I never really told you guys how I broke my collarbone. Rest assured it is a tale that’s somehow relevant to the topic at hand. Way back, before the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) had their now obligatory “Don’t try this at home” inserts, I threw caution at the wind and attempted a moonsault into my school’s pool. It didn’t go as planned and it landed me a trip to the hospital.
I’m sure a few of you are sniggering at the thought of Lazygamer’s pseudo-intellectual actually doing something so insanely stupid, but I was very young, impressionable, and a huge pro-wrestling fan. While pro-wrestling (or sports entertainment) may not be as popular now as it was in the late 90s and early 00s, I still find myself enthralled by the strange spectacle of spandex, pyrotechnics, suplexes and over-the-top characters. While I no longer catch every episode of every show on eTV any more, I try to watch the occasional pay-per-view from WWE, or a webisode of TNA, Ring of Honour and AAA (Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion) matches.
And yes… in case you were wondering, for the last decade or so, I’ve been buying the annual THQ WWE games.
Know your Role!
I’m sure after this shocking revelation my stock has just plummeted in the eyes of many, but it’s true. Where some gamers do the yearly pilgrimage to their favourite store for the latest Fifa, Madden or Call of Duty game, I’ve been saving up my pennies (year after year) for a chance to live out my fantasy of being El Brazo Grande, spandex-clad, masked man of mystery, high-flyer and submission expert. It might be a strange fascination, but it also puts me in the fortunate position (no pun intended) to be able to give WWE 13 a taste of my finishing move, the Critical Assessment. Just to show you how serious I’ve been about pro-wrestling, My collection of shame boasts at least a decade’s worth of WWE video games, Midway’s TNA Impact and one particularly strange lucha libre title, called Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring. Sometimes when you’re a fan, you’ll walk through fire (as Call of Duty, Naruto and Dragonball Z fans can attest).
Here comes the Pain!
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. THQ and Yuke’s pro-wrestling franchise has had its fair share of missteps. Way back in 2001, WWF Smackdown! Just Bring it crawled itself onto the PS2, but struggled to impress with its barely optimised PSOne graphics, poor hit detection and laughable animation. More recently, WWE 12 left this author vowing to never buy another WWE game again and even dropping an elbow on the game disk. Regardless of a number of franchise highlights, like the now iconic WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain, WWE Day of Reckoning 2 on GameCube and even the heir apparent, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, the franchise looked weaker than WWE’s Goldberg impersonator, Gilberg. To top it all off, the same issues of hit detection, clipping, character move rehashing and lukewarm story modes remained unchanged. As the years rolled by, the cracks deepened and the series started to show severe signs of buckling under mediocrity and franchise neglect.
It’s still real to me, damnit!
WWE 12 was supposed to change things around and revitalise the series. Instead, it opened up a different can of worms (for more details, check out Darryn’s eloquent top turn-buckle review), which eventually leads us to WWE 13. With so much baggage, you’re probably expecting a review oozing with the wrath of a former-fan-turned-detractor. I was actually preparing myself to write a damning account of how terrible WWE 13 is and how the spectre of WWE 12 hangs over it, choking the life-blood out of it, via a gaming sleeper hold. Instead, I found myself enjoying this year’s title. At first glance, WWE 13 resembles WWE 12. The game employs the same engine. The much despised (by me) control system makes a return, but it all feels tighter, more efficient and more responsive. Almost as if, WWE 12 was merely a beta for this year’s game.
You can’t see me!
What impressed me about WWE 13 wasn’t its excellent create-a-wrestler and customisation options. That has been a hallmark of the series since it was first released on the now ancient PSOne. This year, they mixed it up. Instead of throwing the usual suspects at you with fairly ho-hum original stories featuring your favourite wrestlers (John Cena, Randy Orton -yawn-, CM Punk, Triple H etc.), WWE 13 took a stab at nostalgia. Five years of major storylines, characters and scenarios are crammed into a new mode, that turns back the clock to sports entertainment’s hay day, “the Attitude Era”.
If you’re a WWE fan, or even an old WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) fan, the “Attitude Era” was huge. It spawned the greats of today, like the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle and it even launched the careers of former WCW rejects, like Chris Jericho, the late (and great) Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and even the unfortunate, Chris Benoit. The ratings war between Ted Turner’s WCW and Vince McMahon’s WWE ensured that pro-wrestling remained exciting, and even back then some of us were loyalists. You were either a WCW man or a WWE man. Fortunately, I enjoyed both, from the high-flying action of Rey Mysterio, La Parka, Ultimo Dragon and the sheer power of Goldberg on WCW, to the antics of the Rock and Austin on WWE. I sadly never watched ECW, but then the more “hardcore” forms of pro-wrestling was never appealing to me. It’s amazing to think that one single mode can elevate a product, and that’s exactly what “the Attitude Era” mode has done.
Not only are you getting a taste of the stories of WWE’s yesteryear, but it forms a focal point that the THQ wrestling games have been sorely lacking the last few years. It’s a pity that Yuke’s didn’t rope in the WCW stories (considering that WWE owns their back catalogue now) to create a comprehensive nostalgic take on the Monday Night Wars, from Ric Flair’s four Horsemen to Hulk Hogan’s creation of the New World Order, Goldberg’s debut to even the demise of WCW, through the hubris of Eric Bischoff.
If you have no idea who all these people are, or have only recently started watching WWE, and your frame of reference begins with John Cena and ends with CM Punk. Don’t worry, the game does an outstanding job at explaining the context of all the events. It even tells you who the main characters are, and why the events were relevant, with everything tying back to a TV ratings graph, that shows you how close the Monday Night Wars were.
Japanese death match!
In addition, last year’s expanded WWE Universe mode makes a return. You can throw your created wrestler into the fray, or even beat Randy Orton’s smug face with one of the multitude of unlockable “Attitude era” wrestlers. It’s a fairly interesting mode, that allows you to play out your wrestling fantasies. Titles can change at pay-per-views, or you can force all your least favourite wrestlers into retirement, and help some of the more deserving wrestlers like Zack Ryder to win the much-coveted WWE Championship.
It might not be an all-inclusive career mode, and the lack of injuries or even the ability to compete with your rival shows stings like a chair shot to the chin, but it does provide a considerable time sink. For instance, my created wrestler, El Brazo Grande has already managed to cash in his Money in the Bank contract for a title shot, and at this rate, he’ll have both the WWE Championship and the US championship by the end of this day.
But, if you really want to be creative, you can even create your own show, complete with logos, arenas, customised belts. Tuesday nights will never be the same with El Brazo’s show “The Arm of Fury”. Or, if you feel like creating your own story, WWE 13 comes complete with a story editor, where you can create a lengthy WWE-type story with all the soap opera drama that your sick, demented mind can muster. Incidentally, all of which can be shared online via WWE’s online platform.
“Through a freaking table… but WAIT! He just wrapped himself around it like Mr Fantastic”
WWE 13 is without a doubt the better game, compared with earlier WWE titles (bar the exceptional WWE Smackdown: Here comes the Pain), yet, it’s not without its faults. For one thing, Yuke’s current title is filled with bugs and glitches. There are some hilarious glitches like bodyslamming your opponent through the announcer’s table only to have both characters rubber-banding across the screen, or after a well-timed finisher finding your character instantly teleported across the ring. It also doesn’t help that the graphics have been in need of an overhaul for a while now. The game looks fine on a standard definition TV, but when you switch over to HD things start to look nightmarish. This is especially true for the female characters.
I’ll be the first to admit, I actually like the Diva division, former WWE divas (female wrestlers) like Lita, Trish Stratus, Mickie James, Gail Kim and current WWE diva Natalya have shown that women in the ring can wrestle with the best of them. Which brings us to the character models and animation of the Divas. Where the male character models are spot-on, there’s something decidedly off about the female character models. The animation is ropey, and it just looks wrong. I can’t put my finger on it, but of the top of my head, It might also be the PS2-era hair animation, but something just isn’t right here.
While it may not deliver the most jaw-breaking wrestling extravaganza of all time, its heart is in the right place. By taking a look at wrestling’s hay day, and dusting off a number of wrestling’s greats, WWE 13 finds itself with two feet on the ground, rather then deliver a skull crushing finale on our patience