THQ have been churning out yearly WWE games since 2000 with a lot of hits and misses along the way. Some of the earlier PS2 iterations such as 2003’s Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain were known for a more arcade style approach to gameplay making them easily accessible. They didn’t require memorisation of long button sequences to pull off wrestling moves. Since the introduction of the Smackdown vs. Raw series in 2004, THQ has focused more on a more realistic approach to wrestling games. Somewhere along the lines of this more realistic gameplay, the fun of a fast arcade style fighting game died and the series’ greatest qualities only seemed to be implemented to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Each year a new feature would be tacked on only to justify releasing a new game and the series went through a 7 year period of some very similar and average games.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel as the series tried to reinvent itself with WWE ’12 and the introduction of “Predator Technology”, a new animation system. New physics and a revamped control scheme returned the series to a more arcade-like feel in with this year’s release, WWE ’13, all the tacked on features of the previous games are beginning to make this installment finally seem like a fully fledged game.
If you’ve never played a WWE game before, it plays like a mixture of a side scrolling 80’s beat ‘em up but with timed reversals and button combinations to perform slower grapple moves. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but with this year’s return to more arcade-like, simplified game play, matches are quicker, more fun and perfect for multiplayer romps on the couch with friends. Each match typically ends with a player performing enough attacks to execute a finishing move which causes massive damage, allowing the player to pin the opponent before they can land a target in a small mini game to kick out. Other game modes are available for the many different match types in WWE such as ladder matches, steel cages and royal rumbles that involve victory usually through beating down your opponent followed by a mini game or quick time event. Each match can have a maximum of 6 players with combinations of tag teams or free-for-alls.
WWE ’13 has two main game modes: Attitude Era and the return of Universe Mode. Attitude Era allows players to play through historic matches from 1997 to 2001, the era WWE rose to unprecedented popularity and made wrestlers, or Superstars as they are referred to in-game, such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin household names. This year’s roster has over 30 superstars from the Attitude Era along with their moves and entrances are included to recreate the most authentic experience. This includes commentary from actual matches transposed into the game. During each of these historical matches, players are given optional objectives to play out the match as it happened, for example smashing an opponent through a table.
In between stories, actual promo footage is played to give back story into the historic matches and insight into WWE’s rating feud with rival brand, WCW. This game mode may sound simple but it is far superior to the game modes of previous games. The main game mode of older iterations involved pre-written stories that often made little sense, rushed voice acting and essentially playing the same match over and over again. Attitude Era mode allows players to play the matches they actually want from an era that is nostalgically viewed by fans as WWE at its best. Each match is presented as accurately as possible with original commentary, arenas, attires and even original credits and trademarks at the end of each segment.
The other game mode present is Universe Mode which is finally what I’ve always wanted it to be. Introduced two years ago in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, Universe Mode was an attempt at making running of the real-life WWE shows completely customisable. Unfortunately a lot had to be left to the imagination and it ended up as merely a random match generator. This year’s version, dubbed “Universe 3.0”, includes more tailorable features such as custom titles, rosters and even the option to create an entirely new show. This mode gives you the option of playing through the career of your favourite superstar or tag team, skipping as many as the filler matches as you want.
Universe mode also finally features dynamic cut scenes that attempt to create some kind of tangible story. They may not look the best and are completely predictable but it’s better than nothing. For any story to progress in Universe mode a little imagination is needed but at least players now have the option to take stories in a different direction by choosing to form alliances and start rivalries which always lead to epic matches that actually seem worth playing.
WWE games have always been praised for their customisation options, particularly the create-a-superstar option. Each year it’s toted as having even more features but I honestly can’t tell the difference year to year. Attires and face models have been recycled since 2006 with a few zany masks thrown in to satisfy people like me who create their superstars as ridiculous as possible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as create-a-superstar has done everything you’d expect it to do for years, the attire and face models just need a complete overhaul to make it fresh again.
Speaking of customisation, this year includes a more fleshed out create-an-arena tool as well as anything else you can imagine – titles, emblems and entrances – which takes some of the previously necessary imagination away from Universe mode and helping it provide a fully-fledged, enjoyable game mode. Anything custom made can also be shared online and is easy to download and use for yourself.
Online multiplayer returns and is running smoother than last year; it’s now possible to find a match with someone without the connection dropping which is particularly annoying in those 12 man royal rumble matches. If you’re the kind of person who has to be ranked number 1 online then you’ll find plenty of players and an extra challenge from the hardest AI difficulty.
Unfortunately for the things this game gets right, THQ seemed to have forgotten to update the basics of sound and graphics. Something went completely wrong when they mixed the sound. Entrance music can never be heard and the volume of the crowd fluctuates every time the camera angle changes. THQ made a huge deal of the crowd being live recordings from real-life WWE events but they are constantly cheering making it so there is no difference in the crowd when a character pulls off a huge move like a finisher or table smash. It does feature newly recorded commentary by genuine WWE commentators and does a great job of using historical commentary in Attitude era from actual matches. Commentary can be a bit disjointed, repetitive and sometimes says things before they happen but overall the authenticity of a real WWE match is enhanced by it.
Graphics haven’t changed a lot since Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 but small tweaks mean WWE ’13 is still looking like a new game. Well, an average looking new game, but a new game nonetheless. It does what it needs to (except for Mankind’s hair for some reason, which looks awful). As soon as weapons come into play though, it can get a little bit glitchy. Tables, ladders and chairs start flying around the ring. Many a superstar as fallen inside a chair after landing on it, only to have it explode and fly into the crowd. Hopefully a future patch will fix this but as it is, it makes the excitement and suspense of the 6-man ladder match turn into a who-can-avoid-melting-into-a-ladder-contest.
It finally looks like THQ have produced a game that is an actual worthy successor to its previous titles instead of the same game repeated yearly with a few tacked on last minute features. WWE ’13 is the first in the series that has actually justified its own creation by giving players enough new features to be satisfied with a yearly release. We can only hope that next year’s installment can do what WWE ’13 did and build upon its success (and hopefully fix those graphical issues). It should be said that if you aren’t a fan of WWE or wrestling, this games’ appeal might be lost on you as the game doesn’t yet do enough to satisfy gamers who are completely uninterested in wrestling. If you are a fan of fighting games and are looking for something different than this may be a fresh series to look into with WWE ’13 a good starting point.
This guest review was written by Brendon Foye of Wii Little Blog. The platform it was reviewed on was the PS3.