Review: WWE All Stars
April 22, 2011, Author: Andy Knight
Ah, wrestling! Socially unacceptable to like, you’ll find yourself vehemently mocked if you’re a fan, and yet it somehow still draws some of the largest television audiences and crowd attendances on Planet Earth. Myself? I am a die-hard fan, and have been ever since I saw my very first Saturday afternoon wrestling on the television. Of course being British, my first exposure was to the “sport”, was mainly watching obese overweight old guys in ill-fitting leotards. I’m talking about the likes of the infamous Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, and Jackie Pallo plodding about the ring and being out of breath within the first minute of a match starting.
Then with me at the age of eleven, my family got our first satellite dish and I had my mind blown by what was then called the WWF; the World Wrestling federation. In the WWF, the wrestlers weren’t fat old men; these guys had muscles where muscles shouldn’t be, and they pulled off manoeuvres Bid Daddy could never even dream of. All round there was a higher level of performance and showmanship. From that moment on I was hooked, I loved wrestling more than I loved… erm, my Gran!
Fast forward some twenty-four years later and here I am, still into wrestling. Not in the same way as I was a kid, but none the less I remain loyal and still watch the WWF; or WWE as it is now known (the panda loving people apparently got to the WWF name rights first, so the wrestling folk were forced to change it). Alongside this addiction has also been my need to buy every wrestling game ever released; from the likes of the Megadrive’s WWF Super Wrestlemania, through to the Dreamcast’s WWF Attitude, right up to today’s WWE: Smackdown versus Raw franchise. There is literally no wrestling game I haven’t played, so I think that legitimately makes me the front-runner to review the latest WWE and THQ offering; WWE All Stars.
Coming out of retirement!
For the last few years it’s been obvious to fans of the franchise that the Smackdown games have become more than a little stale. It’s a formula and style of game that Yuke’s and THQ have gotten pretty familiar with, so when each year’s annual instalment is released, we fans are mainly just looking for an update to the wrestler roster, rather than expecting any new mind-blowing features or gameplay. Smackdown versus Raw games are very sim-like, it has to be said, trying to capture the realism of the weekly TV broadcasts of WWE’s Raw and Smackdown branded shows. So I’ll be honest, even as a wrestling fan it is hard to enjoy a game that is more about presentation rather than the pacing or entertainment of a wrestling match. Realising this flaw, WWE and THQ have tried over the past few years to freshen up the genre and provide some wrestling games that are aimed at the more causal game player, more the kind that prefers a straight out fighting game; the gamers that are into Street Fighter and Tekken, etc.
In 2009 WWE: Legends Of Wrestling was released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and it went some way to finding a middle ground between straight-up wrestling sim and fighting game. It didn’t quite meet expectations, however, mainly because the game relied on some pretty ropey quick-time events. Still, it showed promise, plus the fact it featured wrestling greats that are now either retired or have sadly passed away meant that it managed to draw in a older, non-wrestling crowd of fans who were still fond of the nostalgic days when they did actually like the sport. So back to the drawing board went THQ and here we are now with the new title, WWE All Stars, and I have to say they have got a winner here… Well almost.
It has to be said that WWE All Stars is stripped back and basic across the board in terms of modes and gameplay. You have the Path Of Champions, which comprises of three paths; a Legends path where you climb the ladder to ultimately face the Undertaker. The Superstar Path which is the same, but at the end of the ladder you face Randy Orton, and finally the Tag Team Path, which, yes you guessed it, you climb a ladder of 10 matches to face the final team of DX (HHH and HBK). In each ladder, or path, as they put it, you will face opponents in a sparse variety of match types, with sparse being the key word. I put it that way because in WWE All Stars there aren’t many match modes. Basically, you have a normal singles match, tag matches, a cage match and an extreme rules stipulation match, where you can hit each other with chairs and sticks. There are a few variants depending on how many competitors are in the ring, such as a triple threat, four-way matches and eliminations, but compared to the match types in the Smackdown games, they don’t offer much in All Stars.
As well as the exhibition and online matches, there is the Fantasy Warfare mode. Fantasy Warfare mode features the matches you have always dreamt of seeing, or wish could happen today. Here you’ll find matches pitting the likes of uber wrestling god, Hulk Hogan, versus current WWE kid’s hero John Cena, or Andre the Giant (the largest wrestler ever) vs the Big Show (Today’s current huge guy). With these you get a video package before each match, showing the two opponent’s greatest career moments, and trying to somehow make it look like the two are legitimately about to fight with some craftily impressive video edits. It’s a really good mode, but you do have some so called “fantasy” match ups for The Rock vs HHH, Eddie Guerreroo vs Rey Mysterio, and HBK vs Undertaker… As any wrestling fan would, I know that these matches aren’t fantasy; they’ve happened in the past and sometimes on more than one occasion! Who are they trying to kid?
One noticeable difference between this game and the Smackdown franchise is the gameplay. Gone are the detailed, simulation controls, and in its place is a combo fight system. The face buttons act for either weak or strong grapples and punches, the bumper buttons are for reversals and blocking, and the trigger buttons… well… they are a bit of a mess. The main issue is that so much is mapped to the left trigger button, that it can easily wreck what you are trying to do, and instead you do a move you didn’t intend on happening.
The main culprit here is when trying to either get in and out of the ring or trying to climb the rope corners. Both are mapped to the left trigger button, so stand too close to the rope when trying to climb the corner and more often than not your guy will roll out of the ring, and vice versa. With so many buttons on a controller, you’d think there were better ways to map some of the controls out. Also a gripe is the reversal system; this game is all about timing, but it can be brutal when trying to get the correct timing for that all important reversal, especially on the harder levels where reversals become almost impossible.
That said, the core controls make All Stars so easy to get into; it’s just all-out fun! Because of this, the game is fast-paced, frantic, and incredibly satisfying when you pull off the big combo moves. How it works is that the game has several bars and meters on the HUD. The health bar consists of four levels, get it down to flashing red and your opponent is done. Also attached is a combo meter, which by doing moves steadily raises the bar until you reach a point where you are rewarded with a stored combo move (you can store up to three). Then when you are ready, hold both punch buttons, or both grapple buttons at the same time, and your wrestler will unleash a devastating power move (comprised of each wrestler’s real life signature moves). It has to be said these are damn impressive when pulled off.
Again, they are over the top and massively exaggerated; a normal suplex suddenly becomes a suplex that lifts you and your opponent 20-30 feet into the air, before crashing back down to the mat and sending out seismic waves from the impact. It’s impressive to watch and never gets old. Doing all these moves fills up one last bar, your finishing move! Fill it up, get your opponent’s health bar to red and then press both bumper buttons to deliver the final blow (again in the form of the wrestler’s real-life finishing move). Once more, it is as over the top as the combo moves, and yes, it makes you all excited and giddy when you pull it off. There are a few other game mechanics for picking up objects in the extreme rules matches, and for climbing the cage in the steel cage matches.
To play through those modes and do those moves, though, you are given a roster of 30 wrestlers, 15 legends and 15 current WWE superstars. You have Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Ultimate Warrior, to name a few of the past favourites representing the legends. Where as you have names like Kane, The Undertaker, and Drew McIntyre (Yeah, I’m not sure how he got on this game either) for the present day stars.
Beautifully tanned, baby oiled bodies
Instantly noticeable is the different style in look that WWE All Stars offers. They’ve ditched the realism in wrestler character models, and turned the ridiculous dial to eleven. The wrestlers in this game are superhuman in physical stature; if these guys were real they would never pass a WWE wellness policy test (where they are tested for steroid and drug abuse). The likes of Hulk Hogan, Edge and Ultimate Warrior have never looked so good, brimming from head to toe in ripped tone and muscle definition. The character models look very much like action figures, with every part accentuated to make each wrestler look more impressive that the real thing ever did.
When playing the game it’s satisfying to play a more cartoon-esque featured character; it really helps with selling the exaggerated tone of the game. Unfortunately though, the new models aren’t without flaw, particularly when you are up close. Things like shorts, and motifs on clothing are particularly blurry and jagged. As for why this is, you have to question why, when the rest of the wrestler looks so good. Environment wise the game still runs pretty much on the Smackdown game’s engine, and the arena and crowd look as if they have been lifted straight out and ported into WWE All Stars. Until, again, you get up close and take a look at the watching crowd that is. For some reason they have reverted back to the old WWE games of 2D cardboard cut-out crowds; not so noticeable in the ring, but it sticks out like a sore thumb when you take the battle to the floor.
On a more impressive note, though, is the FMV in the Path Of Champions mode. There isn’t much of it, a total of just nine cut-scenes in total, but they have each been lovingly crafted to fit the design and atmosphere of the game. The detail paid in the Undertaker’s Path of Champions story is by far the best example of this, and really captures the old promos he and manager Paul Bearer used to create back in the 90’s.
Tuning up the band
Something that does fall below par in WWE All Stars is the audio. Historically, the atmosphere in all wrestling video games has been bad, it’s very hard to do, but it does feel like THQ are resigned to that fact so didn’t really try that hard in this game. The wrestlers have their theme songs obviously, but it all falls apart once the action begins; the commentary is very basic and repetitive. Jim Ross is a much-loved and revered commentator, some say the best, but his performance here feels phoned in and as if his mind elsewhere. Then we have the crowd chants…
To me it seems they gathered five guys from off the street and threw them into a sound booth, where they were made to come up with some very monotonous and bizarre chants that don’t really fit with all that is the WWE atmosphere. You can really tell it was the part of the game’s production that they spent the least amount of time on; WWE All Stars definitely won’t be winning them any awards for sound or audio mixing.
Taking on all comers…
Other than the single player modes, there is, of course, the obligatory online play. Online, you can have match ups with a maximum of four players, but only in one-on-one and two-on-two, but you can add in the cage match and extreme rules stipulations to spice things up a bit. The online isn’t too bad and if you have played any of the past THQ wrestling games with online features, you know I am paying them quite a compliment. The last Smackdown game is shockingly bad for online play, so it is actually surprising that I got about twenty matches of near enough lag-free play. Online is good for when you don’t have people about to play, but be warned the THQ servers are never the most reliable.
The 1… 2… 3!
All Stars is about two things, if you ask me. Firstly, it’s trying to capture the older gamer who once loved the old days of wrestling, and by packing in a good variety of wrestling’s legends it certainly feeds the nostalgia. Secondly, it is also about a trying to capture the casual gamer that can enjoy the simple combat, and finds pulling off the over-punctuated moves satisfying to play. In both those cases WWE All Stars hits top marks easily; you really don’t have to like wrestling or the Smackdown vs Raw games to find enjoyment here.
At this stage, though, it does need more substance to go with the pleasing visuals and easy gameplay. I was done with this game within about six hours, and I only persisted to play it longer so I could capture some of the achievements; but really that was all. You can further things a little by creating a new character, but in All Stars, creating your own guy really isn’t the point; you’re here to play as Hulk Hogan, Mr Perfect, and Ricky the Dragon Steamboat.
I do think we’ll see a sequel to this game, it just needs more to it. Playing through the Path of Legends with each wrestler on the roster just to unlock his alternate outfit just does not cut it at this time. I implore THQ to not give up on this franchise; there is something magical about this game, for both fans of wrestling and newcomers alike.