In The Game x Around The Loop: You’ll Want to “Fight Forever” with the First AEW Video Game

Andy Burns: Talk to any wrestling fan of a certain vintage and we’ll ramble on about what so many of us consider the Golden Age of wrestling video games: that sweet spot at the tail end of the 90s into the early 2000s when the Nintendo 64 was home to genre-defining titles from AKI and Yukes. First there were WCW’s offerings, WCW vs NWO: World Tour and WCW Revenge, which were considered the crème de la crop. Those two titles gave way to WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy, titles that hardcore gamers still pull out their N64s to play to this day.

In the 20+ years since WWF No Mercy, there have been many a wrestling video game released on every generation of console you can think of. While many of them have been great, the memory of those four classics have remained. So much so, in fact, that when All Elite Wrestling set out to enter into the world of video games with their own title, they joined forces with THQ Nordic, Yukes and Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita, director of WWF No Mercy and WCW/nWo Revenge. That Fall 2020 announcement was greeted with excitement and anticipation. Were fans going to get the return of the kind of wrestling video game we’d long wanted?

AEW Fight Forever

With the release of AEW Fight Forever, the answer to that question is simply, “oh, hell yeah.”

With a control scheme that is recognizable to veterans but simple enough for newcomers to pick up and play with, AEW Fight Forever is instantly fun, something that’s been lacking in so many titles that have come and gone over the years. While 2K’s WWE titles offer gorgeous graphics and amazing Create A Wrestler options, and the various Fire Pro games have offered up tons of options and customizations in its 2D sprite package, for a large group of gamers, neither franchise have captured the fun, arcade-like experience of Yukes’ previous wrestling games. AEW Fight Forever does so and then some. Characters feel original, matches play out differently every time you pick up your controller, but never do you feel frustrated. At least, not for too long. Once you’ve figured out the control scheme (muscle memory has kicked in for me from my youth), you don’t forget it.

Sachin Hingoo: With moves that often chain seamlessly into one another and feel like they have real weight to them, Fight Forever sets itself apart from the dominant 2K wrestling game hegemony by making the actual wrestling gameplay fun again. I think the biggest distinction is that every single character plays and moves differently from all the rest. There’s no lazy palette-swaps just left in there to pad out a roster. When you’re playing as Abadon or Eddie Kingston, there’s a methodical deliberateness to the experience compared to a high-flyer like Fenix. Even characters that in other games might be lumped into a ‘cruiserweight’ category like Darby Allin and Sammy Guevara feel very distinct to one another, owing to their different wrestling styles.

AB: It’s clear as soon as you start to play that AEW and the creative team have chosen substance over style. While WWE games on next-gen consoles are so gorgeous, you could possibly mistake a video game wrestler for their real-life counterpart, AEW Fight Forever’s character design is closer to cartoons. That’s not a bad thing at all. It sets the game apart, though there are some odd visuals when triggering taunts with MJF or Ricky Starks that I’ve noticed, and Chris Jericho’s character model definitely looks a little too buff. However, this game isn’t about aesthetics. It’s about gameplay, and there it succeeds without fail. Throw in blood (lots of blood), exploding rings, tons of weapons, and thumbtacks (oh, and did I mention blood), and you’ve got a professional wrestling game that stands out loudly in a market that’s been bereft of competition.

Another entertaining aspect of AEW Fight Forever is Road To Elite, the career mode that has you taking either a created wrestler or a member of the roster through a year in the life. I’m playing as CM Punk and so far, it’s been a blast. The writing is fun, the options of what to do on your down time often lead to some funny moments, and you get the required backstabbing and betrayals that make professional wrestling tick.

SH: The detail in the Fight Forever‘s Road to Elite mode is both staggering and a little bit baffling at times. The way you train up your fighter between events includes doing press conferences, playing minigames, training at various levels of intensity, and eating at restaurants. Fight Forever goes to the lengths of confirming at the outset of the game whether or not your character is vegetarian, and tailoring food choices to match. It also goes out of its way to point out regional culinary favourites, like a giant slice of pizza in Washington DC or poutine in Toronto, in case you’re wondering how detailed it gets. There’s a pretty good balance of activities though, as one of my biggest criticisms of the WWE 2K games (and of WWE in general) is that it takes way too long to get to the actual wrestling. In Fight Forever, the training and story activities feel like they’re in service of the gameplay, not the other way around.

AB: That doesn’t mean AEW Fight Forever is perfect, though, and some of its current flaws are disappointing. Though big names like CM Punk, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Jon Moxley, and many more are available instantly, the roughly 60 wrestler roster (including unlockables and Season One DLC content) feels way too small, especially considering the size of the current real life roster. To not be able to immediately play with big names like Claudio Castagnoli or Swerve Strickland feels like a huge miss. AEW star Evil Uno said in December 2022 that the plan is to treat the base game like sci-fi video game No Man’s Sky, which is constantly being built out with DLC content. While that certainly adds value to AEW Fight Forever, talent-wise the game feels thin at launch.

The other perhaps glaring decision is that players aren’t able to share their CAWs. One of the biggest selling points for WWE gamers is the massive CAW suite in all their games and the sharing that goes on amongst online fans. This feels like a gigantic miss, since many fans aren’t interested in putting in the time to create likenesses of either missing roster members or wrestlers from other companies. Those games of yesteryear had the option to share creations via memory card, and it’s a real shame that we can’t do that today.

SH: Creation suites, especially in wrestling games, are the biggest draw for me, and while I can see the foundation for a great system, the glaring omission of the ability to share created wrestlers across the community is very limiting. Even for the wrestler system that exists, it feels a little thin – for example, you can’t place logos on your gear, which is a pretty basic feature in wrestling games going back at least a decade or more. This also means that you can’t really create wrestlers (or simply download them like in the 2K games or Fire Pro) that are missing from the roster. Of all the parts of the game, I’d say this is the one that needs the most work.

AB: However, none of this deters from the fun of playing AEW Fight Forever, which at the end of the day is the wrestling game those of us that have been around have been dreaming of for decades.

SH: There are the bones of a future classic wrestling game with Fight Forever, with the most important thing – an intuitive and fluid fighting engine – under the hood. There’s some frills and features and certainly a roster refresh that feel necessary for future DLC and updates, but at launch, there’s more than enough fun here to last a good long while. Like with AEW itself, I’m extremely invested in the Fight Forever product enough to want to see where it goes next, and I can’t wait to see how the video game and wrestling communities (neither of which is known to be overly critical, of course) receives it.

AEW Fight Forever is available now on Xbox, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

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