Having grown tired of the overly-slick and Vince-booked inconsistencies of WWE, I’ve been a big fan of the refreshingly wrestling-focused production of All Elite Wrestling. Sure, in the years since its foundation, it’s had its share of ups and downs, but for my money, Dynamite has remained the most consistently entertaining wrestling show in the history of the biz. With that in mind then, it gives me absolutely no pleasure to state that AEW: Fight Forever – AEW Games’ first ‘proper’ video game release – is pretty rubbish.
Created by pro-wrestling video game-developing royalty Yuke’s, it’s safe to say the expectations were initially sky-high for AEW: Fight Forever. This is, after all, the studio responsible for bringing into the world some of the greatest wrestling video games ever released. It’s a real shame then, that AEW: Fight Forever is not among those games – it’s not even close.
What AEW: Fight Forever gets right is its accessibility. Controls are a doddle, making the game easy to pick up and play. With a far more arcade feel than its 2K contemporaries, and with mercifully short wrestler entrances, the action comes thick and fast, ensuring that even newbies will be orange punching and coffin dropping with the best of them. There are no silly mini-games to escape submission holds or pin falls here, just pure button mashing, and special moves are activated with the flick of a thumbstick. What’s not to like?
Visually, AEW: Fight Forever is arcadey too. Character models are chunky and only vaguely fussed about bearing any similarity to the actual wrestlers. Chris Jericho has the right head, but it’s attached to what can best be described as an extremely ripped dumper truck of a body. Visually the rest of the roster is a real mixed bag too. Darby Allin looks fantastic, whilst Matt and Nick Jackson are grotesque face-melted creatures of nightmares. There is no sense of scale either, so Big Show – sorry, I mean, Paul Wight – looks absolutely the same size and weight as Ricky Starks, though the latter struggles to pick up and slam the former for some strange reason.
Perhaps it’s due to Fight Forever’s extended development, or maybe due to the obscenely fast changes taking place in AEW TV on a weekly basis, but the wrestler roster is horribly out of date. Huge names are missing, and there’s no Claudio Castagnoli, Jamie Hayter, Keith Lee, Saraya, Andrade, Toni Storm, Swerve Strickland, or Jay White to name a few. Tag teams get short shrift too – bad form for an AEW game, seeing as AEW was built around tag team wrestling – with no sign of The Acclaimed, The Gunns, Dark Order, JAS, or the House of Black. The line-up then, is patchy at best.
The match types on offer are woefully limited too. Other than a Death Match – which, to be fair, is awesome – there is a pretty dull selection on offer, overlooking the epic madness of matches such as Anarchy in the Arena and Blood and Guts. Not seeing either here cannot help but be a let-down.
But it’s when the action hits the ring that AEW Fight Forever really disappoints. Stick to local play and you will have unabashed fun – hitting your mates with clotheslines and kicking out on a two-count is eminently enjoyable – but whatever you do, don’t tag in the AI, because it is freaking dumb.
Let’s take tag matches by way of an example, as they are essentially unplayable. AI partners are useless, only good for bumbling into the ring, grappling an opponent, holding it for ten seconds, not actually doing a move, and then leaving the ring. They will do that again and again. They fail to do even the simplest task, like breaking up a pin. In fact, referees are much better at that, as they accidentally push both wrestlers into the ropes for a rope break when trying to count a pin. I can only assume the wrestlers in question were carried away with the application of baby oil and became so well lubricated that friction no longer has any hold on them, meaning even the daintiest touch from the referee sees big burly men and women slide along the ring like a bar of soap.
The AI woes don’t stop there, as even your opponent proves dumbfounded by needing to leave the ring, climb a turnbuckle, or remember to actually do any wrestling. In one match against Wardlow, MJF repeatedly climbed the ring apron. I assume he meant to do some cheating, hit me with his Dynamite Diamond Ring or something, but all he did was repeatedly climb up and down the ring apron, like a heavily tanned goldfish in a particularly small bowl. It’s frankly a bit embarrassing.
Don’t be thinking that going online will offer any respite for the solo gamer, as online play fairs little better. Confusing to set up, it’s a slog to find anyone to fight with, and when you do, the irritating lag results in a match that will definitely not be winning five stars from Dave Meltzer. In fact, you would be far more likely to find the replays on Botchamania.
The single-player storyline has some interesting ideas, at least. Following the imagined retelling of the first year of AEW, the story squishes together all of the best bits from TV. Branching storylines mean that even if you lose a match there is no fail state, as the narrative lumbers off in a different direction. This marks a refreshing change from WWE 2K and feels more like a pro-wrestling booked story in the process. Sadly, the whole thing is hampered by the terrible AI, resulting in even the most dramatic and exciting story having little to no gravitas and being rendered a chore to play through.