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Video Game Review: ‘WWE 13’ is the Ultimate Playground

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CHICAGO – Wrestling games have always been a curious genre. They’ve always treated matches as if they’re actual athletic competitions, where one guy is attempting to beat the other guy within an inch of his life and pin him or make him submit. This is problematic since we all know that a real pro-wrestling match is more akin to a heavily muscled dance number than an actual fight (though they both get colorful outfits) and the excitement of a match - innovative moves, heightened drama, near falls - are all but absent in the “wrestling is real” gameplay model because simply put, the better you are, the shorter and less fun your matches will be, especially against the historically brain-dead AI you find in wrestling games.

HollywoodChicago.com Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 3.5/5.0

However, when played against a human friend “in the know”, as you’d say, the WWE games become a transformative experience. Booking dream matches, winning titles, and getting immersed in the not-quite-fiction of the WWE universe, makes you feel like a kid again. On that front “WWE 13’” is awesome. There are numerous gameplay improvements for long-time fans, including the ability to fight on the announcers table, counter top rope moves with finishers, a bevy of new superstars (Jericho!), and some of the iffy collision detection is gone, too. But for wrestling fans who are absent a friend to get their smackdown on with, alas, you may be in for an all-too-familiar single player experience.

WWE 13
WWE 13
Photo credit: THQ

To combat this, THQ has taken a quantity-over-quality approach to this year’s single player offerings. “WWE 13”’s big feature is the inclusion of the “Attitude Era” mode. Stone Cold, Kane, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Mankind, British Bulldog, X-Pac, and Bret Hart are all present and accounted for, as the mode takes you through a somewhat disjointed and slightly modified version of the events that made WWF programming a major success in the late ’90s.

WWE 13
WWE 13
Photo credit: THQ

I say disjointed because some of the story is told via full-motion videos, others through in-game cut scenes, and most of it through boring old text. It’s pretty obvious the FMV stuff was culled from an upcoming DVD release by the WWE, the in-game cutscenes (which use real audio) are largely a mess because they have to bleep the F in WWF every couple of seconds, and the text is, well, text. The problem with this mode is that anyone playing it is likely already intimately familiar with this epoch in WWE’s history, and it will feel like a hollow, cliff-notes retelling of the moments they lived through every Monday night adorned in their “Austin 3:16” shirts a little over a decade ago. There’s nothing in the mode that’s particularly enthralling or exciting, or innovative, and at its core it’s a series of matches against the same crappy AI that makes your typical pro-wrestling game a slog.

But that’s not to say they didn’t give it the old college try. There’s tons of content to explore in the “Attitude Era” mode, and having specific objectives to accomplish in-match shakes things up and provides a challenge that’s generally absent from matches against CPU opponents. And yes, there’s a bit of a rush in re-living Stone Cold’s Wrestlemania win over Shawn Michaels, or throwing Mick Foley off the Hell In a Cell, but much like comedy, wrestling is less exciting the second time around.

The Universe mode is a bit better, as the game will throw new matches and stipulations and storylines at you as you run through the events of a typical WWE year. This mode is wholly customizable. You can assign wrestlers to either Raw or Smackdown, make new shows, bring in the legends you’ve unlocked, create belts, and if you’re anything like me, disband the Diva’s division as quickly as humanly possible. Universe mode has potential. But there is nothing to bring you back after a few matches, simply because there’s no goal.

WWE 13
WWE 13
Photo credit: THQ

There’s nothing to keep gamers attached to this game. Sure, there are graphical improvements, audio improvements, new moves and new match types, but everything comes off feeling like a novelty simply because there is no compelling feature that challenges you to put it all together in an exciting and rewarding way unless you’re playing ad-hoc with a friend.

So, yes, “WWE 13’” is the ultimate playground for Pro Wrestling fans. There’s dozens of wrestlers, hundreds of unlockables, and a nearly endless combination of match and arena customization options that should make your inner Vince McMahon squeal in glee. If you’re a fan, it’s entirely possible to get lost in this content for hours. But, before you slap that whole “WWE 13’ is the ultimate playground” thing on the back of a box, or make it the headline over at metacritic, let me be clear by stating that I do not *want* my wrestling games to be a playground. I (and I suspect other gamers) want an obstacle course. Yes, Attitude Era and Universe is fun, but it requires a great deal of imagination to continue to play that mode without feeling a bit like an idiot - simply because there is no goal - seriously, when was the last time you had the urge to go to a playground by yourself?

Despite the popularly held belief that the N64’s “WWF No Mercy” is the Best Wrestling Game of All Time, the illustrious title actually belongs to a little known indie pro wrestling game “Booking MPire” (and it’s sequel Booking Remix) developed by one dude in England named Matt Dickie. “Booking Mpire,” while graphically low-res, was (and is still) years beyond anything THQ has put out in the past decade. “Booking Mpire” put you in charge of one the several not-quite-real-life wrestling promotions, and told you to run the show. Book matches, deal with egos, make money, use that money to sign popular wrestlers, use the popular wrestlers to make less popular wrestlers more popular, have good matches with said wrestlers, all the while trying not to get anyone killed, maimed, or blown up in the process. It was (and is) wrestling game nirvana.

WWE 13
WWE 13
Photo credit: THQ

Why? because it challenged you to succeed in all aspects of the pro-wrestling business. Yes, the meat of the game involved having matches between wrestlers and attempting to win, but you also had to take wrestler health and (most importantly) match excitement into consideration, as well - it wouldn’t be uncommon to switch between competitors to pull off an exciting top rope dive to the outside, or a powerbomb through a table to boost the match rating. THQ actually had a “match rating” in its ill-fated “GM Mode” during the “Smackdown! Vs. Raw years”, but it’s sadly been removed, thus giving gamers very little to work toward in the Universe mode.

But I digress. These are just the musings of a lifelong wrestling fan who has no one to play his wrestling game with. All my criticisms melt away if I had a friend to bash some skulls with. If you’re a parent wondering if this is a good investment for your wrestling fan kids, or a gamer (with friends that like wrestling) wondering if enough has been upgraded to warrant a purchase, the answer is definitely a Yes! Yes! Yes!

WWE 13” was released by THQ. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but it is also available for the PS3.

By Paul Meekin
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com

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