Fighting games seem to all be about accessibility nowadays; the generous input detection of Street Fighter IV, the one-button super-combos of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the snappy, any-attack-links-into-every-other-attack formula of the forthcoming Mortal Kombat (see our preview here), all geared around bringing what was once a notoriously ‘hardcore’ genre to the masses.
With WWE All Stars, the evidence suggests that professional wrestling games are going the same way. While the likes of Smackdown vs. RAW or TNA Impact! could never claim the same level of sophistication as the aforementioned beat ‘em up franchises, they still required a bit of practise to get right. However, that’s not the case with All Stars.
Everything here is bigger, brasher and easier to pull off than what we’ve seen from previous wrestling games. Most obviously the wrestler’s bodies are enormous, looking as though they’ve been modelled on their action figures as opposed to their real life selves (Hulk Hogan’s chest is particularly oversized and in defiance of nature’s laws).
The moves are equally over the top and ridiculous, wrestlers are frequently flung 15 feet into the air, picked up and thrown from one side of the ring to the other or triple flipped straight onto their head. Such actiona are possible whether it’s the Big Show hurling Rey Mysterio or vice versa – something any WWE fan knows is completely ‘unrealistic’.
However, it’s that same level of ‘crazy’ that gives the game its charm and makes it fun to play. It’s the kind of game that knows exactly what it’s trying to achieve and has fun in its attempt to achieve it. The ease with which you can pick-up-and-play makes it a great game to play with friends who may have been put off by the complexity of previous WWE game’s control schemes and, for those not playing, the caricatured nature of the whole thing means there’s always something interesting/outlandish/silly going on onscreen.
The setup is the ol’ dependable ‘Legends’ vs. ‘Superstars’, the roster equally split between oldies like The Ultimate Warrior and Mr Perfect and the current crop such as The Miz and Randy Orton. As ever with this kind of arrangement, there’s never going to be a way of pleasing everyone (there’s no Yokozuna or Mankind, for example) but the roster should satisfy most people to a sufficient degree.
All Stars’ main single modes are Fantasy Warfare and Path of Champions, both of which play on the Legends vs. Superstars gimmick. Fantasy Warfare is essentially a series of exhibition matches given more weight by bundling them with achievements and a typically well-produced opening montage video of WWE stock footage. There are 15 matches in all, each based around their own hook – i.e. find out who is the ‘Greatest Big Man’ by pitting Big Show against Andre the Giant, Jack ‘The Snake’ Roberts vs. Randy Orton in the ‘Coldest Snake’ or determine the greatest undisputed heavyweight champion of all time in ‘Undisputed’ The Rock vs. Triple H.
The bulk of these bouts are standard one on one encounters requiring you to pin, submit or knock out your opponent to unlock the next match but a couple buck the trend by having you compete in a ‘steel cage’ or ‘no holds barred’ match. Despite Fantasy Warfare not being a proper ‘career’ mode (it’s just a bunch of regular matches with a fancy title) the fact that they’re accompanied by videos of the real wrestlers in action provide them with just enough weight to convince you it’s worth completing all 15. Any more than that though and my desire to see it through to the end would be under serious strain.
Path of Champions is split into three ten-match gauntlets, each culminating in a championship match against either an old-skool edition of The Undertaker (representing the Legends), Randy Orton (for the Superstars) or the tag team of Triple H and Shawn Michaels as Degeneration-X.
Your opponents throughout each of the three vary based on your final opponent, go for The Undertaker and you’ll face Legends during each match, go for Orton and you’ll take on Superstars, tackle DX and you face only tag-teams. Path of Champions is nicely presented with humorous cut-scenes throughout the ten match run but, like Fantasy Warfare, there’s not a lot to it.
Unlike Fantasy Warfare, Path of Champions gets progressively more difficult as you near the championship fight which, unfortunately, results in a breakdown of the game’s fighting system. As the game asks so little of you in the way of intelligently thinking about attacks or skilfully inputting them, the only way left to make it more difficult is by having your A.I. opponents reverse almost everything you do.
Punches, kicks, slams and submission attempts are reversed almost every time by the time you reach the latter stages on the regular difficult setting. What was once a fun rollick with burly men on a canvass covered staged has become an infuriating romp against an oversized, idiotic looking meathead intent on turning our battle into a mere exercise in timed button presses.
It is possible to reverse your opponents’ reversals (a double reverse) but it requires you to learn the precise timing of each attack, which is not fun. There is a reversal indicator that pops up when you should be pressing the button but the timing window is so narrow that by the time you’ve registered its existence you’re too late.
The increased difficulty highlights other problems too, the hit detection is a bit off (it’s impossible to grapple an opponent who is going through a standing-up animation, for example), you realise you’ve experienced everything there is to experience in about an hour and the gameplay completely fails when there are more than two people in the ring and battling it out at one time.
These problems are lessened in multiplayer but, once you and your opponents reach a certain level of proficiency – like the A.I. on harder difficulty settings – everything becomes about reversals and soon gets tedious.
Version tested: Xbox 360