Let me get one thing straight right away. WWE All Stars is not, in any shape or form, anything like its Smackdown Vs Raw counterpart. Whereas the latter is a sim heavy, realistic adaptation of the WWE’s onscreen action, replete with tons of game modes, true to real life TV-style presentation and career modes, as well as a huge roster, All Stars is a very different beast.
Ditching the goal of emulating its source material to the letter, All Stars has taken a different route, and whilst it features all of the big WWE names, from past and present, don’t mistake authenticity for realism. This is a pure, off the rails arcade scrapper at heart, and one that’s pretty damn good.
Featuring thirty superstars and legends out of the box, with more to come via DLC, All Stars is about epic, cartoon-style wrestling combat, and a single glance at the game’s roster of action figure-esque stars instantly confirms this is no serious wrestling sim. Instead, the core gameplay is all about fast and fluid strikes, combos, grapples and specials, with little to distract from this central feature.
Now, although I’ve stated this title is far from Smackdown Vs Raw, it’s hard not to compare some features. After all, Smackdown Vs Raw fans are undoubtedly interested in the game, and expectations will abound.
Unlike Smackdown Vs Raw, there’s a very limited range of game modes and match types. These include one-off exhibition matches, the Path of Champion story mode, Fantasy Warfare and Xbox Live. Match types include 1 vs. 1, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way, Tornado Tag, elimination, cage match and Extreme Rules. There’s no traditional tag, or other popular match types such as Hell in a Cell or Royal Rumble, and there’s no sign of a career mode.
This may sound like a bad thing, and to those who love Smackdown Vs Raw‘s deep and longevity-boosting Universe modes and plethora of match types, it may be a sticking point. However, as a big fan of the Smackdown Vs Raw series, and one that revels in the many and varied modes, I can honestly say that the lack of modes doesn’t hurt All Stars that much.
You see, what you need to realise is that All Stars is a different experience to Smackdown Vs Raw, and should be taken as such. This is a quick, brutal wrestling fix that’s all about the combat, not the extra frosting of realistic entrances, evolving Universe modes or title shots. As long as you take it for what it is, All Stars quickly becomes an epic and satisfying title.
In fact, when it comes to the actual wrestling, All Stars hits Smackdown Vs Raw with an RKO of mammoth proportions. Although in need of an overhaul, Smackdown Vs Raw‘s combat is decent enough, but compared to the fast and smooth combat system seen in All Stars, it’s distinctly decrepit.
Here you can effortlessly string together powerful combo strikes, pull off painful grapples and hit superstar signatures and finishers with ease, all thanks to a great control scheme and a solid fighting engine that isn’t plagued with the numerous bugs and glitches found in its more realistic counterpart.
The basic controls are simple, as are key combinations for specials, and the background mechanics are solid too. As you fight and do damage to your opponent, you build up your superstar’s power meter. When you fill a section, you can hit a signature move, which will then drain the bar one level. As well as this, you have a finisher bar, which also fills up as you fight. Once full, you can hit your character’s finishing move or can store it for use later on.
Wear your opponent down enough, or land a particularly strong hit, and they’ll glow red, meaning that a finisher will knock them out cold, winning the match instantly. Be careful, though. The same applies to you. It’s all very straightforward, and is all the better for it. And, whilst the controls are simple enough, mastering each character is far from simple.
There are four types of character class, including brawler, grappler, acrobat and big man. Each class has their own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities, making each play very differently. For example, acrobats, whilst weaker than most, are fast and can use a wide range of flashy jumping moves, and they can utilise springboard attacks off the ropes and out of the ring. Big men are powerhouses that move slowly, but can pack a mighty punch, and grapplers specialise in strong grapple moves and can chain multiple such moves together. Brawlers are strongest at strikes and combos and are perhaps the most well rounded.
One of the key skills to master in All Stars is the reversal and counter system. This requires a lot of practise, and if you use it correctly, you can reverse almost any move, even finishers. It’s a simple system, but takes a long time to get right, and perfect timing is the secret. Once you crack this, you’ll be nigh on unstoppable.
All of these elements make for a truly great wrestling experience that’s as open to players new to the genre as it is challenging to veteran fans. It’s a far cry from the clunky system seen in Smackdown Vs Raw, and Yuke’s really needs to take note.
Add to this the ridiculous over the top enhancements and superhuman stylings, and you’ve got a title that’s hugely enjoyable. Even the audio quality dwarves Smackdown Vs Raw, thanks to great crowd FX and commentary that’s actually relevant to what’s going on and sounds enthusiastic, adding to the big match atmosphere.
The game modes encompassing this top notch combat are interesting enough, if a little meagre. The path of Champions mode comes in three flavours, each pitting your chosen superstar against a gauntlet of foes with the goal of reaching the current title champions, including World Heavyweight champion, the Undertaker, WWE champ, Randy Orton and Tag Team favourites, Degeneration-X. Each story includes some nifty cutscenes, and as you unlock extra features with each character completion, there’s incentive to play through again and again.
The Fantasy Warfare mode is great and pits legend versus superstar, to decide who the best of the best is. These match-ups include the best big man (Andre the Giant vs. Big Show), excellence of execution (Bret Hart vs. Edge), best warrior (The Ultimate Warrior vs. Sheamus) and much more, all preceded by a well produced video montage of WWE footage.
It’s good stuff, but even given the obvious move to arcade action, it’s hard not to miss some of the more in-depth modes we’ve come to expect from a WWE title. Some form of career mode would have been welcome, or even a tournament mode, something to keep things interesting. As it is, the actual game play is enough to keep you coming back, but I would have liked a bit more meat on the bone.
Speaking of undernourished content, the create-a-wrestler mode is woefully basic here. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Smackdown Vs Raw‘s masterful CAW creation tools, but All Stars doesn’t even try to compete. You can create a wide range of characters, sure, but you can only choose existing superstar or legend move sets (no assigning individual moves), and use set entrances, either existing superstars or one of a handful of generic options. There’s no option to use your own music (despite the custom soundtracks feature on the back of the box), and the whole feature is pretty pointless for those wanting to build their own combatant from scratch.
Lacking features and basic game modes aside, though, don’t be put off. The brilliant combat, striking visual style, masses of polish and WWE fan service all add up to a great WWE title that isn’t afraid to do something a little different, even to the point of competing against more traditional one on one fighting titles.
This is an all-out fun wrestling title, pure and simple. If you’re a wrestling fan, then you should definitely grab this. If you’re not a wrestling fan, give the demo a try, you just might be converted.WWE All Stars is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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