WWE All-Stars Preview

WWE games have always been a strange beast. They’re neither simulation nor straightforward beat-’em-up, instead falling somewhere inbetween the two. The closest they’ve come to simulating “real” pro-wrestling was in Legends of Wrestlemania, released a few years ago, where in order to properly win a match and progress, you had to recreate certain ‘spots’ from the actual real-life wrestling match.

WWE All Stars goes completely in the other direction. Remember Saturday Night Slam Masters? No? Well, it was basically a pro-wrestling-based fighting game, with more in common with Street Fighter and Final Fight than, say, Fire Pro Wrestling. WWE All Stars is very much in this vein, and with WWE’s larger-than-life superstars as the cast, it is more than a decent fit.

From first impressions, it is clear that this is not a normal Smackdown vs. Raw title. All of the superstars are rendered with ridiculously musclebound proportions, laughing in the face of WWE’s steroid wellness policy. Moves are over-the-top versions of what you see on TV, with wrestlers dumping one another right on their heads, going for a knockout blow, rather than making sure one another lands safely. You beat each other up, draining health bars, and filling up your special move and finisher bars. Succesfully hitting your finisher will win you the fight immediately, but it requires clever timing to peform. The start-up animation for these takes a second or so, leaving you vulnerable, and even the most glancing of blows can put a stop to them. You can juggle your opponent after a particularly large impact causes them to bounce back up off the canvas, causing the sort of combo techniques usually found in more hardcore fighting games.

Perhaps at an attempt to capture the attention of the traditional fighting game fan, THQ have done away with one of my least favourite aspects of their previous wrestling games – the character statistics. Giving the Undertaker a 95 rating and, say, William Regal a 56 rating is effectively saying one character is better than the other. Fighting games thrive on their balance, and by doing away with this system WWE All Stars is a game based purely around the skill of the player. Tick one box, right there.

Further adding to this move to a more traditional beat-‘em-up style is the release of official WWE Madcatz Fight Sticks and Pads that is to be sold alongside the game upon release. The stick is ostensibly the one that was released alongside Street Fighter IV, albeit it with pictures of The Rock and Triple H on it, as well as a reworked button layout. The high quality expected with these Madcatz products is there, and they do work very well with the arcadey gameplay on offer.

A couple of game modes were available in the preview build we played. The usual multiplayer matches with the usual match types – Cage, Extreme Rules, Tag etc. – and a few single player offerings. One mode, called Fantasy Warfare, cherry picks certain wrestlers from across the company’s history to have dream matchups with one another. Pitting CM Punk’s straight edge lifestyle against the beer-drinking redneck legend that is Stone Cold Steve Austin, or the arrogant and Cocky Miz against, well, the arrogant and cocky Mr. Perfect are just a few examples, and fans of the WWE should get a kick out of these well thought out combinations. There is a roster of thirty superstars available, with not even premature deaths keeping some wrestlers from appearing, and more are promised via DLC.

The controls are simple to pick up, with heavy and light strikes and grapples being your main buttons, as well as some to run the ropes and interact with scenery, such as climbing turnbuckles or picking up weapons. Tapping the appropriate shoulder button with correct timing will perform a reversal to either a grab or strike, and allow you to follow up with a combo or move of your own. The special moves and finishers are activated – once you have charged them, of course – by holding a combination of the two buttons. An oversight, however, is that the ‘change focus’ control is mapped to the right stick, meaning that MadCatz Fight Stick players are essentially crippled in multi-man matches. This could be fixed by simply adding this command to a button press before release; whether it happens or not remains to be seen.

The real question is whether WWE All Stars finds itself a market. WWE fans may be put off by the lack of ‘realism’ and authentic wrestling action, whereas fighting game fans may find themselves wanting something a little deeper than the otherwise instantly entertaining and fun gameplay. We’ll just have to find out when the game comes out on the 1st of April* this year, won’t we?

*(not a joke, as far as we know)