BitSnark

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WWE All Stars Review (360)

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As a general rule, I pretty much avoid watching wrestling on TV these days and it really boils down to the fact that all of the colour and life has been sucked out of it since WWE trundled down the path of the kiddie-merchandise-pimpingly-friendly ‘PG’ rating.

There are just no real colourful characters anymore and those who are around, such as The Undertaker or Kane aren’t really on that TV all that much; replaced instead by identikit, personality-barren, grunting man-mountains whose move repertoires you could count on one hand and have all of the mobility and gastank of Jabba The Hutt at a Tattoine Thanksgiving meal.

It really is a depressing state of affairs, especially for a former fan such as myself who became disenfranchised at the WWE product because of the lack of larger than life characters and storylines.

Thankfully then, instead of replicating the annual, po-faced efforts of their evergreen Smackdown Vs Raw/WWE series, THQ have opted to create a game which aims to channel the outrageous, over-the-top personality of the old WWF brand into a gaming experience that actually does the brand justice and is, y’know, fun to play too.

In not treading on the simulation-esque toes of their ‘other’ WWE branded series, THQ have opted for a more arcadey, streamlined approach to WWE All-Stars and it’s an approach which has a necessitated a completely different visual style for the game too. Wrestlers are no longer painstakingly replicated versions of their real-life counterparts, dripping in accurate detail but instead are massive, hulking bestial caricatures with small heads, veins upon veins and muscle arrays where the human body doesn’t usually have them. They essentially look like wrestling action figures with crazily monstrous physiques and the action figure analogy doesn’t quite end there either.

If you remember how kids play with these figures – overzealously exaggerating even the most basic of manoeuvres; flinging the poor figures up in the air in some crazy hurricane like gesture, before slamming them down hard onto the floor (often complete with overblown sound-effects); it is this exact approach that THQ have taken with the action that takes place inside of the ring.

John Cena’s F-U (nope sorry, it’ll always be that to me – so you can stick that ‘Attitude Adjustment’ nonsense up your PG cramhole Vinny Mac) for instance, causes him to hoist his opponent on his shoulders as expected, but then leap some thirty feet in the air, before slamming them down head first into the ground, creating a rippling shockwave reaction in the process.

It’s so comically flamboyant in its brutality that you can’t help but grin and shake your head at the absurdity of the action unfolding in front of you.

Thankfully, this sort of playful exaggeration is replicated across all the other denizens of the roster too, allowing the creation of the same sort of superhuman wrestling spectacle that hasn’t been witnessed since the Def Jam Vendetta days.

The flip-side of this sweat covered coin however, is that it’s only the trademark and finishing moves which are afforded this level of bombastic spectacle – everything else like regular strikes and slams are exactly that; regular and boring – acting as a mere prelude to the physics defying violence to come.

Another aspect of the action which has been short-changed in favour of more instantly-gratifying OTT thrills, are submissions. In my thirty or so hours playing this game, not ONCE have I been able to make an opponent submit and this quite simply is because, they can’t be. At all. Submission holds have been distressingly relegated to nothing more than holds which inflict damage in order to set up your trademark and finisher moves and nothing else. The very fact that a match can’t be ended with a submission is a huge fucking oversight to put it mildly.

Besides the regular set of moves, trademark moves and finishing moves, the cornerstone of combat within WWE All Stars is it’s countering system – a rigid exercise in timing which allows you to in theory, counter and re-counter pretty much every move in the game. It can be jarring to find the timing for these counters initially, but once you get into the rhythm of when the counter button can be pressed (a visual prompt appears to help), you’re soon chaining counters together in impressive, smoothly flowing fashion.

Feature-wise, the regular wrestling game purists will be unhappy to learn that gone are the seemingly never-ending variants of matches, customisation options and moves that you would usually come to expect from a THQ WWE title, replaced it seems by a basic selection of match types, a threadbare create-a-wrestler mode and a limited number of moves.

While this approach might seem overly minimalistic, it does succeed greatly in promoting a decent amount of accessibility and the sort of pick up and play spontaneity that any good wrestling game worth it’s spandex should really have.

Decent looking moves are simple to pull off and the countering system as mentioned previously, is both satisfying and easy to use once you’ve gotten your ass-kicking rhythm going. As well as the expected multiplayer modes, WWE All-Stars boasts two different types of single-player campaign. The first of these are three ‘path to glory’ based ‘stories’ (and I do use that term very, very loosely) in which you choose a wrestler or two depending on the mode and go about trying to dethrone the current champion in that particular mode.

Essentially these are gauntlet style playthroughs, forcing the player to beat a number of wrestlers before finally taking on the big bad right at the end. There are cut-scenes which bookend the experience with one or two in the middle of each path, but they’re usually the same type of fare with the champion(s) generally berating you and no real narrative interaction or depth to speak of.

Far more interesting on the other hand from a presentation aspect at least, is the ‘Fantasy Warfare’ single-player campaign. By tapping into its eclectic roster of current superstars and wrestling personalities from times past, the mode does pretty much what it says on the tin; setting up fantasy rivalries between superstars such as The Ultimate Warrior and Shaemus with cleverly cut stock video footage, to give the impression of it being an actual booked match that the player is about to enter into. For all of it’s presentational flair and bluster though and the fact that it unlocks a handful of other wrestlers for you to use, the mode offers little else other than a fancy framing for matchups that you can make yourself through the game’s exhibition mode.

The available match types are also somewhat lacking in substance; you have a relatively basic selection of scrap variations which includes the usual suspects such as one-on-one, cage match, tornado tag and triple-threat/fatal four way matches. Disappointingly, a fair number of WWE hallmark matches are missing; Royal Rumble matches, table matches, hell-in-the-cell matches and ladder matches are just a few of those conspicuous by their absence. Most puzzling of all though, is just where in the blue hell regular tag-matches have gone; since in WWE All Stars, all you can do is the ‘tornado tag team match’ and not the regular style tag-match. Very strange indeed.

At the end of the day then, where WWE All Stars so emphatically succeeds is also, ultimately where it lacks. It aims to keep you engaged with these outrageous moves and superhuman combat, but the depth of gameplay and wide range of customisables simply isn’t substantial enough to compel you to continue playing beyond the initial barrage of reality-detached violent antics.

A worthy rent says I, but not one for the collection.

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Written by bitsnark

December 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

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