To cut to the chase, this is perhaps the closest any developer will ever come to re-creating the magic of AKI’s classic wrestling game, especially since that developer pivoted hard to fashion games and other casual fare as Syn Sophia.
AEW: Fight Forever uses a punch and kick button as well as a grapple button to perform all attacks. Like wrestling games of the past, different versions of these attacks are initiated when using it in conjunction with different directions on the left analog stick, and holding down a button versus simply tapping on it produces different results. There’s no energy meter, but filling a momentum meter gets you access to Signature Moves; you get Special Moves when you taunt in this state. Using these moves takes a press of the d-pad or tap on the right analog stick. Most of the other functions —climbing the turnbuckles, moving through the ring ropes, or getting a weapon from the crowd or under the ring — are handled with simple trigger commands. Blocking for grapples and strikes is done via the shoulder buttons. Breaking out of a submission or pin uses the classic method of button-mashing, which may not be as refined as the latest WWE 2K games, but it is universally understood by those who have played any wrestling game, and it seems to be the natural reaction to getting out of a three-count.
The control scheme is simple and deep, and the fighting system exhibits those same traits. You can put up a good fight by hitting the basic moves, but get in some practice, and you’ll pull off some spectacular moves and execute some chain wrestling if you have the right character. The fighting is fast enough to fit into the arcade classification, and with the game’s emphasis on button presses versus animation, you won’t be stuck in a long taunt when you want to hit someone who’s trying to sneak up on you.
The arcade-like combat is comparable enough to AKI’s old work, but Yuke’s has its own spin on the formula in a few areas. For starters, men and women can fight one another, so choosing a woman doesn’t limit the roster of opponents. In tag-team matches and multi-man matches, attacks can involve more than two people without being special moves. This can involve assisted versions of regular moves, holding a person while someone else whales on them, or knocking together two heads.
As for acrobatics, you can jump from crowd barricades and ropes, or you can execute a perfect dive through them. You can bust down the barricades and the LED screen at the back of the stage to give the match a more chaotic feel. There’s a wide range of weapons, from the silly to the expected: barbed wire bats, brooms, chairs, frying pans, kendo sticks, propane tanks, tables, thumbtacks, traffic cones, etc. The game isn’t shy about blood, and while it takes plenty of hard shots to make someone bleed, you can conceivably paint the ring and ropes red (if given enough time).
There are still a few hang-ups with the mechanics, and while the issues aren’t huge, they’re noticeable for big fans of pro wrestling. Referees are never in a hurry to get into position to start the count. Put a prone wrestler between two computer-controlled wrestlers, and they will never learn to go around to start or continue their fight. You also don’t see accompanying heels try to distract the ref or perform disqualifying moves behind their back.
The emphasis on smooth and user-friendly fighting mechanics comes at the cost of some pageantry. The wrestler introductions are severely shortened, with some of the more memorable aspects even being outright removed. Select Adam Cole, for example, and you’ll get the thumb point with the “Boom” as well as the fingers pointing to the sky with the “Adam Cole Baybay” shout, but it doesn’t go in time with the music. Malakai Black doesn’t “teleport” to the ring in darkness, and Ruby Soho doesn’t do the pose where she reveals the back of her leather jacket to the crowd.
The videos are barely visible, which might be fine since some of the titantrons are mismatched with the selected character. For example, MJF uses the titantron for The Pinnacle, despite his theme being played. Some of the licensed songs went missing; Orange Cassidy doesn’t use “Jane” from Jefferson Starship, Jon Moxely doesn’t use “Wild Thing” by X, and Christian Cage doesn’t use the theme he had while in TNA. However, there are licensed songs present, like Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” for CM Punk and Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” for Jungle Boy.
To somewhat make up for these, the game lets you partially control the camera angle for the introductions and when certain pyro or screen effects go off. It’s neat but doesn’t act as a good substitute for the full intros that modern wrestling fans are accustomed to. On the flipside, the short intros mean that you can get into the action faster, especially since one can’t blindside the first person coming out or run up the ramp to initiate an attack during another wrestler’s intro.
The roster consists of a good mix of notable wrestlers on both sides. The big stars like Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega are there, as are some of the day-one guys like Scorpio Sky and Dustin Rhodes. There are fan favorites like Eddie Kingston, “Hangman” Adam Page, Bryan Danielson and Ricky Starks. Some of the more notable women are present, like Kris Statlander, Nyla Rose, Yuka Sakazaki and Dr. Britt Baker D.M.D.
There are also some notable pre-made tag teams like The Lucha Brothers and The Young Bucks. There are a few tribute additions in the form of Mr. Brodie Lee and Owen Hart, marking the first time that wrestler was seen in a game since Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. Due to the age of the company, there aren’t any wrestlers who have left for other companies, except for Cody Rhodes. This marks one of the few times that two different wrestling games have featured the same active wrestler in the same year.
A tally of 52 wrestlers doesn’t sound too bad for a wrestling game, but it also feels like a small portion of the available roster. Some of the big omissions are being patched in via DLC with people like The Bunny, Danhausen, FTR and Keith Lee, but unless more updates arrive in a timely manner, the roster will have to be filled in with user creations.
Even if you exclude wrestlers who show up often but aren’t officially on the website’s roster page like Ryan Nemeth or Jose the Assistant and exclude those who have been newly signed like Komander, AR Fox and Jeff Jarrett, quite a few wrestlers are still missing from the roster. Some notable tag teams omissions are The Acclaimed, The Butcher & The Blade, The Gunns and Private Party. Excluded singles wrestlers who were there from the beginning include Peter Avalon, Sonny Kiss, Kip Sabian and Shawn Spears, alongside some later hires like Daniel Garcia, Ethan Page and Wheeler Yuta. Omitted women include Jamie Hayter, Emi Sakura, Toni Storm and Red Velvet.
Even some factions are incomplete. The Inner Circle’s Jake Hager, Ortiz and Santana are missing, making that listing seem incorrect. The duo of Sammy Guevara and Chris Jericho should be called Le Sex Gods. The Dark Order has a bunch of members missing, including Colt Cabana, Stu Grayson, Alex Reynolds and Evil Uno. Even some notable referees are missing, like Bryce Remsburg and Paul Turner; you only have Aubrey Edwards and Rick Knox as available officials.
That sentiment applies to the arenas, which also seem to be missing a few things. The company’s big four pay-per-views are represented, as are the mainline shows, Dynamite and Rampage. Smaller events like Fyter Fest and Fight for the Fallen are missing. Dark is here, but there isn’t Dark Elevation, Battle of the Belts, or Bash at the Beach. Forbidden Door might be missing since that’s a partnered event with New Japan Pro Wrestling, and the team might not have had enough time to complete the new sets for Dynamite and Rampage in time for launch. The most disappointing omission for die-hard fans of AEW is the absence of Daily’s Place, the location of almost all of their shows during the pandemic. Considering how that happened during the early part of the promotion’s life, it’s a shame to not see it as a selectable venue.
If you want to try and fix the missing content by creating it yourself, then be prepared for some good and bad news. The arena customization doesn’t feel too robust. You can change quite a number of things, from the ring mat and apron to the individual turnbuckles and ropes. The billboards and barricades can also be changed, as well as transition videos between the match-up screen and fight introductions. If you wanted to re-create those missing shows, the most you can do is get the scenery for Bash at the Beach. There are generic pictures of thunder and galaxies, but don’t expect to use premade pieces and text to create logos or set dressing.
There’s good news for tag-team creation and wrestler creation, but it isn’t free from criticism. Despite what you see in the tag-team roster menu, you can’t create a team of more than two people, and you don’t have too many facial elements or modifiers to create a unique-looking wrestler. Having said that, the amount of available moves for singles wrestlers and tag teams is quite numerous, as are the taunts and introduction poses. There’s enough to create a move set and introduction that can serve as good replicas. The musical selection encompasses just about every song created by Mikey Rukus and songs from every album released by AEW to date.
If there’s one thing that hurts the creation suites, it is the inability to share the content easily with others online. While this frees THQ Nordic from moderating the content, it also means that the only way to share creations is via step-by-step posts online that let players create it for themselves. It’ll work if you find a good source, but it also hinders the audience from the outset.
A number of universal wrestling match types are available. One-on-one matches can be had with the variations, including Falls Count Anywhere and Lights Out unsanctioned matches. Two-on-two tag matches are available alongside three-way and four-way bouts. Ladder matches are also present but limited to one-on-one bouts, so there’s no way to re-create the wars that the Young Bucks and the Lucha Brothers have had.
There are two match types that are unique to AEW: Fight Forever. The first is the Casino Battle Royale, a 21-person bout that takes on two different forms. Going solo means picking a card from a deck and waiting until you are randomly picked to fight. Suits mode means selecting a team of five randomly chosen wrestlers and trying to whittle down the opposing decks. In both cases, you’re faced with standard battle royale rules, as wrestlers can only be eliminated by going over the top rope. Battle royales are always fun, and while the shortened list of participants makes for a quicker game, the fact that there can only be four people at a time limits when new participants can join and doesn’t make it feel too different from a standard four-way match.
The second match type is the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch, which happened during the pandemic era but has become infamous among wrestling fans. For the most part, it is the standard one-on-one match with no rope breaks or disqualifications. However, the space outside of the ring contains barbed wire panels. The corners of the ring also have these panels, and the ring ropes are also covered in barbed wire. Touching any part of the ring causes a mild explosion, while being thrown or hit hard into the ropes causes a larger string of explosions. Getting hit with one explosion causes immediate bleeding, and after some time has passed, a much larger explosion engulfs the ring and severely hurts anyone within it. It’s still wild that something like this was popularized in what can be considered a niche part of the Japanese wrestling scene is actually in a game. It feels like a perfect fit for a game with arcade-like tendencies once you see it in action.
Hardcore AEW fans can replace the giant explosion with the much smaller one seen at the end of Revolution 2021, when the pyro failed to ignite; it’s a sign that the company isn’t above making fun of itself. At the same time, it is strange that there’s a two-minute timer that immediately begins once the bell has rung. It differs from the match, where the explosion takes place after 30 minutes. While it ensures that players will always see the big boom or the big bust, it is disappointing that you can’t change when this happens before the match begins.
The good news is that all of those match modes can be played online. Cross-play between platforms is also present, as are leaderboards, but Steam players will have to use the Epic Games login if they want that functionality. We haven’t been able to test this out during the review period, so we don’t know how good the performance is and can’t confirm if it’s susceptible to lag or how it handles possible dropped games.
This is a good variety of matches, but it doesn’t feel complete since AEW has created other match types that aren’t available in AEW: Fight Forever. Due to the limitations in the Casino Battle Royale mode, we know that Trios matches aren’t possible, and Stadium Stampede is out of the question since there’d be too many things to keep track of as far as locales and wrestler locations. No one would expect the Blood and Guts match, but the lack of a basic cage match is disappointing. The Street Fight is also missing, but you can get away with using the Unsanctioned Lights Out or Falls Count Anywhere matches as a substitute. What may irk players more is the lack of customization for the match types. For example, you can’t create a Texas Tornado match by turning off DQs in tag-team matches. Some might be fine with the matches as-is and without modification, but some might be disappointed by the lack of options.
For those looking for a story mode, there’s Road to Elite. Given the young age of the company, it acts as a truncated version of the first few years of AEW’s existence. You can choose an established wrestler or create one of your own, but no matter who you choose, you’ll always start at the first Double or Nothing and make your way through a year, going through Dynamite matches before heading to All Out, Full Gear, Revolution, and ending things at Double or Nothing. Aside from the actual wrestling, you can spend time off working out or going to the hospital if you injure yourself. You can eat, take in the sights, or do public events like a press conference or meet and greet sessions. Over time, you get the chance to wrestle on Dark or Rampage to pad some stats, but those matches are optional. You also get to participate in minigames, which we’ll cover later.
All of the activities are governed by a few different systems. Wrestling and working out drains stamina, while eating or going sightseeing replenish it. Almost everything you do grants points to power up your wrestler and cash to get temp boosts or buy shirts. The cash is different from the AEW coins earned everywhere else. This is mainly meant to make your created character formidable enough against the rest of the AEW roster, but you can also use these to power up any other wrestler, giving you the chance to have a maxed-out roster.
Road to Elite takes on several different approaches, depending on who you play as. Take on a created character, and you’ll start in the Casino Battle Royale as an entrant, weaving yourself in and out of situations and big moments in AEW history, like the first episode of Rampage with CM Punk’s debut or MJF trying to break the Inner Circle from the inside to form The Pinnacle. Play as a female wrestler, and you’ll be invited to a four-way match at Double or Nothing, go to the first Dynamite and compete to be the inaugural AEW Women’s Champion, after which you’ll be asked to join the Dark Order. Not every big moment is covered, but there are curated clips with actual footage. Those who are used to the WWE editing style will be happy to note that there’s no face or sign blurring, so watching Riho winning the belt won’t be marred by smears in random spots.
While the mode acts as a tiny historical chronicle of the company and some original storyline scenarios, it also embraces the silliness of some of the wrestling game story modes. Some of these are unintentional, such as when you go sightseeing and see that the environments are still pictures taken at a decent resolution. The dialogue can also be banal at times, but there are moments where the game breaks the fourth wall by calling you out as a player-character or promising to agree to a decision on your next playthrough. There are Being the Elite references, such as the Young Bucks inviting you to play a minigame and a belt being present if you win, John Silver calling for Anna Jay, and Mr. Brodie Lee hitting people with rolled-up papers.
The mode is short enough that it doesn’t feel like too much trouble to go through it multiple times, even if the jokes don’t change and you’ll be encouraged to do so due to the different story blocks in each leg of the pay-per-view journey. There are only a few things that could’ve been tweaked. The first is the game’s inability to go through the mode with multiple characters at a time. If you started the mode with Abadon, you’ll have to take their journey to its conclusion or start over if you choose another wrestler. You can’t rewatch any of the movies. You can view all of the cheesy snapshots, but you can only see the introduction again only when you play through the mode again.
One thing we touched on earlier was the presence of minigames, which is something you don’t expect to see in a wrestling title. Some are benign, such as an AEW Trivia game. Others make sense, like a game where you push opponents out of the ring. One has you trying to run from a shortened football field endzone to another while avoiding pitfalls. Then you get to the wacky stuff, like throwing propane tanks into a ring to destroy boxes, playing baseball with wrestlers dressed up as giant baseballs, and a rhythm game where you match the taunts that Penta El Zero M displays. There’s a number of them, and most need to be unlocked via Road to Elite mode. You might scoff at the minigames the first time you see them, but don’t be surprised if you go back for a quick visit to take a break from the fighting.
Aside from the minigames, there’s not much else in terms of extra modes. Those hoping for a port of the AEW General Manager mobile game won’t find it here, and you also won’t find the ability to take on a longer career mode. It follows the blueprint laid out by WWF No Mercy in this regard, with a focus on fights and a story mode on the side. That might be disappointing for fans who are hoping this would directly compete with WWE 2K23 in all areas, it works for those who want something simple.
It’s going to sound like a broken record, but like the rest of the game, the presentation takes on the traits of WWF No Mercy. Commentary is limited to pre- and post-match snippets by Excalibur and Jim Ross, with Tony Schiavone showing up once in a while. Ring introductions are done by Justin Roberts, and if you’re going through modes for the first time, you’ll either hear from Excalibur, Taz, or William Regal, one of the few people in the game who’s not with the company anymore. Crowd cheers and chants come in loud and clear for every wrestler; it’s a nice feat considering that real crowds were recorded between show tapings. Aside from a vocal cameo by Tony Khan in Road to Elite mode, you’ll hear the wrestlers deliver their own grunts and taunts. Jim Ross might have a more relaxed tone that throws off people, but everyone else delivers like they do on the show. With the absence of commentary, the game uses the vast music library to provide background music for the fights. The default tracks are good, but those who add every track to the playlist will strain to get a track to repeat after countless matches.
Graphically, AEW: Fight Forever goes for a slightly exaggerated look for the wrestlers. It isn’t going for a full cartoon style like WWE Battlegrounds but a more toned-down version of WWE All-Stars. Some of the faces can be a little off, there isn’t an abundance of muscles, and veins are more prominent on body parts. There’s still some unavoidable clipping during fights, and the championship belts are very stiff, but the overall, movement is smooth enough. Facial expressions are very easy to read due to their exaggerated nature. The lighting prowess of Unreal Engine 4 gets shown off if you activate certain pyro during the entrances, but the particle effects start to show their squareness when viewed up close. The crowd animates very well and doesn’t appear as low-polygon as expected, except for the members who face away from the gameplay camera. The frame rate is very smooth, with an option to bump up to 120fps if your machine can handle it. One thing that might disappoint some people is that the only upscaling option is DLSS, but with the game performing very well even on low-end hardware, you won’t miss the ability to use FSR or XeSS.
As confirmed by Trent Beretta on Twitter, the game does run on the Steam Deck, and everything from online play to videos is completely intact. Cloud saving is also present, so you can go back and forth between the Deck and your PC to keep unlocking stuff. Like many fighting games, AEW: Fight Forever aims for 60fps during all fights, and it largely achieves that, only briefly dropping below that mark when viewing replays that involve explosions. Even at the medium preset, the game looks very nice, so lowering it only feels necessary if you’re trying to squeeze out a few more minutes of battery life. Speaking of which, the game hit an average of two hours on a full charge, making it ideal for the portable PC and a little better than WWE 2K23, which has a slight increase in battery life in exchange for a not-so-stable frame rate.
Fans of the promotion and wrestling games in general will find themselves partially satisfied with AEW: Fight Forever. The flaws are noticeable, such as the truncated introductions, limited arenas, and a smaller roster compared to the competition. The presence of creative tools gets hampered by the lack of a built-in way to share them, and the absence/trimming of match types can feel off. While the story mode is goofy in several ways, it is the strength of the wrestling engine that keeps the game fun to play, match after match. If the rumors are true, then this good game can get much better with patches and downloadable content for years to come. Otherwise, if this potential series follows a more traditional development cycle, this title is a very good base to work with for a hopefully more ambitious and meatier sequel.
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