AEW: Fight Forever Review
As a kid there were few things I loved more than professional wrestling. I had the t-shirts, played with the action figures, and I especially adored the videogames. As an adult who rediscovered wrestling in his late 20s I once again have the t-shirts, I might also have an action figure or ten but, whilst they’ve impressed, no recent game has managed to capture the kind of out-and-out, childishly competitive, fun I had going to war with my brother over a digital world championship in our youth. It seems fitting that the debut game from All Elite Wrestling, the company that reignited my love of the sport, would come the closest to doing that.
Nostalgia and wrestling are the ultimate tag team and AEW has been clever to tap into rose-tinted fanaticism when making its debut in the digital squared circle. The tale of the tape reads well. AEW: Fight Forever is developed by Yuke’s, the developer who had long worked with WWE on their annual video game releases, with Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita, director of classic N64 wrestling game WWF No Mercy, at the helm, and fans like AEW’s own Kenny Omega also assisting on the project. The result is a modest yet ambitious first attempt; an arcadey pick up and play wrestling game that offers a true alternative to the long-established WWE 2K series.
Whilst It may take a match or two to shake off any ring rust, AEW: Fight Forever will feel immediately familiar to anyone who played a wrestling game in the late 90s and early 2000s. The action is fast-paced, over-the-top, and trading hard-hitting moves with your opponent as one of AEW’s biggest stars is refreshingly straightforward. Much like those classic games, there’s also just enough depth to the grappling gameplay to keep things interesting in the longer-term as well. Fight Forever's more approachable control scheme allows for some solid combat variety without ever being overwhelming. Light and strong moves are augmented by pressing or holding the attack button, or by moving the left stick in any direction. Raining down blows on the opposition builds your chosen wrestler’s momentum until, with a push of the D-pad or a flick of the right stick, you can pull off your chosen wrestler's signature or finishing move. It’s all very easy to grasp which, in turn, keeps the action as fun and free-flowing as possible no matter you or your opponent’s skill level. And whilst I occasionally encountered an attack not landing properly or some confused AI, those moments were almost always quickly disrupted by the next big move before the back and forth began once again.
AEW: Fight Forever revels in pro wrestling’s more exaggerated elements. Landing a heavy strike, a particularly powerful slam, or a perfectly executed top rope dive feels satisfying (although I was surprised I needed to turn vibration on in the menus), and you can clearly see how the effects of a match take their toll on your chosen wrestler even without a traditional health bar. Hearing the crowd chant your name, or an even better “holy sh*t” or an apt “fight forever” as the momentum swings back and forth is a nice touch, especially as the game wisely ditches commentary — notoriously hard to pull off well — in favour of introductory soundbites before and after matches. Even entrances are reduced to their best bits; a pop of music and a quick taunt before a match begins.
There’s a larger-than-life aspect to the wrestlers themselves as well, their character models riding the line between realism and action figure, their signature looks and personalities dialed up to 11. Almost all of AEW’s biggest names are represented with the inclusion of CM Punk, the Young Bucks, Britt Baker, Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley and the aforementioned Kenny Omega sure to make AEW fans happy. Legends like Sting, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy and the late Owen Hart (his first appearance in a video game since 2004) will please the more hardcore and casual fans alike, whilst AEW’s younger talent like Darby Allin, ‘Jungle Boy’ Jack Perry, and Sammy Guevara are also well represented. However, there is also bound to be a feeling amongst some fans that their favourites are missing. All Elite Wrestling may sound like an exclusive promotion, but its vast roster isn’t fully encompassed by the talent available in-game. DLC plans have already been announced to add some much needed stars (FTR and Danhausen among them) and the game certainly feels built to grow instead of being usurped by a new game in twelve-months time.
Whilst each wrestler looks the part, there is a lot of shared DNA throughout the roster when it comes to how they perform in the ring. Wrestlers definitely feel unique thanks to their taunts, traits and signature moves. The basic move list can feel a little thin though and repetition of attacks became particularly noticeable through regular play, leading to yet another top rope elbow drop landing with a whimper instead of a bang. On the other hand, the developers’ commitment to otherwise making each wrestler feel unique in other, more subtle, ways is wonderful — being able to wrestle with your hands in your pockets as Orange Cassidy, for example, or MJF playing the snivelling heel and pleading with his opponent instead of using a traditional dodge move. Fight Forever being a wrestling game, there is also the option to create your own wrestler and, whilst I haven’t delved into it too much, there are plenty of non-AEW talents represented with attire pieces, moves, and entrance animations should you want to make Roman Reigns All Elite.
As far as match types go, AEW: Fight Forever boasts the standard one-on-one contests and tag team bouts, as well as triple threat and fatal four-way matches. All of these are available to play in exhibition mode, as is the Casino Battle Royale — an over-the-top-rope battle royale suspiciously similar although legally distinct from a WWE Royal Rumble. One-on-one matches can also carry Ladder Match (climb a ladder to win) or ‘Falls Count Anywhere’ (pretty self explanatory) stipulations, as well as AEW’s take on the violent hardcore match type, ‘Lights Out’ where thumbtacks, chairs and baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire are au fait and bloodying your opponent is expected. However, staples such as cage matches (and the AEW signature Blood & Guts match) are unfortunately missing, and not having six-man tag team matches does seem strange considering AEW itself has an entire trios division. What's stranger is the inclusion of one-versus-two matches and multi-person ladder matches in the game's campaign mode that are not available as exhibition matches. Alternatively, if you want less wrestling from a wrestling game, there are also a slew of vaguely AEW themed party games included here too. Available from the exhibition menu and during the single-player campaign, these minigames are entirely inoffensive and can be a bit of a laugh with friends but I’ve largely ignored them.
AEW: Fight Forever’s biggest spectacle — and biggest difference from any other wrestling game to date — is the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. Yes, you read that correctly and yes this is a match that has actually taken place. There’s even a little easter egg here for that infamous match here too. More barbaric than a hardcore match, the ring ropes are enveloped in barbed wire and coming into contact with them will cause a small explosion. All the while, a timer counts down before the entire ring explodes — which still doesn’t end the match. It's quite the spectacle; the icing on the cake of what is already a very outrageous game, and something that would absolutely be bullet point number one on the back of the box of a mid-2000s video game. Admittedly, when competing against AI, it can be just a glorified (gore-ified?) one-on-one match, but really shines in multiplayer where throwing your friend into the barbs and the resulting big bangs cause fits of swearing and laughter in equal measure.
That's the true fun of Fight Forever. It not only pays homage to so many classic wrestling games, but also manages to recreate that pure joy of chaotically scrapping with your siblings or friends. Frantically mashing the buttons to kick out of a sneaky pin attempt whilst my friend laughed maniacally brought back so many memories of lost Saturday afternoons playing Smackdown 2. Whether playing with friends, either online or on the couch, it's the kind of 'winner stays on' multiplayer game that you could easily play all night. That's where the game’s true longevity will come from, especially as the AI can be a bit tame on standard difficulty levels. Having this much fun in a modern wrestling game is something I didn’t know I was missing and yet here I am, champing at the bit to settle the score in another absolute war of a match.
If you haven’t got a faction of friends to play with, Road to The Elite offers up yet another modern throwback for old school wrestling game fans. It's a short and sweet career mode made up of a number of branching paths. If that sounds familiar, then it's supposed to. Seriously, if I wasn’t feeling the classic wrestling game nostalgia already, I would be here. The set-up is simple enough: choose a wrestler and take them through their first year of AEW, running through what feels like the greatest hits of the company’s short history. Wins, losses and other choices all matter in this choose-your-own-wrestling adventure but, whilst there's just enough meat on the bone for repeat playthroughs, lack of varied starting points or unique scenarios for different wrestlers is disappointing. Road to The Elite also lacks an appropriate level of freedom with some of the actions my wrestler chose seemingly coming out of nowhere with very little explanation or payoff. This was especially frustrating when the game had allowed me to make choices at other points. The structure of the mode is pretty eccentric in itself and will undoubtedly prove divisive. Each week, ahead of appearing on Dynamite (AEW’s weekly TV show) your chosen AEW star (or created wrestler) is given four ‘turns’ to train, eat, or undertake another activity to boost your stats going into your match. In doing this, I ran into fellow wrestlers here and there and had awkward, vaguely relevant, sometimes funny conversations. However, some of the cutscenes also wouldn’t feel out of place in an intentionally awkward JRPG. There’s a strange charm to them; they’re somehow simultaneously in keeping with the game and completely out of left field. Even now, I still can’t decide how I feel about them. To describe them as an odd stylistic choice is a massive understatement and, whilst I can see how they were intended, the execution is often a little wide of the mark.
Ultimately though, it’s the bell-to-bell wrestling action that matters most and that’s where AEW: Fight Forever succeeds. Fast-paced and fun, if occasionally a touch repetitive, its solid fundamentals are underpinned by an understanding of not only what made older wrestling games fun, but how to translate that into a modern package. A few too many oversights and nitpicks stop it from being an undisputed five-star classic (seven stars in the Tokyo Dome) but AEW: Fight Forever is the kind of wrestling game we haven't had in ages. It's exciting, easy to pick up and play, packed with recognisable names and ridiculous gimmicks and provides a proper alternative to the norm. After all, that’s what AEW is all about.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!