by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Put In The Work
There is no attempt at hiding what AEW: Fight Forever is attempting. From the start, they have meant it as a throwback to the era of polygonal wrestling games, mostly the 64-bit variety. Even the cover art for the game screams "classic" with the prominence of favourites like Sting and Chris Jericho, but it's also distinctly focusing on a cast of characters, rather that one central superstar, which has become commonplace recently. Then you're greeted with a classic THQ logo, in case you wanted a full hit of nostalgia. A highlight of the experience follows with an intro video providing some background on the upstart organization, which I appreciated. It provides a few hints at what they offer over the other guys.
At a glance, even the main menu is an homage. An okay-but-not-great-looking wrestler stands among the menu options, which are minimal but serviceable. Exhibition, jump in style, modes are the focus, and rightfully so. Sitting on a couch with your friends and hitting them with ladders and bats (which can also be done online) is the truest representation of wrestling games of yesteryear. Digging deeper reveals a game that's maybe stuck a little too far in the past. The creation suite is serviceable, but a massive missed opportunity, as is the lack of creation sharing. With a roster that feels like the bare minimum, the ability to create adequate additions is nearly a must. The shop, likewise, comes across as an afterthought in more than a few ways. We're not talking scummy micro transactions, only in-game currency here, but the offerings on display could use a massive boost in quantity. There's a few recognizable items, which all, confusingly, keep the generic naming conventions of the games they're paying homage to, but not enough to make up for missing crafted content. Making a classic-feeling game is fine, but without learning modern lessons it risks feeling old.
In On The Action
The in-game action gravitates towards a central point. They tweaked smaller and bigger wrestlers towards a median size. Move animations fall between simulation and arcade. The entire presentation meets in the middle of "real life broadcast" and "just get into the action." It feels lost in many areas.
As cool as it is to mash the A button to trigger pyrotechnics during an entrance, the intros are so brief that they rip the personality from both the wrestlers and the organization. It's a far cry from the days of companies recreating wrestling ring entrances for promo material, and a business centred on flair and pomp is not done its justice. This problem plagues many areas of the game. Lifeless is too harsh a word, but that's the initial impression you get when comparing the direction of AEW: Fight Forever to its real-world counterpart. With gameplay mechanics tied to things like taunts (you can't perform your special move without doing so) it becomes more apparent that these are stock characterizations doing the bare minimum to convey your wrestler's uniqueness.
Come Back For More
But what of the WWE lifers? The ones who don't care to see representations of many wrestlers they're unfamiliar with and just want to hit some beefy humans with ladders and bats will be served well enough. As disappointing as it is to see that the wrestling herein is unlikely to make new fans, it does its job of providing arcade-style wrestling well enough to be enjoyable. From the ultra-ridiculous Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch to the more standard, but not quite emulated, Casino Battle Royale, the bombastic chaos of the organization fits this mould perfectly. Except for an AI that feels downright useless occasionally, the action is fun enough to pull you back in. The push-and-pull of momentum meters adds a layer of strategy, for lack of a better term, to a genre that usually devolves into "hurt the other guy more." Sometimes the best strategy is just to look good for the crowd, which can allow you to claw back from defeat.
The wackiness of this genre comes through in the mini games and the career mode, Road To Elite. With your created wrestler, you'll attempt to find a spot within the organization before making your way to the top through completing matches and improving your skills. It's not a revelation in the genre, but it provides plenty of smiles as you take selfies with other wrestlers, gain lore on pizza slices, and play Pokemon Stadium-style mini games in your quest for glory. It's silly. I love it. Accompanying you on this journey is a massive list of music you can customize into a playlist of your liking. The career mode was a standout because it leans so hard into the ridiculousness that you can't help but laugh. Between that, completing challenges to unlock shop items, or throwing down with friends, there's bound to be a reason to like the offering here.
Elephant In The Ring
While the launch package of AEW: Fight Forever offers a large amount of fun, it's also lacking. Some roster omissions are hard to overlook. Wrestlers who have been in and out of the organization are understandable, but those such as Evil Uno, a regular in AEW since year one, and promotional mouthpiece for the game, left me scratching my head. DLC is on the way to rectify some of those issues, but the offering seems paltry for the cost: half of the total game's price.
AEW: Fight Forever is a budget game at a premium price. What it's offering it does pretty well, but it's hard to rectify the feeling with the cost. Analyzing the price of games today is a tricky proposition, but it stands out as an example of missing the mark by just enough. If you consider the announced updates and their associated pricing, it becomes a hard sell to all but the most hardcore classic wrestling game fans.
Road To Elite
In the end, people will remember Fight Forever in one of two ways: either as a missed opportunity or as a stepping stone to something great. For something akin to a freshman effort, it has a lot to offer, and might be more of a victim of circumstances than anything else. Its largest competition is coming off a great game, and even though the styles are different, there's still an element of trying to simulate something fake connecting the two. With reports coming out that development was scaled back during its many delays, there's no doubt that the version we got was the best we could expect in a timely manner. These elements combined to make something fun in the moment, but possibly forgettable shortly after. If it hopes to have legs, it's going to need more free updates (like the announced battle royale mode that looks as ludicrous as it sounds) to entice its players to stick around. When you're in the action, though, you can practically see the CRT and corded controllers connecting you to the dropkicks and pins. For better or worse.
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Adequately emulates golden age wrestling games while injecting a few extra features.
Parts of the presentation feel dated and undercooked, as if lacking any knowledge of what modern game design could have added to the formula.