As if professional wrestlers weren’t big enough already, THQ San Diego has just made them bigger. WWE All Stars is less bothered about presenting the muscle-bound WWE ‘superstars’ as realistically as possible and more bothered about giving us gaming’s biggest pecs, abs and biceps; the roster made up of character models so pumped-up that they’re in serious danger of exploding.
All Stars is a world of caricatured caricatures. Given that the WWE world of RAW, Smackdown and monthly Pay-Per-Views is already over-the-top, All Stars seems to be asking, why not make the video game version even more so? 
The character models are not the only thing that have been given the larger-than-life treatment. Throws, slams, punches, head locks and all manner of other mano-a-mano shenanigans are similarly exaggerated. Perform a ‘Signature Move’, for example, and you can expect your opponent to be thrown 10 feet into the air, be caught on the way down and slammed into the canvass (the canvass bounce resulting in the unlucky chap finding themselves 10 feet from the ground once more).
These signatures attacks are unique to each wrestler and are built up through successfully dealing damage ( so long as you avoid getting hurt in the process). As you inflict pain a meter is filled that eventually turns dispalys a star, indicating you’ve inflicted enough pain to pull off such a move. Three of these signature moves can be stored at any one time, meaning you needn’t spam the relevant buttons as soon as possible in fear of it suddenly being lost. Indeed, it seems that the best tactic may be to build up a few and unleash them in succession for maximum effect (visually as well as painfully).
In addition to their signature move-set, each superstar has their own unique finisher (Triple H’s ‘Pedigree’, Bret Hart’s ‘Sharpshooter’ etc). These are built up in the much the same way as signature attacks but have their own, independent bar to fill. Attempt but fail to execute a finisher and your bar will deplete, meaning you’ll need to land a few more attacks before you’re in a position to try again for that spectacular finish. It’s possible to ‘KO’ an opponent if you hit them with a finisher when they’re low on health, something you rarely (if ever) see happen to the real-life WWE cast – or, at least, pretend to have happen to them.
In comparison to the ever-popular Smackdown franchise, All Stars is a good deal less complicated; the goal here is clearly to create something with a greater degree of accessibility. While Smackdown could hardly be considered rocket science, the sheer number of different input commands meant you had to spend a few hours learning the ropes before you felt confident in your abilities. With All Stars it should be possible to invite a friend round that has never played before and start having competitive matches within half an hour or so.
There is a bit of complexity in that you’re able to reverse (and double-reverse) attacks but, from what we’ve seen, it doesn’t seem as in-depth as other wrestling titles. As we’re all too aware, in the medium of videogames, accessibility all too often equates to a lack of longevity and replay-ability. It’s a difficult line to tread, longevity in games such as there often accomplished via a wide range of game modes.
All Stars’ roster is populated in equal parts by wrestlers past and present. The likes of Jack Swagger, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton and CM Punk joined by Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and other ‘legends’ of yester-year. Wrestlers are split into four distinct classes; brawlers are generally good in all areas but masters of none; grapplers specialise in throws and slams; acrobats are essentially high-risk, high-reward stuntmen; big-man are overwhelmingly powerful but slow on their feet.
This mix of old and new face off in one of two ‘career’ modes; ‘Fantasy Warfare’ and ‘Path of Champions’. Fantasy Warfare pits past and present against one another in a series of flamboyantly named individual bouts. For example, the ‘Greatest Warrior’ fight sees Ultimate Warrior take on ‘The Celtic Warrior’ Sheamus and ‘Perfectly Awesome’ matches Mr Perfect with ‘The Awesome One’ The Miz. As far as we could tell these are just normal matches that have been given facelift simply by lumping them together in their own special menu but, to be far, we did only play a couple of the many on offer and still don’t know how unlocking/progression through the mode works.
Path of Champions takes the form of a 10 match ‘gauntlet’ in which you fight your way to a final match against one of three opponents. These three opponents consist of The Undertaker (representing the legends), Randy Orton (representing the current superstars) and the DX tag team of Triple H and Shawn Michaels waiting in the wings for any duo that fancy their chances.
Each of these three threads are initiated through a cut-scene hosted by the ‘final boss’ in question. The most entertaining of these by far belonged to The Undertaker, taking place in a crypt and hosted by the big man’s former ‘manager’ Paul Bearer (squeaky voice and all). It’s a wonderfully cartoony segment that brought the memories flooding back. If only today’s WWE was as colourful, silly and outlandish as it was back then… perhaps I’d still watch it.
These modes are accompanied by the usual assortment of exhibition ‘Steel Cage’, ‘Elimination’, ‘Extreme Rules’, ‘Tornado Tag’ and standard 1 vs. 1 matches. All of which are available in both single and multiplayer for up to four players. 
However, All Stars turns out it’s nice to see the genre being taken in a slightly different the direction. It’s far to say that the Smackdown series has been getting a little stale for a while and hasn’t seen much in the way of major innovation for a number of years. Whether or not All Stars’ super-arcadey take on the ‘sport’ goes down well with Smackdown’s legion of fans remains to be seen but at least the question is now being asked.
Look out for our full review in the coming weeks.

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