Much like past games, WWE 13 continues to push the illusion of wrestling, which is perfectly acceptable. It's a combat game with fighting mechanics, and some of those mechanics have been cleaned up since last year. One-button reversals now have an added indicator to tell you if your trigger finger is too fast or too slow (based on the small window to execute reversals, it often is). The "OMG" moments addition provide spectacular, albeit circumstantial events that can turn the tide of matches – things like trucking an opponent through the outside barrier by the crowd or heavier opponents actually causing the ring to collapse. Aside from these improvements, the in-ring action hasn't seen much change; players seem to transition a little more smoothly between moves, and most of the buggy, "jarring" animations in WWE 12 were cleaned up. Wrestling feels largely the same in this game, just a touch more fluid.
WWE 13 ditched the iconic Road to WrestleMania mode this year in favor of an Attitude Era campaign. Banking on historic moments in wrestling (and arguably the best years in the business), players are guided through the Monday Night Wars, starting with the formation of the D-Generation X stable. In every bout, players are given primary and historical objectives to achieve, which results in a constant stream of unlockable content. Taking cues from goal-based historic gameplay from previous games like WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a brilliant change, something that will keep players going through the entirety of the adventure.
"Far from perfect" becomes a tiring phrase to use here, but it's certainly applicable as I found I could immediately access the DX taunts and spotted DX t-shirts on members of the in-game crowd, all before the team's formation in the history of events. While it sounded as if Howard Finkel was the man introducing each contestant in the 1997 match between Shawn Michaels and Mankind (as it should be), it was current ring announcer Justin Roberts' character model standing in the ring. Though Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler team up to provide running commentary, historical audio clips after the match end are often incredibly loud compared to the canned discussions during the matches. Another bizarre, amusing note: The "F" is bleeped from the term "WWF" in all audio clips taken from real-life matches (thanks World Wildlife Fund).
Aside from some of these gaffes, the Attitude Era mode is excellent. Being involved in the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" and other incredible moments such as – Mankind being chokeslammed through the Hell in a Cell, Ken Shamrock forcing The Rock to tap out to an ankle lock at King of the Ring – is perfect for older fans that want to relive wrestling history. The video packages, as one would expect from a WWE product, are expertly produced and give players adequate context for the ongoing timeline. You feel as if you're part of a fluid period in history, a core part of a sequence of events all presented in an entertaining way. It's unfortunate that licensing limitations likely keep players from experiencing the WCW side of events during though (oh, to dream).
With all the work that went into the Attitude Era mode, the rest of WWE 13 feels a little lacking. With no Road to WrestleMania mode present this year, fans are forced to make do with the still-solid WWE Universe mode, THQ's means of providing a dynamically generated, unending wrestling story. WWE Universe gives players the opportunity to create their own match cards and/or enjoy the game's automatically-generated feuds. Playing through episodes of SmackDown and Raw leading up to Pay-Per-View events is as fun as it was last year.
It's hard, however, to point out the improvements in the mode compared to the flaws. Sneaking up on John Cena and delivering an F-5 as Brock Lesnar was met with zero commentary and a quiet audience. Speaking of Cena, regardless of whether you set the man as a hero or villain in the game, I never heard a single "let's go Cena / Cena sucks" chant, a glaring, disappointingly unrealistic omission. Daniel Bryan does get the "yes" chant during his entrance, though.
The overall attention to detail in WWE 13 is, for lack of a better term, indecisive. If there's one thing about a WWE production that deserves commendation, it's how detailed these moments in wrestling history are. That's why pulling off a 619 finishing move with Rey Mysterio in front of a dead crowd with zero commentary quips felt empty and entirely unsatisfying. It doesn't help that the game's camera angles will occasionally flip out and put your wrestler out of immediate view, causing you to miss crucial reversals. Where Attitude Era is greeted with excitement, everything else about the game rarely gets the same treatment.
These empty moments are particularly frustrating in the face of WWE 13's overall wonderful production values. Top-notch talent seem to get more lifelike detail in the game, as Triple H and CM Punk have practically spot-on recreations. Moving down the card requires players to be more lenient with THQ's depictions, as wrestlers such as Ted DiBiase aren't perfect by any means. Then you hit ugly patches in the game, as heard in the more modern commentary by Lawler and Michael Cole. Canned discussion between both men during matches gets immediately tiring and repetitive, and not exciting enough when it should be.
Actually playing matches online is a mixed bag. Competing in an online six-man battle royale was a chore, with latency issues just noticeable enough to make me miss nearly every reversal opportunity I had, though less time-sensitive maneuvers were much easier. One-on-one ranked matches fared better, and went off without a hitch. Based on THQ's spotty history in online modes, WWE 13 isn't surprising in many ways, it simply gets the job done. Certain matches may be unreliable, but it's worth noting that WWE 13's online is still a marked improvement over WWE 12's atrocious offering.
Again, in pro wrestling, detail is everything. Where WWE 13 shines in its attention to detail, especially in the dedicated ways it brings the Attitude Era to life, it falls just a few steps short in other modes. Fans of the series should have few troubles getting into this year's game, and both former and current fans alike should absolutely play the game for the single player campaign alone. JR's term "slobberknocker" may be the most appropriate way to describe WWE 13, a game that has a number of rough edges but still comes up victorious in the end.
This review is based on retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of WWE 13, provided by THQ.
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