When to comes to annual releases, the yearly WWE game is normally my top priority as to which I’ll be picking up around this time. 12 months ago, WWE games decided to ditch the “Smackdown vs. Raw” series and move to a more universal “WWE” series, which gave the developers a clean slate, something which I imagine after 10 years of developing a brand, is a pretty radical move.

The way in which WWE ’12 presented itself was different from before, with the game’s engine being thrown out the window, and being replaced with a new “Predator” engine. This was vastly superior to the games that had come before, as it offered more realistic matches, with countering, a better move set and more importantly, looked so much better and more true to life with the WWE Superstars’ looking pretty accurate in their designs. WWE ’12 improved on the Universe mode, allowing for a more personalised season play mode, but lacked decent online support due to THQ being hindered once again by its server issues, something that has plagued the WWE franchise since the beginning.

Fast forward another 12 months and we arrive at WWE ’13. The game has current WWE Champion CM Punk as the poster boy, encouraging us to “Live the Revolution”. Loading up the game for the first time, you’re greeted once again by the same pose of Punk, who gives us the first look at what is readily available in game.

I don’t think he’s supposed to have that in here.

From the main menu, you have a choice of game types if you choose the “Play” mode. All the regular 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2, Triple Threat, Fatal 4-way and 6 Man are back, as well as Handicap modes.  These can be set to extreme modes, with tables, ladders, Hell in a Cell, steel cage, and the returning Inferno 1 vs 1 match from last year. Under speciality matches, you have title matches, Championship Scramble, Backstage Brawl, Royal Rumble and the game mode brought back, the Special Referee mode. This allows you to play as a referee in a match, and determine the outcome by watching the match out, or by interfering and making the match go as you wish.

I think that these modes are a great bulk up from previous games, with THQ, Yukes and WWE Games listening to what people wanted improving from the last few years of games. Match Creator is back too, so if these settings aren’t what you’re looking for, you can make them up as you go along. Tournament mode has returned with King of the Ring. This allows you to create a knockout bracket with up to 16 superstars/ divas. A great mode that can really be explored better than having to mentally make up a bracket, like you had to do before.

Attitude Era mode is where the focus has really been put in by the developers for WWE ’13 and it really shows. When you load it up, you’re told that you’re about to relive one of the most influential eras in all of WWE and Sports Entertainment history. Giving us a great video package that WWE has been known to do, which gives us a run down of the Monday Night Wars and the introduction of the Attitude Era.

From there, you can take control of D-Generation-X and relive some of the redefining moments in WWE history. You get to take control of HBK vs Mankind, the night that DX were formed and like in previous games such as WWE All Stars and Legends of Wrestlemania, you have objectives that you have to complete that are true to history. These objectives reward you with different attires, superstars and arenas. All in all, Attitude Era mode is the big thing with WWE ’13. It’s a great mode that has been done correctly and looks amazing seeing all the old superstars, entrances and WWE sets.

Give me his belt.

WWE Universe Mode is back in WWE ’13, but is very similar to the last iteration seen in last year’s game. I’d say that it has been overlooked in selling the game this year, but a few improvements have been made. Statistics are now a part of the Universe Mode, with rankings on titles and how many weeks they’ve held the belt. A nice feature, but I guess that it will take a long amount of play before you’ll be able to get stuck in on breaking those records. The stories have been redone however, with them from the creative direction of Paul Heyman. I look forward to continuing to uncover the stories that are in the game.

The controls feel so much more refined than WWE ’12, which were the best to date. Move with the left stick, hold LT to run, X is strike, A is grapple, B is irish whip and Y is your signature/finisher button. LB is your primary action button that allows you to exit the ring, remove turnbuckle covers and pick up objects.

The controls overall feel very fluid when stringing move sequences together and the reversal system has been overhauled to stop the constant mashing of RT, that I have been guilty of before. Now it’s a much better time based system that does punish you for pressing too early or too late and automatically disables you to reverse. RT flashes above your superstar’s head when you need to pull the trigger, and timing is key to winning a match. What this does is it allows you to practice and get better at timing your button presses. This may be a bad feature for impatient players, but I can only see improved gameplay coming from this.

When you boot the game, there are just under 50 superstars and divas including 4 Attitude Era superstars, Stone Cold, Mankind, HBK and The Rock. This feels a lot more than previously available in games from the start, which makes it a little less daunting to see a whole row of empty spaces. These superstars range from the very top, with CM Punk and John Cena, to older favourites such as Undertaker and Triple H to newer stars such as Primo and Epico, and Brodus Clay. Once you start to play the game, the roster will fill out and give a greater variety on the games that you’ll be able to play.

 As well as the superstars originally unlocked, across the Attitude Era and PG-Era there are 91 unlockables, ranging from superstars to entrance packages and arenas. This is definitely where the replay value comes in, as you do have the objectives that you need to complete to unlock them available, unlock in previous games where they were just locked and you wouldn’t have a clue what to do, so there’s another plus point on why this game is just so much better than the previous iterations of the franchise. Perhaps a few more of the NXT superstars could have been included. I understand that this game is mainly focused on the Attitude Era, but a few more on disc, like Damien Sandow and Seth Rollins. Jinder Mahal is there after all…

Meet my sock puppet friend.

The WWE games have always seemed to be a bit behind graphically. Sure, they have the authentic superstars, but they never really looked as sharp as other franchises. Madden and FIFA are great examples of how other franchises have seemed to move with both the authenticity and the graphics. WWE ’13 has managed to cope with playing catch up this year, with the entrance stages looking better than ever and even the crowd showing a bit more life, unlike the cardboard cutout crowds of games gone by.

Just looking at the detail and expressions on John Cena’s face shows the detail that has gone in to some of these superstars, but some others do look a bit vacant, even though the true scan is there. The attires are amazingly detailed, with Daniel Bryan’s signature gear for example, which has the proper design on and just completes the game’s look for entering the ring.

Even with loading everything, I found that the game loads a little quicker than most other games and I didn’t even have the game installed to my hard drive. The loading menus also look similar to the old Smackdown vs Raw menus, in which the superstar is posing with their signature text next to them – whether it be CM Punk and his name set like on his merchandise or Daniel Bryan with “YES! YES YES!”

When it comes to these types of games, THQ have been able to give a lot of customisation options. This, once again is top notch. Not a lot has been improved. There isn’t a new place to create a finisher, but all of the tools have been retouched upon and it feels easier to use. Story mode is still available for those of you who have the mind, patience and ideas to create a story and I can’t wait to see what the WWE Universe comes up with. I however, can’t get into it, this may just be a personal thing, but I find that style of creation to be tedious. A nice touch, but it’s not for me.

Create a Superstar is still there, along with entrances, move-sets, special moves, arenas, logos and highlight reels. These take a while to create your superstar properly as you want them, but it’s worth it. I could spend a lot of time playing and creating my superstars.

He’s down and out.

Moving on to the soundtrack, I can say that for a WWE game, it has all the authentic entrance music once again. These songs play when you’re in the menus too, which although may be annoying to some, I was greeted to both Cody Rhodes’, Daniel Bryan’s and Edge’s theme music straight away – three of the themes I’m a big fan of. The crowd sound much better now and more like the crowd of a WWE live event. You gain big pops in the entrances, even that “YES! YES! YES!” chant started when Bryan entered.

Classic Raw fans will be happy to know that the proper music is used in the Raw intros from the Attitude Era. Just the detail they have gone to on the soundtrack is amazing. All the correct themes are used from that particular time that the superstars are from.

One part of the commentary I like is the return of WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross when playing in Attitude Era mode. Since being replaced by Michael Cole a year or two ago, the game has lacked the voice that most of us were used to on WWE TV. The play by play is a lot quieter when you’re in a match, leading to fewer distractions from what they’re saying. A brand new audio system was promised and they have delivered on that.

Once again, this is a game with an online pass, a Season Pass and Day One DLC. “Online Axxess” included with every brand new copy of the game, will allow you to play online and use the Community Creations. I find this a must if you want the game to have a significant replay value. You can download superstars that the WWE Universe have created. Some of these can be better than the superstars that are on the disc to start with, so I’d say that it’s worth the 800 Microsoft Points if you have picked up the game preowned.

1600 Microsoft Points will buy you “Fan Axxess”. The equivalent of a Season Pass for the game, allowing you to access all current DLC, future DLC and a bonus of Goldust and Diamond Dallas Page on completion of transaction. With superstars such as Ryback and AJ Lee upcoming DLC, it may be an idea to hold out a bit if you’re only interested in a few of the downloads, but if you’re a big fan and like having completion of all the superstars available to you, this is the thing to buy. I think that 1600 MSP is pretty reasonable for what you get, as it does enable a discount on all the packs individually.

Why was I not invited to this dance contest?

WWE ’13 does have “Day One DLC” as I’ve coined the term. These are included in the Fan Axxess, but I thought it would be worth mentioning regardless. Classic Superstars from the Attitude Era Gangrel, Rikishi, Val Venis, Scotty 2 Hotty and Grand Master Sexay are available for 80 MSP each. As well as an Acceletrator which unlock with ability to edit every level and ability of the superstars in the game. As well as this, it unlock all of the WWE Superstars, championships, alternate arena and attires available in game that are otherwise locked. Good content, but unless you’re only buying the one, not worth buying without the Fan Axxess pack. It’s a shame that these aren’t on the disc and this is the main gripe with Day One DLC. These shouldn’t warrant an extra download if they’re made available so early in the game’s life cycle.

Local multiplayer is one of my main draws to the WWE series, with tag team being my most played mode. I can’t see any fault with the local multiplayer aspect of the game. Up to 4 players as usual, and it just works. Unlike previous games, the camera doesn’t keep focusing on the legal superstar, it keeps an overall view up, which allows for more of the action to be seen.

Searching for an online game is a lot easier now, especially ranked matches. Fair fight search option allows you to just search for default superstars, no custom attributes, no edited move-sets, just the default. I find this to be a great addition, as trying to find matches with someone who didn’t boost their favourite superstar to 100 was very difficult. Nobody likes playing against a 100 rated Randy Orton. It was a nightmare. The online servers are up, so that’s an improvement over past titles.

The achievements for WWE ’13 are decent, with you having to play a lot of the modes including online for the full 1000 gamerscore. You’ve got those generic “create this” achievements, as well as some fun ones, like defeat a current WWE Superstar with their Attitude Era version and visa versa. The achievements will also keep you coming back to WWE Universe with ones unlockable such as cashing money in the bank as a custom superstar. A good list of achievements really shows how the game series has progressed from Smackdown vs Raw 2008’s terrible list.

With all the additional focus on Attitude Era mode, it seems as if the Road to Wrestlemania mode has been pushed aside. Granted, last year’s RtWM was a little disappointing, but how it switched from one character to another at the end of each story was fantastic and I’ll admit I am a little sad to see that go.

Overall, I really think that WWE ’13 is the best game we’ve seen from the franchise yet. A downside is that it has been overshadowed by recent big games when it was released, which will probably affect its sales heading towards Christmas, but I think that if you’re a WWE fan, go for it. It’s definitely worth picking up.