WWE '12 was supposed to be the grand reboot of the SmackDown series from the original PlayStation era. It was supposed to keep everything people loved about that series and fix everything that people had critiqued for so long. The game changed in lots of ways but remained a potpourri of great ideas marred by poor execution in some parts. With the grand reboot out of the way, it's time to see if Yuke's has smoothed out the bumps in improving WWE '13.
WWE '13 sports a few game modes, most of which should be familiar to series faithful. Play Now contains a bevy of match types for any configuration of players from one-on-one to fatal four-ways. Normal, Extreme, Iron Man, King of the Ring and Tornado Tag matches are just a few that you'll be able to play, but don't expect blood when you decide to go extreme. There are also the match types you rarely see on TV, such as Championship Scramble, Elimination Chamber, Inferno, Mixed Gender, TLC and Tornado Tag. Unless you're looking for something like an Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch, you'll find it and be able to play it here.
WWE Universe also makes a return, and it feels familiar, especially for players just coming from WWE '12. You take control of a seemingly infinite calendar as you plan the shows and rosters per month. From there, you can sit back and let the stories unfold or manipulate each match, determine the outcome and, when the time arises, make other important decisions that affect future story lines, all of which are dynamically scripted. New to this year's version is the ability to fill non-scheduled days with other shows, so players who've always wanted a full week of wrestling will get their wish.
The focus this year isn't on the mechanics but on the single-player, specifically the replacement of the Road to WrestleMania with a brief tour of the Attitude era. This was the time period in the mid-'90s when WCW was not only still alive but killing Monday Night Raw in the ratings with WCW Monday Nitro. The edginess was an appealing alternative to what fans saw as more juvenile entertainment from the WWE. As a means of fighting back and survival, the WWE reinvented itself with a focus on brash young wrestlers and plots that ultimately led to their competition's downfall.
Like the Road to WrestleMania mode from the last game, you'll be asked to hit certain goals to achieve victory. However, the only primary goal you have is to win. Every other activity, like hitting someone with a belt or doing a special move a certain number of times in a match, is regulated to bonus objectives, the completion of which opens up extras such as new characters, arenas, alternate outfits and images. Simply winning the match lets you move forward with the mode.
What makes the mode excel is the presentation. The reverence for this era in the company's history certainly comes through here. Each chapter begins and ends with video montages and segments produced by the WWE. There are also a few of the old show intros, and the sets are accurate, right down to the watermarks and company advertisements. The audiences hold up era-appropriate signs and don the clothes of the time period. The commentary team consists of both Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler, the latter reprising his heel commentary status. To add to the authenticity, commentary from the actual matches appears along with references to events that may have occurred only a week prior to the match, really playing into the illusion that you're experiencing a piece of wrestling history.
There are a few things that snap you back to reality, though. You may see fans wearing gear or sporting signs with catch phrase that didn't exist at that point. Some taunts from the wrestlers also fall into this same category, with guys like Hunter Hearst-Helmsley and Shawn Michaels doing the crotch chop before their characters started doing so. Some of the theme music also isn't authentic, though the sound-alikes aren't half bad. The two biggest issues with this mode are censorship and the omission of some important players. Some of those wrestlers — such as Jeff Hardy, Jeff Jarrett and Al Snow — work for rival organizations, so their absence is understandable, but it's curious that we're missing others, like the Droz, Headbangers and Rick Rude. The organization is trying to maintain a TV-PG rating on all of its merchandise. With the use of some original sound bites from that era, it makes sense that the word "Federation" or reference to "WWF" is cut out. However, it's odd that they removed blood, cut out words to some themes, and blurred Austin's signature hand gestures while allowing Billy Gunn to go by the "Bad Ass" moniker.
The importance of the Attitude era is also reflected in the roster, which is much larger than any of the other games before it, even if you include DLC. Forty-eight members of the current roster, both Superstars and Divas, are here, mixed in with a few WWE Legends, and the Attitude era is represented by 33 Superstars and Divas. Throw in the other wrestlers via DLC, managers, and Mike Tyson, and you're suddenly close to 100. It is an impressive feat for a wrestling title, but the high numbers are a tad beguiling when you see a few era-specific clones. Mick Foley's three personalities are fine, especially since they were treated as three different wrestlers in real life, but others are perplexing. Though some wrestlers have changed their moves, taunts, and intros over the years, it may have been better if the different versions were selectable from one slot to free up other slots for other wrestlers.
The modes and roster inclusions may excite fans, but it only matters if the gameplay is good. Luckily, it is. Following the blueprint of WWE '12, there is an emphasis on simpler controls and more balanced gameplay. Almost all basic actions are handled with the face buttons: The X button handles all sorts of strikes, the A button deals out grapples, and the B button handles pins and Irish whips. The right trigger handles reversals, and it isn't as frustrating now thanks to a more open timing window and text to let you know whether you're too fast or slow on the trigger presses. The right bumper is a modifier button that allows you to target specific body parts when used in conjunction with the face buttons, and this really makes an impact on submission moves, which are handled by holding down the A button. Both signature moves and finishers are done with the Y button in a standing position, so there's no longer a need to remember where a specific wrestler needs to have the opponent located.
What stands out is the way the game plays out like a WWE broadcast. Aside from giving wrestlers specific abilities, such as staging a comeback or being ring-savvy enough to execute quick escapes when near the ropes, there's still an emphasis on the spontaneity of the fight. Wrestlers who are pummeled early on can still make a comeback if they play their cards right, and depending on who you have, you can quickly end a match by pulling off a finishing move out of thin air, much like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Randy Orton.
There are some items that still need work, however. For one, WWE '13's decision to be a hybrid arcade/simulation leads to some interesting consequences. There doesn't seem to be any weight to worry about, so Cody Rhodes can lift Brodus Clay for a bodyslam. Though the game emphasizes reversals, it seems to be the only way to get yourself out of a situation. If you find yourself on the mat, you'll have a better chance reversing an attack in order to get up instead of just mashing buttons and hoping for the best. There's also no practice mode or tutorial section to see what the controls are like, so unless you instantly know to check out the in-game instruction manual, prepare for learning via experimentation. Finally, you have the bugs. A recent patch has tried to fix a majority of the issues, but problems are still present, such as magnetic grappling and CPU allies and opponents performing the same actions over and over again after each failure. Future patches will no doubt remedy this, but it is odd to still see these bugs after the series' numerous iterations.
Creation has always been a big part of the series, and the game has retained most of those modes in this year's version. Arena, Attire, Entrance, Highlight Reel, Logo, Move Set, Special Move and Superstar all return with just as much depth as before. The modes are more enjoyable to use due to faster load times between choices, so it's a lot less cumbersome when you start tweaking the details. Create a Story is also back and just as silly as ever, though it's a little easier thanks to keyboard support for text entry. This is probably the only mode that needs more work, with some options (like facial expressions) being forgotten when you edit something else in the timeline. Camera angles also don't exactly follow what you want them to follow. The whole thing is quirky enough that players don't seem to mind the flaws too much. One thing that people will miss is a create-a-belt system, so those who want to live out their own Chikara, Ring of Honor or TNA game fantasies will have to make do with WWE belts.
Online gameplay also remains the same, though there have been improvements. Ranked matches give you a leveling system, though this is mainly for bragging rights since the levels don't do anything to improve your characters or game. Just about every mode from the offline game is included in the online sphere, with Royal Rumble now being exclusive to online play only. The performance is good enough that only those with horrible connections should experience lag. All of the created content can be played online and uploaded and downloaded, with warnings about which content needs official DLC to work. The community seems to be taking a liking to this, with several unofficial arenas, intros, move sets and wrestlers already populating the servers. Download times are also rather quick, so it won't take you ages to download a wrestler anymore. The bad news is that the list is very prone to lag and failure, forcing players to quit and try again once they've spent minutes staring at a loading icon.
Last year's game was decidedly mixed in the graphics, and it's the same in WWE '13. The arenas don't change too much (aside from some of the outdoor WrestleMania ones), but they look good thanks to the set pieces. They're rendered quite faithfully, with everything from the present-day Raw set to the classic Smackdown sets. The particle effects, such as the ones used for car explosions and wrestler pyrotechnics, look decent, but they pale in comparison to how other developers handle such things. The character models look great when it comes to texturing and body shape. The faces are a different story, as they vary wildly in quality. The bigger name guys, like CM Punk and John Cena, have eerily accurate faces while others, like Booker T and Vince McMahon, look less impressive. Collision continues to be an issue, as the ropes awkwardly move without characters touching them. Certain moves, like the suplex, don't show the wrestlers grappling at all. Animations are a bit better this time around, though things sometimes move faster than normal. Not all of the animations seem appropriate for the characters, either. Daniel Bryan has the right intro, but his winning sequence was taken from the old Triple H.
Though sound has been improved since the last game, the improvement isn't too noticeable. The music is comprised of wrestlers' themes, and they all sound great, though, as mentioned earlier, some are either sound-alikes, edited for content or wrong. The effects are done well, but sometimes, the impact of the blows can't be felt due to the lowered volume. The crowds are livelier, with more sustained periods of exuberance. There are also some wrestler-specific chants that can be heard, though they aren't amplified enough to sound authentic. The commentary is split between two eras, and it ranges from mediocre to fairly good. The game-specific stuff comes off as generic and stitched together. Everywhere else, you get Michael Cole and Lawler, with scant new material for this iteration. The vocal inflections of the new stuff sound better, but you'll barely notice since most of the material was recorded for older versions of the series. Worse, there's still a lack of emotion when someone wins a bout, greatly deflating the excitement of the conclusion.
In the end, WWE '13 is driven by nostalgia for an era that shocked people and made wrestling mainstream once again. With so much attention paid to the Attitude era, that's the type of wrestling fan who would enjoy this game the most, especially since there isn't much for present-day wrestling fans to enjoy, beyond the updated roster. From a gameplay perspective, things have changed just enough to make this feel like an improved product while the game's look, sound and online creation download system show that there's still plenty of work to get this into top form. Nevertheless, WWE '13 is a solid wrestling title and an ample replacement for last year's game.
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