WWE 13 may not be GOTY material, but its Attitude mode serves up a heady dose of rollicking nostalgia. Dave Cook discusses why fond memories often justify flaws.
We all have special memories attached to media. Music and movies are both timeless and revisiting them years after our first experience can often throw up fond recollections of a misspent youth or a special person in our lives. That is a powerful thing indeed.
Games haven't really been around that long by comparison, but I guarantee that every single gamer out there has at least one comforting memory tied to their experience with the medium. It could be as simple as a crushing last minute victory in FIFA, or even the first time they took a dive down to BioShock's Rapture.
Some of the moments we wish we could erase from the mind and relive with fresh eyes. After all, the tenth time you see the heart-wrenching end of Shadow of the Colossus might not bear the same impact as that shocking initial experience.
It's a luxury we can't afford unfortunately, but thinking back to that first moment of shock and awe, then stringing together your place in the world at the time can be comforting. For example, when I first saw the end of Shadow of the Colossus I was a poor student back home in Scotland, working a naff job at Blockbuster video.
Not exactly glamorous, but those were good times for a range of reasons, and it's a string of moments that I'll never forget as long as I live. That games can do this to us makes the stigma that a few select dinosaurs still have about the gaming format seem all the more ludicrous.
Games get inside your head, they manipulate, enthuse, excited and at times, irritate. But whenever a game presents us with a mediocre experience, we can often forgive its shortcomings if it gives us a sense of nostalgia in tandem. It's something that makes players - and sometimes critics - more forgiving in their appraisal.
But is that right? Should critics be more forgiving when fan service and nostalgia is offered up in droves? I asked myself this back in October when playing Resident Evil 6, and as some of you might remember, I savaged Capcom's game on this very site.
It's not because I hate the series, but it's because I'm such a big fan that I found the game to be an insult to my nostalgia. I remember playing the first game under-age at my friend's house after school and getting genuinely scared when the zombie dogs jump though the window. You know the one I mean.
I actually, almost had a sense of forgiving nostalgia when playing Resident Evil 6 when Leon and Helena escape Tall Oaks university and start making their way through the city streets. I remember thinking, 'Oh my god, this is Resident Evil 2's opening moments! But...in 3D. This is the best thing ever,' which of course was a stupid thing to think.
Then the fat zombie came along and reminded me how clunky and archaic the whole sordid mess had become. That's just my opinion of course, and again it's because I had high expectations of a series that I held dear in my memories. The PSone-era Resident Evil games were something we'd chat about in high school, and we'd each have our own stories.
'How did you kill the alligator? Did you use the gas canister or just shoot it?' 'How do you kill the giant snake in the attic?' 'Have you guys unlocked Tofu yet?' Simple questions, but with a wealth of fond memories attached.
I finally forced myself to finish Leon's Residnet Evil 6 campaign at the weekend, and once the shockingly abrupt and cheesy ending had come to pass, I was so miffed I looked at other games I had yet to start.
At the top of the pile was WWE '13. Now, I'm not au fait with wrestling in general any more, but I used to be a huge fan back in the day, so I took to Twitter to ask if it was worth playing through the 'Attitude'-era campaign, and the feedback was a resounding 'yes'.
Interestingly, many people I consulted said that the game was far from perfect, and was prone to odd glitches, as well as being a little rough around the edges. But everyone said the same thing: that it was still worth playing for the Attitude content for nostalgic purposes alone.
The Attitude era was a period in WWE history that saw the arrival of the most memorable characters and plot lines ever drafted in the history of the brand. Mankind, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker's brother Kane all lit up our screens back in 1998.
I loved those years, I truly, truly did. I hold so many dear memories of those years, such as getting cable TV in my bedroom for the first time to watch Monday Night Raw repeats on Fridays, and Smackdown on Saturday, and playing Duke Nukem 3D deathmatch with my best mate over PSone link-up before the show aired.
I remember seeing Undertaker throw Mick Foley several feet through the air and into the commentator's table during their iconic Hell in the Cell match. I remember Stone Cold Steve Austin battling WWE president Vince McMahon on a weekly basis. I remember the first hardcore matches, the disruption of Degeneration-X, and the smack-talking antics of The Rock.
Seriously, hands up if you remember and loved this back in the day:
Thanks to John88026 for the clip.
So with those memories in mind I started the game, and quickly found it to be a clunky mess, but really I was just shit at it. The tutorials didn't help much, but my Twitter followers urged me to keep going and yeah, it all started to make sense.
The Attitude content opens with the formation of Degeneration-X, and serves up a detailed and entertaining account - almost like a playable documentary of events that would see the WWE finally surpass long-time rival WCW in the Monday night ratings war.
Even the garbled, foamy-mouthed commentary from Jerry 'The King' Lawler and Jim Ross has been transferred from the actual matches in question, giving each memorable bout an authentic edge. Hearing JR shout about barn-burners, slobber-knockers and car wrecks never gets old either.
The whole thing has been treated with so much respect and love that even though I can't stand wrestling now, I still became sucked back into the late '90s, and laughed in glee at the silly pantomime insanity unfolding on my screen.
That's just one example of the power of nostalgia. It can make our opinion turn at the drop of a classic quip, or a well-placed piece of fan service. It clouds your judgement for sure, and although critics should always leave such feelings out of reviews, many of them don't, and mark games up based on their fan service.
Is that right, or does it muddy the verdict? Everyone's nostalgic feelings are different after all. What's applicable to the reviewer might not be to the reader, and so you enter this grey area where you start to wonder if a game is being appraised fairly or not.
But all I know is that I'm loving the mechanically average WWE 13 because of its fan service, even if I can admit it has issues. So to you tight and trunk-wearing juggernauts of old, I have to say thanks for salvaging what could have been a very shitty Saturday night.
- To help write this article Dave used the following promotional games sent at review stage via publishers: WWE '13, Resident Evil 6.