Its been a long time since the WWE 2K franchise has had any sort of rival with a budget. With the former involved Yuke’s involved, AEW looks to change that with their own forray into the genre with AEW: Fight Forever. With a lot of hype and a hungry audience, does this title shadow its “inspirations” of No Mercy, or does it miss its mark right out of the gate? Let’s find out.
One of the main modes to sink your teeth into within AEW: Fight Forever is the career mode, dubbed “Road to Elite”. Players get to pick any talent and jump right into the action, participating in multiple stories as they travel the world in hopes of picking up some AEW gold. I think the best part of this mode is shown right out of the gate, which is the charm the developers soaked into paying tribute of sorts of games of yesteryear. Players can eat at restaurants to gain attributes, work out, and enjoy life backstage, which was actually kind of fun – despite the limitations.
Fight Forever fumbles this mode however by losing its sense of direction with the mode, despite everything being in place to have it move forward cohesively. You see, choice is not much of a focus within story mode, as despite who you may select for the career mode, it plays out more of the same each time. If players pick a female star, they get a very quick feud to determine the first ever Women’s Champion, but that’s about it. Afterwards, they participate in the same career as standard males, which all play out with random backstage segments that do little to offer progression, making it feel that the player is simply fighting a few matches to pad out the experience.
I get it, the first entry in what could be a franchise doesn’t need legs right out of the gate for a career mode as WWE 2K‘s recent entries have been extremely weak in this area. Road to Elite however is probably the least desirable mode within this package however, as outside of some one-note jokes that seem to play parody to wrestling games, there isn’t enough substance or style to flesh out the game more. There is never any type of thrill with winning a belt as the game never makes you feel like a hard-fought Champion, as the focus isn’t on the chase, its on the offbeat humor and goofy antics that if offers as you progress forward. I really wanted this mode to take us back to the days of No Mercy or Here Comes the Pain, but instead we have a simple compilation of matches with what feels like unrelated video packages and festivities.
The gameplay is definitely something AEW: FIght Forever has going for it as mostly, the mechanics are extremely accessible and smooth. You remember where WWE: Smackdown vs Raw 2009 was in terms of combat? Dumb that down just a bit, and you have what feels like the core engine Fight Forever runs on. That’s not an insult in the slightest as Fight Forever is actually fun when it wants to be and the easy to pick up style makes it easy to fight, with grapples, reversals, pins, and so on being simple to execute as you square off with an opponent. There is absolutely some of that classic Yuke’s feel here, which works to give us great controls and a decent movepool, right out of the gate.
The issue with AEW isn’t how the game plays, but rather your options as a player. Matches are very simple to finish and the AI is not too strong in the game, meaning most matches shouldn’t last over a few minutes tops. Sure, there are many ways you can end a match, but the build still feels like that “first to a finisher” concept of most other wrestling games, despite some of the “memorable” moments you can have within the matches themselves. Again, this is the first entry so more depth can absolutely be brought to this later, but those wanting more meat may be disappointed know that this title feels a bit lacking when it comes to gameplay satisfaction from it’s core experiences.
The standout, unique Exploding Barbed Wire Death Match also present, but feels a bit lack-luster in scope and what it actually provides. Sure, there is a countdown to when the ring explodes, but other than knock the characters down and cause some blood, that is really about it. After you run someone into one of the exploding environments, there isn’t a lot to do afterwards. You can pin them or keep going. The blood even cleans itself up if you try to prolong the match. Sure, there is a pop, but nothing really left to do afterwards except smile and reflect. The Create a Wrestler mode also comes with limitations, and while anyone should be able to create someone out of the gate, the lack of attires and content will surely clip your creative wings as you work within the four walls you’re limited to.
There are mini-games as well, and I am trying to be positive as I love wrestling and I love absurdity but these come with little point other than feeling like something the developers put in to pad out the overall package. These are short, rambling exercises such as playing “Simon Says” or collecting dropping coins that feel clunky, and like an afterthought to the core experience.
I will say I like the art design of most of the roster within Fight Forever. There is kind of an action figure appearance to each model, and that creates a sense of “play” or whimsy, as the game never takes itself too seriously, so I get the charm of that visual style and it works in this case. Some of the models seem inconsistent in quality though, with talent having rather blurry renders on their face. The animations and everything else flows well enough though, so there is certainly something to appreciate in the presentation, even if entrances have been shaved down to a few seconds.
The music in AEW is also fine for what is available. Featuring tracks from the main show and the general AEW scope, most who are fans will get what they want out of the soundtrack, as it does give a decent feel to the experience. Commentary is non-existent other than the occasional line from Jim Ross before a big match, which leaves a hollowness that the game could definitely fill in future entries. Ring announcing is also performed in the character selection loading screen, yet again making the game feel rather pasted together as a whole project. Its an odd bag here and I do like some of the effort, but when lesser games are doing more, I think there could have been a broader experience if the audio options were more complimenting to the matches themselves, which actually can be fun to play.
AEW: Fight Forever was promoted as an arcade-like wrestling title in the same vein of those Nintendo 64 classics of yesterday, and it just isn’t that. It feels cheap and in need of proper direction as there seems to have been more effort into creating “stream worthy” seconds long clip fodder for social media, rather than give AEW fans an experience that represent what has mostly been a solid television product for the past few years. There really is no way that this entry price truly represents this package, as it feels over-embellished and lacking in every single mode and area. I do applaud the core engine as it does work and shows promise, but everything else feels rushed and slapped together, as if the company was mainly just trying to push out a game in order to boost its stock, rather than deliver a product the fans could enjoy for years to come.
If you’re an AEW fan, I think you can do better with some of the independent offerings that “get” the formula that was attempted here (such as MDickie’s Wrestling Empire), rather than go full pocket for a title that never manages to lace its boots properly. The gags here feel as if they are done at the player’s expense for investing in a video game, and Fight Forever just does not have enough content to be so full of itself. I have loved wrestling games for over thirty years, and I get being softer on a newcomer’s first try – but this is Yuke’s. There is a budget here, and AEW: Fight Forever feels like a ported mobile offering. I really hope there is expansion later to the AEW brand as this genre needs more representation, but just like its marquee match type, the pops here are over before the competitor gets down the ramp.
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