WWE '13 review
Long Live The (Mini) Revolution
Last year's WWE 12 was the first proper revision to the Smackdown series in nearly 7 years, since the 'Smackdown vs. RAW' franchise was first introduced. Ironically, many of the changes made in last year's relatively successful entry were merely a reintroduction of features that had been lost since Here Comes The Pain, which is often regarded as the zenith of the series.
As such, it never really felt like a true revolution, a reinvigoration of the series. Sure, the changes that were made were welcome, and it was undoubtedly the best game since HCTP, but many of the same issues still remained. Would WWE 13 be any different?
WWE 13's marketing as a "revolution" was a bit of a false coinage; in reality, it merely built upon the success of last year's model. Where the revolution came into play, however, was the introduction of the Attitude Era mode; undoubtedly the biggest revision to the game's single-player storyline since Road To Wrestlemania was first introduced in 2009. For the most part, this is WWE 13's triumph - the mode is loyal to the most successful era of wrestling, faithfully recreating cutscenes of famous moments and providing video footage for some of the others.
While the main objectives are usually pretty simple - as to be expected, 99% of them simply state "win the match" - where the Attitude Era mode comes into its own is the "Historical Bonus Objectives". These ask you to recreate certain moments from the actual matches, with your reward being one of the game's many unlockables. These are mostly realistic, yet challenging, and provide an incentive to play the single-player mode that has been absent from the series for years. There are a few moments that need tweaking, however - without giving anything away, "British Bulldog" should be a swear word. Worst of all are the tag-team match objectives, often requiring specific wrestlers to do something else to another specific wrestler, while they are the legal opponent. Sound easy? It isn't. Not because the objectives themselves are difficult, but because, for some bizarre reason, the AI has been programmed to hardly ever make a tag. Not only is this maddening for some objectives that require the AI to make at least three tags in the match - a miracle for the AI to achieve - but it's also a highly unrealistic presentation of tag-team wrestling, which is based around fast and frequent tags.
But I'm being a bit nit-picky. As frustrating as those objectives are, the mode as a whole is a lot of fun, a joyous trip down memory lane and the antics of Austin, DX, The Rock and others, delivered with style and panache. What's more, it all adds to the massive roster of both old and new wrestlers, making this the largest roster since Smackdown 2, released an incredible 12 years ago.
WWE 13 is a success in other ways as well. The Smackdown series has always been lauded for its creation suite, which is simply unparallelled in the world of gaming. WWE 13 is no different, and expands Create-An-Arena to a massive extent. Add onto this the ability to create wrestlers, storylines, logos/signs, entrances, videos, movesets and finishers/signitures, and you have a truly herculean amount of tools at your disposal to customise WWE 13 whatever way you want. Admittedly, some of these features are load and lag-heavy, but it is the price to be paid for so many of them.
The actual gameplay has been marginally improved upon from WWE 12, with the predator engine providing a better flow to matches, and OMG! moments allowing you to perform spectacular moves, such as catching an opponent with your finisher in mid-air, or spearing them through the barricade. These are small additions and do help to add to the overall experience.
But, I'm afraid, it isn't all positive. Keeping the focus on gameplay, WWE 13 remains as glitchy as its predecessors - indeed, in my very first match, a basic table smash went wrong, leaving poor Kane suspended in mid-air where the table used to be, unable to escape. I climbed the ladder and won the match, unchallenged. I would overlook this if it was a one-off, but it isn't. One particular moment required me to put Mankind through the announcers table as Kane - yet when I had placed Mankind on the table, manager Paul Bearer decided he was better equipped to do it than I, and DDTed Mankind through the table, meaning I failed the objective and had to restart the match. Again. Things like that are common-place in WWE 13, and have been in the Smackdown series for several years. The AI remains as thick as two planks, with higher difficulty levels merely adjusting the frequency of reversals. What's more, on PS3 at least, the frequency of freezes and crashes is inordinatedly high compared to other titles. Only Rocksmith has frozen more times on me, and that's understandable considering what it has to do.
The commentary remains atrociously bad. JR makes some amends for this in the Attitude Era mode, but unfortunately all matches outside of this have the mighty Michael Cole on headset duties, who has all the charisma of a wet sponge. Despite THQ's claims, diving moves have not been fixed and remain highly confused by the auto-targeting system, that simply cannot cope with them.
And last, but most definitely not least, we come to the Online Mode. It is now beyond a joke - it has been SEVEN YEARS since online was introduced to the Smackdown series, and in that time, they have failed to fix gameplay lag. They have failed to fix servers that are "unavailable" 99% of the time. They have failed to fix the search function for creations. They have failed to introduce even a minor reason to play online against other people, other than increasing your rank which does...well, nothing at all. No online titles. Tournaments. Tag-teams. Storylines. Compare this to major sporting titles like FIFA, which totally redefined its online mode in 2012, and WWE 13 is nothing short of an embarassment. It is, hands-down, the worst online mode in any major title. And there is no excuse for it.
In conclusion, one has to say that very little has really changed in a year. There have been the usual number of minor cosmetic and gameplay alterations that have improved the overall product. But, again as usual, the elephants in the room have remained standing as big and grey and overbearing as before. Only the addition of the impressive and enjoyable Attitude Era mode saved this from being just "yet another" Smackdown game. But it has left THQ/Yukes in a difficult position - because they can't do that again, so where do they go from here? A genuine revolution in gameplay - or just another number on the end of WWE, full of false promises and hype? I know which one my money is on.
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