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Hands-On: WWE: All-Stars

John Funk | 19 Jan 2011 16:00
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All-Stars actually uses color fairly well to communicate information to the player quickly. If a character suddenly looks gray-ish and is surrounded by a faint red outline, they're incapacitated on the ground and can be pinned, grabbed, or hit - and that's a perfect time to climb up to the top rope for a finisher. If one of the fighter's limbs suddenly sparks yellow, the character is charging a power attack (so get ready to counter, or get the hell away) - and if they glow with a golden aura, then they've initiated the first phase of their finisher. The added splashes of color fit well with the game's exaggerated style, and manage to provide important contextual clues in the thick of a brawl.

The fighters in All-Stars' roster are divided into four categories: Acrobat, Big Man, Brawler, and Grappler. Acrobats, like luchador-styled Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston or legend Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat are nimble fighters, about high-flying aerial moves that spring off of the ropes, the turnbuckles, or even the opponents themselves. On the other end of the scale are the Big Men, like Andre the Giant or The Big Show - they're slow and powerful, requiring technique (or another big guy) to bring them to the ground. Worthy of note is that one of Andre's moves - putting the opponent on his back and ramming back against the turnbuckle - allows you to re-enact that one scene of his in The Princess Bride, sans Cary Elwes.

The Dublin-born Sheamus was given as an example of a Brawler, a character whose power is in striking attacks, combo chains. Unlike fellow Brawlers John Cena and The Rock, he was described as more of "a brute," with the ability to unleash surprise power attacks and juggle his foes. However, when up against the Grappler Bret Hart, he ended up in submission hold after submission hold - Grapplers are the technicians of the bunch, able to chain grabs and holds together with the right timing. Both submission holds and pins can be escaped by mashing away on your controller, but the aggressor can make things more difficult on the defender - their own mashing extends the size of the bar that the beleaguered fighter needs to fill in order to escape. In that way, the developers hope to make even the minigames within a match competitive battles.

I ended up favoring the agile Acrobats and powerful Brawlers myself, though play styles were clearly different from character to character even within the same class - despite being a Brawler, John Cena had a Grappler bent that made him more difficult for me to get a handle on than the combo-oriented Sheamus. Friedland affirmed that even in the game's exaggerated manner, the developers tried to be as faithful to the wrestlers' real-life styles as was possible - and that wrestling fans would appreciate seeing abilities and moves that spanned entire careers.

He compared the colorful Rey Mysterio to the classic Ricky Steamboat - both are considered Acrobats, but whereas Mysterio has a fancy, high-flying luchador style, Steamboat's move set is "a lot more martial-arts based. [There are] a lot of big air moves off the turnbuckle but maybe not as much of the flips and twists. So even within each character class you're going to see a lot of differences." The mighty Big Show agreed that it was accurate to how people fought in the ring, comparing his real-world bouts with Kofi Kingston to the ones in the game. "You need to keep Kofi's shoes on the ground. If you let him get in the air, you're done." Then again, his difficulties could have something to do with the controller being too small for his 7'1" frame.

Friedland says the game is in polish mode right now, and it still obviously needs a bit of tweaking, particularly in my chosen Acrobat class: a few countered jumps off the turnbuckle resulted in animation glitches where my target would suddenly grab me in midair and reverse the attack, only they would be holding on to thin air, and my character model was floating over on the other side of the ring. The timing on the reversals was also very tricky to pin down without pre-memorizing all of the moments when you could escape.

Even so, it was a surprisingly enjoyable turn, with a premise that wrestling fans should adore, and an easily picked-up combat system that's intentionally accessible to everybody who doesn't know a Rock Bottom from a Stone Cold Stunner. "I think what [non-WWE fans will] get out of [WWE All-Stars] is a really fast-paced, fun, visually exciting, competitive combat wrestling game that they can play," says Friedland.

So far, he could well be right.

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