The '09 year appears to have a special treat in store for wrestling-game fans, or does it?
This March, THQ will unveil the first of two WWE titles for the '09 calendar year, WWE Legends of Wrestlemania. The release will come right before Wrestlemania XXV, and will feature a (currently unannounced) roster of classic WWE superstars. Apart from being an obvious marketing vehicle for the Wrestlemania pay-per-view itself, LoW will likely appeal to those older wrestling fans, as it will be laced with an intoxicating dose of nostalgia.
As always, *sniff* I am not important enough to have gotten a hands-on sneak peek at what WWE LoW has to offer. However, having bludgeoned myself with online research, I am prepared to present you with the preliminary details, as well as my always-cynical opinions and speculations.
It's Wrestlemania III all over again!
By now, most of you have probably seen the images floating across the Web that depict very sharp, yet cartoon-ish looking wrestlers who will come out swinging this March. Their inflated physiques and Saturday-morning-cartoon topcoats create almost Olympus-esque, godlike representations of our childhood heroes of the squared circle. This is certainly no accident. The graphics are a dead giveaway of LoW’s intent: bring us back to the good ol’ days of rasslin’.
Despite accomplishing this goal with the wrestler models, there are a few things that detract from the nostalgia of LoW’s visuals. One of the more glaring things I noticed was the absence of the classic WWF logo for the Wrestlemaina III arena, with the reinvented classic WWE logo in its stead. Obviously for legal reasons, World Wrestling Entertainment can no longer use the term "WWF" in spoken word, written word or logo, so I cannot fault the WWE too much. Still, it does detract from the overall ambiance, and ultimately, the game’s chief purpose.
IGN’s hands-on preview also notes that there are errors with some of the championship belts in the game, as they are inconsistent with the actual belts used during the live events.
Certainly, none of these details are deal-killers, but for a game that aims to incite fuzzy memories, one would think that THQ go the extra mile to make things relatively spotless.
Those of you who loathe WWE Smackdown vs. Raw’s right thumbstick grapple system will be pleased to hear that LoW will sport a button-oriented control scheme. While this has many SvR veterans cursing the thought of a new learning curve, others anticipate it to be a reinvention of wrestling games' past.
The game will utilize the face buttons primarily, with (on the Xbox 360) the X button controlling strikes, the A button controlling grapples, the B button controlling special attacks and the Y button controlling reversals. There will be different contextual functions for some of these buttons as well. What purpose the directional pad, triggers or bumpers will serve has yet to be announced. Historically speaking, it is likely that they will be involved with blocks, grapple-breaks and taunts -- but that is just speculation.
The wrestling action will operate via a system based on momentum and chaining moves together. Rather than the random, hodgepodge of action that the SvR series is known for, success in the LoW series will be dictated by your ability to string different attacks together. As you are able to inflict consecutive cruelties upon your opponent, more powerful moves will become available, culminating with the finisher. Thus, it does not appear that there will be a stored finisher/signature function available in LoW.
Hogan vs. Andre, one of many classic matchups you can expect.
Another little tidbit is that there will be "kick-out" meter, which is controlled by button holding/mashing, depending upon your wrestler’s health level. It sounds eerily similar to a system used in TNA Impact, but we will have to see.
Right now, it is a toss-up as to how this control/gameplay scheme will be to THQ’s betterment or detriment. A face-button focus gets me a little giddy, especially coming from THQ (hi No Mercy). However, over-simplification for the purpose of arcade-feel is a reason to worry a bit. IGN even went as far as to call the control scheme "underwhelming." A good wrestling game control scheme should have a good balance of instinctive ease to shorten the learning curve, yet provide enough complexity to allow more experienced players to trump the newbies. Time will tell if LoW hits that sweet spot.
The momentum-driven nature of the gameplay is also a cause for joint celebration and concern. For years, wrestling games have ignored the sense of pace in "real" professional wrestling. Actual matches are dictated by momentum, and sharp turns there of. Wrestling games, on the other hand, are more sporadic and generally slant toward those with nimble thumbs, regardless of context.
While it is nice to see this game seemingly take a stab at capturing the pace of actual matches, it also has me worried and a tad dumbfounded. This game has not been shy about touting its arcade-like nature. So why now, does it focus on realistic momentum? And also, how does this system play in to multiplayer contests? Building momentum and pummeling the piss out of a CPU opponent sounds great. But put the same system into a two-, three- or even four-player match, and it seems that there might be a lot of frustratingly one-sided contests.
Andre even looks huge in digital form!
As of this very second, there are only three main modes that have been made public: Relive, Rewrite and Redefine.
All of these are pretty self-explanatory. Relive involves doing just that, reliving past matches and trying to mimic their events to the T. Gamers will be presented with a list of objectives to accomplish within the match, which will be based upon events that actually occurred on the Grandest Stage of Them All. Achieving these events will give you points of some sort, which will likely serve as currency for some of the game’s unlockable content.
Rewrite will present you with just the opposite of Relive. In this mode, you will create Bizarro-World remakes of some of the WWE’s greatest Wrestlemania matches. This is a big bonus for those of us who tend to cheer the heels and jeer the baby-faces.
The Redefine mode sounds a bit more open-ended, giving you the ability to change the type of match for some of the historical contests, and likely change the outcome as well.
As interesting as these modes sound, they ring a little bit gimmicky. Relive will have the least replayability by far, and Rewrite and Reinvent will likely trail by a wide margin. It will be interesting to see how, or if, these modes tie in with any kind of multiplayer or online play. Bringing friends to the party increases the shelf-life of any sports game, and this game will certainly be no exception.
Furthermore, the lack of an announcement about any lengthy single-player mode (such as season, career, GM, etc.) has me very concerned. We can only play through these matches so many times, even with the ability to rewrite and reinvent them. If this is all there is in terms of single-player modes, I can already see myself selling the game back to GameStop and taking $40 hit in the process -- only to see it back on the used rack for only a $5 discount, mind you.
If this game is to truly capitalize on its unique premise, it absolutely must include some kind of "fantasy" career/season mode. Can you imagine a season/career mode that included a roster of the all-time greats? It sounds like a slam dunk. I hope the folks at THQ have their collective heads in the right place here.
Or is it Hogan that looks absolutely gargantuan?
Sadly, there is nothing new to report on the roster front. The only superstars that are confirmed are the ones on the box-cover art, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. The game will also include some of the WWE’s greatest managers of all time, such as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Jimmy Hart –- both of them also appear on the game’s cover.
There have been rampant rumors about who is in and who is out, based upon everything from wishes to politics of the industry. All I can say is, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The roster will likely be adequate, but there are sure to be disappointments.
A couple other poignant points, the first being the aforementioned managers. The game will employ a manager mechanic of sorts, in which your ring escort will run interference within a match. All signs point to this being completely A.I. controlled, but prompted when the in-ring action reaches your corner. Managers will grab opponents' feet, distract referees and do all of the goofy things that a good manager should. Not a groundbreaking addition, but a nice little touch.
The sound of the game is also going to bring back some memories, featuring the unmistakable vocal stylings of WWE ring announcer Howard Finkel. Sadly, however, all of the in-ring action will be called by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, one of the game’s largest blemishes as it aspires to reach historical realism.
After all of the fresh information that has hit the Web during the past several weeks, my opinion of LoW has not changed. I am cautiously (and I stress CAUTIOUSLY) optimistic, but also gravely uneasy. Within LoW’s core premise rests the opportunity for a huge, mega success. However, I cannot shake the inkling that this game is nothing more than a marketing stunt to sell more pay-per-views and WWE DVDs.
Being only two months out from the release date, I am very concerned that we have not heard any more about the game’s depth. Is there a create-a-wrestler mode? Will create-a-finisher be in? Or better yet, can we import created models from SvR? And (not to beat a dead horse) are there any unique single-player modes? How about online or multiplayer? What gives, THQ?
Here is some more speculation for you. Could the new gameplay system be a plausible test-run for the future of THQ’s wrestling games? Is the face-button control system an attempt to recapture the simplistic magic of WWF Wrestlemania 2000/No Mercy,and could this be the ultimate next-gen multiplayer grappler? Or is this only a thrown-together, phoned-in attempt by THQ and the WWE to capitalize on the Wrestlemania hype and rake in a few extra dollars?
I’m on the edge of my seat…