I write this on the back of the worst Wrestlemania I have ever seen. The biggest stars of the WWE are either on their way out or already gone. You could draw a parallel between the WWE in its current state and the WWE games of late. The best days of wrestling games seem to be firmly in the past, and for almost the entire current generation, THQ has been content with pushing out one game a year with little changes. It’s no surprise then that things have started to stagnate. Tired of the yearly incremental changes, fans have been demanding a significant upgrade to the Smackdown vs Raw series. And THQ has finally obliged. Handed off to a different developer (Yuke’s used to the the SvR series till now), WWE All Stars is as close to a complete makeover as you can get in the series.
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Gone is the realistic (stop laughing) style of the current games and in comes the arcade-like experience that resembles the old WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game more than the current crop. Everything is done in an over-the-top way. The moves are exaggerated to physics-defying limits and the wrestlers look like cartoonish caricatures of their real selves. For all its flaws I am about to list out, I have to admit the first impression the game makes is quite positive. The best thing is that despite all the changes here, the core of the game does feel familiar. It consists of the usual SvR staple of strikes, grapples and reversals. In fact, the whole control scheme will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played a recent WWE game. So credit to THQ San Diego; they managed to create a new experience without alienating the current fanbase.
It helps that the new gameplay is fun too. For a while anyway. Its hard not to grin madly when Triple H lifts someone 10 feet in the air to deliver a Pedigree. The roster is pretty good and chances are you will find your favorite wrestler in there. There are no divas included though. Aside from that, the only obvious omissions are wrestlers that were (I am guessing) tied into other wrestling promotions. This wouldn’t be a problem in the past WWE games. If you were missing a superstar, you would just go online and find out how to create him in the Create a Wrestler mode. The number of customization options were almost overwhelming. Which sort of segues me into one of my bigger gripes with the game. The Create a Wrestler mode has been heavily gimped. The choices are far, far less than what they used to be in the previous games, and worse, you can’t even create a move set for your created wrestler. You just have to pick some other guy who is in the roster and take his move set. For a series that even let you create your own finisher upto a year ago, this seems like a criminal case of neglect.
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The Create a Wrestler mode isn’t the only thing thats been gimped. Gone too are the multiple match types. Previously you could pick from a list of matches that included ridiculously fun stuff like TLC (tables, ladders and chairs), hell in a cell, money in the bank, etc, but none of them exist here. All you are left with is steel cage, hardcore and tag team matches aside from your usual normal matches. You could argue that some of those changes are necessary from a gameplay point of view and to a certain extent you would be right. Its hard to see how a money in the bank match would work with the current gameplay, but still, you cant help but feel that the game has cut down on content quite seriously.
Also on the receiving end of a scissor is the single player mode. Gone is the long season mode with a WWE style story. In its stead we have three different career “paths” to complete, which is just a fancy way of saying you fight 10 AI opponents in a row to finally fight against a superstar. There is no story to it and very little in the way of dialogue and writing. Its just a series of fights capped off by a final showdown. I lost my will to continue half way through the first one. It just feels so purposeless, like playing CTF with bots in Unreal tournament. There is also a Fantasy Warfare game mode, which pits current superstars against past wrestling greats, but again, without a background or a story there isn’t much motivation to play through it. And even if you do, its only gonna last you 10 matches or so.
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Still, if you ever buy a WWE game, multiplayer is as big a part of the game as the single player, and multiplayer here is quite a lot of fun. You can play it on the same console or online. Personally, I prefer it on the same console (nothing like betraying a friend at the last possible second), but online works quite smoothly as well. There weren’t too many people playing, but whenever I got into a match, I didn’t notice any significant lag. I did, however, end up on a four-match losing streak before I quit out. So maybe some skill-based matchmaking wouldn’t hurt.
There are some other minor gripes. The lack of a tutorial section means the learning curve is fairly steep if you want to get good at the game. The on-screen reversal indicators are grossly mistimed, i.e. by the time the reversal prompt comes up on screen, your window of opportunity has already passed. Lastly, for some reason, they also got rid of the targeting indicators, which can be a problem in matches where four people are involved. Oh, and the loading times deserve a mention as well. Even with the game installed to the hard drive, you end up spending way too much time staring at loading screens. None of these issues are game breaking, but I do wish they had all been addressed.
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Despite all of these issues, I had fun with the game, especially when I played it with friends. But at the end of the day, there is just not enough content here to keep you happy for more than a weekend or two. Even in multiplayer, you can only play the pitiful few match types on offer for so long before getting bored. Borrow it for a weekend from a friend to give it a look. Aside from that, there isn’t much here I can recommend.