Review: WWE ’13 for Xbox 360
WWE ’13 is the latest in THQ’s long-running annual series of wrestling “simulation” (for lack of a better term) video games based on the World Wrestling Entertainment license. Much like games which are more “sports” than “sports entertainment,” the WWE games more frequently prove to be iterative in their updates with each year’s release.
Is WWE ’13 much different from what has come before it in recent years? Well, yes and no. If you’re expecting a serious overhaul and revamping of the core gameplay and experience, you won’t find that here. And should you be fine with that, then you may very well be pleased by what new elements this year’s release brings to the table (before putting someone through it).
The WWE ’13 experience is equal parts fascinating and fantastic, as well as frustrating. If you’re new to the series, or just haven’t played in a while, then you’re pretty much expected to just jump right in, as there is no training option this time out. Making things even more flustering is how confusing the menus can be at times, as you try to navigate, or even just put the right belts on the right wrestlers in Universe mode (to match what’s on television, of course).
In terms of gameplay, the reversals are a returning offender, as you’re often given a prompt which goes by in less than the blink of an eye– you basically have to predict when it will come up and press accordingly, or just hope you get lucky (more often than not, you won’t) by mashing buttons. This can be even more bothersome as you might try to press the button when it seems to make the most sense during an animation or impact, only to fail in the attempt. As a result, opponents feel like they have a blank check to wail away on you, and comebacks can be difficult
Fortunately, if your pride allows you to play on Easy mode, this issue is alleviated somewhat. The problems with reversals were encountered in Normal mode, which doesn’t seem all that normal, as human opponents seemed more in line with what Easy offers, including in the game’s online mode, which worked quite well as far as I could tell.
Other aspects can seem a bit weird at times, too. Cage matches feel much, much faster– perhaps even too fast, as opponents seem to waste no time getting outside of the steel cage now. This might explain why John Cena acts like he’s been beaten within an inch of his life when he gets out, even if you never touch him– perhaps he’s just really winded. That doesn’t explain some of the odd commentary at times, which doesn’t always match up with what actually happened inside the ring.
Another issue encountered is trying to make sense of the prompts for the signature and finishing maneuvers. This is particularly noteworthy because this year’s story mode (which I’ll get into momentarily) has optional checklists of things to do during matches in order to unlock new content. But in one instance which required me to perform a signature elbow drop with Shawn Michaels off of the top rope, it felt like almost nothing I could do to trigger it properly. I had the opponent beaten down, I moved him around the ring every which way, and I was even able to get other prompts to go off– just not the one needed to meet the criteria.
Thankfully, you can proceed without ticking every item off your checklist and try again later, though whether you’ll have any more luck remains up for debate. And you may strongly consider it, as sometimes the computer seems almost adamant about not letting you complete the goals necessary. On top of this, the computer sometimes stages what feels like unfair setups and comebacks, such as the winning finisher performed against me in the opening moments of the match between HBK and Bulldog. Suffice to say, I understood completely how Daniel Bryan must have felt at WrestleMania XXVIII.
There is other strangeness, too, though some of it comes at random: The game often misreads when I want to climb the ropes for exiting the ring or grabbing steel steps. In one instance, it wouldn’t let me throw my opponent into the steel steps, yet it let them throw me into them with no problem. Switching from one strike to another based on the direction you’re pressing doesn’t always work well, and sometimes moves don’t connect for no discernible reason; for instance, missing a dive when the opponent isn’t moving, instead landing right beside them with a thud.
One other thing which affects basic gameplay– and maybe this is nitpicking– but a longstanding issue is that the matches seem to lack the same sort of dramatic aspects of the live performances. Posing and taunts seem like a rarity, and more than that, the characters act perhaps too… logically. For instance, getting out of the cage quickly, or the way that quite often, opponents will fall too close to the ropes to be pinned or made to submit. Sure, the latter sometimes happens on the shows, but it feels more commonplace here, like you need to move them into the right place manually more often.
For the most part, none of this really manages to ruin the game, but it does create a bit of a disconnect between the game and the product it’s meant to represent, which can kind of snap you out of that immersion you might otherwise get.
As ever, WWE games lead the way with tons of customization options for just about anything you can imagine. You can customize your own wrestlers (male or female), your own arenas, your own shows, and even your own stories. Plus, by connecting online to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, you can upload your creations or download those made by others.
And the stuff other people have made is incredible. I’ve only seen a sampling of it (due in part to some of it being restricted for some reason). There are lots of custom wrestlers, be they actual grapplers or characters from other games and franchises. In terms of arenas alone, I found sets based on Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, Nintendo, Pepsi, WCW, and ECW.
Though there was some trouble with moving layers around on a costume (it would only allow me to work with underwear top, bottom, and hands), there is so much to do that it’s practically like a game in itself– you could spend hours making your own characters alone, never mind playing the rest of the game.
This time out, there is some pretty good music for your custom characters, though there aren’t any good video reels for them. You can assemble a highlight package of your guy in action if you wish, but unfortunately, there just aren’t any good “generic” packages. Similarly, you get an amazing amount of variety in customizing how the ring announcer addresses your character, but not so much with the commentators.
Incidentally, there’s no in-game story for your created Superstar. This is kind of a double-edged sword, depending on what sort of character you want to use. In a prior iteration of the game, I had a dark, mysterious character in the vein of Undertaker, Mankind, or Kane, but he didn’t work well with the “challenge someone from the audience” plotline, and even less so later on when Mr. McMahon ordered him to change his look to something which, well, didn’t befit the character.
But while it wasn’t quite “one size fits all,” it’s a bit of a shame not to have it here.
Of course, the main reason for this is perhaps the same reason that none of the current-day Superstars or Divas have a story mode: It’s all about the Attitude (Era, that is). This year’s game looks back to what is perhaps the most popular period of time for professional wrestling ever, and begins with a nice narration to set the stage of WWF’s battle with WWE during the Monday Night Wars.
Er, did I say “WWF?” I meant WWE, as despite the company regaining the ability/willfulness to use its old acronym and logos, the “F” is still out. What’s more, much like in many recent looks back, it feels a lot more PG than the product actually was. For instance, “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your *glass shatters*!” Takes a little of the bite out of it.
As for WCW, you get a week-by-week update on where both companies are in the ratings. Despite this, however, you really don’t get a huge feeling of WCW’s presence otherwise, making the inclusion of the charts a little strange. Maybe next year we’ll get a Monday Night Wars mode with more WCW personalities… or maybe not.
While one might argue that it would never happen due to the contracts of people like Sting and Hulk Hogan being with Impact Wrestling, the fact is that WWE ’13 doesn’t mind incorporating a little bit of revisionist history into its retelling of events. For instance, the formation of D-Generation X doesn’t feature either Chyna or Rick Rude, making the group feel smaller (because it is). I understand Chyna, given the bad blood between her and members of the company, but Rick Rude is more enigmatic.
Instead, we get Hunter Hearst Helmsley introduced as Shawn Michaels’ “insurance policy.” Ironically, this is driven into the ground by the announcers, despite Hunter being absolutely useless at ringside (again, commentary doesn’t equal reality here). Better still? Seeing Shawn Michaels come out in X-styled D-Generation X entrance attire before the group is even officially formed and named.
The Attitude Era mode still manages to hit some of the key moments as best as it can, though, and is helped along by the aforementioned checklist of optional things you can do during matches to unlock new content. One thing which was a bit jarring at first was the reveal of hidden objectives during a match, but this worry was alleviated once it was discovered that you simply need to do everything else on the list first to reveal the extra criteria.
WWE ’13 looks and sounds great, with lines recorded by the wrestlers and commentators themselves. The cutscenes in the Attitude Era are cool as well, but it takes a while to be able to skip after pressing the button.
On a visual level, it’s largely impressive, though the quality of the character models tends to vary, particularly in the case of Attitude Era stars versus those from today. For instance, Attitude hair seems more plastic-like, save for Undertaker’s. Still, you sort of get used to it as you play.
Overall, WWE ’13 is a fun experience on multiple levels, particularly if the core gameplay from years past doesn’t bother you. And while most of the modern roster is well-represented, the game’s bread-and-butter lies in the scope of the customization options and the Attitude Era mode, which provides a nice blast from the past, even with its tweaks to history. em>WWE ’13 is by no means a perfect game, but it’s still a very fun one, particularly if you have someone to play with (online or off) or just have a nostalgic itch for “when ‘PG’ stood for ‘Puppies’ and ‘Grapefruits.'”
A review copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided for review courtesy of THQ.