Wrestling games are really difficult, and - let's face it - usually really bad.
That's simply because it's hard to replicate what's interesting about Pro Wrestling - the scripted, melodramatic storylines, the fireworks both real and metaphorical, spectacular stunts and the characters that (for fans) have depth, intrigue and complex motivations - in a game that instead focuses on the wrestling. Of which, in pro wrestling, there is not very much. And then does it poorly.
WWE 13 (Xbox 360/PS3, out now) falls right into this trap.
Admittedly, the scripted nature of wrestling makes for an arguably odd video game anyway. (There is actually more sporting drama in WWE 13 than the real life stadium shows, since it's possible for either character to lose.)
But let's not dive down that rabbit hole of fake-versus-real. Yes, the outlandish, fireworks-and-pants Sports Entertainment of WWE isn't 'real' in the same sense as NFL or Premier League football, but there is scope here for a good game - characters, costumes, special moves - and some of the old 16 bit titles are still fondly remembered.
But when it comes to modern wrestling video games - and WWE 13 specifically - so much of the excitement is lost by just forgetting to make it fun WWE 13's main game mechanics are grappling, difficult-to-pull-off 'reversals' (turning defense into attack) and slow, stumbling movement, and it all just results in a dull and lifeless experience. There is no sense of true violence, and the characters are neither super-powered super-humans or gritty, realistic athletes. The whole thing feels dusty, and leaden.
That said, WWE 13 is chock full of amazingly realised presentation, pre-match cut scenes and an awesomely detailed Attitude mode. That's the big draw this time around - and it will be a big one for fans. This story mode retells the tale of one of the great periods of WWE (late-90s ish), through legends like Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Mankind. it's cool to see those guys in the ring with the less-colourful modern stars, and they're given enough room to shine in a game resplendent with modes, exhibition match-ups and historical bouts.
And as you'd hope, the game also has a huge number of playable fighters, unlockable arenas and other goodies, like customisable fighters and career modes. Again, great for hardcore fans.
But ultimately, because the core of the game - the combat - is slow and dull, and both misses any sense of realism, and of 'video game' excitement, there's not much here for anyone else. The graphics are poor and the wrestlers look like action figures. And in the end, it's just not exciting. Which for a Sports Entertainment product in which everything is manufactured to be as spectacular as possible, just doesn't make sense.