Monday, November 5, 2012

Video Game Review: WWE ’13 First Impressions

Note: I’m writing this after only playing this game for about eight hours. I’ve just played matches and created a couple of characters. This is by no means a comprehensive review. It’s just something where I get my thoughts down and maybe give you a heads-up on a few things if you’re on the fence about buying WWE ’13.

Now that I'm posting, I've played a bit more. I've added a few things below, but my impressions remain pretty much the same.

Also, If you don’t care to read about why you should care about my opinion on wrestling games and just want to know what I think of WWE ’13; go ahead and skip to the next green section. But I think this next bit is a pretty good read about wrestling games and might bring back some memories for you. I certainly enjoyed writing it.

            I’ve gone on about this at length over the past few years here at Needless Things, but here it is again – I used to be a hardcore devotee of WWF/E video games. 
 
I’ve watched pro wrestling off and on my entire life. More on than off. When I was a kid I watched the weekend shows whenever I could. There was a Sunday morning WWF show that led into Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. I’m not sure of the time because we went to church just about every Sunday, but I don’t feel like it was too late in the afternoon. But sometimes I got to see the really exciting stuff on Saturday nights after I watched The Prisoner and Doctor Who on PBS. I don’t remember which channel this was, but there was a late night/early morning show that recapped the various wrestling promotions from around the country. I couldn’t tell you which promotions and I don’t know who hosted it, but I remember loving the show when I managed to stay awake long enough to watch. 
 
I didn’t pay much attention in the early 90’s, but in 1996, shortly after Hulk Hogan shocked the world at Bash at the Beach, I started watching just in time to experience the biggest surge in popularity professional wrestling has ever had. From then until some time last year I did not miss one single episode of Nitro, Thunder, RAW, or Smackdown. I watched every show TNA put on TV from the summer of 2002 until they got on FOX Sports South, and did my best to keep up with it after that. I would watch every pay-per-view, whether it was at home , Hooters, Barnacles, or a friend’s place. I was pretty fanatical. Only recently have I grown so disinterested in the product being offered on TV that I skip PPVs (I barely watch any now), delete shows without watching them, and don’t even bother to read results online.

As far as wrestling video games, I started out with Monday Nitro for the PlayStation. In retrospect it sucked, but it was fun at the time. Then I found WWF WarZone and that game changed everything. It was the first game I played that allowed you to create your own wrestlers and it blew my mind. I created an avatar of myself in what were essentially Booker T’s tights, but purple and green. I called this guy “D Toxx”. Shortly after I found WarZone, Acclaim released WWF Attitude. It was a huge step up from its predecessor and allowed for more customization and gameplay options. Me and my roommates played the heck out of it. 
 
Next was THQ’s WrestleMania 2000. I played around with it, but it wasn’t until WWF No Mercy that I found the game that would completely replace Attitude. No Mercy might still be the greatest overall wrestling game ever. I can’t go back and play it today or anything (and I have tried), and I did eventually switch to PlayStation’s Smackdown series; but overall I think No Mercy lasted the longest and provided the most fun. That’s because No Mercy is the game where I started booking wrestling.

Not only did I run my own promotion using a combination of wrestlers already in the game and ones I created from WCW, ECW, and elsewhere; I also booked one for my friends. We got together once a week and used wrestlers we had created from scratch – greats with names like Shit Nozzle Jim, FudgeTed Holerodeo, Jimmy Hiney-Snacks, “The Chosen People’s Champ” Herschell Goldstein, and of course Phantom Troublemaker (who had evolved from D Toxx). We had factions, feuds, and everything. Once a month on the Sunday that WWF held their PPV we would have our own. Asslash, Summer Scam, Unforgivable, Fudgment Day (FudgeTed’s big night – think Rock Bottom), Revengefulness, StrangleMania (stolen from ICP’s fucking hilarious wrestling videos), and more. This all started off as ICW (Idiot Championship Wrestling) with one group of friends and eventually morphed into DCW (Duluth Championship Wrestling) as more came in and some left. There were actually three distinct generations of members in our little group over the course of almost ten years.

But the whole time I was planning each Wednesday Night Whoopass for DCW (we eventually settled on Wednesdays when TNA started their pay-per-views and it just stayed that way until the end) I was also booking my own fed. This one consisted of the very best of the in-game wrestlers alongside other real-life performers from all over the world.

I got started with actual fantasy booking when my friend Gnoll told me about Extreme Warfare Revenge. He saw how much I enjoyed booking our stuff and thought I might like this simulator that allowed you to run every aspect of your own fantasy fed. Booking, merchandising, TV, hiring – everything. It was crazy. And I loved it.

This was where I first discovered the wrestlers of TNA. Though I don’t think the promotion was directly mentioned in the game, the wrestlers that started the promotion off were all there. I had access to familiar faces like Ken Shamrock, Jeff Jarrett, and Jerry Lynn. But I was also introduced to AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Amazing Red, and more. I was booking AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn in matches before I ever even knew what AJ looked like or had seen the two wrestle on TV. All I knew was they were my biggest draws.

Jerry Lynn, Scott Steiner, and Scott Hall were a heel faction called Hatebreed that ended up lasting as long as my time booking video game wrestling did. The final iteration of the group was Vampiro, Kevin Thorn, Ariel, Boogeyman, and The Great Khali (the last two were the tag team and I treated them as monsters, not goofy cartoons). They were managed by the Sinister Minister.

I thoroughly enjoyed EWR for a few months, but it eventually got old booking the matches without getting to watch them. I tried to incorporate the booking of EWR with No Mercy for a little while, but the two just weren’t compatible. I can’t remember exactly what the problems were. That’s when I switched entirely to booking for No Mercy and started making notes.

I was very serious about booking my fed. The one with my buddies was easy enough, as I planned out the matches and then we played them. I booked from week to week depending on who won what. But my own fed was massive. I booked months in advance – at least six at a time and I usually had a plan from Rumble to ‘Mania. I kept notebooks full of notes, schedules, information about feuds. It was completely insane. I still have my booking sheets somewhere. If I can find one I’ll scan it and put it here:


(These aren't even the good ones. I couldn't find the ledger-sized, gridded ones)

I ran RAW and Smackdown as completely separate promotions, which is still how I think things should be. I did this for something like six or seven years.

I think Smackdown: Just Bring It was the first game where I really got into my own booking. The follow-up – Shut Your Mouth – ended up lasting for more years of play due to what we all perceived as an inferior reversal system. I can’t remember if we finally updated with Smackdown vs. RAW or SvR 2006. But whenever we did, I lost something integral to my booking – Create-A-PPV had been taken out. This is when my notebook got really out of control, as I had to not only track feuds and outline long-term plans, I had to actually create booking sheets like what you see above.

One trademark of wrestling games is that every time they fix something you don’t like, they fuck up some new thing that you never imagined was fuck-uppable. I’m running out of time here, but one good example is that one year’s game might have an all-new submission system that is more realistic, but the ability to alter the transparency of designs on created wrestlers is gone. This may seem like a strange thing, but what it meant was that you had to choose whether your guys had bright, cartoonish tattoos or none at all. What I’m saying is that there is always some kind of huge, glaring problem and it depends on your own personal taste and gaming habits to determine how big any problem is.

I used to check in on gaming websites every single day from around June up until the release of the WWE games in the fall to see what features and wrestlers were going to be in each game. I would check on message boards or wherever to find out news about the coming release. And every single year I would buy the new game and we would all update our rosters, starting all over and creating our factions from scratch. I always had a blast making guys and I have no trouble telling you that for a long time mine were some of the best. At one time I had three entire memory cards for all of my feds – one for DCW, one for my own fed, and one for random creations just to mess around with. 
 
I ran up against an insurmountable set of issues with the 2010 game. I can’t remember everything, but when it all combined with the very small amount of time I actually have to devote to video games, it led me to stop playing for the first time in over a decade. Rescue John brought his copy of WWE ’12 over last year and it was still flawed enough that I skipped it.

But this year I followed along with the production and things sounded good.

The first thing that caught my eye was CM Punk on the cover. Obviously that really doesn’t have a bit of bearing on the quality of the game, but it got my attention. From there I casually checked out updates on IGN and Wikipedia, which is where I came across the entry that sold me:
Universe Mode
Returning is the Universe Mode, a seasonal mode designed with assistance from Paul Heyman. The mode allows for more interaction than ever before, with the ability to use created arenas and stadiums on any given show. Each recurring show, divided into minor and major, SmackDown and WWE Superstars respectively, can have its theme, roster, belt and arenas adjusted. The option to create a pay-per-view has also returned, in addition, players get the option to choose which rosters are able to participate in the PPV and what theme or match type is consistent through the event. Players can also delete shows entirely, as well as add new shows or move shows around on any day of the week. Statistics and rankings are also once again included, the former of which divides ranks into tracking record holders, historical information, the period of time a title was held and the amount of times a title was held. Titles are again divided into minor, major, tag-team and divas. Scenarios also play out differently, with the game giving the player options to lead out to a branching storyline based off of decisions made within the match. This allows players to choose how to attack during cutscenes, whether or not to attack and gives the option to break up tag-teams and alliances. This allows for over 200 new storylines placed in the mode in unison with all previous existing storylines being carried over from the previous two iterations of the feature. The option to turn injuries on and off is also present along with a host of other features. When a Universe Mode gets too "clunky", cumbersome or confusing, the option to reset it is present.

That sounds amazing.

I tell you all of this not so you think I am a complete lunatic, but so you know how deeply I can care about professional wrestling video games and perhaps respect my initial opinion about WWE ’13.

So. What do I think about it?

There is some slowdown. I have the PS3 version, so I don’t know if that will be present in the XBOX 360 game or not. But it comes across more like a cinematic thing than a flaw. I mean, I feel like it is a flaw because it’s kind of annoying, but I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. 
 
There was one time where I was playing as Jericho and got put through a table. The character just froze up while the match continued. He was stuck in an animation, being pushed around the ring by the other wrestler. Finally somebody landed a move and it unstuck him. At least the game didn’t freeze up.

Otherwise I haven’t found anything wrong yet. I’ve played Normal, TLC, Hell in a Cell, and Extreme Rules (which I wish they would just go back to calling “hardcore”) matches and they all function very well. 
 
  • The animations are very good.

  • The in-game characters seem slightly cartoonier, but this makes them blend better with the created wrestlers, so I’m okay with it.

  • Create mode is great so far. I made a basic Phantom Troublemaker (lots of tweaking still to be done) and Anderino Panderina. Phantom looks good for the amount of time I put into him and Panda is okay. He’s not as pear-shaped as I’d like and they took out the bear ears so he has kitty ears. But the transparency adjustment is back and there seem to be plenty of options.

  • Create-An-Entrance is overwhelming. There are so many different options. I’m listing these as well as the movesets as I play, so look for those to be posted soon. Maybe Monday or Tuesday.

  • Speaking of moves, there are a shit-ton. I was just as overwhelmed looking through the moves as I was looking through the custom entrances. And the new control scheme is made to take advantage of this. So far the animations all look fantastic, and a move I used to use as a finish but that got taken out years ago is back. I can’t figure out what it’s called now, but once I find it Phantom will have his old finisher back.

  • The commentary is so good you don’t realize it’s pre-recorded (yet – I’m sure once I’ve been playing long enough it’ll get repetitive and video game Michael Cole is just as shitty as real Michael Cole). The crowd surges with the match in a way I’ve never heard before. I was playing a ladder match with Jericho and Mysterio and the crowd was going absolutely bonkers when Mysterio made a comeback and threw Y2J off the ladder. It really egged me on and made the match more real. The only bad thing about the sound is that you can’t turn off the music that plays constantly outside of matches without turning off the entrance music. That is stupid. Oh, and you still can’t adjust the volume of custom entrance music, so you have to spend all this time adjusting the levels of your tracks before you import them to your PS3. Which is still easier than the ridiculous process of using custom songs on the 360.

  • The actual quality of the sound is crap. The levels are way off on a lot of things and unfortunately you can't adjust each portion of commentary or music. 
     
  • The selection of wrestlers is the best ever. I went ahead and bought the (thing), which unlocks almost everything in the game, including the ability to assign attributes and edit other stuff. I don’t have time to fuck around unlocking everything like I used to, so I need to be able to do everything from the start. Not only is WWE’s current roster very well represented (as far as I can tell – I am not totally aware of who works there right now), but the Attitude Era roster consists of over thrity classic wrestlers. It’s awesome. I played a triple threat match between Val Venis, X-Pac, and Ken Shamrock and it was one of the most fun matches I have ever played, partially because it felt very much like playing No Mercy again. I’ve barely scratched the surface of these guys, but you’ve got Goldust, Vader, the New Age Outlaws, Mankind, old-school versions of several wrestlers, and just tons more.

  • Hell in a Cell is awesome. I played as Mankind against Undertaker and it might have been the best HIAC experience I’ve had. And believe me – I’ve had a lot. When I drove Undertaker through the top of the Cell with the double-arm DDT it was so satisfying. Then I realized that Mankind was still clinging to the opening of the Cell and I had to drop down and finish the job. I was also able to throw ‘Taker off the top of the Cell and through the announce table. So rad. There are now weapons under the ring in the Cell and breaking out is much more difficult. Not only that, the AI-controlled player will put you through the wall of its own volition.

  • And that’s another thing – the AI seems greatly improved. I was playing on Normal difficulty initially and I lost a couple of matches. And not in the cheap way you typically lose. They felt like natural losses where the match just hadn’t gone my way. It was fun, not frustrating. I can’t quit describe the difference between the new AI and the old, but that last sentence might sum it up. At no point did I want to scream profanity and throw my controller at the screen. Which is good, because Lil’ Troublemaker was sitting there with me on Tuesday.

  • Finally, Lil’ Troublemaker was able to play some. Not against the computer or anything, against me. But he did alright considering he is five and has never played a wrestling game before. He was able to pick up the basic controls fairly well, and I think if he wants to play more he will be able to grasp the more advanced stuff. He was grappling, kicking, and punching quite well by the time we were done and even put me through the top of the Cell without me directing him at one point.

  • Attitude Era Mode is a lot of fun. Even though I went ahead and bought all the unlockables I'm still having a lot of fun playing through. You follow a timeline from the first Nitro through the merger. The story is told with a combination of video clips, cutscenes, and playable matches. Each match has certain conditions to meet in order to unlock new characters and arenas and stuff. The presentation is pretty solid, but the audio that they took directly from the old broadcasts is pretty bad. It's about three times as loud as the regular audio and doesn't sound very clean. Otherwise, this mode is a ton of fun and those of you that lived through the Monday Night Wars will find it fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. I think it is by far the best thing Yukes has put into one of these games.
So my initial recommendation is that you buy this game. I'm not going to score it or anything, as I haven't played it enough yet. It’s totally fun and seems to have a mind-boggling amount of options. I haven’t even touched Universe, Attitude, or anything yet. I’m having so much fun just playing around with the basic stuff. But be sure I’ll check back in once I’ve experimented with the others. 

-Phantom




2 comments:

  1. I really look forward to playing this game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Update: It is still rad and I wish I could take a week off just to play it.

      Delete