Whether you think it’s a barbaric, brutal sport or quite simply a choreographed soap opera for men, there’s no denying the popularity of wrestling, or as the WWE like to call it “sports entertainment.” However, as the sport and its accompanying video game series prepare to enter 2013, they’re not shy about pointing out that things were not quite as cut and dry just a few short decades ago, as WWE and THQ once again tag team up to explain how the sport has evolved over the years in this year's installment WWE '13
WWE has always been known for its over-the-top (rope) storylines and for many the defining moment in WWE history took place during the late nineties. The leading brand in sports entertainment had finally met its match when rival promoters WCW (World Championship Wrestling) found themselves with heavy financial backing and an ever-increasing fan base. As many of WWE’s leading wrestling superstars, such as Hulk Hogan and Bret “The Hitman” Hart, started to jump ship, the troubled underdog WWE needed to pull out all the stops in order to win back their audience and eventually, their brand-name wrestlers too. Thus began the Attitude Era in World Wrestling history.
WWE ’13 includes a story-based mode set during this Attitude Era, consisting of five of the biggest story arcs in wrestling history. Beginning with the rise of bad-boy tag-team D-Generation X, to the horrifyingly dark tale of estranged brothers Kane and the Undertaker, the Attitude Era mode puts the player in the driving seat for many moments that to this day still define the WWE. Bookended by narrated video-clips, and complete with authentic commentary taken straight from the shows, each match has added historical objectives that, if completed, can lead to the unlocking of many characters, stages, events and costumes from the era also. It’s no walk in the park either, as some of these objectives are frighteningly difficult to pull off. It doesn’t hinder the experience in the slightest, as you’ll more than likely opt to restart the match rather than take the easy win. Despite playing down the WCW side of events, which any fan knows was just as important and exciting as the WWE saga, anyone with a sense of nostalgia from the good old days of sports entertainment will surely recognise that this is probably the best experience the gaming series has seen in a very long time.
Of course, WWE still attracts many fans both young and old and despite fierce competition, is still the leading brand of wrestling and sports entertainment out there. For those who still follow the franchise, WWE Universe mode is the game’s career mode. Whether choosing to pick your favourite wrestler (either from the Attitude Era or present day) or create a fighter in your image, the Universe mode sets up a calendar that is split between the RAW and SMACKDOWN franchises, as well as including all the pay-per-view events on the road to Wrestlemania. Whilst not as engaging or exciting as the Attitude Era mode, there’s still plenty to unlock here with many more characters made available once it is proven that you truly are King of the Ring at these pay-per-view events.
Despite the heavy amount of work involved unlocking some of the brand’s all-time top wrestlers, there’s a great mix of fresh faces and old favourites to choose from at the start of the game. Completing challenges throughout the various game modes will unlock further characters and costumes, but for a number of years the WWE video game series has also included an in-depth creation suite. This isn’t just limited to character creation but also includes the ability to craft your own events, storylines and even arenas. It is rather time consuming so perhaps the creation suite will appeal more to hardcore wrestling fans, but it does leave the game open to potentially endless possibilities.
As with any sports game, multiplayer is also an important part to this wrestling package. Whether you choose to play on or offline, there are plenty of variations on the classic one-on-one match-up available. Timing reversals perfectly becomes key and depending on the level of experience between players, there are times when the game’s momentum can grind to a halt as players constantly reverse one another. Still, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy WWE ‘13 with a variety of specialised game modes at your disposal. An extreme rules game allows players to climb outside the ring and use conveniently placed weapons to draw blood from their opponent, whilst the fan favourite Hell in a Cell match pits two or more wrestlers against each who must knock their opponent out if they've any chance of escaping from the horrifying steel cage. The game can be played with up to four players, an option that can really add intensity and fun to the classic pay-per-view Royal Rumble match. Up to forty wrestlers can take part in this event and with four controllers at your disposable, this is a great way to bring a sense of party play to the high intensity brawler series.
Controls have always been a sore point in wrestling games and quite frankly WWE ’13 is no exception. Considering that much of the emphasis on the sport is on grappling your opponent, too often do you find yourself fumbling to get a hold on the enemy to no avail, only for him to take advantage of the situation and throw you against the ropes. Still the system has drastically improved over the years particularly with the Predator Technology that was introduced during the 2012 instalment of the series. Commands often flash up on screen giving players a chance to reverse their opponent’s grapple, or even give them a chance to pull off their signature finisher moves, offering up a more authentic, fast-paced set of wrestling controls.
Aesthetically, the game includes all the glamour and style associated with the sport and its accompanying shows. Entrance themes are fun to watch and really bring the WWE essence to your console. Still, the game’s frame rate tends to suffer regularly, with some wrestlers walking down the ramp a mere disfigured mutation of their normally pristine muscular selves. It’s a minor annoyance that will more than likely be amended with a downloadable update. The commentary also proves to be problematic as the same tired lines get repeated over and over, no matter what the match-up is. Granted some wrestlers have some significant comments from J.R. and Jerry Lawler, but when a diva match-up gets given the same commentary treatment as the male match ups, then you begin to notice how limited the audio truly is.
WWE ’13 suffers from many of the same problems that have haunted the series ever since the jump from the last generation of consoles. Awkward controls can determine the fate of a match and tired, repetitive commentary wears very thin, very fast. The creation suite combined with the WWE Universe mode is the probably the most in-depth wrestling experience to date, but many of the features will appeal to WWE fans only. The game’s signature move is without a doubt the Attitude Era mode, which not only adds a lot more depth to the typical wrestling experience, but pins you to the mat with a sense of nostalgia. And that’s the bottom line!