WWE returns for its yearly iteration, but is it worth your time or simply the Rock Bottom?
WWE’s new addition this year is its return to the Attitude Era, the period between in the 90s that saw the likes of Steve Austin and The Rock grace our screens and bring the then WWF out of the depths of viewership hell and back to the top of the heap of wrestling. The return to this, especially for anyone who grew up during this time, plays the nostalgic card extremely well. Cutscenes and dialogue use video and sound directly from the live shows, giving the whole scenario a much more polished edge. Shawn Michaels is Shawn Michaels, rather than just a daft dialogue box. The ‘Career’ mode sees you go through all of the main events of the era, following from the DX generation to the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. It really works, and the presentation, particularly the transition between the TV recordings and the in game engine, is second to none, made all the better by the fact that WWE isn’t necessarily blowing its own trumpet about great they are when talking about its then competitor, WCW. The core problem with this selling point is down to your own memory and interests; if you didn’t grow up with these stars, or don’t really know who they are or were, than you are missing a huge chunk of what makes the game entertaining.
Customisation is, again, overhauled allowing you to create your own special moves, entrances and even stadiums to pain staking level of detail, almost certainly more than the average gamer would ever need. Create a Wrestler is as fun as ever though the severe lack of things you actually do with said wrestler, besides standard single player matches and multiplayer, is somewhat disappointing. The dashboard menu is clear, concise and easy to navigate and the soundtrack is catchy, combining old rock tunes with the entrance music of some of the biggest stars back in the day.
The actual gameplay is a combination of memory and button bashing; how satisfying this will be, completely depends on whether you are against human or AI opponents. Grapples vary in their intensity and use, from submission holds to full on backdrops. Almost all feel like they are doing damage and a large amount of the many jabs and punches in your repertoire feel incredibly satisfying when you land them. The different weight classes are taken into account, don’t expect Lita to pick up Kane, and focused damage causes visible damage to the wrestlers you are fighting against. What tends to make the whole system fall flat on its face is the reversal system. By hitting RT at the right moment, you are able to reverse whatever move your opponent is enacting and start your own; they then get the change to do the same. Against AI opponents, there tends to be a rhythm to it, though the constant reversals tend to make the game feel like a hugging match rather than wrestling. Against human opponents, or more difficult AI, skill tends to go out of the window as you hammer RT to try and get out; a feat made very very difficult online. A comeback feature is available introduced, so if you are being completely beaten down there is a chance to save yourself, but all it comes down to is a quick time event that doesn’t feel effective and tends to be a bit of a cheap trick if you manage to pull it off.
Commentary, like the voiceovers, is ripped from the TV show, which works fine, and there seems to be far less repetition than appeared in previous iterations of the game. Trouble only starts when, yes again online, someone decides to pick a nickname that the commentators use; hearing ‘The Nightmare’ ten to fifteen times every time you are getting your head kicked in by your opponent is incredibly frustrating. The atmosphere of the arena tends to be quite strong, though the same cannot be necessarily said with a lot of the wrestler models, who tend to come across as pin point accurate or painted Barbie dolls. Some of the historic objectives in the career mode tend to be arbitrary and dull to achieve, making it even more difficult that almost all character unlocking comes via this method. THQ also seems almost too aware about the nostalgia factor, with at least 10 well known stars released as DLC; a ridiculously cheap ploy and is cynical marketing DLC at its very worst.
WWE 13 doesnt break any new boundaries. If you enjoyed the previous iterations as far back as Just Bring It! then its almost a sure thing that you will enjoy this. The problem with the franchise as a whole is the fact that both WWE and this game are looking to the past for innovation, which is causing the whole product to sag. Controls are marginally different from last year, the engine Yukes is using, despite updated, is beginning to creak along in the background. Crowd graphics are still pretty naff, wrestling targeting is still hit and miss and grappling still doesn’t translate that well to a controller. The Attitude Era brings the old superstars into the Xbox 360 generation , but this only hides how little innovation that there is in the series for so long. Fun in short bursts, ideal for a nostalgic trip or with a group of friends, but still not the breath of fresh air or the shot in the arm the franchise needs to put it back in the must buy lists it occupied 15 years ago.