitude Era content available and if you really want to play as someone who isn't on the roster or recreate a favourite storyline, you can simply make them in the Creation Suite.Oh, you didn't know? Your ass better create somebody
As has always been the case with these titles, WWE '13
includes massive scope for customisation through the Creation Suite. You can create superstars real and imagined down to the smallest details, before moving on to create custom move sets, original special moves, logos, belts, arenas and storylines. Almost every element imaginable can be tweaked to your heart's content and you can spend as little or as much time as you want building your own version of the wrestling world. The interface for some of these modes are a little clunky, the paint-like Logo creator in particular, but on the whole they are alll pretty intuitive, making creation a simple but involving and surprisingly deep process.
The story creator in particular seems impressive at first, allowing you to build shows using branching interaction sequences, choosing from hundreds of animations and adding commentary and text, before crafting the matches themselves. However, to really get much out the mode you have to sink a lot of time into refining all the different elements, such as the timings of the cutscenes. Crafting the ups and downs of a good storyline (or storylines if you want something more complex) can be rather a painstaking and time-consuming process, but it is very rewarding to then play through the story with friends: especially if those same friends happen to be the custom wrestlers you've used to hilarious effect in said storylines.Now for the benefit of those with flashy routers
If you want to take your custom creations beyond your four walls, the online experience now allows you to upload and share every customised creation, along with keywords for easy sorting. You can also preview, review and download all the other custom content that other users have uploaded and use them in your own game, so if you're struggling to make your own Hardy Boyz, you'll easily find some decent, well reviewed, ones online. The multiplayer experience also allows you to pair up in many different types of online matches and progress through a rankings system. You can fully customise these matches, including whether they can use custom created content and a 'Fair Fight' option, which aims to avoid unfair match-ups. Overall, I found the online experience to be a lot smoother than previous iterations, especially in the easy and quick matchmaking. However, I did experience some occasional and frustrating latency in a couple of matches, and the browsing and downloading in the Custom Content sections frequently seemed to freeze up; sometimes even requiring me to hard reset.
This is a Slobberknocker
Universe Mode makes its return for the third year running as a schedule of automated matches that includes storylines, feuds and title bouts in standard and PPV shows. You can jump in to take part on any side of these and direct the course of a match or story, or simply simulate the results to progress through the season. You can also take more control of the bookings in this mode by editing the rosters, stables, scheduling and others. The mode also includes some nifty stats tracking that allows you to see all the changing rankings, title information and historical data. You also don't have to worry if you make a royal mess of screwing with the rosters and titles, as you can easily reset everything back to square one. If you want to see your custom creations develop through the rankings and make it to Wrestlemania, this is the mode to do it in.
However, despite being such a big mode, Universe feels like the most underdeveloped of the game. On its own merits it's a pretty fully featured and functional career mode with plenty of choice and as much or as little control as you want. However, standing next to Attitude Era, it feels clunky, unfocused and not particularly engaging.It's time to play The Game. But is it that damn good?
Of course, wrestling isn't all about the personalities, the history, the storylines and the drama, it's also about beating the living tar out of someone. As you might guess with a game that includes the current roster, as well as one from a historic 6 year period, the number of wrestlers and divas to choose from is immense. All of the wrestlers feel defined in their fighting style and you may have to adapt slightly when you face different opponents. There is also a wide variety of matches available, including fan favourites, such as Hell in a Cell and Inferno, as well as ones making their welcome return to the series, such as I Quit and King of the Ring.
On the whole, matches recreate the ebb and flow of the real thing nicely and feel very fluid, with smooth animations and a variety of easy-to-perform moves and counters keeping things interesting. However, common issues with the series still remain. Whilst rarer than in previous iterations, odd graphical glitches, occasionally poor collision detection and some weird move transitions do interrupt your immersion in the game. However, these mostly occur when using custom creations. You can't really complain too much about funky animations when you're pitting your "Slender Man" creation against something resembling "Jabba the Hutt".
A new addition to the standard gameplay includes OMG! Moments, which allow you to perform a shocking or high risk move in place of a finisher, such as slamming someone through the barriers or the announce table. These moments add a little spice to the matches and encourage you to vary things up. However, small additions such as this don't hide the fact that the fighting system is beginning to show its age and could do with an overhaul.
A common flaw of the series is the usually inane or irrelevant commentary. As previously stated, the genuine Attitude Era soundbites give the commentary a lot more texture than before, providing extra history on the build ups to the fights as well as a stronger play by play account, especially when you pull off the Historical Moments. The only gripe is that, presumably because of the source material, the audio quality can vary wildly, switching between muffled or too quiet to way too loud or tinny. In other modes, the commentary mostly involves the same old interchangeable lines being rolled out, but there does seem to be a bit more variety and a better ability to detect key moments this year.Know your role and collect your achievements
The achievements for WWE '13
encourage you to delve into each of the many different game modes on offer and explore areas of the game you may otherwise gloss over. There are the standard ones for progressing through the career modes, Attitude Era and Universe Mode, as well as ones for completing specific conditions in matches, such as beating an Attitude Era wrestler with their current version and vice versa. On the whole, the achievements shouldn't present too much of a challenge. Even the difficulty specific ones can be manipulated in the player's favour - 'Legendary difficulty? How about I have infinite finishers.' The only particularly grindy ones that may need boosting are the ones which require you to rise through the ranks of multiplayer; a potentially difficult task if you suffer from latency a lot and can't pull off timely reversals.And this is the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so
Overall, WWE '13
doesn't stray too far from the formula that THQ and Yuke's have been building on over the last decade. With a decent enough fighting engine, serviceable multiplayer and wealth of customisation, it does what the series has always done, and it does it well. However, where the game really shines is its lovingly crafted Attitude Era mode, providing a joyous blast of nostalgia driven thrills and spills that are thankfully allowed to seep into the other areas of the game. The question is, if this game is about looking back to a Golden Age of wrestling, where does the series go from here?