Outside of the annual 2K WWE games, we don’t get a lot of great wrestling games anymore. As with the decline in interest in Professional Wrestling in general, the promise of great wrestling games doesn’t really exist anymore. And while the 2K efforts are certainly admirable in their breadth, it’s their depth and awkward presentation that leaves a lot to be desired. It’s easy to recreate an arcade representation of a match, but not easy to match the organic sense of melodrama you see in the squared circle. So how does Fire Pro Wrestling World stack up?
Fire Pro Wrestling World is the latest and probably most anticipated of one of the oldest wrestling franchises of all time. Fire Pro is a lot like the old veterans of the squared circle, almost like a Ric Flair or Bret Hart – it’s a technically gifted and charismatic throwback from yesteryear. Personally, I’ve never touched a Fire Pro game before but if you’ve ever played WWF No Mercy or any of the old AKI wrestling games on the N64, you’ll probably find a lot of welcome resemblances here in Fire Pro Wrestling World. On the surface it’s a rather rudimentary looking arcade brawler but beneath the surface it presents a rather competent and surprisingly in depth match up system with quite a weighty learning curve. It’s timing based, which means that you have a small window of opportunity during a lock up to execute either a small, medium or big move. Try to execute a big move straight away and your opponent will counter, so you have to wear your opponent down during the course of the match, starting off with small moves first, perhaps some punches and kicks, before moving on to submission locks and some mid-level slams. The aim being to wear your opponent down far enough to execute some of your bigger moves and if you’re lucky, your finisher. It takes a while to learn, but eventually you’ll find a comfortable AI level to play at and you’ll start to have some fantastic back and forth exchanges towards the closing seconds of a match that’ll easily match your Steve Austin’s and Bret Harts. It’s a neat system – the learning curve ensures a certain degree of depth and there’s lots to learn but the way move sets are gated via progress in the match is a great way to recreate in-ring physical drama and it’s quite easy (once you’ve gotten the hang of the timing) to have some stunning five star matches to rival some of the greats of the ring. On this aspect alone, Fire Pro Wrestling World sets itself apart from the stilted 2K WWE efforts – a great feat considering what I presume is a fifth of the production values. It’s great work.
This comes packaged with a small offering of match types and game modes which actually force you to switch up your play style. they’re not just gimmick matches, well, they are, but they force you to approach the matches differently, and to take into account the weaknesses and strengths of your rosters talent. There’s the obligatory cage matches and Japanese style death matches (both the barbed wire and completely insane explosion-based variety) before offering a smattering of battle royale modes, leagues and even MMA style rule sets to really change the game a bit. The death matches are great mid-to-late-90’s style carnage, with throwing your opponent out of the ring and on to a nasty bed of barbed wire doing its best to make you think of the legendary Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk king of the death match tournament – and what helps is how easily wounded your avatars are, crawling gingerly back into the ring with blood pouring from open cuts. Very dramatic stuff. The tournament or battle royale modes can help you decide which one of your characters will be a championship holder, which is how I’ve been using them. Set up an 8 bracket match system with one of your custom made titles up for grabs is a fantastic way of deciding champions so as to pit your favourite fighter against them in grudge matches.
And the other ace in FPWW’s hand is it’s edit modes. You can create wrestlers with a totally ludicrous amount of options, from their outfits to moves, to their personality traits and, my favourite bit, their AI logic, meaning you can get your custom made Stone Cold character to actually act like the real thing. By telling the logic system to favour certain moves and action in certain situations, you can actually recreate a wrestlers persona with some startling accuracy. It’s great stuff. So for example, if you made The Rock in the edit suite but you’re finding he doesn’t feed off the crowd much, you can set the logic system to give The Rock more of a boost from performing (aka, throwing a taunt out) to the crowd. You can create your own championship belts, rings and wrestling organizations, along with stables, factions and tag teams but your options for these parts are strangely barebones in comparison to the wrestler portions, but it’s great that it’s there. You could easily recreate your favourite wrestling promotions and shows from here and you’ll feel like you could be your own Vince McMahon. What’s fantastic still is the game launches into early access with steam workshop support and there’s already hundreds of real life wrestlers available for download into the game. The sheer depth of edit options here is wonderful, and the ability to set up amazing dream matches is the real draw of wrestling games, and nothing is more successful than this.
Though in a way, this is much of FPWW’s downfall – it leans so heavily on player created content that it forgets what makes wrestling so compelling – the melodrama. Wrestling is essentially a gaudy physical theatre where super heroes and comic villains play the part of wrestling athletes in a grand, glitzy live action morality tale. Where the heightened dramatics of a facial expression can say so much or where the between-the-matches TV shenanigans of eccentric super heroes can create laughs, jeers, sympathy and cheers from the audience. Where the 2K offerings come off as stilted and horribly awkward in this department, they’re sadly completely absent in FPWW. This is owed in large part to the archaic engine powering the game which leaves a little too much up to imagination and lacks real fidelity. That on its own would be fine, but there’s also no dramatic story mode, no opportunity to put your own created avatar through a procedural storyline or any kind of progression system to create drama to underpin its fantastic fight systems. Currently what FPWW offers is a really strong match and edit system that allows for your own created biosphere of wrestling talent to have great, fun and dramatic matches but without the beating heart of a wrestling match, without the storytelling it just feels sort of… soulless. And that’s a huge shame. What would be really great is if it allowed you to recreate what happens between matches. Stuff like grudges forming organically after bitter matches or the ability to run interference on matches to support a team mate. Anything that would support long term dramatics would have been great, but currently, you just get lots of (really great) systems where you have to fill in the blanks yourself.
The game is in early access, and the developers have consistently said they want to develop the game alongside fan expectations, so perhaps some kind of story mode or procedural dramatics will be implemented later on because currently, I think this is the icing missing from the cake. A great game, with fantastic systems so far, it just needs that little extra dramatic flair to become truly… glorious.