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Publisher: THQ (Note: 2K Sports re-published it in 2013 after THQ folded)
Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: October 30, 2012 (US), November 1, 2012 (Australia) and November 2, 2012 (UK)
Consoles: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
In 2012, it was announced that the next installment in the flagship WWE videogame series would be dedicated to The Attitude Era. Now, I loved this period in wrestling history; it was by far the greatest time to ever be a wrestling fan. And I had hoped for a dedicated videogame for this era for a long time. (I know there were some at the time, but I'm talking about a modern game looking back on it.) But to remodel the present-day game to hark back to the past? Granted, WWE's product at the time could have been better, but the annual game should reflect the last 12 months rather than ignore current names. So, whilst I was looking forward to seeing some old faces again, there was a danger that the modern era would feel a bit secondary.
Having played the game, I can't honestly say that WWE '13 succeeds at positioning the 2012 era WWE alongside the Attitude Era WWF/WWE. The key mode for modern names is Universe which does deliver a great experience for the hardcore wrestling fan gamer - fans could now create specific shows and dedicated rosters for those programmes - but as the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton and cover star CM Punk would not be involved in the main mode of the game, it did feel like the 2012 era stars were shafted a bit here.
Fortunately, though, this is off-set by the success of the Attitude Era elements. If the intention is to present a retro time period in all its glory rather than showcase the modern era, then it had better be done right. The good news is that, for the large part, it is.
All the big names are here, from Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Triple H to The Undertaker, Kane and Chris Jericho to all three Faces Of (Mick) Foley. The Attitude Era mode covers dozens of memorable matches from summer 1997 to spring 1999 with in-fight challenges, and includes video clips from the key events of the time, from DX to Montreal to Tyson and Austin (yes, Mike Tyson is a character here!) to the Undertaker-Mankind Hell In A Cell match to the Corporation. There are also some post-era bouts, and a couple of extra matches as bonus fights. Classic arenas are here for Raw, SmackDown! and the big PPV events of the time, ranging from WrestleMania XIV to SummerSlam 1998. The old championship designs are here. Some stars have additional costumes to reflect the change in their characters, and some even have several theme songs (hell, Kane even has an option to fight him completely bathed in red lights).
And, going back to the characters, THQ/Yukes did their homework to ensure that all the old favourites who were a) memorable and b) realistically eligible to be included are here. Sure, Kurt Angle, The Hardyz and The Dudleyz aren't here due to their TNA affiliations at the time, and Chyna isn't here because of her, shall we say, distant relationship with WWE. But we do get the aforementioned names plus the McMahons, The New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, Edge, Christian, the APA, Ken Shamrock and plenty of others; including DLC, we even get the likes of Gangrel, Rikishi and Too Cool. In short, when playing this game, it truly does feel like it's 1998 all over again and you are right in the thick of the Attitude Era.
The roster is strong overall, actually: as well as the Attitude Era, the 2012 version of WWE is well-represented by all of the top stars at the time plus a few bonus characters like Kevin Nash, and DLC allows then-newcomers like Damien Sandow and Ryback to feature. That being said, a few people did miss out due to the Attitude Era influence, but the names who were omitted were not as noticeable as those in, say, SmackDown vs. Raw 2008. Some also expressed disappointment that a lot of character slots were used up by duplicates (two Rocks, two Kanes, three Undertakers etc) due to the attempt to make the Attitude Era characters as realistic as possible. I understood this, and in hindsight I could have sacrificed one or two retro duplicates to allow for other wrestlers to feature just once. However, in the big picture, it is a decision that was probably worth making: there are key differences between, say, the 1999 Edge and the 2011 Edge. They could have been in as alternate attires (and they probably really could have for the likes of The Rock and Kane), but it is good to know that when you are playing as, say, the 1998 Undertaker, it really is that version of the Phenom, which makes it that much more nostalgic when playing him against the likes of Stone Cold and Mankind. And since the game, after DLC, provides the largest roster in WWE history (with 105 wrestlers), it's a bit harder to complain.
As for the rest of the game? The gameplay didn't change much, but the changes that were made, I thought, were very good. They were very small, things like making submissions a little easier to achieve success with, but they turned what could be a frustrating playing experience in WWE '12 into a more enjoyable and generally better wrestling model in WWE '13. One key addition to matches is the OMG! moves, a series of animations which, when gaining one or more finishers, can lead to spectacular visuals like a jumping RKO and, best of all, a top rope suplex which causes the ring to give way. Again, not a massive change - you can't do them in every match - but a good one nonetheless.
Elsewhere, sound was improved, but not as much as had been hyped. The crowd chants were better, but then they suddenly went silent. Commentary was a little better, but not massively so. The graphics in some places were very good, but lackluster in others; Bret Hart and, especially, Shawn Michaels look a show. The I Quit match returns after many years out, as does the King Of The Ring tournament. Create An Arena now has some aisle options, which are a bit limited but the addition does allow one to create far more true-to-life venues than in its predecessor. And the online experience still feels a bit sluggish in terms of connection, but is easier to navigate and, given the Attitude theme, via Community Creations, it feels natural to download some Attitude Era wrestlers and venues which weren't here to complete the gaps, and to then use the remaining slots for newer stars or for some old faces who you can't have a wrestling game without.
There are a couple of downsides. The Attitude Era mode is really engaging, but as the main portion finishes at WM XV, some key events are either only hinted at (the Corporate Ministry) or not explored (the classic HHH-Cactus Jack feud of early 2000). Plus, whilst the Monday Night Wars are alluded to, we don't get any WCW names like Goldberg, Ric Flair or Hollywood Hulk Hogan (perhaps because a few were also still locked into TNA at the time); a focus on WCW/nWo would have been the perfect way to conclude a mode on an era which largely happened as a reaction to the new World order. Some Attitude aspects are handled with a PG mindset (e.g. censoring Stone Cold's one-finger salutes). And the game features a glaring number of glitches, from ring announcements suddenly ending to Attitude Era mode scenes strangely switching arenas. A bizarre one that I discovered is that some theme songs are not accessible in Create An Entrance so if you changed the theme song for, say, Road Dogg, you would never get the original one back.
On the whole, though, there is a lot more to like than to dislike about WWE '13. The Attitude Era is integrated brilliantly, even if it would have been better as its own game; a Legends Of WrestleMania based on the Attitude Era, basically. The current era features well enough outside of not having a major mode. Gameplay changes are minor but important. And there is a ton of content and options to keep one busy, from using Community Creations to fill in the Attitude Era gaps to recreating Raw Is War properly in Universe. There is also a Stone Cold collector's edition with some extras based around Austin 3:16.
I went into this game with slightly low expectations, since many had questioned the existence of this game beforehand due to what were conceived as few and irrelevant additions, and due to the amount of faults. However, once I started playing it, I loved it, and although the series has obviously continued since then, I still play WWE '13 fairly regularly. And whilst I do have the nostalgia goggles on when reliving the Attitude Era, I was actually enjoying the game as a wrestling game before I started on the central mode. So, the game does have its flaws, but they are off-set by what it does well, and it becomes the first truly great wrestling game on the PS3 (shame that it took so many years to make one). It does lack a central mode for then-current characters, it could have done with one or two more noticeable additions, and it certainly could have done with fewer glitches. Had those issues been addressed, though, I truly think WWE '13 would have been considered one of the very best WWE games ever. As it is, it remains a great game, and is in my top five or six for the entire series.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent