Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
Reviewed On: Xbox 360

Way back at the start of the year, publisher THQ cited the uDraw Wii controller as the reason the company’s earnings had fallen far below what they had expected. Noting very strong sales of Saints Row: The Third and WWE ‘12, THQ announced that it intended to shift focus back to core gaming, looking to build on previous successes. With the latest instalment of their long running series of wrestling games, WWE ’13, you can see that it was the right move, and like me you’ll be glad they made it.

PhotobucketIt was last year’s WWE ’12 that saw THQ make some very big changes to the core elements of the franchise; WWE ’13 carries this on, adding some serious wrestling fan-service with the incorporation of a single player experience set in the legendary ‘Attitude’ era.

Now running on the “Predator Technology 2.0” engine, a great number of updates and improvements have clearly been made on last year’s title. New additions to gameplay include special environmental moves, including ring and table breaking, as well as an extra 300 reported standard moves on top of those of the previous game. Another new design feature picks move appropriate to your chosen wrestler and imposes some weight restrictions that make some characters incapable of lifting others, forcing you to opt a different approach.

Some of the same issues that have bugged previous games are sadly still present, alongside a couple of new ones. However these are minor quibbles when stacked up against the prospect of playing as, and against, all the biggest stars from the glory days of the mid 90’s and the current WWE roster. In Attitude era mode you play out all of the most memorable clashes from the period, both in the ring and outside it. Starting around the time of's WWE (known as WWF at the time) and WCW’s famous Monday night ratings war, the campaign takes you through the events of the matches and the history of the organisations rise to dominance.

PhotobucketUsing archive footage from both matches and ring-side antics, this central new game mode really captures the spirit of not just the Attitude era but the sport in general, better than any of the games before it. An element of what makes Attitude mode’s gameplay so entertaining comes from the inclusion of various in-match objectives, most are optional and only really serve as nods to real life events, though many do unlock new content, others need to be met so you can progress.

The Attitude game mode is of course fairly linear, and there are quite a lot of cut scenes as well as live action footage here and there. There is however a genuine feeling of satisfaction to be had from playing your part in a story, switching from wrestler to wrestler as the events dictate. Without a doubt Attitude mode is the centre piece of the game but there’s also the returning ‘Universe Mode’ with an attached creation suite which tie together with the use of content you create.

Universe mode, first introduced in Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is back again in its third incarnation. This time the Universe management system has some tweaks that change the game’s story narrative in relation to what happens during play, making for an even more organic experience whilst using this ‘free’ mode that’s not tied to any of the real world events.

Newcomers to the WWE series may feel a little overwhelmed by the multitude of options for customization on display In the Creation suite. Unfortunately the sometimes frustrating menu system in WWE ’13 is still lacking and doesn’t really help matters, but once you've spent a little time tinkering you learn to cope just fine. You can change and create just about everything and anything. You can make your own wrestler (or Diva), pick and create moves and tailor a move set for your character. You can also design everything from outfits to the ring and elements of the arena.

There's also an entrance video creation section, which is understandably limited but still helps to further immerse you. This along-side things like logo creation, round out a little character package you can then take into Universe mode where you plan not just the fine details of every match, but an entire season's worth of match scheduling. I only really managed to scratch the surface of what’s here, being somewhat distracted by the Attitude Era mode, but you can pour hours into the many nuances of play and management the game allows you to have control over.

Everything you create can be used not only as part of a career in Universe mode but also can be uploaded for use in the online modes, not just by you but any other WWE ’13 players. As far as the standard online modes go there are both ranked and quick matches available, you can choose from many different types of matches including Tag Team, Ladder and Cage matches, Battle Royal, Hell in A Cell and Royal Rumble to name only a few.

In terms of presentation WWE ’13 makes some improvements on last year's game in overall quality, but some character models are still better than others, with some stiff animations here and there, not only looking ugly but occasionally confusing play. Camera angles can be an issue, as has been a recurring problem throughout the series; this time the camera cuts to new angles during moves to mimic the styles of the live shows. This can sometimes disorientate or make you miss a cue. I also found the referee got in my way a fair bit, almost completely obscuring my character or my opponent sometimes. At other times the black and white striped fool would physically get in the way and as a result ended up the recipient of a move here and there. Funny yes, but it also cost me a match now and again. Another slight issue I encountered was with collision detection. Often when attempting to climb onto the turnbuckle I would find myself outside the ring, and by the time I had corrected myself, my opponent had gotten up or out of the way. As stated earlier, these are minor gripes and often faults of the series rather than just this game in particular.

PhotobucketThe gameplay as ever, is very addictive and that alone will suck newcomers in and convert them. If you’re new though, it is worth bearing in mind that like all other wrestling games WWE ’13 is much closer to being a sports simulator than a pure fighting game, and at first the very distinct playing style may take some getting used to. There are some very good players out there online so it might be worth taking a run through Attitude or even the tutorials first.

Attitude mode is where WWE ’13 shines for me, despite the dazzling array of game modes to choose from I found myself going back to Attitude mode to play through the famous moments and matches. This is a great single player campaign and its quite surprising THQ haven’t done it before now. As you play through it you unlock more and more of the characters, only The Rock and Stone Cold are available from the start. You can then go into another game mode and pit them against wrestlers from the current WWE roster including Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton and current reigning WWE champion CM Punk, who features on the box art. You also have legends like The Undertaker and Triple H that have been in the ring during both periods.

There’s surely more than enough here already, no doubt with DLC on its way, to please fans of THQ’s series and the sport in general. The quality of gameplay on display here and the faithful recreation of some of wrestling’s greatest moments, can't be derailed by some relatively small design issues. WWE ’13 is a great wrestling game, and the inclusion of all the elements of the Attitude era make it so far the best for me.