As the UFC games send the wrestling genre towards ever-duller reality the WWE universe gets a style overhaul as WWE All-Stars throws in the biggest, names past and present, into the squared circle. Expect to battle with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Bret 'Hit Man' Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Stone Cold, The Rock, John Cena, Triple H, Shaemus and Rey Mysterio.
The emphasis is on setting everything to the extreme. The character models are beefed up to ridiculous proportions and their faces are amusing cartoonised charactertures of themselves. The first time you see two wrestlers standing toe-to-toe at the start of a match you'll only be able to think 'they're effing huge!'. There are no Divas to oggle at, but considering the beefcake visuals, that's probably a good thing.
The outrageous visual design flows over into the combat too. Play as the likes of Andre the Giant or The Big Show and wallow in the astonishing power as a single punch will send your opponent into the air as you juggle them with follow-up strikes or smash them clean across the ring into a turnbuckle. Any special moves usually send both wrestlers flying into the air and often with a few flashy extra spins for good measure. Rey Mysterio would most certainly approve.
The number of moves has been dramatically reduced from the yearly WWE games which means the action can become a bit on the stale side after a few hours of solo play. It's mainly noticeable during the throws and grapples as each direction on the d-pad no longer leads to a different move. However, this simplifies things for the more casual player and keeps the multiplayer refreshingly open.
There are a variety of moves for jumping off turnbuckles and they're all deadly accurate. As with most moves though you're vulnerable to a well placed counter or reversal. You can reply in kind though by pressing RB when the brief prompt flashes up.
Signature moves can be used when you've built up a block on your specials meter, by battering your opponent with strikes and grapples. These moves are activated by pressing A+X or B+Y. Most wrestlers have a grapple move for both, but some chain a move from a series of strikes while others may leap onto a turnbuckle for a high-flying punisher.
Signature moves are pretty damn spectacular, but for the real show you'll want to activate a finisher. Another meter is filled throughout the match, when it's full you can activate it or store it. If you store it you can use it quicker later, with less show-boating, giving your opponent less time to kick you in the gut and ruin it for you. If you perform a finisher when your opponent's health bar is empty then you'll usually score a knockout for an instant victory. Check out the video at the end of the review to have a look at some of these crazy moves.
If you want to run at all, you'll be draining specials meter to do so. It's an astonishingly crap design flaw as sprinting into ropes and running around the ring are all part of the standard moves you'd expect to have free reign over.
A few other design flaws hamper the experience. Annoyingly, all the action is all limited to the ring and just outside of it. You can't get on the ramp, or backstage. When fighting more than one other wrestler there are no target icons overhead. Their name flashes up for a nanosecond when you target them with the right stick, but it's too brief when you're in a brawl. There are too many instances of trying to beat up the guy right in front of you and punching in the opposite direction. Any matches with more than two wrestlers suffer badly because of this which is a shame as four player rumbles are usually fun in WWE games.
Alongside the standard 1vs1 matches you have handicap ones featuring 1vs2 and the tornado tag matches where two teams of two go at it at the same time. There are no traditional tag matches with team-mates taking turns. Tornado tag is more fun, but it's surprising to see that there are no double-team moves at all. You can interrupt an opponent's grapple on a team-mate, but that's as good as it gets.
Other modes include the extreme matches with weapons like chairs, planks and crutches, and cage matches where you have to try and climb out of the cage first. Cage matches begin entertainingly enough as you hurl each other face first into the sides of it or off from the top, but it never feels as good as a classic Hell in the Cell match. There's a ridiculous minigame when you get to the top where you have to stop a speeding marker in the zone five times to escape. Naturally your opponent can try and pull you down, but at least you don't have to get five points in a row to escape.
Don't expect to play any table, ladder, first blood, submission or Hell in a Cell matches though. All of those are core modes that we've come to expect from wrestling games. Their absence is a bitter disappointment.
There's no career mode so to speak, instead there are a three campaigns where you fight through ten matches to defeat the Undertaker, Randy Orton or tag-team champs D-Generation X. There are a few cutscenes to pad them out, but they lack the feel of the WWE on TV.
More interesting are the Fantasy matches, pitching a legend against a modern-day superstar. These begin with archive footage edited together to build up the rivalry between the two. Surprisingly this is the only time you'll see any real footage of wrestling. Why a few classic match videos haven't been included as unlockables is puzzling.
Create a wrestler and multiplayer modes help to add some longevity to the brief single-player game. As already mentioned, anything more than two players can be a bit of a mess. Two player matches are great fun though either locally or online and with 32 wrestlers to choose from it should last a while.
- Over 30 of the best wrestling names ever
- Pick up and play simplicity
- Fun two-player action
- Game breaks with more than two wrestlers at a time
- No ladders, table or Hell in a Cell matches
- Single player game is a bit thin
The Short Version: What it lacks in depth and modes it makes up for in instant playability and an emphasis on over-the-top action that feels like a shot of hyper-steroids to the series.