The Smackdown games got an easy ride with reviewers and gamers alike on PS2 partly for their novelty value, but also because they boasted the high-end production values to match the real-life product. For all their maddening idiosyncrasies, you couldn't fault them for the authenticity of the WWE experience they delivered.
But since then, time has stood still and the series' visuals have aged worse than Jake Roberts. Character models are rigid, and they feel as stiff to control as they look. Animations are as awkward as a Dexter sex scene and clipping is less a possibility than an inevitability. On PS2 we used to look forward to seeing digitised versions of our favourite wrestler's entrances, but these days everything's dated to the point of being farcical. Brodus Clay's Funkadactyls for instance look like they're melting. In a series where so much of its appeal relies on the spectacle, this is a dispiriting drawback.
WWE '13 looks to the past for salvation and finds it in the form of the aforementioned Attitude Era mode, which revisits that curious time period spanning the late nineties and early noughties where the family-friendly WWF product suddenly found itself laced with violence, swears and lady lumps. Licensing restrictions means WWE '13 sidesteps some of the era's more salacious scenes, but it's still a blast to relive some of the most dramatic and violent moments in wrestling history.
WWE '13 tells the tale of the Attitude Era from six different perspectives - DX, The Rock, Austin, et al - with each chapter broken down into a series of key match-ups from the era. To avoid repetition, it challenges you to fulfil 'historical objectives' during the match, which mirror what happened in the real-world equivalent. It's a clever way to ward off repetition, and there are some tremendous unlockables for completists to chase.
Once again though, the lacklustre presentation holds it back. Video packages appear sporadically to whet the appetite between bouts, but there isn't nearly enough leverage of the WWE's video library on the whole - which is strange, as this is the kind of thing their products usually excel at.
It all feels somewhat rushed and cobbled together. In our opinion the story of the Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars is expansive enough to deserve its own game, rather than being awkwardly tagged onto a contemporary wrestling game. Indeed, aside from the barely-improved WWE Universe mode, there's nothing for the current roster to do, and outside of a few Achievements/Trophies, no meaningful way for them to interact with the retro roster.
On the bright side, having all the Attitude Era stars together in one game does at least mean that WWE '13 boasts the strongest roster since Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain. That said, it's incredible how little of the Attitude Era stars feel fresh. The likes of Austin, Rock et al have all appeared under the guise of 'WWE Legends' in tonnes of Smackdown games before. The only one that excited us was the 'Loose Cannon' Brian Pillman, and - sigh - he's been sequestered away in one of three DLC packages.
It's a shame WWE '13 isn't a better game than it is, because over the years the series has accrued a ton of content. The ability to create wrestlers, belts, moves, arenas, championships and even storylines and share them online shows that Yukes still has a deep appreciation for their fanbase and an acute awareness of what they want from a WWE game.
They just need to be given a year off to completely overhaul their engine and bring it in line with modern expectations, or else the X-Pac heat will continue to burn bright. That's why, despite us loving the Attitude Era mode, we're turning full-blown heel on WWE '13 this year. Let's hope our 62%-shaped chairshot steers the series back on the path to redemption.
A tremendously comprehensive package, but neither the pugilism nor the pageantry has us down for the count.
- Excellent arenas, crowd and ambiance
- Attitude Era is one hell of a nostalgia trip
- The best roster in yonks, even without the DLC packages
- Awkward, unintuitive countering system
- The worst hair models in all of gaming
- A tired series that needs a complete refresh