It's just a shame that some irritating technical issues get in the way of the fun.
Playing through WWE All Stars taught us an interesting lesson about wresting: the legendary grapplers are always the best. One key component of THQ's latest buoyant wrestling release is its combination of legendary characters with current superstars. One game mode, Legendary Fantasy Warfare, is dedicated to pitting WWE superstars from the past and present against each other. It's a cool mode, that's thrown together with a real loving reverence for the subject. But man are the current crop of wrestling superstars weak. Of course, the WWE's inability to craft interesting characters isn't necessarily the game's fault, but it kinda made us wish the entire package was dedicated to the legendary characters, rather than balancing the roster with the newcomers. Playing as the late Andre The Giant and The Ultimate Warrior is a real buzz. By contrast, playing as CM Punk, the "straight-edge" nobody, is less of a thrill. Naturally this will come down to your own personal preferences, though. Hardcore wrestling fans will get a lot out of the game's enormous roster, and THQ's done a good job covering their bases with a good selection of characters.
It's a shame then that WWE All Stars is riddled with a collection of semi-serious technical issues. A wise-man once told us that a game's quality can be judged by the number of platforms it's being released on. While the adage is not always accurate, a widely spread release can sometimes result in a lack of polish. Releasing across five platforms (three of which are PlayStation systems), WWE All Stars does have some problems. PlayStation 3 owners will be familiar with the install process that often preludes new games. We've gotten used to that. But a traditional install is apparently not enough for WWE All Stars. Instead the game opts for a cache process, that takes around five minutes. That would be fine, if it didn't occur everytime you load the game. Essentially, you have to conduct the install process each time you want to play, which doesn't seem conducive to the philosophy of a pick-up-and-play casual wrestling title. Why not just stick with a traditional install that only needs to be conducted once?
In addition, WWE All Stars doesn't look particularly great. Don't get us wrong, we adore the game's action figure-esque art-style, but the visuals lack definition. With the power under the PlayStation 3's hood, the character models could have looked better, likewise the stadiums and bland and the crowds are lazily rendered. Sure, there's a definite vibrancy to the game that totally pulls you in, but the visuals lack polish which is instantly noticeable.
Thankfully the game's a lot of fun to play once you get over its shortcomings. The game promises a more "casual" experience, and for the most part it succeeds. Two face buttons are used for punches and kicks, while an additional two buttons control different grapple types. Gravity defying special moves are initiated by holding two face buttons together (e.g. Circle and Triangle), while finishers can be conducted by holding down the L1 and R1 buttons. It's a simplistic system, that bogs itself down once you begin to consider the more technical aspects of the gameplay. A core component of wrestling is built upon reversals, and WWE All Stars is no different. You'll need to hit the L1 button to reverse grapples, and the R1 button to reverse punches. Honestly, this gets a bit confusing, and while it's easy to pick up the pad and start punching, it's less simplistic trying to explain to a potential multiplayer partner how to learn the timing of the reversals. The additional mechanics definitely add longevity to the game, but they seem at odds with the title's purpose. A training mode definitely would have helped, but should a casual game like this needa training mode?
After a few hours learning the mechanics though, WWE All Stars really starts to come together. Make no mistake, this is a fun wrestling game. The special moves epitomise the game's bold style. Take Rey Mysterio — a luchador masked acrobatic wrestler from the current crop of superstars. The gymnastic style of the wrestler make for some fantastic special moves, which literally send the character flying twenty feet into the air. Everything is completely exaggerated and all the more fun for it. This even plays into the gameplay. A body-slam for example will send your opponent bouncing off the ring, allowing you to deliver additional damage by juggling their body while it defies any laws of gravity and physics. It's goofy and fun.
The afore-mentioned Fantasy Warfare mode is complimented by a fairly short but competent list of other activities. Path Of The Champions is a short arcade campaign mode in which you play through a sequence of ten-fights punctuated by cut-scenes. Exhibition allows you to set-up a wide array of match parameters and have fun in single or local multiplayer. Of course there's also online play with some fairly stable net-code and prompt matchmaking. You can create your own wrestler within the confines of the game's art-style, and there's plenty of classic WWE footage to appeal to fans.
Ultimately the game's longevity will depend on how much you like the subject though. If you've got a couple of mates that are WWE fans, you'll get hours of play-time out of the multiplayer — though it's a shame that the PS3 caching issue makes the game less pick-up-and-play than it should be.
In addition the gameplay could, and probably should, have been streamlined more. All Stars is clearly designed to appeal to a much more mainstream audience than the typically niche annual Smackdown Vs. Raw titles on PS3, but it gets bogged down in too many hardcore mechanics to make it the truly casual arcade experience it wants to be. If you're willing to put some time to learn the intricacies then WWE All Stars is an entertaining package.
Now, where do go to request the British Bulldog for DLC?