I really used to like playing the NBA 2K games. I have an unholy amount of time in NBA 2k11’s career mode, as it was a fun way to kill time when I was a broke college kid. There wasn’t a lot there; you played games, got skill points, boosted skills with them. But over the years, more and more got added to every game. First, it was a narrative to the career mode, where you played through a story. Fine. Then, that narrative got even more complex, where you played with your character for a dozen games before you even got to the league. Then, they added this hub where you had to walk around to do practices and spend virtual currency to buy items and…dang, I just wanted to play a game, alright? Eventually I spent more time maneuvering around the game than I did playing the game.
One thing that wrestling games thankfully do, is let you get right to the action. AEW: Fight Forever aspires to remind you of a time when you’d have four controllers plugged into a console at a party, pizza and soda is in the air, and people are screaming holy murder. The first wrestling sim from All Elite Wrestling, developed by Yuke’s, is definitely hitting that spot.
The game plays pretty easily. You have a punch, kick, and grapple option. There are modifiers to attacks, but the gameplay is easy to pickup. Blocking involves guessing an opponent’s attack – strike or grapple – and the game eschews a health bar for a ‘momentum’ meter that acts as indicator for both damage and your special attacks.
I’ll get it out of the way first – I think some of the controls are a little oddly layed out. In what seems to be a desire to have very few modifiers or button combos, there are some head scratchers. I ended up swapping my run button (Circle on PS5) with the Interact (L2), because both felt so out of place. Using the D-Pad to activate specials makes doing any running or moving specials awkward, though I will admit that this is also user error. I spent a great deal of time in my first two days with the game instinctively trying to do button combos that would work in WWE 2K.
The game itself is fast-paced, with fun action and some gorgeous animations. The character models are simple, not particularly photorealistic, but the animations are fluid and look stiff, in the wrestling sense. The impact of strikes feel good, and finishers like Cody Rhodes’ Cross Rhodes or Adam Page’s Buckshot Lariat have a real weight to them. Tag team matches have an particularly frenetic quality to them, with special meters building in them rapidly.
If there’s one thing the game lacks in its current state, it’s depth. Creating a wrestler in the game has limited options for looks, with the majority of gear options being t-shirts. The lack of a community creation system is also discouraging. Both the 2K series and Fire Pro Wrestling have fantastic creators, so the demand for being able to share custom wrestlers feels like a slam dunk that’s missing from the game. Hopefully, future updates expand graphical options and can include sharing content, but as it is right now, that feels like the biggest oversight.
The story mode for Road to Elite, also leaves me wanting more on some level. Playing through a year of branching story in AEW definitely feels like my jam, but the story itself isn’t very deep and you spend most of the time going through cutscenes with very little options as to what goals your wrestler pursues next. Considering it’s the main way created wrestlers can boost their stats, I’m hoping that there’s good replay value with it for future playthroughs, but the one I did of it for this review didn’t leave me dying to know the other paths I could have taken.
The last two paragraphs there might be a little harsh, but that may because the core of this game is so fun. The core wrestling of it is a blast, and the matches feel well-paced and hit hard. The game is a lean mean wrestling machine, with a tight core that’s a blast to me. Of particular note for me is the infamous Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. The almost cartoonish ultraviolence translates well, to the point where the first time I threw my opponent to the ropes and got rewarded with a cacophony of explosions, fire, and blood, I started cackling.
Another choice of the game, to not have commentary but instead give you practically all of AEW’s substantial music library and let you make your own jukebox to play over matches, works out well. Most of the time when I play sports games, I stop listening after the first hour or two of gameplay, having heard everything I want to from announcers and instead putting on a podcast. Wrestling music and themes are designed to pump you up, and letting them play across your matches is a great vibe.
The best criticism I can give for AEW: Fight Forever is that it leaves me wanting more. Still, the core of the experience is a blast, and for a first entry into the wrestling sim foray, AEW’s got a banger on its hands.