"The Cult of Personality?"
Pro wrestling (sorry, I’m not drinking the “sports entertainment kool-aid”) has been on a steady decline for a good decade now, both in televised productions, and in the gaming world. While there have been a good number of brilliant, memorable moments from the WWE during that time (Rob Van Dam taking on John Cena at ECW One Night Stand 2, The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak continuing, CM Punk’s riveting WWE title win amidst a cloud of uncertainty over his contract status), there have been an overwhelming number of botches (the inability to write a program aimed to anyone that isn’t nine years old, tiresome feuds with no chemistry, John Cena in general). The video game squared circle seemed to have lost its edge as well, going from two thoroughly entertaining titles in WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010 and 2011, to probably the rock bottom of the franchise in Yukes’ supposed reboot of the franchise, WWE ’12. It seemed as if professional wrestling was rapidly becoming a source of detriment as opposed to entertainment.
Thankfully with WWE ’13, even through the darkest days, this fire burns.
“Those that live in the past are doomed to repeat it.” No one told Yukes this, as the focus upon WWE ’13 is reliving parts of the infamous “Attitude era”. With WCW offering lucrative contracts to a number of big name talents that were originally with the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF), they began to pick up considerable steam. In September of 1995, the Ted Turner owned World Championship Wrestling (WCW) began to air a Monday night wrestling program that went head to head with their rivals up north. WCW Monday Nitro and WWF Raw would go back and forth in ratings, until the WCW formed the uber-faction, the New World Order (nWo). From there, the ratings for the Atlanta based company would surge, while Stanford’s WWF product stagnated, and began to falter. It was then that Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWF, would begin to set the stage for a less contemporary product:
With the “Attitude era” taking center stage, Yukes created a game mode just for the groundbreaking era. Players will be able to relive some of the more infamous feuds, bouts and moments that played a key role in Monday Night Raw and the WWF as a whole in overtaking WCW Monday Nitro, and eventually WCW entirely. A half dozen chapters with a total of several dozen matches throughout the experience are available for players, with a staggering number of unlockable bonuses that are gained from completing specific, mostly non intrusive, but all relevant tasks. There’s almost no encounter throughout this game mode that requires only an elementary pinfall to complete; each match contains mostly optional goals that helps to guide each match in the manner that they were represented when first aired, for the most part. There will be a number of matches that could be won with a pinfall or submission and the optional portions could be ignored completely, but doing so robs the player of a number of key moments that truly make this mode worth playing. Certain objectives, such as the entire Hell in a Cell match between the Undertaker and Mankind, have to be played out just like it was on June 28, 1998 (though it is disappointing to see a random black shirt employee take Terry Funk’s place during key moments of the match). A couple of bonus objectives will grate the nerves of players (mostly anything involving two-on-one or a manager at ringside) but nothing ever feels overwhelming or completely unfair.
The authenticity overall should be applauded, though purists such as myself will easily pick apart a good number of inconsistencies, yet only a small handful come close to ruining the immersion, with a single culprit that will take players out of the mood. What Yukes did get right though, really sets the mood, and reminds me just how far the current product has fallen on television and pay-per-view. As spoiler free as I possibly can be (to not ruin moments fans wouldn’t have thought would be featured), a number of the mannerisms and moments have been recreated using a mixture of both motion capturing, as well as audio lifted from the original source. The motion capture work does a passable job at recreating these scenarios, though the audio does lead to a few glaring faults.
Not all of the audio was lifted from the original source, as some are a wildline addition (voice work re-recorded in studio due to a number of outside elements that soiled the live piece). Most notably is just about anything said by Triple H as the then Hunter Hearst Helmsley, has a bit of gruff to it, which his voice didn’t have back in the days. Bret Hart comes out to his newer entrance theme and now his mid 90′s one. The New Age Outlaws have a censored entrance where the word ass is removed, which is likely the theme Road Dogg used during his Royal Rumble 2012 entrance. Tony Chimmel does the announcing before and after each match, and while he has been with the company since the early 90′s, Howard Finkle was more or less the ring announcing voice into the early part of the 21st century, announcing most every moment occurring here. There are a good number of other wildline audio injections all around but again, the wrestling purists will be the ones to pick them out and apart. Do they really matter in the end? Not entirely, but audio inconsistencies don’t stop there.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler provide commentary throughout this mode, as they were naturally the voices of that era. While they recorded commentary work to compliment the in-ring action, there are moments in which the source material comes into play, at a higher volume and a different quality. Jim Ross really put in a tremendous effort in his commentary portions for the game though, and isn’t as repetitious as Jerry Lawler. If I have to hear another “pulling out a white flag from his trunks” sound byte again, I will DDT my speakers! Outside the “Attitude era” commentary, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler take over to what’s mostly stock commentary, with what seems like a few new lines injected. A couple of those new lines sound completely off from the stock banter being used. Commentary as a whole is a dynamic that’s difficult to incorporate, and it’s been a issue for Yukes since the beginning. It has its moments, but calling a knee breaker a “Russian leg sweep” or a choke move a “chokeslam” every so often does get the facepalms going.
Entrance themes, for the most part, are up to date with how the product has been for the last six months, which excuses Wade Barrett having the theme he has in the game now and not the updated version he’s entering to today. The ability to add custom themes alleviates any kind of unusual discrepancies, such as the Nexus theme being a double of David Otunga’s theme. It’s a big plus to hear the proper themes for nearly every Attitude wrestler as well, sans the aforementioned Road Dogg and Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
The only thing that completely throws off the immersion, and this is mostly pertaining to the “Attitude era” mode, is the censorship. With trademark disputes concerning the World Wildlife Foundation and the WWF abbreviation, the World Wrestling Federation re-branded to World Wrestling Entertainment during the early part of the 21st century, or WWE for short. Up until the last few months, the scratch logo of WWF had to have been blurred out from any re-airings that occurred (far too late into production to take effect), as well as the name dropping of WWF. Between muting the “F” on the source material, the wildlines containing both censors of the “F” as well as saying WWE instead, and sound bytes used in a general sense, it becomes an immensely sloppy and inconsistent mess. It’s an aspect that purists and casuals will become tired of hearing. On top of that, WWE ’13 seems selective in when it wants to censor the word ass, between the initial “Attitude era” modes video censoring the word with a glass shattering sound effect and Road Dogg’s theme being the one used from his Royal Rumble 2012 appearance, yet Billy Gunn’s “Ass Man” theme is intact, as well as wildlines and source material without the word omitted. Then there’s also the blurring of Steve Austin’s middle fingers when blood is perfectly fine to turn on and display, but that’s going beyond the audio form of censorship.
Beyond the “Attitude era” mode, the usual staple of game modes and options have returned. Creation modes are all back, with new moves, pieces and such added in, as to be expected. Access times when switching between different articles of clothing or symbols are on par with WWE ’12, which was a bit delayed, though nothing overly distracting. Between all of the creation modes, whether it be a finishing move, perfecting that ring entrance or constructing a venue to apply your craft in, there’s enough available once again to keep even the most meticulous of creators busy well into the Road to Wrestlemania next year.
I found myself more heavily invested in the WWE Universe mode this year. With the number of titles that are unlocked through the “Attitude era” mode, the ability to create your own show and use your own created arenas and logos, as well as the ability to completely shuffle the roster around, it almost becomes impossible to run out of things to do. While it’s entertaining to set up a random single player game and let the CPU battle it out (which does a much better job at diversifying the moves they use), there’s a better sense of reward via WWE Universe and setting up months at a time.
In what’s probably the biggest improvement over last years debacle is the functional online suite. I couldn’t really go into great lengths on the online gameplay provided by WWE ’12, due to it having one of the single worst online portions I’ve encountered in a console game. Multiplayer games were impossible to find or start, and downloading user created content met with constant disconnections to the servers, which were never completely fixed. With WWE ’13, online matches are readily available (though as it’s the early days of release, not a whole lot of games are going during peak hours), and user created content is easily located and downloaded. While these are tremendous steps forward in comparison to last years offering, there is a noticeable touch of lag online that makes reversals, and general movement a bit off. I was constantly a target to running grapple attacks as I came off the mat, simply because the usual timing to press RT was off, and then sometimes it was back to normal, though I was still attempting to reverse the incoming grab on the lagged timing. It also seems as if the kick-out meter remains at default throughout the match. Normally when you wear an opponent down, the meter will be tougher to stop at the desired point in which a kick-out is initiated, and oftentimes that point is moved further down the bar to complicate things. Online however, the speed of the bar, though still suffering from input lag, is still swift and not slowed down, as well as the placement of the kick-out portion never really moving, no matter how many F5′s, Rock Bottoms and Pedigrees I took in that particular Elimination Chamber match. As with previous wrestling titles, online matches (when it works, and in the case of WWE ’13, it’s reliable) is a neat diversion that’s not worth a whole lot of attention.
On the subject of reversals and counters, WWE ’12 had a frustrating system in which these reversal mechanics would either barely work, or were nigh impossible to time properly. This year, Yukes seems to have extended the window of opportunity slightly, making for a slightly more reliable method of escaping a grapple or any other physical attacks. Fluidity in each move seems a bit cleaner than last years, though the physics engine does lead way to clipping issues (mainly on the heavier wrestlers, such as Mark Henry and the Big Show) as well as some hilarious, though embarrassing weapon and ring rope moments. I’ve had several instances in which either a weapon within my hands skyrocketed into the air, or was flung into the air by some random anomaly, and landed back onto the ground four seconds later. I’ve seen possessed soda cups on the mat outside the ring, rolling in a circle at carious speeds, with occasional directional changes thrown in. I’ve even seen a guitar spin across the ring with enough force to push the bottom rope, and then lay there motionless. I’m used to seeing wonky physics here and there in previous titles, but WWE ’13 takes the cake, though at no time did it outright affect the gameplay.
A new limb targeting system has been implemented, allowing for players to more easily go after either the head, arms or legs of an opponent, in an attempt to wear them down for either a submission attempt, or to handicap the opposition. Even with the inclusion of a rather helpful addition to the gameplay, it once again feels like there’s so little each wrestler can do. Overall the number of moves have increased and changed to fit the in-ring personalities, but it still feels as if there could be more added in. It does fall within the lines of what each wrestler actually does in their matches, but a good number of wrestlers have an expanded repertoire of holds, such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Sin Cara. It would take a complete overhaul of the gameplay engine to really give the number of moves per wrestler a boost, and would lead to a lot less moves being repeated by players or by the CPU.
Yukes once again tinkered with their graphics and animation engines, and have put together a package that balances detail and authenticity. Cover athlete and the near year long current WWE Champion CM Punk has gone from looking like Jesus Christ a few years ago, to General Zod’s bastard son last year, to a faithful enough representation, sans trademark infringing tattoos. The Miz went from a shiny Ken doll, to a more accurate replication. Even the Undertaker’s new haircut matches his current look. Everything that was current about six months ago, just about matches in WWE ’13. Most of the Attitude stars resemble their 90′s counterparts, though a couple, most notably Hunter Hearst Helmsley, look slightly like a poorly developed caricature than a faithful representation. Those cases are few and far between thankfully.
Furthermore, the addition of new entrance animation for a number of wrestlers is beyond commendable. Daniel Bryan, though he’s moved away from chanting “YES!”, has an entrance that feels as if it were lifted directly from a WWE product, down to his mouth moving when he points to a title around his waste, as if he’s shouting “World Heavyweight Champion!” CM Punk’s gestures all look proper, aside from the baby steps up the turnbuckle as champion. There are still some stock animations though, for better (Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan and other former WWF/E wrestlers under Legend or Superstar under the creation areas) or for worse (the Undertaker’s win pose at the end, making it look like he ate too many spicy foods). For the “Attitude era” mode however, many of the gestures and animations were brought over as authentic as possible, from Road Dogg’s shake and jive, to Dude Love’s mannerisms.
Lifelong fans of professional wrestling such as myself will find a greater sense of appreciation with WWE ’13, more than any previous wrestling game this console generation. The effort put into this years product is evident, and the complete package is bar none the strongest showing for the company this console generation, perhaps even longer than that. The “Attitude era” mode remains true to the source material in what matters most, though the inconsistencies will be noticed. Outside the whole censorship debacle though, nothing hampers the experience in the long run, and the trip down memory lane can be a stunner at times. Add in a myriad of customization options through the creation suite and WWE Universe mode, a beefy roster of both current and Attitude wrestlers (not to mention purchasing an Axxess Pass for 1600 points will gain a healthy amount of DLC of both current and Attitude era wrestlers throughout the next several months), a bevy of unlockable content and the fact that it’s just plain enjoyable to play, and it seems as if Yukes has shown the non-believers that they were nothing but wrong.
(and yes, for the savvy, mainstream fan, I did make reference to a TNA Impact entrance theme there – so what!)