When Japan based development studio Yuke’s decided to dump the Smackdown vs. Raw moniker for its WWE ’12 last year, it made suite a few changes to the tried and tested formula that had seen the series become a reliably high seller for struggling THQ. Unfortunately, in our eyes at least, the exercise wasn’t quite as successful as it should have been. The game’s execution was marred by poor, unresponsive controls and a single player mode that managed to sap almost all the fun out of men in ludicrous outfits slapping each other repeatedly.
We rated it two out of five, but were surprised to see just how well received it was among WWE fans and other sections of the gaming media. Obviously things weren’t quite as clear cut in terms of the game’s quality as we thought. Nevertheless, we’ve been looking forward to this year’s instalment since we had some hands on time with it at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto earlier this year, so its arrival was treated with mixed feelings in the office.
Continuing on with Yuke’s mentality of change, WWE ’13 is quite a different beast to the titles that have come before it in the series. The tired Road to Wrestlemania single player campaign has finally been discarded and replaced with something infinitely more interesting. Attitude Era is the new single player focus, and it takes players back in time to times when the future of the WWE was very much hanging in the balance.
The exquisitely presented mode first delves into the problems being faced by the WWE as a company in the mid 1990s. From the rise in popularity of competitor WCW through to the WWE’s rapidly decreasing viewing numbers and the hackneyed storylines and character offered up by the organization, things were well on their way to an all-time low, but with the arrival of Monday Night Raw in 1993, and the introduction of a new breed of attitude heavy pugilists and storylines the WWE began the long climb back to popularity and, ultimately, dominance.
WWE ’13 puts you right smack in the middle of this transformation, letting you play key historical moments in the redevelopment of the brand and tying it all together with some savvy narration and enticing hyperbole. Given that we have complained in the past about the lack of choice in Road to Wrestlemania, it may surprise some of you to learn that, despite treading a similar path, Attitude Era ticks all the boxes for us.
You aren’t able to select your favourite character and guide them through the ranks to dominance, but instead you’ll work your way through five distinct campaigns, each with numerous key fights for you to grapple with, plotting the rise and rise of the WWE once again. Staying true to the WWE’s roots in more ways than one, this means that the intended outcomes of your battles are already know, and not only that but you’ll also have to meet a number of historical objectives, making your brawls as close to their real life counterparts as possible. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Yes, it’s all scripted, but even ticking all the boxes to ensure complete success carries a huge amount of enjoyment.
For those of you who, like us, fell out of love with “sports entertainment” back in the 1990s, it offers some intriguing insight into the course the company followed, which is sure to resonate with long time fans as well as newcomers. More importantly, however, this setting offers Yuke’s the chance to include a range of fan favourites without needing to ruin the suspension of disbelief that often accompanies such moves. You’ll be coming up against names like “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, Mankind/Dude Love and Brett “The Hitman” Hart.
The action is interspersed with authentic WWE footage, analysis and narration, complete with crude editing to remove the letter F from all pre-WWE brand mentions. Truth be told, if we hadn’t had a fondness for the WWE in our formative years, perhaps this wouldn’t have had quite as much of an effect as it does, but it’s still a genuinely fresh way to present the single player mode, and it adds so much to the game that its importance can’t be understated.
Of course we’ve yet to address our single biggest issues with the past few WWE titles; namely the sluggish and counter intuitive control systems. The good news is that, for the most part, things are greatly improved. This time around Yuke’s has opted for a much more streamlined control system focussed around contextual use of the face and shoulder buttons. There’s no need to memorise long strings of inputs or complicated moves, and instead it’s all about feeing your way through each battle, learning what works and what doesn’t, and delivering that final knockout blow at just the right moment.
Initially, it doesn’t feel like it has worked. There’s a real feeling of randomness that affects the player’s desire to play, but once you’ve gotten over that hump and everything starts coming together, the results are simply fantastic. After an hour or so, you’ll be grappling, Irish whipping and elbow dropping like a pro. The right trigger serves as your reversal button, but both your timing and the effectiveness of your opponent’s move will determine how successful your use of it is. Obviously making it too easy would be to the game’s detriment, so it’s great to see that Yuke’s have got the balance just right.
Finishing and signature moves are unleashed with the touch of a button once your opponent has taken a severe enough beating, and there’s even a nod to that great WWE staple, the seemingly impossible comeback where your fighter gets a burst of stamina from nowhere to open a can of whoop ass on your unexpecting and beleaguered opponent. Perhaps the game is a touch too reliant on QTEs in some regards, but at no point does it ever feel like anything is out of place, or at odds with the rest of the game. In stripping everything back to its most basic components, Yuke’s have managed to breath a new lease of life into the wrestling genre, and we’re hopeful that it’s a sign of things to come.
To make things even more enticing, there’s an awful lot more on offer here than just the Attitude Era campaign. Players will be able to tackle a wealth of different game modes including a range of different one off matches such as one on one, two on two, triple threat, fatal 4-way, 6-man, handicap, speciality and king of the ring, in addition to the return of Universe mode. Universe mode is perhaps best left to the more hardcore WWE fans, and we won’t pretend to have the slightest clue what the hell is going on there. Yes, we know, we’re terrible people, but when the manual and tutorials give nowhere close to enough information to go on for what is clearly such a detailed mode, then we’re nowhere near knowledgeable about the brand to be able to figure it out ourselves. Because we’re stupid. Sometimes.
From what we can gather, this mode allows you to create your own WWE season, from scheduling of bouts through to story arcs, title fights, created arenas, show rosters, pay-per-view events and much more. You can opt to simulate each bout, take part in them, or just outright interfere with their progress if you’re feeling particularly devious. We sure as hell didn’t understand it or recognise many of the names, but we’re not WWE fans, so we don’t expect to. It certainly appears to be an enormously well featured mode though. Maybe.
Those of you feeling creative are phenomenally well catered for here, with options to build your very own superstars, entrances, move sets, special moves, stories, arenas, logos and even highlight reels for sharing with your friends and the world at large. The creation system is reasonably well executed, and you shouldn’t take too long to start cranking out the masterpieces.
In terms of content, we’re struggling to think of any WWE game that’s even come close to what’s on offer here with WWE ’13. There’s a substantial multiplayer mode available too, to those of you who want to go all Hell in a Cell with your friends will ample opportunity to do so without risking real life hospitalisation, or arrest... which probably isn’t quite as fun, but it is a lot safer!
WWE fans will absolutely love this, from the nostalgia through to the opportunity to play out the Montreal Screw-Job in the comfort in your own home; WWE ’13 really does have it all! The controls have been refined and now make a hell of a lot more sense, while the Attitude Era campaign is simply masterful. It’s a long time since we enjoyed a WWE title quite so much, so we can only assume that the real fanboys are going to have an absolute field day here!