In my opinion professional wrestling video games peaked during the N64 era and have been on a downward spiral of mediocrity over the years. After replacing the SmackDown series with last year’s WWE ’12, THQ rejuvenated its sports entertainment expertise with momentous changes and improvements. With WWE ’13 they’ve managed to keep the momentum going by incorporating a tribute to the greatest era in professional wrestling history.
Fan-favorite Road to WrestleMania has been replaced with the Attitude Era mode – a six-chapter virtual trip through memory lane, highlighting WWE’s iconic matches from the late ’90s. Enriched with an impressive collection of archival footage, you will participate in matches with superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, and Mankind. Each match can be completed by using a standard array of grapples, strikes, and pins, but they also contain “historical objectives,” which task the player with re-creating specific moments from the match. Completing a “historical objective” is challenging but you will will reap the rewards of a considerable amount of unlockable content.
Last year’s entry simplified much of the action after years of overly complicated and confusing controls. WWE ’13 doesn’t alter much, but pulling off complex moves is a lot more accessible. Strikes, Irish whips, and grapples are easy to execute, the wide range of reversal opportunities keeps the action intense, and the recovery time from attacks are short enough to keep the flow of the match moving smoothly. Performing reversals was definitely one of the more difficult maneuvers due to the incredibly small time you had to react. Thankfully, WWE ’13 now provides feedback on your technique, letting you know if you were too early or late with your reaction. The agonizing, button-mashing Breaking Point system is still present, but now a wrestler has a chance to pull themselves to the ropes to break the hold, an option previously missing.
The Predator Technology returns featuring new animations and graphics, while sharp, aren’t too much of an upgrade from last year. The camera system has been slightly improved but it often can’t decide what perspective it wants to feature and performs jarring angle shifts, throwing your positional awareness completely off. The camera is efficient during the triggering of WWE’s Spectacular Moments, such as putting someone through a table, steel cage, or barricade. WWE ’13 features a massive roster of 105 superstars past and present (counting the ones available via DLC), with some wrestlers being represented multiple times to show off their evolution over time.
One area that the franchise has already struggled to excel in is the commentary banter during matches. The play-by-play is well below par, with J.R. or Michael Cole simply stating the move and after some time, Jerry Lawler will almost discordantly chime in with some analysis. During Attitude Era mode, THQ pulls in some sound clips straight from archival broadcasts. In these moments, the commentary suddenly springs to life, having a flow and conversational tone that the games otherwise lack. These are fleeting moments, though, and when they’re gone, the chatter is back to its repetitive self.
If you’d rather not reminisce in the ’90s, WWE Universe mode is still available, and as deep as ever before. With even more customization options, players can plan, adjust, and most importantly play through years of weekly programming for Raw and SmackDown, as well as Pay-Per-Views. The story options are a bit random and minor, but the sheer amount of modification available means you can mold it into as worthwhile a campaign as you wish. You can simulate every match of every show or opt to play them out yourself. But you can’t make absolute decisions. The game makes those decisions for you. While you can influence wrestler rankings by playing through matches and ensuring who you want to win wins, it’s no guarantee of what will happen.
WWE games have featured great creation modes for a long time, and WWE ’13 doesn’t disappoint. Built up over the years by Yuke, the large amount of tools available at your disposal for creating wrestlers, moves, storylines, and environments is still astounding. All your hard-work can be shared online in an extensive community feature that accompanies the multiplayer portion. WWE ’13 now allows players to play online with their custom creations without the need to tediously upload that content first. The actual process of sharing and accessing content could use some work, however. Though speed tests raised no issues, the actual user interface is a bit dull – it’s difficult to determine what type of content (arena, superstar, etc.) you’re looking at, and there’s no progress bar or time estimate once you’ve committed to transferring data.
WWE ’13 isn’t quite as revolutionary as its predecessor, but thanks to a superior campaign mode and tighter gameplay, it’s drastically more enjoyable. It is a full step forward with much improved gameplay and game modes. For fans of the franchise, this is a nice bold step forward from the momentous step the franchise took a year ago.
Editor’s Note: WWE ’13 was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.