The history lesson I mentioned in the introduction comes in the form of the all-new Attitude Era, a single-player mode that takes you through the years where WWE established itself as the premier wrestling organization at the expense of the WCW. Attitude Era starts with 'The Rise of D-X', i.e. Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple-H), and you're presented with the chance to replay some of the key fights that made this duo who they are today.
Attitude Era is broken up into a series of chapters highlighting the wrestlers most responsible for the ascension of the WWE. Wrestlers like ‘Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Mick Foley (including his other personas Mankind and Cactus Jack), The Undertaker, Kane and The Rock all feature prominently as well, not to mention WWE President and overlord Vince McMahon.
Within each fight you'll be tasked with a series of objectives, some just to win the match and others classed as ‘historical bonus objectives'. Completing all objectives unlocks something for use in the other game modes. These unlockables come in many forms; historical wrestlers, alternate costumes, championship belts and new arenas. You can check out the criteria for earning unlockables any time; most are tied to completing all bonus objectives in any given Attitude Era match.
Outside of Attitude Era you'll spend most of your time in WWE Universe, where you get to play an endless number of events (Raw, Superstars HD and Smack Down by default) with whichever wrestlers you like. Each event has five auto-generated fights on it, but you can change the wrestlers if you want to. You can also create your own event, picking the wrestler roster of your choice, and which titles are up for grabs. At the end of each month there is a special event, something like a Royal Rumble or Hell in a Cell to participate in.
In the ring the controls are pretty much unchanged from previous years. Square attacks, circle performs an Irish Whip, X grapples and triangle unleashes signature moves and finishers once they've been earned. You earn signature moves and finishers by building momentum; landing consecutive strikes and taunting (with the d-pad) are the best way to do this. Once you have all the momentum you can unload a special move on your hapless foe.
The vast majority of attacking moves can be countered by pressing R2 when you see an on-screen prompt. The window of opportunity to counter a move gets shorter and shorter as you increase the difficulty. On Legendary difficulty the timing window is very small indeed. The window of opportunity to counter a move gets shorter and shorter as you increase the difficulty. On Legendary difficulty the timing window is very small indeed.
There are a phenomenal number of match types to choose from – if you've seen it on TV then it exists in WWE '13. There's Ladder, Table, Steel Cage, Triple Threat, Tag Team, Fatal 4-Way, Handicap, Battle Royale, Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble and more available to choose from. You can also set the rules for any given match, setting things like a special referee, with or without a manager, extreme rules… all sorts of things really. The customization options are extremely deep which is sure to please long-time wrestling fans and newcomers alike.
As far as multiplayer goes there is both local and online play available. If you want to go online you'll need an Access Pass which comes with every new copy of the game. If you buy the game second hand though you'll have to purchase your own (they set you back $12.95). When you go online you can set up any kind of match you like, and participate in either ranked or unranked matches. It's imperative that you have a reliable internet connection though, because the counter-heavy gameplay doesn't work well with lag. There is a connection strength filter when looking for matches, which helps ensure you get the best game possible and is much appreciated.
While each of those improvements is much appreciated, WWE '13 does have a few issues of its own. The first one, which won't be a problem for returning players who have grown used to it, is that countering plays too big a role in the game. Given just about every attacking move can be countered the winner in any given match is likely to be the one who counters better. On harder difficulty settings countering is extremely frustrating as the AI counters just about every one of your moves, and your window to counter theirs is extremely brief. For me this makes most matches thoroughly unsatisfying, and my friends echoed those sentiments when we played multiplayer. You will improve as you play, but for me there's still too much reliance on countering for the game to be truly fun.
One last gripe is that occasionally someone invades a match. At these times the camera cuts away from the ring completely, showing the newcomer walking towards the ring. Alas the action in the ring continues even though it's off-camera, and the couple of seconds you can't see what's going on can be enough to swing the match in your opponents favour. It's infuriating when it happens, and it's completely unnecessary.
Visually WWE '13 is mixed. The character likenesses are spot on for the most part, but the animation is less so. Things get jerky whenever it's congested, and too often attacks miss because another character is mid-animation (i.e. getting up off the ground, or getting into the ring). On the plus side the crowd and arenas all look fantastic – the crowd in particular looks much better than many other sports games.
The commentary, like the visuals, is mixed. In Attitude Era the commentary does an excellent job of setting the scene, giving you all the information you need in order to get the most out of each match. In normal matches it's less useful, often doing little more than yelling out a wrestler's name every time they land an attack. Other commentary is deliberately generic so that it fits a wide variety of situations. That's fine, but it does get repetitive quickly.
WWE '13 is a comprehensive game that offers players the opportunity to create and play through a WWE Universe of their own making. Attitude Era is going to be a trip down memory lane for long-term wrestling fans, while also educating and entertaining newcomers. The liberal use of real video footage from the time makes Attitude Era a thorough success. The one big knock I have on the game is that it still relies too heavily on countering, a mechanism that feels cheap and unfulfilling on harder difficulty settings and online. That said, if you enjoy wrestling you should definitely check out WWE '13.
Review By: Mike Allison