by Alex Knapp
System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii
Before THQ went out of business, they had one last outing in their long relationship with WWE. The previous year had seen them conclude the Smackdown vs. Raw series and rename their games simply “WWE.” Their first installment in this new series was WWE ’12, but the response for it was mixed; some loved it, some hated it and a lot simply said, “Meh, it’s okay, but it’s still the same damn game.”
To their credit, THQ realized that it was time for a change of some kind. And so, they altered their approach. And as I keep observing in wrestling video games, art was imitating life. On WWE programming, it seemed like a change, however slight, was in the wind after years of stagnation and fans practically begging for something different. Years of John Cena dominating the main event and being the company’s only go-to headliner were interrupted, as CM Punk, the controversial, technically-sound, brash favorite of smark fans and the older male demographic, finally got a chance to shine and present an alternative to those who were sick of Cena. He had shaken the wrestling world with his infamous “pipe bomb” worked-shoot angle, gone over John Cena to win the WWE Championship, and as 2012 rolled along, Punk was in the midst of the longest WWE title reign of recent times.
In the end, this didn’t result in the massive revolutionary change that some fans had been hoping for; as Punk’s recent podcast interview on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling revealed, the rot in the company was WAY too deep for that. But he did get the ball rolling and bring about something different and fresh. He showed that the potential for positive change was there, if WWE could just take some risks and step out of its hardened mindset. And at the same time, THQ was finally being shaken out of their funk and being dared to try something different and innovative, and show that with a little change, things could be exciting again. Which brings us to their next installment, WWE ’13.
THQ’s ads for their next installment featured Punk himself on the cover, and promised a revolution. This time, while they would retain the same overall gameplay, they would try something very different with the game’s campaign mode. And ironically, their chosen strategy for revolutionizing their games was to go back to the past. Specifically, the most fast-paced, controversial and eventful part of WWE history, the Attitude Era.
Yes, instead of a typical Season/Road to WrestleMania campaign, WWE ’13 presents Attitude Era Mode, a chance to do nothing less than relive an entire era. While present-day WWE stars would, of course, be featured in exhibition and the returning Universe Mode, the other half of the game’s roster is devoted to an unbelievable list of wrestlers who were there in the late 1990s, as the WWF was turning the tide in The Monday Night Wars. Beginning with the formation of D-Generation X in mid-1997 and culminating with WrestleMania 15, players follow the week-by-week twists, turns, dramatic events and memorable moments that defined a time when Monday Night Raw truly was must-see TV.
Playing through the Attitude Era is the main way to unlock the game’s extra content. This includes wrestlers (from main event icons like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bret Hart, The Undertaker and The Rock to memorable midcarders such as Ken Shamrock, The New Age Outlaws, The Acolytes and The Godfather), new arenas (including very faithful adaptations of the old Raw is War sets, the original SmackDown and major pay-per-view events of the late 1990s) and more.
Advancing through the Attitude Era requires not simply winning the matches, but fulfilling historical objectives. Each match comes with a checklist of certain activities you need to do in order to make the in-game match historically accurate to the event it’s depicting. Often when you fulfill them, you’ll see cutscenes of these major moments. It’s thrilling, and makes you feel like you are part of this classic action firsthand. Almost no major event from this time period is spared: Kane’s debut at Badd Blood: In Your House. The Montreal Screwjob. Austin winning the WWF Championship with the help of Mike Tyson. Undertaker throwing Mankind off the Hell in a Cell. The conclusion of the Deadly Games Tournament at Survivor Series 1998. Mick Foley’s first WWF title victory on that infamous Monday night in January 1999. There are even some unexpected surprise inclusions; for example, I was pleasantly surprised to see that finishing the main campaign unlocks a “prequel” match of sorts: Undertaker vs. Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1997. This is one of my personal favorite matches, and an underrated bout that I feel doesn’t get remembered enough these days, so being presented with the ability to play through it put a smile on my face.
Having to fulfill the objectives within these matches actually makes the game more engaging to me; they provide a specific set of goals to focus on, which run the range from being easy to being challenging to pull off, and when you do fulfill them all, you’re rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, some cool scenes and extra goodies to unlock.
On the surface, it seems cheap that WWE is relying so much on nostalgia to excite the fans. After all, shouldn’t they focus more on improving their current product, pushing new stars, and showcasing interesting characters and matches, rather than rely on their glory days? But while I agree with this principle in regards to the onscreen product, I’m willing to make an exception when it comes to video games. At the end of the day, all I want from wrestling games is to have a good time and enjoy the atmosphere, and WWE ’13 more than provides this. I’m a child of the Monday Night Wars era, and having the chance to play through these very faithful recreations of my childhood memories truly awakens the inner mark in me.
And it’s not just the big names or individual matches that make the Attitude Era mode work; it’s the way that it truly captures the episodic, addictive, “don’t miss next week” feel of the product. It would be remiss to look at the Attitude Era with rose-colored glasses, because it was not perfect. There were times when it was stupid, offensive, sexist, pandered to the lowest common denominator and was filled with Vince Russo’s overbooked nonsense. And yet, it truly was a time when you could not skip one week of Raw, lest you miss out on another dramatic turn or intense moment. Wrestling truly had become a male soap opera, and every Tuesday morning in 1998, kids at school or adults at work would talk excitedly about what they had seen the night before and what they thought would happen next.
WWE ’13 eschews the more offensive aspects of the Attitude Era, while showcasing the episodic nature that made it great. Playing through it is the video game equivalent of reading a page-turner, as you live through the major feuds and storylines of this time and witness its larger-than-life personalities. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon. Undertaker vs. Kane. Mankind vs. The Rock. As the chapters progress, you see how these feuds become intertwined and escalate to become even more dramatic and engaging, and you just want to keep playing and see what happens next, just as millions of viewers couldn’t resist tuning into Raw every Monday and watching as the company truly lived up to its slogan: “Anything can happen in the WWF.”
There’s little that needs to be said about the game mechanics. The graphics are great. The controls are still accessible, and actually feel a little smoother than they were in WWE ’12. There are lots of options in both Universe Mode and in exhibitions. It plays well, but also plays in a way that doesn’t set it apart from its predecessors, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In terms of a gameplay experience, it’s a babystep of improvement. But in terms of atmosphere, fun and opportunities to just plain mark out, WWE ’13 leaps a mile ahead of the games that came before it. This game provided me with hours of excitement, and I would go back and replay it again in a heartbeat, even if only to simply show my gratitude to a game that made me feel like a kid again.
Rating: 5 Stars
Photo 1: en.wikipedia.org
Photo 2: digitalspy.com
Photo 3: gameinformer.com
Categories: Wrestling Reviews