There's a recurring debate over whether or not video game developers releasing yearly iterations of their most popular titles is detrimental to their overall quality. After the decidedly mixed reaction to Assassin's Creed III, even more people are now questioning whether these big franchises should take a break in between sequels. The success of WWE '13, then, comes as a pleasant surprise.
THQ and Yuke's annual professional wrestling series has been stuck in the doldrums for a while now. While WWE '12 made some notable changes and improvements, it still had a bunch of problems that, unless you were a wrestling fan who was happy to overlook crucial faults in game design for the sake of getting to grapple with your favourite stars, ultimately prevented it from being the first great pro wrestling video game since the PlayStation 2's SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain. Thankfully, WWE '13 marks a clear upgrade in quality for the series.
The most obvious improvement is its much-hyped Attitude Era mode. A vast improvement on last year's shambolic Road to WrestleMania, Attitude Era mode takes players on a historical tour throughout the most important matches in the most important era of World Wrestling Entertainment's history, from the infamous Montreal Screwjob through to Mankind and Undertaker's brutal Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring '98. Each match also has 'Historical Objectives,' which encourage the player to complete matches the way they were completed in reality. These Historical Objectives include everything from hitting your opponent with a steel chair to putting them through the announcer's table, and add extra incentives to each fight for completionists such as myself.
The Attitude Era mode was clearly made with love and care from the developers, and the time and effort put into it has worked wonders. Whereas Road to Wrestlemania was a chore you had to endure in order to open up various unlockables, Attitude Era keeps you coming back for all the right reasons. Universe mode has also returned, too, with minor improvements such as the ability to add and delete shows from the schedule, and helps make WWE '13 a much more refined single-player experience than anyone could have anticipated.
But the comprehensiveness of the Attitude Era mode would be for naught if the fighting system wasn't up to scratch, and even though WWE '13 doesn't drastically improve upon the foundations that WWE '12 laid down, it does feature a few changes that make for a more dynamic and fluid experience. Fighters now move faster than they did before, and weight detection has been added as an option, meaning that Rey Mysterio will no longer be able to lift Big Show onto his shoulders like an ant carrying a boulder.
The introduction of OMG! Moments, as I am loathed to call them, is also a welcome addition. OMG! Moments allow you to use a stored finisher in order to pull off a spectacular move, including smashing your opponent through the fan barricade and, if you and your opponent are both super heavyweights, making the ring collapse underneath you following a superplex from the top rope. Catch Finishers also spice up the action, allowing you to hit your opponent with a finisher mid-air, and make for dramatic conclusions to matches.
The creation suite this year doesn't feature many notable new additions, except for the return of the Championship Editor that allows players to create their own belts, and arenas are now fully customisable rather than just the ring and the area surrounding it. This hardly matters, however, as WWE '13's customisation features are still more comprehensive than most other games on the market today, and will inevitably see fans sinking many hours into creating their own superstars, entrances and finishing moves.
But the real hook of the WWE video games has always been brawling with friends, and offline it's as fun as ever. All the modes from WWE '12 are there, and even old favourites such as Special Referee matches and the King of the Ring tournament have returned. Replacing the wonky A.I. opponents - who are still prone to meandering aimlessly around the ring even on the highest difficulty setting - with human opponents improves the gameplay drastically.
Unfortunately, WWE '13's online component still hasn't improved since WWE '12. The server is prone to crashing, games often disconnect, it's impossible to change the game type when in a lobby and the time it takes to join a game ranges between 3-4 minutes. While there's plenty of fun to be had if you and your friends are persistent enough to wait patiently in the hopes that you'll eventually be able to start up a game, it's still disheartening that WWE '13 is such an improvement over its recent predecessors, yet is still embarrassingly dated when it comes to online gameplay.
WWE '13's lacklustre online mode isn't its only failing, either. Despite it being arguably the best professional wrestling game we've played thus far, old problems that have been apparent throughout the series continue to persist. The audio remains sub-par, with commentary feeling stiff and, in the Attitude Era mode especially, is often drowned out by the roar of the crowd. Some of the character models for the wrestlers also look a little "off," with Shawn Michaels and The Rock in particular both looking like waxwork versions of their real-life counterparts. Submission moves are also still as overpowered as ever, and matches against human opponents will often be won by nothing more than a simple Camel Clutch or Full Nelson hold.
But despite lingering problems, WWE '13 is still a great game that, for the first time in the series' history, combines a compelling single-player experience with fun multiplayer. For wrestling fans both new and old, this is a must buy.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline bought one copy of WWE '13 for the Xbox 360. We played through its Attitude Era mode, WWE Universe mode and plenty of exhibition matches both online and off.