As time has gone on, we've got accustomed to having a serious WWE game each year, which goes hand-in-hand with the current direction of the company. Back in the PlayStation 2 era, for example, there was a huge focus on backstage wrestling and "hardcore", now, it's a much more serious affair where it's all focussed on the core wrestling action. To try and mix things up a bit, and give the fans something a bit out of the box, THQ went away from their traditional developer, Yuke's, and tasked THQ San Diego with creating a game that would encapsulate the WWE as a whole. They ended up with WWE All-Stars.
Sporting a roster of legends throughout the WWE's past and present, THQ San Diego decided to make this game all about the gameplay. There is a story mode of sorts called Path of Champions, but it doesn't really amount to much. You have to take part in ten varying matches, and depending on which path you choose, you'll end up squaring off against either The Undertaker, D-Generation X or Randy Orton. There are some brief cutscenes at the beginning and the end, but it's difficult to say it's engaging in any way.
The same can't be said about the gameplay, which is actually rather fun. It's been stripped down compared to its bigger brother, but you still have the option to perform all the basic options like light attack, heavy attack, light grapple and heavy grapple.
Surprisingly, it's actually quite a tactical affair, as timing is paramount to succeeding. If you're in close, it's unlikely that you'll be able to land a grapple as they take time to charge up. Miss-time a grapple attempt, and you'll likely be starring directly at a fist flying towards your face, which will then result in a combination if you aren't careful. Everything is a huge battle for position and momentum, and if you're on the wrong end of it, you'll certainly know it.
It's a great mechanic actually, because you have to try and second guess what your opponent will do. There are naturally weak points in any defence, and exploiting this will serve you well. Each different level of grapple takes a different amount of time to charge and performing a signature move or finisher in open combat is extremely tricky - your opponent will just punch you if they see it charging up. To get around this, you'll need to soften them up and then time the move so that it lands when they get up, and therefore can't evade it.
One slight problem with the simplified mechanics, are that the move sets for each wrestler end up being quite small. You have the basic flurry of punches, which can be linked together with a strong punch or weak grapple. But aside from this, you'll likely see the same types of moves quite often. In theory, each wrestler has over 10 different grappling moves, but getting to them isn't an easy task, mainly due to the countering system and the charging system.When you land a grapple, you can press a different face button to perform one of four default ones. If you want to perform another four, you can perform a transition. For example, if you're in a weak grapple, you can transition to a rear grapple. However, doing this allows your opponent a chance to counter, just like they can with pretty much everything you do in the entire game. So, it's all about risk management. The stronger the move (excluding signatures/finishers) the easier it is to counter. And countering is easier in WWE All-Stars than it's ever been before.
It can be a bit inconsistent though. You can counter punches and moves independently and you can actually get some decent counter-chains going. However, the timing is a bit finicky, as sometimes you'll get a nice run and others you won't be able to counter anything. What's annoying about this, is that if you're playing against a good AI opponent, they will counter almost everything, meaning you can't even touch them. Frustrating, to say the least.
Graphically, the game is rather comical. Everyone sees wrestlers as massive guys, so THQ San Diego decided to have a bit more artistic flair, and go away from being "realistic". This means that attributes are rather extenuated, so the majority of wrestlers have rather huge muscles. It also means that when moves are being performed, especially the signature/finishers, they are extremely exaggerated.
It's good to see Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler featured in the commentary as well, and it sounds as though they were given a bit more creative freedom with what they could say. There are plenty of quips, and even some bleeped out words for profanity.
The game has a decent amount of replay value, but it's not the best. Alongside the Path of Champions mode, there's Fantasy Warfare, Exhibition and Online. Fantasy Warfare is a string of matches which pits an old superstar against a current one. For example, Eddie Guerrero against Rey Mysterio, to see who is "Greatest High Flier". Exhibition is pretty standard and Online is much the same, just well, online.
There's also the option to make a custom superstar, but as with much of the rest of the game, it's quite limited compared to the main WWE game.
WWE All-Stars is a game that fans have been craving for years, as it allows you to pit WWE Legends against current generation Superstars. However, the game's a bit lacking on substance. The fighting is stripped down and it's made for a rather tactical affair that's heavily orientated around performing counters and having the correct timing. It can make playing the game either really fun or really frustrating depending on what side of the fence you're on. There's also not much to do, with only a few modes to play around with. If you've got a load of buddies that you want to reminisce with though, this title is absolutely perfect - it just doesn't have much in the way of lasting appeal.
|Great selection of wrestlers.|
|Graphics and overall design is rather comical.|
|Simplified combat system.|
|Too much power given to the countering system.|
|A bit light on gameplay modes.|
|Create-a-wrestler quite bare.|