April 14, 2011 by Paul Curtin
The biggest problem with THQ’s WWE games is how stale the franchise has become. WWE’s Smackdown vs. RAW series has been one of the only wrestling games on the market for years, and because of this, THQ has taken the Madden approach and has been releasing new versions of the game annually. While new games are always welcome, annual games don’t give developers enough time to fully develop a true sequel that’s worth $60. What’s even worse is that the WWE SvR series has run on the same graphics engine since the days of PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and now 8 years later, it’s really starting to show.
One of the first things you’ll notice when playing WWE All Stars is that it looks completely different than the Smackdown vs. Raw series. That’s because All Stars ironically doesn’t use the same graphics engine as SvR, and instead uses the same Unreal Engine that Midway used to make the TNA Wrestling game back in 2008. In addition to using the same engine, many of the same developers who were responsible for TNA Impact! were brought on to THQ’s team to create All Stars. Although THQ has taken the same approach of improving upon an older graphics build to create a new game, All Stars’ looks nothing like 2008’s Impact! and due to the cartoonish, over-the-top character models, the game looks fresh and original. The only bad part about the the visuals is the crowd’s graphics, which most wouldn’t mind, but fans of both sports and wrestling games take very seriously. The crowd is made up of pretty much the same exact male character model with almost zero detail and with the only difference being an alternating colored shirt on certain models used to keep the crowd from looking like one giant blurry blob.
But crowd physics aren’t what make or break a wrestling game; it’s the gameplay mechanics that decide that, and THQ has managed to bring back what has made wrestling games so successful in the first place: the fun and ease of playing them. Unlike the Smackdown vs. Raw series, which has become more of a simulator than a game and features hundreds of button combinations like other fighting games, All Stars uses a very simple button system that is made up of four main buttons that allow for soft/hard strikes and soft/hard grapples by simply pushing one button at a time. Each wrestler also has signature and finishing moves that can be achieved once a combat meter is built up and are easily executed by pushing two buttons at once. The only other thing a player has to worry about are the reversals, which again are achieved by tapping one button at the right time when indicated on screen.
The simple fighting controls are what make the game so much fun to pick up and play, no matter what your previous experience with fighting games might be. While you may start off button mashing, you’ll quickly learn which buttons do what and will be stringing together crazy looking combos in no time. And the over-the-top combo visuals are what make the gameplay so rewarding. It doesn’t take but one or two buttons to execute a ridiculous move twenty feet in the air or kick your opponent and send him flying out of the ring like a ragdoll. The controls fit perfectly for the arcade-style gameplay and almost work flawlessly with only the occasional missed grapple that fails to register, which usually only adds to the intensity of a match.
In addition to tons of great moves, WWE All Stars features a roster of 30 current and classic superstars. Players can choose to play as today’s popular wrestlers, like John Cena and Triple H, or legends of the ring, like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. There’s even the option to alternate ring attire on certain superstars so you can play as today’s Undertaker or old school Taker with the classic purple gloves. The character art direction of the game goes perfect with the over-the-top gameplay and wrestlers look far bigger than they do in real life to match their larger than life personas. Wrestlers don’t have individual stats and instead are broken down into four different classes: Acrobat (Macho Man Randy Savage, Rey Mysterio), Big Man (Andre the Giant, Big Show), Brawler (The Rock, John Cena), and Grappler (Bret “Hit Man” Hart, Triple H). Each character class allows for different styles of gameplay and moves to be executed like highflying with the Acrobat and knockout punches with the Big Man.
Like previous WWE games, there’s a vast create-a-character mode that unfortunately isn’t as advanced as the one featured in the Smackdown vs. Raw series but still puts any other game’s create-a-character to shame. So even if one of your favorite wrestlers isn’t in the game, you can always make him or some other hideous monstrosity that will provide you and your friends hours of hilarious extra entertainment.
With All Stars playing like an arcade fighter, it’s no surprise that there isn’t much in terms of a single player story mode. However, there is a Path of Champions mode which features a couple entertaining cutscenes and allows a player to fight his way to the top and win a championship match by wrestling and defeating opponents in ten different matches. There’s also Fantasy Warfare, which features some of the greatest potential matches of all time by pitting WWE Legends against today’s current WWE Superstars. Fantasy Warfare has some real life cutscenes that explain the stories behind the wrestlers before each matchup that are worth a watch and a good history lesson for anyone who isn’t that familiar with professional wrestling.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m very pro WWE All Stars; however, the game isn’t without some major flaws that are worth pointing out. One of the biggest problems with All Stars is its lack of features. THQ can argue that many features like crowd physics and entrances were downgraded to improve gameplay and load times, but I feel it’s sadly another example of classic WWE games nickel and diming their fans. While I have no problem with less effort being put into crowds and ring entrances, not having match types like the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber or objects like tables and ladders are a huge letdown. Most would agree that playing Rumbles with 30 created characters is one of the funniest and best features of previous wrestling games; only being allowed to have 4-man matches is very lame and a feature that THQ needs to change in the next game.
Another huge letdown is the online experience. There’s no option to download other people’s created wrestlers and friends can’t join ranked matches together. Worst of all are the connection issues that you’ll run into when trying to play online. I can’t count how many times I’ve been booted by the game when in a lobby that my friend or I have made, or how many times the game has stopped in the middle of the match and sent everyone back to the menu screen. Sometimes you and three other people will wait up to ten minutes in a full pregame lobby waiting for the game to load characters (not even create-a-characters) and start the game. I haven’t played a wrestling game online in years, but I would think with other online games allowing for 8/16/32/64/128/256 people playing all at once, that a wrestling game that only involves 4 players should load instantly and almost never have lag.
Even with its flaws, WWE All Stars might just be the best wrestling game of all time. With its simple controls anyone can enjoy its ridiculously fun, over-the-top arcade style of gameplay. The packed roster and vast create-a-character system allow for you to create almost any matchup you can think of, and online play (if it works) lets players bring their creations online for the whole world to see. All Stars truly is a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s worth every penny. Hopefully with the success of All Stars, we’ll see a sequel within a year or two that will improve upon some of the game’s problems and include fan-favorite modes and features left out of the first game for whatever reason. WWE All Stars gets 4 out of 5 stars (Great)
- Simple controls make it fun to play no matter what the player’s skill level might be
- Cartoon-like art style and graphics are a perfect fit for the over-the-top arcade-style gameplay
- A big roster with tons of legendary wrestlers not present in previous WWE games
- Like other WWE games, Create-A-Character is very in-depth and allows for almost any look to be achieved with thousands of options
- All match modes available to play online via multiplayer with friends
- Tons of features from the Smackdown vs. Raw series are not present, such as the Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber match types
- The same wrestler cannot be picked and used by multiple players in a match
- Graphics in some areas, like the crowd, are very poor
- Multiplayer connection issues cause very bad lag and slow load times make it hard to play online
- Cannot play multiplayer ranked matches with a friend