Meekin On Movies On…WWE 13′

Wrestling
games have always been a curious genre. They’ve always treated matches
as if they’re actual athletic competitions, where one guy is attempting
to beat the other guy within an inch of his life and pin him or make him
submit. This is problematic since we all know that a real pro-wrestling
match is more akin to a heavily muscled dance number than an actual
fight (though they both get colorful outfits) and the excitement of a
match – innovative moves, heightened drama, near falls – are all but
absent in the “wrestling is real” gameplay model because simply put, the
better you are, the shorter and less fun your matches will be,
especially against the historically brain-dead AI you find in wrestling
games.  

However,
when played against a human friend “in the know”, as you’d say, the WWE
games become a transformative experience. Booking dream matches,
winning titles, and getting immersed in the not-quite-fiction of the WWE
universe, makes you feel like a kid again. On that front “WWE 13’” is
awesome. There are numerous gameplay improvements for long-time fans,
including the ability to fight on the announcers table, counter top rope
moves with finishers, a bevy of new superstars (Jericho!) and some of
the iffy collision detection is gone, too. But for wrestling fans who
are absent a friend to get their smackdown on with, alas, you may be in
for an all-too-familiar single player experience.

To
combat this, THQ has taken a quantity over quality approach to this
year’s single player offerings. “WWE 13’”’s big feature is the inclusion
of the “Attitude Era” mode. Stone Cold, Kane, Shawn Michaels, The Rock,
Mankind, British Bulldog, X-Pac, and Bret Hart are all present and
accounted for, as the mode takes you through a somewhat disjointed and
slightly modified version of the events that made WWF programming a
major success in the late 90s.

I
say disjointed because some of the story is told via Full motion
videos, others through in-game cut scenes, and most of it through boring
old text. It’s pretty obvious the FMV stuff was culled from an upcoming
DVD release by the WWE (Hey look at that),
the in-game cutscenes (which use real audio) are largely a mess because
they have to bleep the F in WWF every couple of seconds, and the text
is, well, text.  The problem with this mode is that anyone playing it is
likely already intimately familiar with this epoch in WWE’s history,
and it will feel like a hollow, cliff-notes retelling of the moments
they lived through every Monday night adorned in their “Austin 3:16”
shirts a little over a decade ago. There’s nothing in the mode that’s
particularly enthralling or exciting, or innovative, and at its core
it’s a series of matches against the same crappy AI that makes your
typical pro-wrestling game a slog.

But
that’s not to say they didn’t give it the old college try. There’s tons
of content to explore in the “Attitude Era” mode, and having specific
objectives to accomplish in-match shakes things up and provides a
challenge that’s generally absent from matches against CPU opponents.
And yes, there’s a bit of a rush in re-living Stone Cold’s Wrestlemania 14
win over Shawn Michaels, or throwing Mick Foley off the Hell In a Cell,
but much like comedy, wrestling is less exciting the second time around.

The
Universe mode is a bit better, as the game will throw new matches and
stipulations and storylines at you as you run through the events of a
typical WWE year. This mode is wholly customizable. You can assign
wrestlers to either Raw or Smackdown, make new shows, bring in the
legends you’ve unlocked, create belts, and if you’re anything like me,
disband the Diva’s division as quickly as humanly possible. Universe
mode has potential. But there is nothing to bring you back after a few
matches, simply because there’s no goal.  

There’s
nothing to keep gamers attached to this game. Sure, there are graphical
improvements, audio improvements, new moves and new match types, but
everything comes off feeling like a novelty simply because there is no
compelling feature that challenges you to put it all together in an
exciting and rewarding way unless you’re playing ad-hoc with a friend.

So,
yes, “WWE 13’” is the ultimate playground for Pro Wrestling fans.
There’s dozens of wrestlers, hundreds of unlockables, and a nearly
endless combination of match and arena customization options that should
make your inner Vince McMahon squeal in glee. If you’re a fan, it’s
entirely possible to get lost in this content for hours. 

But, before you
slap that whole “WWE 13’ is the ultimate playground” thing on the back
of a box, or make it the headline over at metacritic, let me be clear by
stating that I do not *want* my wrestling games to be a playground. I
(and I suspect other gamers) want an obstacle course. Yes, Attitude Era
and Universe is fun, but it requires a great deal of imagination to
continue to play that mode without feeling a bit like an idiot – simply
because there is no goal – seriously, when was the last time you had the
urge to go to a playground by yourself?

Despite the popularly held belief that the N64’s “WWF No Mercy” is the Best Wrestling Game of All Time ® The illustrious title actually
belongs to a little known indie pro wrestling game “Booking MPire” (and
it’s sequel Booking Remix) developed by one dude in England named Matt
Dickie. “Booking Mpire” while graphically low res, was (and is still)
years beyond anything THQ has put out in the past decade. “Booking
Mpire” put you in charge of one the several not-quite-real-life
wrestling promotions, and told you to run the show. Book matches, deal
with egos, make money, use that money to sign popular wrestlers, use the
popular wrestlers to make less popular wrestlers more popular, have
good matches with said wrestlers, all the while trying not to get anyone
killed, maimed, or blown up in the process. It was (and is) wrestling
game nirvana.

Why? because it challenged you to succeed in all aspects of the
pro-wrestling business. Yes, the meat of the game involved having
matches between wrestlers and attempting to win, but you also had to
take wrestler health and (most importantly) match excitement into
consideration, as well – it wouldn’t be uncommon to switch between
competitors to pull off an exciting top rope dive to the outside, or a
powerbomb through a table to boost the match rating. THQ actually had a
“match rating” in its ill-fated “GM Mode” during the “Smackdown! Vs. Raw
years”, but it’s sadly been removed, thus giving gamers very little to
work toward in the Universe mode.

But
I digress. These are just the musings of a lifelong wrestling fan who
has no one to play his wrestling game with. All my criticisms melt away
if I had a friend to bash some skulls with. If you’re a parent wondering
if this is a good investment for your wrestling fan kids, or a gamer
(with friends that like wrestling) wondering if enough has been upgraded
to warrant a purchase, the answer is definitely a Yes! Yes! Yes!

(that was so cheesy I could not resist)