I have to wonder what CM Punk, current reigning WWE champion and the closest thing to a global representative the organisation has right now, is thinking these days. He's also the only superstar who could switch from Face to Heel and back again over a four night period. He represents the pinnacle in versatility and talent in this game of show we call wrestling. Sure, Cena is the Face, but CM Punk doesn't draw the same ire for being bland and besides, Punk's on the cover of the latest WWE video game and Cena isn't - he's also in every menu and nearly every loading screen.
CM Punk is, at least, as far as gamers are concerned, the wrestler entrusted to entice punters with just his picture.
And yet, CM Punk is not the main draw of WWE 13 and, since we're on the topic, neither is anyone else in the current WWE roster. No, the main draw here are those wrestlers who shot the WWE to prominence in the late 90s; the men and women who plied their trade during a time fans remember as the 'Attitude' era. Back then, CM Punk was part of the barnstorming wrestling circuit, and Cena was portrayed as a low-rent precursor to Eminem, complete with a doctorate in Thugonomics. Really.
To anyone who remembers that era (and indeed, any Smark who knows their WWE/WCW history) WWE 13's campaign mode is one of the strongest hooks Yuke's has had in ages. It's here that wrestling fans get to relive the glory days of the WWE's rise from second banana in the Monday night ratings war to the world dominating sports entertainment franchise it is today. If you weren't there, WWE 13's Attitude mode provides a primer as to how the WWE eclipsed its competition.
The key here was the talent, and by that I mean the wrestlers from that late 90s roster. They're all present and correct: Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kane, The Undertaker, The Rock, Mankind, Brett 'The Hitman' Hart and - the point where the WWE outdistanced WCW in the ratings war - Stone Cold Steve Austin and his feud with WWE boss Vince MacMahon. The campaign is a trove of wrestling nostalgia, allowing players to take part in many of the iconic matches from that era and offering unlockable content as a reward if they complete in-match bonuses to align their experience closer with historical events.
Of course, there are places the WWE dare not go with this mode. I seem to remember in the original PPV special, for example, Shawn Michaels's face being caked in blood when he pinned The Undertaker at Bad Bloodd's Hell In The Cell Match - and that doesn't happen here. It's also quite weird to hear the word 'Federation' blanked out of what I can only assume is play-by-play from the archives in the matches that took place before the World Wrestling Federation became the WWE, having lost the WWF moniker in court to a bunch of panda lovers.
On the whole, though, it's a compelling mode to play through if you're a longtime wrestling fan, which I gather most of the people who will bother to shell out for this game are in the first place. Beyond that we're in familiar, albeit slightly improved, territory.
The wrestling engine was showing its age in last year's iteration and, to be frank, this hasn't changed much. The presentation still flip-flops between decently representative of the real thing and plastic action figures smacking each other. Grappling is still hit and miss, as a lot of moves are easily reversible and some matches - Stone Cold's winning of the Royal Rumble in early stages of the Attitude Mode, for example - can become wearisome wars of attrition.
However, Yuke's has added some new tweaks that almost allow one to forgive its engine's shortcomings. Counters, for example, are easier to execute - that is, they're no longer utterly impossible - and players can also pull off OMG moves, such as smashing an opponent's head through a crash barrier, or collapsing a ring with a superplex involving a pair of uber-weight wrestlers. The limb targeting system actually works a treat, which is useful in scoring the Attitude Era campaign's bonus objectives and also in online bouts. And if you're one of those wonks that enjoys creating wrestlers and wrestling events, then rejoice; the creation tools here are both robust and easy to use. In even better news, the loading times have also been improved greatly.
WWE 13 is far more fun than its predecessor, but this is largely down to some slight improvements to the core mechanics and the addition of hero-era nostalgia. If you're a wrestling video game fan, this is easily the best WWE title in ages. But one can't help but think that WWE as a gaming franchise is, now more than ever, trading on past glories. CM Punk may be on the cover of this game and he may be the face of the WWE. But he's neither the reason you should buy this game, nor is he the reason you'll enjoy it. I wonder what he thinks about that.
Version Tested: Xbox 360
This review was written after spending 9 hours with the game. THQ provided a retail copy of the game for review.