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The Attitude Era Returns To Video Games In ‘WWE 13′

Last weekend, I flew across the country from my home in South Carolina to Los Angeles, California for WWE SummerSlam weekend — and believe it or not, this was technically a business trip. See, part of the reason I went out there was to test out WWE ’13, the next video game based on World Wrestling Entertainment, set for release this October.

Admittedly, we don’t often write about wrestling or video games around here unless we can tie them into comics, but there was no way that Caleb, Andy and Joe were going to let me skip out for a four-day weekend unless I came back with something to show for it, so I made sure to pay attention when I got my hands on the demo. And folks? It is pretty awesome.Before we go any further, it’s full disclosure time: I was flown out to LA, put up in a nice hotel and given floor seats for SummerSlam by the game developers at THQ, and I’m not gonna lie, that part was pretty great. Throw in the fact that I am notoriously easy to bribe — I implied that LEGO Batman 2 was better than Arkham City and all they did was send me a box of cookies with Batman on them — and I’ll understand if you choose to take everything I’m about to say with a grain of salt. I mean, really, once they put me in a room and introduce me to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin…

…they could slap a copy of The Adventures of Bayou Billy down on the table in front of me and I’d probably say that it was a revolutionary game experience.

Really, though, as much as it might line up with my tastes, I haven’t been that big a fan of THQ’s WWE games over the past few years. As much as I loved the N64 era of wrestling games, spending countless hours playing WrestleMania 2000, No Mercy and the other games that descended from FirePro Wrestling for the SNES, the current generation never really did much for me. It seemed like there was a shift around that time from games that felt distinctly like pro wrestling to something more like a traditional fighting game, and my enjoyment of the games pretty much evaporated. I had some fun with last year’s bizarrely cartoonish (even by pro wrestling standards) WWE All-Stars, but I’m pretty sure that the last time I played one of the main-line games was a weekend I spent with a copy of Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 that I borrowed from a friend and decided just wasn’t my taste.

So while I was pretty excited about the weekend, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the game itself. I was, in fact, fully prepared to give it a shot, be polite, and then never speak of it again in order to preserve my chances of staying on good terms with the people who made Saints Row The Third and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. But after seeing where they were planning to go with the game in a press conference involving Jim Ross, Sheamus, Brodus Clay, AJ Lee, CM Punk, Steve Austin and Mike Tyson…

…and then actually getting to play a demo, I ended up thinking it was great. No kidding.

The controls were easy to pick up and pretty intuitive — I don’t know how similar it is to its immediate predecessors, but for me it felt a lot like a next-gen version of the No Mercy era, with a strike button, a grapple button, and a context-sensitive Finisher / Signature button (more on that in a minute) — and even though my first attempt at playing as Mick Foley ended in a tap-out to Brandon Stroud’s Daniel Bryan, actually playing the match was a blast. It was the kind of thing that went immediately from “I guess I should play this” to “that looks fun” to “hey, let’s play again” in the span of a few minutes.

I ended up playing for an hour, and by the end of it, I wasn’t even trying to win anymore. My opponent and I were just cracking each other up trying to put the game through its paces to see what we could do, choosing different match types and then figuring out how to super-plex somebody to the floor, put them through the announcers’ tables, crash through (and off the top of) the Hell in a Cell, or bust through the guardrails at ringside. Turns out it’s all actually pretty easy. That context-sensitive button I mentioned earlier doesn’t just let you do your finisher, it also pops up for those big stunts, which the game (and WWE) refer to as “OMG Moments.” Slightly unfortunate name aside, it’s pretty great to be able to get right into doing those big moments just by getting into the right spot and pressing one button. I’ve never had the patience for those long, Mortal Kombat-style button sequences.

I’m also really looking forward to the Create An Arena mode for this game, which has the (apparently new) option to design tiny, Exhibition Hall style venues as well as the big arenas. I seriously cannot wait to re-create the Township Auditorium and Hammerstein Ballroom matches that I remember from my misspent youth, but with Damien Sandow going up against late ’90s Might-Actually-Be-Satan Undertaker.

The real meat of the game, though — and the reason that Austin and Tyson were in attendance at the press conference — is Attitude Era mode.

For those of you who don’t obsessively categorize pro wrestling into distinct phases, the Attitude Era is the term for that late ’90s period when wrestling was at its most edgy, a height of popularity that saw WWF’s Monday Night Raw and WCW’s Monday Nitro going head to head and fighting over millions of viewers, with nWo and Austin 3:16 shirts pretty much everywhere.

That’s what the game is heading back to for its single-player campaign: Rather than playing through a storyline created for the game, WWE ’13 goes back to those days and lets you play through that era as it actually happened. There are six separate story arcs, all accompanied by new video packages edited by THQ, following the biggest names of that time through their defining moments. From what I understand, it centers on WrestleMania 14, which saw D-Generation X’s Shawn Michaels taking on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the main event, with Mike Tyson as the Special Enforcer at ringside, and that’s about as perfect a snapshot of the era as you could ask for.

Beyond that, though, Austin and Michaels have their own separate storylines, as does Mick Foley, which was all I needed to hear to be excited.

In order to capture the distinct feel of the different eras that they’re working with, there are even multiple versions of particular wrestlers, done as completely different characters with different move-sets and skill ratings. Triple-H, for instance, appears three different times, as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, his D-X version, and the current incarnation. So, you know, if you’re into Triple-H, there’s that. I’m just glad to get all three faces of Foley.

After the announcement of the roster and the Attitude Era storyline, I heard some grumbling about how THQ had to dig into the past to find something interesting to do with their games because, as so many people who watch wrestling three times a week will tell you at every opportunity, Wrestling Sucks Now. On one level, I can sympathize; projects driven by nostalgia are always pretty suspect no matter what medium they’re in. But at the same time, there’s been a current-era “Road to WrestleMania” storyline in every WWE game since 2007, and while I haven’t played through them, I’m pretty sure that after six years of that, a change to something different seems like a pretty understandable choice.

I’m also pretty fascinated by the way it’s set up. You don’t just play through the matches, you’re given a list of optional goals based on how the match you’re recreating actually happened. In that WrestleMania 14 match, for instance, there are additional goals along the lines of “Win by Pinfall” and “Perform a Stone Cold Stunner.” The more historically accurate you are, the more bonuses you unlock.

With its rewards for historical accuracy, focus on recreating actual events and being able to straight up wreck dudes by pushing one button, the whole thing actually reminds me more than anything else of Assassin’s Creed — and for me, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually got me more excited for a wrestling game than I have been in a decade.

Now if only we could get Ezio Auditore as a downloadable character, who gets brought to the future by his distant descendent, Santino Marella. Come on, that’s at least as probable as Sheamus being the cousin of Beaker from the Muppets, and that’s WWE canon.

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