THQ and the WWE have been trying to come up with a second tier “more accessible” wrestling game to compliment the WWE Smackdown Vs Raw series for a few years now. We last saw this with Legends of Wrestlemania, a game which had its moments, but relied too much on re-creating old matches exactly the way they happened in real life. Rather than continue that series (as far as we know), THQ went back to the drawing board and came up with a sort of “throwback” to how wrestling games used to be. WWE All Stars is the brainchild of a group of people used to making wrestling games; this includes Sal Divita, the man behind WWF the Arcade Game, and THQ San Diego, which is comprised of folks that made the TNA impact! games a few years ago. WWE All Stars looks back at what made games such as WCW vs NWO World Tour and WWF No Mercy so popular and leaves all that fancy simulation-styled gameplay at home.
The main premise behind the game is that two groups of wrestlers (one dubbed “Superstars” the other “Legends”) have decided to duke it out for ultimate supremacy in the realm of sports entertainment. The “Superstars” contingent consists of modern day grapplers such as John Cena, Kofi Kingston, Sheamus, and Randy Orton. The group referred to as “Legends” encompasses wrestlers from the 1980s and the “attitude era” including Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and even guys making their long awaited returns to wrestling video games – the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. The roster is very robust and includes a strong balance between high flyers, brawling specialists, giants, and even martial artists.
What many people notice first is the art style and sense of fantasy that this game has. The character models all look like overly muscular comic book heroes, and have a sense of caricature to them. For example: Andre the Giant was something like 7 foot 2 inches tall, but this game makes him look a staggering 9 or so feet tall, this coupled with the fact that he literally shakes the screen when he moves makes him seem like the “eighth wonder of the world” that he was always billed as. Other nice touches include Hulk Hogan's hair, Sergeant Slaughter’s huge chin, and The Undertaker’s bizarre ghost-like voice when he talks. This all adds to the “fun” in the game and definitely separates it from far more serious games in the genre.
On the fighting realism front, rather than make this a “wrestling simulator” the developers have injected a bit of Dragon Ball Z into the mix, allowing for some really crazy bouts. Even the weakest attack causes opponents to fly through the air, bounce with a shockwave, and hurl to the ground with a thundering crash. Some characters even do 900 degree rotations on flips, and high flyers like Eddie Guerrero have the ability to leap some 30 feet into the air. While these moves are being performed, a player’s eyes are always assaulted with crazy colorful motion lines and other splashes of color. These touches give the game a style that hasn’t been seen in these games in a while.
The game itself can be best described as a combination of the regular WWE Smackdown VS. Raw games and a combo based fighting game (e.g. Street Fighter). You still fight in the ring, there are still pins and submissions, but everything else is as close to a fighting game as a game can get. This means that there are no count outs, rope breaks, disqualifications, annoying referees, or anything else to distract you from beating the tar out of your opponent. Your arsenal of moves includes multiple strong and weak grapples, strong and weak strikes, charged attacks and running attacks as well as the ability to reverse moves.
The game has a fairly clean heads-up display, and only has a grand total of three gauges to worry about. After you beat up an opponent for a bit, two gauges fill. One gauge is your “signature move” gauge; once a segment is full one can perform a damaging signature move. Running also uses up your signature move energy, so it’s better to not be cowardly as you will be neutering your attack strength pretty rapidly. The other gauge is your “finishing move” gauge; it fills up until you have built up enough momentum to attempt your finishing move. This attack is the strongest one that you can do, and if your opponent is especially weak it can cause a knock out leading to an instant win. While wrestling, one has to keep an eye on the health bar. As with many games of this type you have multiple stages of this bar beginning with a green one, then yellow, then orange, then red, and finally blinking red. If you make it to blinking red a well placed finishing maneuver is all it takes to end the match.
Earlier I mentioned a combo system that had been put into place. While not as robust as ones found in games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, this combo system works pretty well if you get the hang of it. Since all of the moves in the game are over-exaggerated, one example of a nice combo is found with the character of the Ultimate Warrior. One of his strong strike moves makes him jump into the air to perform a crazy double axe-handle. This pops your opponent into the air just long enough that a few well placed weak strikes can punch them out of the ring, where you can follow the whole thing up with a ring dive. When someone is in the air, you can also literally grab them with a grapple and finish them with a suplex or any other grapple move. If done well, combos like this can really turn the tide in a match, and each character has their own combo style.
My only real gripe with the gameplay is that the A.I. seems to be hell-bent on attacking the player character if given a choice between them and another A.I. character. On multiple occasions I witnessed the other two characters in a given 3-way match drop everything, seemingly call a truce, and chase me around with hatred in their eyes. This is not an issue when an even number of grapplers is present (e.g. fatal four way or tornado tag) but once it’s down to three, watch out! This is no game breaker, but it is pretty annoying to deal with most of the time. Maybe a patch can help balance this out in the future.
The game comes with a handful of modes including “Path of Champions”, “Fantasy Warfare”, “Exhibition”, “Create a Superstar” and “Online”.
Path of Champions is sort of like the “Road to Wrestlemania” modes found in this game’s sister franchise, but differs in that it is much less like a “story mode” than a ladder of matches, ala Mortal Kombat. There are three of these paths, one pitting a player against the “legends” culminating in a match against the Undertaker at Summer Slam, one where the player wrestles the younger “Superstars” to finally face Randy Orton, and a final path for a tag team to eventually face off against Degeneration X. These Path of Champions matches are a great introduction to the basic gameplay in this game, as they give you just about every game option available, one at a time. You usually begin in a simple 1 on 1 match, then a 3-way, 4-way, cage match, etc. By the end of these bouts, you should be pretty used to the game's controls and nuances.
Fantasy Warfare is a pretty slick, albeit simple, set of matches where the developers have created a series of “dream matches” to play through. The first one available is “best Warrior”, a match that pits the Ultimate Warrior from Parts Unknown against the Celtic warrior Sheamus. This is accompanied by a professional video package edited together from real footage like the ones featured on TV. These packages were awesome as it really gets you pumped for whatever matches you're about to compete in. Other matches include Andre the Giant vs. The Big Show and Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero. The true highlight for me was the few occasions where the video package made it look like an actual feud was building between the superstars. One featured C.M. Punk against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a bout billed as “best lifestyle”. The feud seemed to boil down to Punk’s insistence that the straight edge path was best and that Stone Cold should lay off the beer. Videos from old promos were spliced together to look as if these two were actually arguing in the ring, a truly nice touch.
The Create a Superstar mode is a nice addition, but lacks the amount of polish found in other games. I was able to make a pretty convincing “The Monster” Abyss from Rival TNA Wrestling, but would be hard-pressed to create “anybody” like I’m used to in WWE Smackdown Vs Raw. Maybe if these games keep coming out this feature can be expanded.
WWE All Stars has a handful of online features that should keep the game interesting for quite a while. This includes player matches, ranked matches, as well as a leaderboard. Downloadable content is an option, but as of the writing of the review, no such content was available. The matchmaking service appears to be quite similar to the ones found in other games by THQ, and is usually pretty stable. Sometimes you have to wait a little bit for people to join your game, but I never had to wait more than just a few minutes. This will no doubt improve as more people start playing online.
Now that all of the fun stuff is out of the way, it’s time to look at the technical aspects of the game. WWE All Stars excels at keeping its art style fairly consistent in all areas. No character looks out of place amongst the others, and the models are very detailed despite the stylized appearance. The game does seem to have borrowed the ring, entranceway, and a few other assets from the WWE Smackdown vs Raw games, which means that the audience and other small features are not rendered in the same style.
The soundtrack to this game is basically all the official “theme music” from the multitude of wrestlers found within. Any “sports” game that isn’t jam packed with repetitive licensed radio music is fine with me. It’s hard to fault the musical score, but it doesn’t really excel either. As for the audio, the game is full of a basic commentary from Jerry “the King” Lawler and J.R. While nothing special, the commentary does add a bit of flavor to the matches, and brings it in-line with the actual TV product.
For a full-priced game, WWE All Stars offers good value for your money. While it doesn’t have the full blown feature list found in the WWE Smackdown vs Raw games, this game really isn’t the same kind of game. If you compare this to a fighter such as Street Fighter IV, you will notice that the features, character count, and other aspects are in-line with other games in the genre. Once DLC gets rolling, and characters hopefully get added in, that value will only go up. If you were to play through all the modes with all of the characters in order to unlock all of the alternate costumes and hidden characters, you get a large amount of gameplay out of the game, and if you play games for trophies and achievements expect it to take up even more time.
In conclusion, “fun” wrestling games were a thing of the past until today. WWE All Stars is just what the doctor ordered for lapsed fans of the genre. Gone are the complex controls, boring management simulations, and long story modes, all replaced with a bit of stylish butt-kicking. While fans of the more hardcore games may not love this, it will especially appeal to younger fans. I’m not saying that this is a “kid’s game”, but it should definitely appeal more to that demographic. I can also see this game engaging kids in such a way that they learn to really appreciate wrestlers of the past, which is always a good thing. Despite some A.I. issues and a weak 'create a character' mode, WWE All Stars is a must buy for wrestling fans. “And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold says so…”