I haven’t watched wrestling for a looong time, but despite my all but non-existent interest in the current crop of wrestlers, I do tend to keep an eye out on wrestling videogames. Sadly, with the exception of a few of the surprisingly decent arcade wrestlers in recent years (WWE All Stars was great), I’ve not found much to like in the majority of THQ’s more simulated offerings. It’s not like they’ve ever been particularly bad, I just don’t feel that they have really captured the essence of wrestling, and like so many others, find that they pale in comparison to the N64 wrestlers of yore.
With the exception of a much loved import copy of Fire Pro Wrestling D, I’ve not played another wrestling game that came anywhere near to the balance, excitement and, perhaps most important of all, pitch perfect speed of the WCW vs. NWO releases. From the sense of connection to that all important ebb and flow, those games, released well over a decade ago, represent the pinnacle of a genre that has struggled to recapture the delicate balance that was all but perfected by AKI and its unmatched grappling system back in 1997.
In fairness, last year’s WWE 12 was a step in the right direction. With a new name, engine and generally streamlined mechanics, WWE 12 proved the first major overhaul in the hugely successful but consistently bland RAW vs. Smackdown for many years and went some way to ironing out many of the kinks that had become buried in its increasingly complex interface. It wasn’t perfect of course, and neither is its improved but still flawed successor, but despite a few niggling issues and the speed still being a little too fast for my taste, WWE 13 certainly represents a series moving in the right direction, and in its own right, stands as arguably the finest wrestling game to hit the market since WCW went the way of the dodo.
Despite the improvements to the core gameplay though, of which there are quite a few, it’s undoubtedly the presentation, and to be more precise, the emphasis on the 90’s Attitude era of WWE that really makes this release stand out from its forbearers. After last year’s disappointing Road to Wrestlemania, this year’s Attitude Era campaign is a breath of fresh air. With a huge roster of fighters combined with carefully edited archive footage, the campaign does a great job of recreating one of the most beloved eras of modern day wrestling.
With the most robust create-a-wrestler and create-a-story tools ever conceived for a wrestler too, few could argue that WWE 13 doesn’t, at the very least, offer up good value for money, and with an exhaustive list of additional local and online options to get through, WWE 13 delivers the kind of experience that will essentially last for as long as you want it too.
Of course, as always, this would all count for naught if the core wrestling mechanics weren’t up to scratch, but while they still can’t quite match the aforementioned N64 classics, the mechanics are nonetheless robust and largely enjoyable. Of course, the additional lick of paint making this the best looking wrestler to date doesn’t harm with the improved entrances and ringside scraps in particular making WWE 13 more visually authentic than ever. Yes, the wrestlers themselves still look a little to ‘plasticky’ and some of the animations are far from perfect, but on the whole, this is a step up from WWE 12, all be it, a relatively subtle one.
In the ring, gameplay also proves somewhat familiar. After last year’s upheaval, evolution rather than revolution was expected and, in fairness, the subtle changes made are effective and almost universally for the best. The flow of each match feels more natural now which, when in conjunction with each wrestler showing the wear and tear of each blow more impressively than ever, combine to create a more true to TV experience. The slightly stilted animation can steal you away from the immersion built up in other corners of the experience, but on the whole, WWE 13 comfortably stands as the best game in the series to date.
The sound mechanics, subtle improvements and raft of customisable options certainly make WWE 13 an enjoyable if flawed experience, but any cracks apparent in the core gameplay are all but papered over by the excellent use of the WWE’s famed Attitude Era and its plethora of great characters and brilliant storylines. The current crop of wrestlers, like the series itself might not be the most beloved, but when you can hark back so successfully to better times, it’s easy to forgive a few missed animations and a handful of pony wrestlers.
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