It has been many years in the making, but AEW: Fight Forever has finally made it to retail. There have been stories of a troubled development cycle, which usually means the final product is going to be a mess. Fortunately, this is a case where the final product turned out great, albeit with a few burrs that need filing down.
Fight Forever takes a slightly different approach to the 2K series. Here, we’re striving for a game that you can literally pick up and play in a matter of seconds, rather than having to go through an intricate tutorial. Gamers of a certain vintage remember the long nights on the couch in front of the N64 with No Mercy slotted firmly in the cartridge slot. Back then, even your friend that had never touched the game before, was able to get up to speed in a match or two, and after that, it was fun and laughs and healthy consumption of alcohol and snacks.
The mechanics that made this possible, controls that are tight and responsive, a simplified yet robust moveset, and the ability to intuit how a wrestler’s finisher ought to be performed, is what made those old games fun. Fight Forever brings all of this back. It would be easy to call it a nostalgia trip, but the fact of the matter is that solid gameplay mechanics don’t age. That is why people are still playing and modding No Mercy to this day.
AEW: Fight Forever uses a simple control scheme. You have a button for punching, one for kicking, a button for grappling, and one for running. The shoulders are grapple defense, strike defense, action, and Irish Whip. The right analog acts as both the Taunt and Finisher trigger. Simple enough, just combine these with directions to perform a variety of moves. The buttons adapt to the context that they’re being used in, too.
Along with those basics, special moves can be performed by pressing Punch + Grapple, or Kick + Run. All of these mechanics take only minutes to settle in, and once they do, the matches get very fast and dynamic. You start to ask, “what if I were to…?” on the spur of the moment, and things just happen. Catching wrestlers in mid-air is immensely satisfying!
The game offers a number of game modes. One-on-One matches, Tags, 3-Ways, 4-Ways, and of course, the gimmick matches like the Ladder Match and the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch, as well as the Casino Battle Royale. For a first outline, there are a good number of modes here on offer, though there are a few issues that do crop up.
None of the modes can have more than four wrestlers at once. This is a bit problematic in the Battle Royale, since you’ll only ever get new entrants when someone gets thrown over the top rope. At that point, the match just becomes more of a grind, where you have to just try to stay in it and push through to the end, rather than the chaotic multi-person melee that these types of matches should be. No doubt these concessions were made to keep performance steady on all platforms, despite their horsepower. But it would’ve been nice if the more powerful platforms had the ability to stretch their legs a bit.
Of course, if you’re looking for complete chaos, the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch will more than serve. It is only a One-on-One match, but weapons are allowed, the ring ropes are electrified, and after two minutes, the ring blows up. AEW has done this in real life with lackluster results, and there’s even a nod to that failure in the game. still, this match in Fight Forever is a ton of fun, and well worth playing.
Added to the Exhibition matches, Road to the Elite is the game’s Career mode. You can play this using one of the AEW roster, or create a wrestler and take them through the mode and develop them as an athlete and performer. The mode chronicles events in AEW’s history. You’ll begin with a call from Tony Khan, asking if you’re up for joining in the Casino Battle Royale at the very first Double or Nothing Pay Per View. Once you go through that, you’ll start off a journey going from city to city.
During each stop, you’ll be working out, dining, sightseeing, taking snapshots with other wrestlers, and developing storylines based on the choices you make. You’ll be spending skill points you earn to boost your wrestler’s abilities. By the time you complete the year in Road to the Elite you’ll have developed a created wrestler that can compete with any AEW star. You’ll also, as a side effect, have learned about local cuisine and history. I’d also like to point out that the wrestler themes remixed to be restaurant music is both hilarious and charming. It’s one of those things that might not seem obvious at first, but once you hear it, you can never unhear.
The game isn’t perfect, of course. There are a few issues that do need to be resolved, but there’s nothing I’ve run into, apart from one AI glitch where the AI opponent just decided to not bother getting back in the ring and got counted out, that is gamebreaking. It would be very nice if the refs were a bit faster on the draw, though. By the time they count to three, you could have counted to five or six. It takes them a little while to get in position and start the count. Hopefully, some of these issues get sorted out in a post-launch patch.
There is also the Creation suite, which allows you to build a wrestler, team, or Arena. I won’t spend too much time on this, because though it is functional and allows you to make a decent enough custom wrestler/arena, the amount of customization is not what some may be used to. The suite feels like something that itself would’ve been on the N64. It’s hard to fault this, though, since this is AEW’s first game, and though they would’ve wanted everything to be perfect, you have to prioritize some things.
The same goes for wrestler entrances. They are very short, abridged affairs. You can set off pyro or trigger smoke and lighting effects during them, but since they’re so short, you don’t have a lot of time to appreciate them. Fully animating and staging every single wrestler’s entrance would have taken an immense amount of time, and likely would’ve delayed the game even further. With a roster of 50 wrestlers from the start, what we got is a decent enough compromise, but certainly something to consider expanding in the next game.
To put it clearly, yes, concessions had to be made, but when it comes down to it, the ones that Yuke’s chose to make were the right ones.
In terms of presentation, on the whole, AEW: Fight Forever is solid. It doesn’t look as good as the 2K game does, but it by no means looks bad. There is a bit of inconsistency in the models. Some of them look far better than others. The audio is very well done, with nice, appropriate crowd chants at various points of the match. The in-game effects sound nice and impactful, and the various wrestler grunts and taunts give the game a more raw, visceral feel. There is in-game music, which substitutes for the complete lack of in-game commentary. You can customize the playlist in the options, and in there, you’ll find an absolute ton of audio to choose from.
To sum it all up, AEW: Fight Forever brings back the fun, pick up and play type of wrestling game that has fallen by the wayside over the years. Perhaps, in an ever-increasing push toward more complex, realistic mechanics the fun and accessibility to newcomers was lost. Well, the team at Yuke’s have certainly found it.