WWE All Stars PS3, Xbox 360
It is Wrestlemania weekend. The one weekend every year when, although exhausted by their gruelling schedule, the wrestlers appear to give a toss about what they are doing. It is a celebration of all things pro wrestling, accentuating the positives from its past, and ignoring the not insubstantial amount of negatives. It is also a time of year, where twenty seven year old men, who are all old enough to know better, gather round a large TV with beer and pizza, and sit up until 4am, regressing back to their fifteen year old selves as the night’s matches unfold. Which reminds me, I need to book Monday off work…
A few years ago, THQ put out Legends of Wrestlemania – a more fun, simpler take on the WWE license. Instead of focusing on simulation, like the annual Smackdown vs. Raw release, it was a game where the emphasis was on capturing the essence of wrestling – the overblown presentation, larger than life characters and action-packed theatrics.
WWE All Stars feels like a sequel to that game. There’s no ‘realism’ here, if indeed realism is a word you can use to describe a fight sport that has more in common with ballet and figure skating than say, boxing or mixed martial arts. They’ve instead gone completely in the other direction. The accurate renditions of wrestlers have been replaced with ones that look a lot more like the then WWF action figures of the early nineties – only on steroids. More steroids. Signature moves are no longer the almost graceful, elaborate techniques performed by the wrestlers, instead they’ve been taken to their logical extreme. Take The Undertaker’s Tombstone Piledriver, for instance. He picks his opponents up, head pointing directly towards the ground and appears to drive them into the mat. It’d be fatal, or at least cause serious spinal trauma, if it weren’t for the way he takes the impact on his knees, the other wrestler’s head tucked slightly out of harms way. In All Stars, that’s not the case. Here, The Undertaker first of all leaps twenty foot into the air, before dumping the victim brain first onto the canvas.
If you’ve no idea what I was just talking about, then chances are a lot of the appeal of WWE All Stars is going to be lost on you.
The gameplay has been simplified considerably from the Smackdown vs. Raw games, and this isn’t a bad thing at all. You’ve got a heavy and light grab and a strike, block and reversal button. Once you’ve grabbed an opponent, you can deliver a slam or suplex – provided they don’t hit the reversal button at the correct time and use your own momentum against you. It is a lot easier to pick up, and with less emphasis on the accuracy of a wrestlers repertoire of moves and more on looking big, powerful and damaging, it is more of a pick-up-and-play approach that should appeal to any non-wrestling fan you’re trying to coax into having a match with you.
The characters are split into four different classes, brawler, grappler, high flyer and ‘big-man’, each affecting the type of skills you have at your disposal. For example, any big-man cannot perform spectacular dives to the outside, whilst grapplers have the unique ability to chain together series of moves. This isn’t explained particularly well within the game, and with a lack of tutorial, you’d have to do some external reading to find out that there is more difference to the characters than just the moves list.
To win a match, as well as going for the three count pin, you can simply incapacitate the other wrestler. Unlike a lot of recent wrestling games, you have a health bar, and when you’ve got your rivals suitably low enough, a finishing manoeuvre will knock them out, giving you an automatic win. Special moves and the Finisher are activated by first of all beating up your opponent until you’ve ‘charged’ one/it, then holding down either both light or heavy attacks, causing your chosen wrestler to do an slow lunge to grab them. These need to be timed to perfection, or done on a stunned opponent, as they leave you open to attack, and even the most glancing of blows will put a stop to them, and cost you the special move in the process.
As mentioned in the preview, they’ve done away with character ratings, too. So, any match up is a fair match up, and no one wrestler is better than the other, so it is completely down to the ability of the player in control to best the A.I or human player they’re against.
Any fan of WWE is going to get a kick out of the roster on offer. You’ve got thirty wrestlers, past and present, to pick from, each ridiculous caricatures of the ridiculous caricatures they are in real life. The modes on offer, however, are far less thrilling. As well as the standard single and multiplayer exhibition matches, you’ve got the Path of Champions and Fantasy Warfare modes. Path of Champions makes you run the gauntlet against a series of superstars before fighting the title holder, be it Randy Orton, D-Generation X or the Undertaker. A few cutscenes play out between matches, but it is essentially just a series of exhibition bouts held together with a flimsy story.
Fantasy Warfare fares a bit better. This allows you to take part in various dream bout scenarios, such as CM Punk vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin or Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Randy Orton, but THQ’s access to WWE’s vast video library means that before each bout you get a wonderful sequence showing you why this would be an important match, should age or, in some cases, death not be an issue. They do a grand job of giving what are, again, just a series of exhibition matches, a feeling of purpose. Outside of this, though, there isn’t a great deal here to keep the lonely, single player gamer interested for long.
The online multiplayer is a bit of a disappointment. Almost all the games I have played have suffered from a little bit of lag, which is just enough to make timing those blocks and reversal either frustrating or, worst case scenario, utterly impossible. It isn’t the end of the world, though, as the most fun is to be had in local multiplayer matches. Within a few matches, even wrestling novices will know more than enough to remain competitive, and with up to four players and a selection of match-types – including Extreme Rules, Tag Team and Cage – on offer, there’s enough here to kill an evening sat waiting for Wrestlemania to start, and maybe a few afterwards.
WWE All Stars fills a niche as a few evenings worth of entertainment. It is sort of like a Super Smash Bros. for those who know their Rick Martel’s from their Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin’s. It is a simple, fun brawler that is best enjoyed with a room full of lifelong wrestling fans. Whether it is worth forty pounds of your money, however, is completely down to how often you find yourself in that situation.