Back in the years of the N64, the names AKI and Yukes would spur jealousy into the hearts of Playstation-owning wrestling fans, titles like WCW/NWO Revenge & WWF: No Mercy was hailed as the king of the ring and still hold a fair bit of pull backstage even now!.
Hoping to recreate that unique blend of arcade and simulation wrestling, the new kid on the block All Elite Wrestling have gathered the old developers for one more match in their debut console game AEW: Fight Forever, is there life in the old dog still or is it the case of Ric Flair should have stayed retired?
AEW: Fight Forever, developed by the previously mentioned members of AKI/Yukes with the goal in mind of being the next “No Mercy”, with long-time fan and best bout machine Kenny Omega helping to oversee the project, expectations are naturally higher than a belt in a ladder match. After a substantial delay, the day has finally arrived, and AEW: Fight Forever has finally taken to the squared circle I’ll forewarn readers now, if you aren’t a fan of wrestling, this likely isn’t going to be the game for you, despite its lineage the “pick up and play” style of gameplay still leans heavily in 2K WWE games’ favor.
Does AEW manage to recreate that No Mercy magic from the Nintendo 64 days? It does but almost too well, it carries over the simple button system but also carries over the vague gameplay mechanics such as the outdated reversal system and how some buttons do multiple jobs which can create some rather awkward moments. This isn’t to say there is no merit in the controls and the way it plays, my son who plays a lot of 2K took to the controls quite well which shows how initially intuitive they can be, it’s just the small nuances where the game falls a little short.
First of all, the level of mashing to get out of pins or submissions is heavily inconsistent and cost me more than a few matches, to follow this up aside from blocking and reversing strikes the game doesn’t do enough to show you how reversals work or when to press the reversal button even in the training mode, instead, it seems more like a fluke when I counter a move rather than something planned to turn the tide.
Movement is quite fluid and not quite as stiff as it was in the N64 games, double tapping a direction also gives you a handy “step” or “dash” to move away rather than having to press the dash button and suffer the few-second delay that it has.
You have punch, kick and grapple buttons which can be held in to get the stronger variations, directions, and button presses after the grapple activates different moves, again it’s very pick up and play and you’ll get your head around everything within a match or two, signatures are activated by pressing the D-Pad and finishers with the R-Stick, fortunately, these have indicators when you can activate them and you can also check an in-game menu to see the scenario you need to pull the move off.
The actual feel of the matches do feel great and are a lot of fun, they do border on the arcade side of things a little too heavily with the momentum system where you can be hitting your finisher within mere seconds of the match but all in all, any worries about how the game would feel should be washed away, you can have a decent mat-based match, swing around weapons with ease or even go for the high flying lucha-libre style with relative ease.
The animations and graphics of AEW: Fight Forever shows just how wildly inconsistent this product can be, some of the character models look fantastic in cutscenes whereas others are horrendous, I played a lot of Eddie Kingston during my time with it and my god he would either look brilliant or look like an Eldritch horror wandering around a stage. Character models in matches have a somewhat “action figure” look to them rather than trying to nail hyper-realism and when the game is in motion this doesn’t look terrible, when things slow down though it is far from great looking.
The animations have a really weird pacing in that some moves look fine, others produce weird effects like ripples and circles which wouldn’t look out of place in the arcades and then a good chunk of the moves seem bizarrely sped up like the game is in a rush to get to the next city for a surprise appearance in the main event.
Now I’d like to go over the roster, match types, and creation suite content that the game has, naturally this is the first in a hopeful series of games for AEW and while there is a decent bit of content here, sadly it’s not quite enough to keep people from jumping ship to this title from its opponent.
The roster as with most wrestling games is rather outdated, to the point Cody Rhodes who was an integral part of AEW is now back at WWE and was quite a focal point of the marketing for the latest game. Other questionable inclusions are the lack of FTR who have been at AEW for a good while yet having wrestlers like CM Punk who come in much later, especially when one of the marketing trailers is all about Tag Teams, the game has 4 from launch with more coming as DLC and player creation, other curious inclusions are having Jeff Hardy while Matt is locked behind preorder DLC and having Aubrey Edwards as a playable character while missing integral female wrestlers such as Jaime Hayter and Sariya. I’m all for fun inclusions in the style of No Mercy where you could have Earl Hebner but here with the smaller and outdated roster, it does sting.
The creation suite for creating wrestlers is a bizarre mix of having too much of some stuff such as moves and costumes for wrestlers in other companies and not having enough options to make current AEW wrestlers properly, moves missing and the like. The example I use is for this review I decided to make Jeff Jarrett, hardly a new wrestler and doesn’t have the most detailed look, while I managed to make him look half decent in cutscenes, I couldn’t have shorts with 2 different colors or even find anything remotely close to his finishing move “The Stroke” which has been in many wrestling games dating as far back as 1999!
There are plenty of options to make a wrestler and while I wasn’t expecting something quite as detailed as in WWE 2K23 I was hoping for something more substantial than the N64 games aside from the ability to make your arena, this mode is very obviously decades behind the competition and is quite detrimental to the overall replayability to the game as a whole. There is talk of this being expanded through updates but as it stands currently, I can’t make the Jeff Jarrett that I wanted and that’s no good slapnuts!
There is an in-game store where you can buy everything from new moves to unlockable wrestlers and “Epic” attires which somewhat lends some credence to the “updated over time” discussion surrounding the game, you earn money from matches, the Road to Elite mode or by completing the many challenges the game offers in a daily, weekly or all-time challenge menu, sadly there isn’t too much in this shop to entice gamers to spend their in-game currency unless you want absolutely EVERYTHING unlocked and even then that’ll take a lot more work as some wrestlers are hidden behind certain conditions before they even appear in the store.
In terms of Match types, you do have quite a decent selection, your obvious 1 vs 1, tag, three-way dance, 4 way, ladder, AEW’s Lights out match, and the Barbwire Deathmatch are the two hardcore attractions with the latter being only seen recently in Fire Pro Wrestling, there is also the Casino Battle Royale which acts very much like the Royal Rumble match type only splitting the wrestlers using a deck of cards, when the card is pulled that wrestler comes out, sadly the game has a 4 wrestler limit so this doesn’t quite match the chaotic nature of that from the PPV.
You also have a selection of mini-games ranging from a quiz to throwing gas at explosive barrels and copying Penta in a rhythm game to get the most points, I’ll be honest I didn’t spend much time with these, fun distractions as they are, I want to Fight Forever, not answer trivia about AEW and it’s wrestlers.
Finally, for singleplayer you have the “Road to Elite” mode which is the game’s story mode, here you take either an AEW wrestler or a Created Wrestler and work through 4 months’ worth of television, following 1 of 3 story paths per month until you finish the career and start it all over again, it lasts around 2 to 3 hours and despite the illusion of choice, very little you do actually matters or changes the story aside from a bit of dialogue,
In between matches you can choose from leisure or working out to improve your money and stats, the latter being pointless if you take an AEW wrestler into this mode as you can’t alter their stats or moves at all meaning this mode was certainly made with Created Wrestlers in mind rather than the stock roster.
Despite the options you have, this story mode feels really basic and just padded with the energy bar system or the injuries you can get which you can heal by using 1 of your 4 turns per week, it’s a fun but ultimately shallow system and with the inability to choose what story path you are on you can find yourself restarting a few times as you repeat the story you had just done.
There are online Ranked or Casual matches but at the time of writing I hadn’t been able to find a match being it was pre-release so I can’t comment on how well it runs or how populated it may be, it is worth noting though that the game isn’t crossplay sadly.
Overall, AEW: Fight Forever is a good starting point for the series but has a serious uphill battle if it wants to stay in the match, it feels decades behind the competition with the creation suite and the graphics and animations could do with a little more polish, hopefully, the game receives support via updates and DLC to help it reach full potential but as it stands it does just appeal for players wanting a quick break from the WWE factory rather than being a substantial alternative like the actual AEW product.
A great opening match but lacks the substance to continue up the card