It’s been nearly three years since the first All Elite Wrestling video game was officially announced. Many performers within the company itself have long extolled the virtues of the wrestling video game kings of the ’90s – in particular, WWF No Mercy – even going so far as to set AEW: Forever Fight as a bit of a tribute. But with the game finally making its way to store shelves, was the wrestling sim all that fans were promised?
First, we have to talk about the wrestlers themselves. Outside of their instantly recognizable outfits, they are bizarre, bumbling characters with odd, exaggerated features. This approach isn’t something inherently negative given the game’s obvious inspiration, but any personal appreciation should end up in the face of the performer. Instead of sticking to the cartoonish style across the board, an actual survey of menu insights has been slapped haphazardly on models with varying degrees of success, and it seems kind of cheap. CM Punk, for example, appears to have his facial hair partly forked from his mouth, while Sammy Guevara bears a passing resemblance to a fan who may have once shared an elevator with Sammy Guevara.
AEW: Fight Forever will never be able to hold a candle to the big-budget contemporary WWE 2K23 offering, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two. However, there were several occasions where we couldn’t believe how tough the wrestlers looked; Ironically, it bears more of a passing resemblance to custom creations from 2K Grappling Force than anything close to the source material.
Fortunately, the moves look great, with an arcade-like smoothness to the animation that’s been missing from the wrestling game scene for quite some time, and an exceptional job has been done capturing some of the most memorable actors on the AEW roster. Orange Cassidy, for one, can keep his hands in his pockets, using his sloth-style antics as he tends to do IRL — we just wish we could see more of his understated entrance.
We’re not really sure why this decision was made – then again, wanting to basically remake No Mercy – but the wrestlers’ entrances take a few seconds, showing nothing but a pause on the stage before fading to black. What’s particularly frustrating is that in multiplayer matches where new entrants enter once another is eliminated, you can see the newcomer force his way into the ring, proving that full entries were entirely possible. There seems to be a stubborn desire not to repeat on the obvious muse of Fight Forever, and so we suppose it makes sense that the gameplay would also seem a little outdated.
In her defense, the wrestlers themselves are easy enough to pick up, and on the whole, much simpler than the ones seen in WWE 2K23. The triangle is a kick, the square is a punch, and the cross is a grapple. Additional controls are available for taunting, running, Irish whip (throwing your opponent across the ring), and interacting with objects, but if the deep end is thrown unprepared, new players can expect to mash buttons and get some offense. However, the necessity of more complex controls and a lackluster tutorial will eventually leave these newcomers hanging. Yes, you can punch someone in the face over and over until you pin them after being asked, but how are you going to prevent and reverse the endless punches you receive in return?
Using L1 and R1 to block grapples and strikes respectively, and trigger just before attacking to get back, Fight Forever makes the interesting decision of not requiring you to counter attack, and instead leaves it up to the player. Some will applaud this as a way to increase immersion and encourage skill development, but we can tell you for the fact that it’s not a fun system to learn at all, and that’s when it actually works.
There were several situations where we found ourselves at the end of the relentless attack, either because we couldn’t time the reversal correctly, or it simply wasn’t recording. In fact, across the board, we’d describe Fight Forever’s gameplay as uncooperative. In single rounds, it’s simple enough: you attack your opponent with a variety of offensive moves until your momentum meter fills up, then you hit a signature or finisher, lock or serve it, and move along. Adding additional performers makes things much more complicated, with punches and kicks thrown with reckless abandon, and oftentimes not really communicating with anyone. Couple that with no clear on-screen indication of a wrestler’s health, no way of knowing how close you are to escaping a submission/tapping someone, no sense of when you’ll stand up after being hit, and matches can prove an exercise in frustration.
We spent a particularly irritatingly rough match desperately trying to engage a table that only our opponent seemed able to move, eventually being put through the same table and pinned soon after. When you lose because the game is actively fighting against your desires to take full advantage of its toolkit, something is clearly amiss.
Fortunately, there is an accessible, albeit very limited, builder tool available that allows players to build a custom wrestler, team, or arena. Only a few preset faces, hair, and clothing items are shown, but entrances, move sets, and ring announce names can be set. It’s not deep enough to allow for the creation of one of the many Lost Roster members (including several existing heroes), and you can’t share any creations online either, but if you want to play through the Fight Forever career a bonus mode with your very own weird little monster At least, that’s a possibility.
Road To Elite is the main attraction of Fight Forever. Taking place over four blocks of four weeks, it begins with selecting an artist (whether male, female, custom, or real-life wrestler) and signing a contract with AEW. From there, players have four turns a week before a match and must manage their momentum, energy, and general well-being between matches, and this can be done in a number of ways.
The workout will lower your energy but reward you with skill points that can be spent on upgrading your base stats, or buying active or passive skills – but only for a custom character. As far as we can tell, there’s nothing to spend on if you’re playing as an established star. To regain any lost energy, you’ll visit a restaurant and consume local delicacies, with a fact card telling you about the miraculous qualities of Putin, for example. Sightseeing, attending talk shows, and playing mini-games can all be done in return for money, skill points, and recovering some spent energy.
In addition to a collection of mini-games that really run the gamut on quality and fun, none of these journeys are interactive; You’ll just watch the same scenes unfold over and over each week. Occasionally, you’ll run into another A-list member on these sites, but the interactions are, quite frankly, really weird, often ending with the two of you taking a selfie to be added to an album. We found the time management concept really likable, but it’s really weird to see Pénta El Zero M drinking pizza and then snapping a pic with Riho after an elaborate conversation about how quickly she eats her toast. Yes, really.
A new story will be shown during each of the four-week blocks, with pay-per-view action wrapping up wide. While Road To Elite started out the same way each time we played the mode, we were glad to see some variety in the stories presented to us. From challenging the World Championship and Tag Team Championship to trying to take over the company, you’ll have the option to decline or accept invitations to join the stables as you go, providing a slight difference to your experience. Unfortunately, here Fight Forever’s budget-conscious nature rears its head again.
With no voice acting or commentary across the board – save for some explanation by a barely-seeming Jim Ross – be prepared to read the dialogue for yourself. While this allows the game to randomly insert wrestlers into certain roles in the storylines, it’s not a silver lining when those lines don’t have legal meaning. For example, in one game we won the world championship in the first block of weeks, only it wasn’t mentioned until the end of the final block where it was suggested that we the challenge So and not Defense He. She. Plus, after winning the Tag Team Championship, we were facing our partner in a singles competition after just one week and our team was never talked about again.
With a little extra polish and attention, the Road To Elite could have been something really special. As it stands, it’s a collection of fun ideas oddly executed, and with a clear lack of care in applying them to ensure consistency of experience throughout.
If punching strangers online is more than your bag, Fight Forever includes an online mode where you can do just that. If there’s an inclination, players can take on ranked matches to really test themselves and earn tag-based rewards. While we did get disconnected a few times trying to join a lobby, we were pleasantly surprised to find that matches are smooth and devoid of any lag or performance issues.
While playing through any of the online or offline modes, you will frequently complete the game’s massive set of challenges. From lifetime goals like winning a certain number of matches to daily and weekly tasks that require a number of wins as a specific wrestler, these challenges will earn you AEW Cash. Along with whatever you’ve earned from any other modes, you can spend it in the game store. Fortunately, nothing too devastating, with a few pieces of clothing for custom performers, a medley of entrance music, and sarcasm on display. On the other hand, other than the premium price for unlocking Cody Rhodes, the shop is kind of redundant right now, as after just one View of Road To Elite we were able to buy everything we thought was interesting. Hopefully the shop will be updated with new items, but right now players are likely to accumulate massive amounts of cash and not have much temptation to spend it.
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