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WWE All Stars: videogame review

REVIEWS - VIDEOGAME REVIEWS

"To be the man, you have to beat the man ..."

WWE: All Stars - worth the wait?

If there is one thing that wrestling games have always needed, and always lacked, it’s the legends of the past alongside the superstars of today. We have been teased by special characters in older Smackdown Vs. Raw games, and WWE: Legends Of WrestleMania gave a valiant effort, but ultimately fell short of our high expectations. But now WWE: All Stars has arrived to try and quench this thirst, and it comes equipped with the finest roster a wrestling game has ever seen.

Of the 30 characters in the line-up, only a few names have been missed. Sure, there may be no Mankind, but that is a small price to pay to see greats like Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, HHH, Jake the Snake, The Big Show, and countless more slugging it out at the peaks of their careers.

The look

The Rock's laying of

The style of WWE: All Stars is totally over the top. The characters are huge muscle-bound slabs of flesh (even more so than usual), effortlessly leaping to the top rope and throwing a 500 pound wrestler over their heads. Each wrestler comes equipped with their signature moves, and these have been dialed up too. Steve Austin still has his famous stunner, but now it involves a leap 15 feet into the air, just as Eddie Guerrero’s ‘frog splash’ now features an elaborate back-flip to the turnbuckle. Even the core combat has been amped up, every connection feels solid and forceful, and standard grapples send opponents flying through the air.

One thing to note about this game is that there are no playable WWE ‘divas’ present, although this might be wise considering how exaggerated the wrestlers' bodies are (the game could have potentially been available only on the top shelves of newsagents).

The visual style of the game certainly carries the same theme, equally imbued with arcade flamboyance. The characters look more like their merchandised action figures than their own selves, immediately triggering the link to the fantasy elements of a wrestling fan's mind than if you were watching the show on television. It’s probably a more fitting style when you consider the whole concept of the game is hypothetical; a realistic version of this game would see the likes of Seamus in his youthful prime fighting a settled down old man, straight off the set of “Hogan knows Best”. Bright gleaming arenas provide an encapsulating backdrop, reminding you that this is still very much a wrestling title; from the glorious titantrons and beaming lights to the crowd, which pleasingly appears to be continuing its development from looking like one man equipped with thousands of mirrors.

The constant array of bright colors which is present in every aspect of the game adds to the all-round spectacle. The characters constantly glow and shine, especially when performing moves. Vibrant blues and reds wash over them as they soar into the air in mid-grapple, surrounded by swishes and swirls as if they are about to evaporate into thin air. You can almost feel the force of each move as a result, especially after deploying the terrific tool of powering up just before watching your chosen superstar thump his opponent like a train with no brakes. The game is without doubt much better to look at  than previous titles, making it a lot easier to appreciate the superior entertainment value on offer.

Gameplay

Ray's great and all...but he's mere cannon fodder to the behemoth that is Andre the Giant...

Keeping with the casual style of the game, the control system has been adapted to give players a much more ‘arcade’ feel. Gone are the fiddly controls of previous wrestling ‘simulation’ games, to be replaced by simple, fast-paced combat. The four face buttons have been given the familiar layout, strong strike, quick strike, strong grapple and quick grapple. Triggers get you in and let you sprint and the bumpers reverse moves and launch each wrestler’s unique (and totally over-the-top) finishing move.

"Essentially this mode is the real essence of what the game is about, trying to settle long-standing arguments between generations of fans."

As you would expect there are a couple of game modes on offer also, the first of which is ‘fantasy warfare’. This entails fifteen 15 singles matches, putting a legend up against a superstar of a similar mold. Andre the Giant takes on Big Show posing the question ‘Who is the strongest?’, whilst Hulk Hogan and John Cena battle it out for the title of ‘greatest icon’ and so forth. Essentially this mode is the real essence of what the game is about, trying to settle long-standing arguments between generations of fans.

There is also the ‘path of champions’ which follows a path similar to traditional arcade games, where you must defeat a series of challengers before fighting the boss (in this case the Undertaker, Randy Orton or D-Generation X). What is most surprising about this mode is that the D-Generation X episode is a run of tag team matches and for some reason cannot be done in multiplayer mode. Whether this is intentional or simply an oversight by THQ, it is disappointing in its absence. The presence of real-life videos and entertaining virtual introductions to these modes are an entertaining touch and succeed in bringing to life what is essentially just a list of preset matches.

There is also a pleasingly in-depth 'create-a-wrestler' feature, allowing for the creation of pretty much any body type and style you can imagine. The online battles are well implemented, but there appeared to be a problem with lag, as there was a definite drop in the responsiveness of the controls; not something you want when playing online.

WWE: All Stars also plans to boost its stellar roster further by adding more wrestlers in the form of DLC. While some of these will be free, the majority will have to be paid for. While no-one will be happy about having to pay for more of their heroes, it is good to know that the line-up will be expanded. Despite some nagging flaws, WWE: All Stars is by far the most entertaining wrestling game out. Its arcade style and simpler controls make it the fast and exciting spectacle that wrestling should be. The already outrageous and flamboyant nature of wrestling works perfectly with the exaggerated combat and presentation of the game.

Overall

This picture may speak a thousand words...but does the game live up to its hype?

At this point, it should be pretty clear that WWE: All Stars is a game with a lot going for it, but it is also one of those games that the more you play, the more flaws you see. In the first few matches, you are dazzled by the blazing colours and stunned by the outrageous moves; four matches further in and you notice that the collision detection is a little off, a problem that becomes very noticeable and increasingly tiresome with more than one opponent in the ring. The combat is also slightly let down by the lack of a tutorial. Supposedly there are chain grapples, turn-buckle manoeuvres, cage attacks and leaps to and from the top ropes, but these stayed mostly undiscovered until you have spent a long time with the game. Not really the ‘pick-up-and-play’ style we were promised. Whilst beat-em-up fans will be used to long loading screens in between fights and intros, the loading times in this game are a nuisance, and with the fast-paced elements of the gameplay it can be a real mood spoiler.

Although the feel of the game is arcade beat-em-up, the gameplay still manages to feel somewhat shallow. The moves become repetitive as even different moves can appear the same, every time (without fail) resulting in a fifteen foot high apocalyptic explosion. The game doesn’t have as much lasting appeal as you would expect it to; you can’t really imagine this game springing to mind for a Shadowlocked ‘top ten all time beat-em-ups’ place in say five years time. This lack of sustainability is in part down to the absence of a real story based career mode, which has been the main success of other wrestling titles. Whilst this is a wrestling game with a different feel, taking this mode out seems to leave a gaping hole in the title, especially since the game modes on offer are so similar.

Overall, the game is great to play with friends, and is surely going to become more renowned for having two player single matches than for its single player options. It’s fantastic to see all the old stars back in their prime and is sure to bring a nostalgic tear to the eyes of older fans after such a long absence from the ring. However, for a game that has so much potential it is let down by simple exclusions and nagging gameplay problems. With a few tweaks here and there we could have been looking at the perfect wrestling game.

See also:

An exclusive preview of THQ's WWE: All Stars

4 stars


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