WWE 13 preview - First hands-on

For more than a decade, the WWE franchise has been a stalwart pillar for THQ. Last year, the publisher freshened up its digital wrestling by ditching the SmackDown! brand and replacing it with the simplified WWE moniker. 2011’s WWE 12 was a step in the right direction creatively, but now the developers are hoping that WWE 13 can be a real revolution for wrestling games. To that end, WWE 13 takes much inspiration from both current stars and a fondly remembered era.

The path THQ and developer Yuke’s are taking the game is exemplified in the two cover stars. On the standard edition is CM Punk, a superstar who, for the past year, has been the voice of the voiceless in the WWE audience. Much like what WWE 13 aims to accomplish, Punk speaks to hardcore fans in a way no wrestler has for some time. The devs are hoping the gameplay updates will do the same for longtime players.

Last year saw the introduction of the impactful Predator engine, and WWE 13 intends to tweak it with increased match drama as its goal. The already-impressive collection of finishers has been expanded thanks to new mid-air versions of each move, alongside enhanced, table-breaking finishers. You could break the announcer’s table with any regular move, but wouldn’t you rather Triple H drop his opponent through the plywood with a contextually specific Pedigree?

Building up your finisher momentum plays into the other gameplay additions, like the context-sensitive Spectacular Moments. Place your opponent in the right spot, like the corner of some guard rails or atop the ropes, you can pull out an action that will have the announcers saying, “Oh, my God!” Among the moves we pulled off were busting through the guard rail (an homage to a Sheamus/Mark Henry match) and a super heavyweight top rope suplex that broke the ring, just as Big Show and Mark Henry did last year. By the way, the devs have told us the match can continue even if the ring breaks (though they weren’t clear on how exactly that could work).

Those aforementioned super heavyweights also showcased another tweak to the engine that improves the physiology of the superstars. Now the wrestlers that break the scale are harder to pick up for standard moves – no more Rey Mysterio body slamming Khali – and their huge bodies have a more realistic bone structure. In general, the builds of the wrestlers were looking less uniform this year – a welcome change, given that the expanding roster needs increased physical diversity to tell the wrestlers apart.

Past those tweaks to the engine, WWE 13’s second cover star points to its most notable franchise addition. As exemplified in special editions adorned by Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWE 13 includes a massive tribute to the Attitude Era. This was a time when characters swore more, did crazier things, and when WWE had some of the highest rated programs on TV. The infusion of attitude is first evident from the WWE 13 roster, which stands as the biggest in THQ history. It features more than 80 wrestlers, including Attitude stars Ken Shamrock, X-Pac, Godfather and the New Age Outlaws. But the classic characters are just the beginning.

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.