Game Corner: WWE Legends of WrestleMania (Xbox 360)

Released: 20 March 2009
Developer: Yuke’s
Also Available For: Mobile and PlayStation 3

The Background:
On March 31st, 1985, Vince McMahon changed the face of the wrestling landscape forever by bringing together the biggest names in wrestling (alongside a number of celebrity guests) for the very first WrestleMania, a pay-per-view extravaganza that became the hottest event of the calendar year for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The WWE has a long and storied history with videogames that can be traced all the way back to the very first videogame ever produced baring the initials of their previous moniker of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), MicroLeague Wrestling (MicroLeague/Various, 1987). A number of releases made their way to various home consoles and even arcades over the years, with the format slowly evolving to include more and more wrestlers and match types, but the WWE’s foray into digital entertainment largely hit its stride in the late-nineties when Asmik Ace Entertainment, AKI Corporation, and THQ joined forces to produce popular titles for the Nintendo 64 and Yuke’s took their first tentative steps into the SmackDown sub-series (2000 to 2003). Many of the games produced during this time and by these developers are considered to be some of the best wrestling games ever made and, by 2009, the WWE was represented by the multi-platform SmackDown vs. Raw series (Yuke’s, 2004 to 2011), a series which was largely regarded as mostly hit and miss in terms of value for money and year-on-year improvements. Still, the series was profitable enough to convince Yuke’s to attempt a few additional WWE videogames, with Legends of WrestleMania being one of them; pushed intro production to coincide with WrestleMania 25, and focused far more on nostalgia and giving players the chance to relive and redefine some of the company’s biggest moments, Legends of WrestleMania was met with largely lacklustre reviews that took issue with its presentation and control mechanics.

The Plot:
Take control of a WWE Legend and relive some of the biggest WrestleMania moments of all time, such as Hulk Hogan’s legendary clash with Andre the Giant and Bret “Hitman” Hart’s bloody showdown with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or rewrite and redefine history by playing these matches, and others that never took place, from the perspective of the loser (or another WWE superstar).

Gameplay:
WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a wrestling title that gives players the chance to select from a roster of thirty-eight WWE Legends and pit them against each other in a series of matches, many of which will be immediately familiar to fans of the WWE or anyone who’s played one of Yuke’s WWE videogames before. Unlike many of the SmackDown! videogames, the focus here is much more on fast-paced, arcade-style action rather than simulating a real-life wrestling match, which has both positive and negative impacts on the gameplay. Players can move their Legend using either the left analogue stick or the directional pad (D-pad); having grown up playing the likes of WWF No Mercy (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation, 2000), I generally prefer to use the D-pad for these games (and most fighting games) as it feels more intuitive, but there’s little benefits from favouring one or the other. You can double tap towards or away from your opponent to run, but I had extremely minimal success with this; in most WWE games, running is mapped to one of the shoulder buttons, making it quick and easy to use, but that’s not that case here so the majority of my matches were slower, clunkier affairs as a result.

Gameplay is heavily based around QTEs and button mashing.

You can throw a strike at your opponent with X; land a few in quick succession to perform a simple combo or hold X to charge up a powerful strike, with both knocking them to the mat and leaving them prone for a leg or elbow drop or other ground-based offense. Grappling is performed with A; again, you can either tap it for a quick, weak grapple, or hold it for a stronger grapple, and use a directional input in conjunction with A to perform different moves (though your move pool is quite limited). As you attack and mix up your offense, you’ll build up a “Chain Meter”; as it reaches three different levels, you’ll gain access to more powerful grapples, with your finisher being unlocked at Level 3 and performed by pressing X and A together. Successfully landing attacks drains your opponent’s health meter and weakens them for either a pin or submission; submission moves are generally locked in when the opponent’s on the mat and see you mashing buttons to wear your opponent down, or you can pin them with B. If either of these things happen to you, you’ll need to mash buttons or full a circular meter to hit a small target in order to stave of the attack or kick out of the pin attempt.

While reversals can be tricky to pull off, finishers are a matter of hitting onscreen button prompts.

You’ll need to mix and match your offense in order to build up your Chain Meter (though simply mashing X can work just as well), and you can sacrifice a chunk of it by taunting with B and Y and gaining temporary buffs. This can all be a little clunky but it generally works quite well; what doesn’t work quite as well is the game’s reversal system. Rather than map counters to a shoulder button, WWE Legends of WrestleMania has them performed by pressing away from your opponent and Y or holding Y to block. I found this to be incredibly unreliable, as my Legend would often just step backwards or even run away, and I really don’t understand why this wasn’t just mapped to the Right Bumper. Unlike the majority of other wrestling games, WWE Legends of WrestleMania heavily relies on button mashing, button inputs, and quick-time events (QTES); you can’t even Irish Whip your opponent without a QTE flashing on the screen and many of the event matches in the WrestleMania Tour mode start, or are punctuated by, QTE sequences that see you mashing or hitting buttons in a test of strength, chain grapple, and other similar sequences. This also extends to the finishers; after pressing X and A, you’ll need to hit the QTE prompts to land your finisher sequence and do the maximum amount of damage, which is certainly unique but it comes at the cost of severely limiting the amount of finishers available in create-a-wrestler mode

There’s not much to differentiate the wrestlers but managers add a little spice to the matches.

Contrary to other wrestling videogames; there isn’t really a weight class or detection system in WWE Legends of WrestleMania; playing as King Kong Bundy is largely the same as playing as Shawn Michaels, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, while Mr. Perfect can body slam and lift the likes of Yokozuna without issue, some Legends are noticeably more nimble than others and some superheavyweights struggle with climbing cage walls and are limited in their aerial offense. Some wrestling games like to lump their roster into categories and assign them abilities that play to their strengths, but that isn’t the case here so the majority of the roster’s differences are reflected in their move pool: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka isn’t going to be quite as technically adept as Ric Flair but it’s not as though the Undertaker exhibits any supernatural abilities that other big men, such as the Big Boss Man, have. One major aspect of the game is the presence of managers; the likes of Paul Bearer and “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart can accompany Legends to the ring and can interfere on your behalf at the cost of your current Chain Level, which makes them super useful when they’re in your corner and quite the hindrance when they’re in your opponent’s.

All the standard match types are available, with plenty of button mashing and QTEs sprinkled about.

Wrestling matches have all the standard options you might expect; you can set the difficulty level of the CPU in the options, manipulating the computer’s use of strikes and reversals and such, and customise win conditions (such as turning pin falls and disqualifications on or off and changing the amount of time you can spend outside of the ring). There’s also a number of additional match types on offer that will be recognisable to fans of wrestling games, with most featuring a twist in the game’s new engine and mechanics that mostly boil down to button mashing. You’ll need to mash buttons to either escape from, or prevent your opponent from escaping, a cage or break up a pin fall in a tag team match, for example. Similarly, you’ll find finishers disabled in the Royal Rumble match (there aren’t even special Royal Rumble finishers like in other games) and you’ll instead have to mash buttons to try and force your opponent out of the ring or save yourself from elimination. These components are less prominent in Hell in a Cell and ladder matches, however; you can start Hell in a Cell on top of the structure, which is a nice touch, and can throw your opponent through the cage wall or down to the ring using environmental grapples. Ladder matches are actually much more enjoyable than in other wrestling games I’ve played; you pick up a ladder (or any weapon) by double tapping B and a helpful glowing target shows you where to set it up and climbing and retrieving a championship belt is quite simple compared to other wrestling titles. Retrieving a weapon from under the ring can be a little trickier, though, as can utilising the ringside area or battling into the crowd or up the aisleway, as it requires you to hit A in specific areas around the arena, which can be difficult thanks to the janky controls. You’ll also find such staples as Iron Man matches and Last Man Standing matches on offer here, which are fun ways of mixing up the gameplay, but there’s nothing to really set the game’s matches or gameplay apart from other wrestling titles and very few of these appear in WrestleMania Tour.

WrestleMania Tour sees your reliving, rewriting, and redefining classic matches.

Speaking of which, you’ll be given three single-player options here: “Relive” (where you recreate specific WrestleMania matches), “Rewrite” (where you tackle other WrestleMania matches from the perspective of the historical loser), and “Redefine” (which features unique “dream matches”). Each of these matches is proceeded by a short hype package that features clips from real-life wrestlers and the matches and feud between the competitors, and you’ll be given a series of optional objectives to fulfil in order to earn points. These range from performing a certain number of attacks, grapples, counters, and finishers, winning the match, performing taunts, winning pre-match sequences, and more specific environmental situations (such as winning Chain Grapple sequences, slamming your opponent through an announce table, or grappling up near the entrance). Earning points fills a meter and, once it fills high enough, you’ll earn a medal that will award you with unlockable match types, attires, and more. There’s nothing to gain from playing WrestleMania Tour on anything other than the easiest difficulty, with the computer’s abilities completely neutered in your favour, beyond personal pride so you may as well manipulate the game’s settings to make things easier for you. This mode is also probably the best part of the game as it lets you recreate some iconic WrestleMania moments and matches, and meeting the objectives can be fun, but things quickly get quite frustrating if you’re trying to earn all the medals and monotony sets in quite fast as there’s not much variety in terms of the match types (there are no multi-man matches in this mode, for example) beyond the odd cage or ladder match and you can completely ignore the objectives if you like since winning is all that really matters.

Graphics and Sound:
Wrestling games can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to their graphics, especially with their in-game character models. WWE Legends of WrestleMania favours a slightly exaggerated, action figure-like aesthetic for its Legends, which is typically common when bringing the WWE’s old school superstars to life, and for the most part this actually looks a lot better than in some of the SmackDown! titles. This is primarily because WWE Legends of WrestleMania is largely consistent with its presentation, rather than fluctuating wildly between hyper realistic and massively off-model. Notably, however, you won’t find any female Legends or superstars on offer here, and there’s no on-screen referee either, which is a pretty big step back for me.

While character models look pretty good, the camera and arenas leave a lot to be desired.

The number of arenas on offer isn’t exactly much to shout about either. There’s very little variety on offer as you can only fight in WrestleMania arenas; there is a Royal Rumble arena, however, (and ironically you can only ever fight a Royal Rumble match in this arena) but there’s no Raw, SmackDown!, or other pay-per-view arenas on offer. The crowds are as sub-standard as ever, sporting signs and attire tied to their favourite superstars and parting to allow you to fight over the barricade (though essentially acting as barriers to keep you enclosed), but entrances have been a bit neutered. The game does offer the old-school gondola entrances, which is kind of cool, and recreates the old-school name plates and presentation of the pre- and early-“Attitude Era” of the WWE. Unfortunately, however, the presentation does take a bit of getting used to; the camera is very zoomed in, meaning that your Legends take up a lot of screen space and this can make it a little difficult to be fully aware of your surroundings. The camera is prone to wild swings and odd positioning, which is very annoying, and there’s a noticeable delay between button presses and executing grapples, making for a much more deliberate and slower pace to the game. Though I eventually learned to live with these niggling problems, it did take me a while to adjust to the presentation and gameplay style of the game.

Video clips add some historical context but the commentary continues to be mundane and predictable.

The inclusion of video clips and real-world footage adds to the drama and intrigue of the WrestleMania Tour mode, but these are nothing you haven’t really seen before in a wrestling title. The same goes for the entrance videos and music, which is all pretty much as you’d expect (with a few inconsistencies here and there, such as the Big Boss Man utilising his Attitude Era theme), and this extends to the in-game commentary. Provided by the legendary duo of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, the commentary is basically exactly the same as in the SmackDown! series, though there are some specific new sound clips added in to refer to the game’s roster and the rivalries on offer in WrestleMania Tour. I don’t play these games for in-depth commentary or crowd reactions but even I was astounded by how cheap and lazy these aspects were here. The same can be said of the create-a-wrestler options, which offers clothing, body, and hair options all ripped straight from the SmackDown! games but actually have less to offer in some respects: there’s less naming options available, less moves, less finishers, and even less clothing options as everything is geared towards meeting the old-school aesthetic and altered gameplay mechanics of the title.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being a wrestling title, every single in-game Legend is potentially your enemy; however, as mentioned, it’s not really necessary to play as or fight against each of the game’s roster in order to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve played as and against a couple of the Legends, you’ve pretty much experienced all of the variety the game’s conflicts have to offer; your biggest hurdle will be getting the timing of the weird reversal system down, but you can circumnavigate this by just attacking your opponent head-on with strikes and landing strong grapples as and when they unlock. Guys like Bam Bam Bigelow might look big and intimidating, and the Honky Tonk Man might be the ultimate opportunist, but it’s not like you have to worry about character-specific abilities so what works against one will work against all as long as you can hit the QTE prompts when your opponent does get the drop on you.

Meeting objectives is pretty simple until Steve Austin butts heads with the Rock.

In the Relive portion of WrestleMania Tour, you’ll have to battle against specific opponents in recreations or classic WrestleMania matches; this means you’re forced into assuming the role of the historical victor, or loser, of specific matches. One of the most recurring playable characters in this mode is, of course, Hulk Hogan, who must take on King Kong Bundy in a steel cage, and Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior in recreations of their iconic matches. As long as you win your matches, you’re fine, but you’ll need to meet a certain amount of objectives to earn your medal; this includes stuff like kicking out of a pin attempt, causing the opponent to bleed, or winning with a specific move. As you play through these matches, the amount and difficulty of the objectives will increase; I first noticed them becoming more complex in the classic clash between Steve Austin and Bret Hart, which requires you to attack Austin’s leg five times, fight into the crowd, utilise a steel chair, and win with the Sharpshooter but the difficulty severely ramps up for Relive’s final match. This is a recreation of Austin’s WrestleMania XV bout against the Rock; to achieve this medal, you need to meet every single objective, which can be extremely laborious as one of your objectives is reversing the Rock Bottom, to say nothing of all of the many environmental grapples you need to hit on the outside of the ring. I definitely recommend turning the game’s difficulty level and sliders all the way down in your favour and making liberal use of the health regeneration taunt to increase your chances in this match.

Objectives get even simpler in Rewrite and Redefine, meaning the medals are pretty simple to earn.

In Rewrite, you tackle different WrestleMania matches in the role of the historical loser and must fulfil different objectives in order to change history. Since you’re rewriting the outcome of these matches, these objectives are far less demanding and start off as simple stuff like performing and reversing grapples, taunting, and hitting a finisher and don’t really get more complex than landing more attacks, performing more taunts, maybe making the opponent bleed, and performing multiple finishers and reversals. Honestly, these matches were an absolute breeze, with even Bret and Shawn’s infamous WrestleMania XII Iron Man match providing little challenge beyond a ten-minute time limit. This carries over to Redefine, though the matches and competitors at least have a little more variety; here, you can pick which Legends you want to play as and will witness the likes of Andre and Giant and Big John Studd in a Hell in a Cell match and Mr. Perfect and the Big Boss Man in a ladder match. Redefine culminates with a dead simple no disqualification match between the Undertaker and King Kong Bundy that might have a lot of objectives but they’re nothing compared to the Austin/Rock match (boiling down to stuff like hitting five moves in a row at the start, two top rope moves, three reversals and taunts, and two finishers, which is still laborious but nowhere near as frustrating as in that aforementioned match).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are a few options available to you during matches to help turn the tide in your favour; you can toss your opponent to the outside of the ring and interact with the steel steps, announce tables, and barricades to deal more damage to your opponent and, when your opponent is positioned correctly, pull weapons out from under the ring to bust them open or beat them down. When near the aisleway, you can clunkily force them up to the entrance way where there are often other environmental grapple points on offer that let you choke your opponent with wires, toss them into the stage dressing, and even make use of a drum kit but there’s no backstage brawling here. As your Chain Meter builds up, you gain access to taunts that can provide you with temporary buffs; these include regenerating your health, upping your speed and durability, and making reversals easier to pull off for a limited time. Managers can also provide many of the same temporary buffs and also attack or distract your opponent to give you the edge in matches, though utilising these will cost you part of your meter so you’re often asked to pick between receiving a temporary buff or earning your finisher.

Additional Features:
There are a mere nineteen Achievements on offer in WWE Legends of WrestleMania, which is astoundingly low for a wrestling title. Achievements are primarily tied to obtaining medals in WrestleMania Tour or making and using a created wrestler but you can also earn them by winning matches using only grapples or with other specific moves. Sadly, in a game featuring so many WWE Legends, there aren’t more fun or notable Achievements; for example, you can use Hogan to slam Andre all you like in the WrestleMania III arena but it won’t pop a “Unstoppable Force” Achievement. As you play, however, your win/loss record and other statistics are recorded in the “Hall of Fame”, which is good for the statisticians out there, but there’s no way to compete for championships outside of the WrestleMania Tour mode, no create-a-pay-per-view mode, general manager mode, or even WWE Universe mode so you’re basically limited to exhibition matches and the WrestleMania Tour.

Create a wrestler and take on tiers of Legends or import Superstars from SmackDown vs. Raw 2009.

Well, not entirely; there is also the “Legend Killer” mode. Here, you use a created wrestler to take on six tiers, comprised of ten back-to-back singles matches and culminating in a showdown with one of six WrestleMania Legends. You’ll earn experience points (EXP) by winning matches, and even more for mixing and matching your gameplay style as you play, which you can spend upgrading your created wrestler’s attributes and earning more Achievements. The create-a-wrestler mode is basically the same as in the SmackDown! series, including many of the same hair and clothing options as in those games and you can also fully customise their entrance or even create a tag team, though there’s very little incentive without a Universe mode. While there’s no downloadable content on offer here, you can transfer basically the entire male roster of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (Yuke’s, 2008) if you have a save file for that game on your system, which greatly expands the amount of moves and finishers available to you. While this is a cool feature, and something I wish WWE games would implement more often, it doesn’t equate to much more than adding modern superstars to the roster (which really doesn’t mean all that much as you can’t play as them in WrestleMania Tour).

The Summary:
I do enjoy a bit of a wrestling title, and quickly and easily nabbing a few Achievements, and as a big wrestling fan I enjoy revisiting some of the classic wrestlers of the past but WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a quite a bare-bones title. You can see everything the game has to offer in an hour or so and plough through the main story campaign in an afternoon; the Legend Killer mode might take a little longer but it’s hardly going to take up all your time and attention like a General Manager or Universe mode. The gameplay is a bit jarring at first thanks to the odd camera perspective and the plodding, clunky, QTE-heavy nature of the mechanics, but pretty easy to master and, before long, you’ll be winning matches in no time at all, meaning the game quickly gets boring. Yes, there’s a few other match types on offer but there’s little incentive to play these as you can’t compete for belts and I can’t imagine it’s that much fun to play against other human opponents, either. The create-a-wrestler is more lacklustre than ever and there’s a strange lack of focus on guys like the Undertaker, and some notable omissions from the roster (neither Kane nor Mankind are available, for example), though the ability to transfer the roster from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a neat touch. Ultimately, it’s not bad if you pick it up cheap but probably not really worth keeping in your collection once you’ve mined all of the Achievements. I appreciate the developers trying something a little different but this clearly isn’t a Triple-A title and is really only for fans of the rock ‘n’ wrestling era of the then-WWF. If you’re really in the mood for an arcade style wrestling game from around this time, you’d potentially be better off playing something like WWE All Stars (THQ San Diego, 2011).

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of WWE Legends of WrestleMania? Did you like that the developers actually tried to do something a little different with this release or did the dumbed down gameplay put you off? Which of WrestleMania Tour’s matches was your favourite and did you ever achieve Legend Killer status? What did you think to the finisher system and the abundance of QTEs? How did you find the create-a-wrestler mode and were you disappointed by the lack of WWE Universe in this title? Were there any classic WWE superstars you felt were missing from the game and which of the available Legends was your go-to character? How are you celebrating WrestleMania’s anniversary this year and what’s your favourite WrestleMania moment? Drop your thoughts below by signing up or leave a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about WWE Legends of WrestleMania and check back for more wrestling content throughout the year.

Talking Movies: Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

Talking Movies
Hobbs&ShawLogo

Released: August 2019
Director: David Leitch
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Idris Elba, and Vanessa Kirby

Plot:
Spinning out of the Fast and the Furious (Various, 2001 to present) franchise, DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) is forced to team up with mercenary Deckard Shaw (Statham) when rogue MI6 agent-turned-cyborg Brixton Lore (Elba) leads a terrorist organisation in trying to acquire a potentially world-ending virus.

Background:
The Fast and the Furious franchise is a funny beast; what started as a vague remake of Point Break (Bigelow, 1991), but with cars rather than surfboards, became an over-the-top heist franchise and, finally, a pseudo-superhero series where its invincible characters can pretty much solve any problem with a bunch of cool cars, the concept of family, and being big, unapologetic alpha males. Seriously, this franchise taught me that the best way to solve any issue is to change gear or hit the nitrous and I am constantly amused at how the franchise has turned the traditional action genre on its head. Like, normally in action moves, you’ll get quick cuts or shots of guys reloaded or throwing punches but, in the Fast and the Furious movies, these are replaced with sudden and dramatic gear changes. Anyway, ever since the franchise returned to prominence with Fast & Furious (Lin, 2009), the films have done nothing but make money…shit-loads of money! With Dwayne Johnson joining the franchise in Fast & Furious 5 (ibid, 2011), the producers have finally decided to capitalise on his charisma, box office appeal, popularity, and money-making ability by throwing him together with Jason Statham as two guys who can’t stand each other and are forced to work together in a big, over-the-top, car-centric, superpowered version of Tango & Cash (Konchalovsky, 1989).

The Review:
Right off the bat, Hobbs & Shaw introduces us to Brixton, a man who unapologetically describes himself as the “bad guy”; Brixton is decked out in a bulletproof uniform, has cybernetic implants, and is, for all intents and purposes, “Black Superman”. His goal is to acquire a “programmable virus” that will wipe out the weakest of the human race so that only the strongest and the fittest can survive but, when MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Kirby) injects herself with the virus and evades him, Brixton uses the vast resources of his shady organisation, Eteon, to frame Hattie, forcing the CIA to draft in Hobbs and Shaw to track her down, acquire the virus, and stop Brixton.

Hobbs&ShawTeam.PNG
Hobbs and Shaw must put aside their egos to battle Brixton.

Hobbs and Shaw are presented as being polar opposites; Hobbs is a massive mountain of a man who uses his brute strength to get results while Shaw is more about finesse and subtlety. Not only that, their personalities clash in the wildest of ways; despite working together and seemingly burying the hatchet in Fast & Furious 8 (Gray, 2017), Hobbs and Shaw still cannot stand one another and are always a razor’s edge from getting into a fist fight, making for some truly amusing verbal exchanges and insults shared between the two. Hobbs & Shaw is a non-stop thrill ride of a movie; when there aren’t big fight sequences, there’s an over-the-top car chase; when those two things aren’t on screen, there might be a fire fight or, when all else fails, the movie falls back on the chemistry and the banter between Hobbs and Shaw, which could honestly carry the entire movie without the action sequences. I went into this fully expecting a comically over-the-top action movie and I wasn’t disappointed; I swear one day this franchise will end up in space, so “Black Superman” isn’t too much of a stretch and it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride once Hobbs and Shaw get behind the wheels of their cars and start pulling off crazy stunts, jumps, and actions that would obviously never work in the “real world” but the real world sucks and is boring so why would you want to see that anyway?

The Nitty-Gritty:
Not much to spoil here, really; there’s fights, cars, and guns. Hattie, as you may have guessed from her name, is Shaw’s estranged sister and a big part of the movie is dedicated to revealing that Shaw was setup by Brixton back when they worked together in MI6, which helps to give his previously malevolent character some humanity. It’s never really revealed exactly what Eteon did to improve Brixton; he ahs a mechanical spine and some cybernetic implants in his eyes but there’s no real specifics behind his superhuman status. Eteon is headed up by an unseen, disembodied, digitally-altered voice, however, who hints to a past with Hobbs and is clearly being setup for future movies, which may detail more about what Eteon is about.

Hobbs&ShawBrixton.PNG
Idris Elba clearly relishes being “Black Superman”.

Hobbs also gets a character arc where he is forced to return to his home in Samoa and his estranged family when Hobbs and Shaw are framed by Eteon, leading to the deepest exploration of Johnson’s family heritage than we’ve ever seen on film before. His real-life cousin, Roman Reigns, even pops up as Hobbs’ brother; however, despite this role being promoted as Reigns’ big break into Hollywood, he doesn’t have a single line, doesn’t really do anything except hit a Spear and fight alongside Hobbs and his brothers, and the role is little more than a cameo as Hobbs is primarily focused on repairing his relationship with his brother, Jonah (Cliff Curtis). Speaking of cameos, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and Kevin Hart all pop up, to varying degrees of success. Mirren, as Shaw’s mother, is classically understated and never wears out here welcome but Reynolds appears to have been drafted in as Kurt Russell wasn’t available to reprise his role as Mr. Nobody and Hart is clearly there as he’s the Rock’s buddy. Both guys are onscreen, seemingly ad-libbing, for a long time, with Hart’s cameo especially being a glaring addition that left me itching fort he scene to move on and get back to the action.

Hobbs&ShawHobbsShaw.PNG

The Summary:
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is a great time; sometimes, it’s good to just go to the movies, switch your brain off, and enjoy an alpha male odd-couple begrudgingly learning to tolerate each other and work together towards a greater good. The film has some fantastic dialogue between the two, some big action sequences, and walks the line between the ridiculous and the fantastic with such unapologetic glee that it can’t help but be a really enjoyable experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Talking Movies: Skyscraper

Talking Movies
SkyscraperLogo

Believe it or not, it’s been thirty years since Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) pitted one lone man against a skyscraper full of charismatic terrorists. Since then, Die Hard has gone on to inspire not only a slew of sequels but also knock-offs and copycats; we’ve seen Die Hard in a hockey arena, Die Hard on a boat, Die Hard on a train, Die Hard in the White House, Die Hard on a plane and, to be honest, some of these have been pretty good in and of themselves.

SkyscraperSecurity
Who better to assess your safety than the Rock?

Now, director Rawson Marshall Thurber brings it all full circle by giving us Die Hard in a skyscraper…that’s on fire! Which, yeah, is very Towering Inferno (Guillermin, 1974) but with one crucial difference: this burning symbol of capitalist expansion has the Rock in it! Skyscraper tells the story of former FBI agent turned security assessor Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), who lost a foot in a hostage situation that turned sour, who has been roped into signing off on the largest, tallest, most advanced building ever constructed. The brainchild of Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the Pearl promises to be a city in the sky in Hong Kong.

SkyscraperProtector
The Rock will do anything to rescue his family.

Unfortunately, to build the Pearl, Zhao was forced to do business with terrorist and extortionist Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who infiltrates the Pearl with a gang of gun-toting thugs and proceeds to set the building ablaze in order to retrieve a USB drive that implicates his illegal activities. With his wife and children trapped inside, Sawyer becomes a man on a mission to not only enter the Pearl but also brave the odds and rescue his family.

SkyscraperPhysicality
Watch the Rock spit in the face of physics!

It doesn’t take long to see the clear differences between Die Hard and Skyscraper; Johnson, a physical specimen, is far more the muscleman than the snarky cockroach embodied by Bruce Willis. Sawyer is far more about the physical stunts and acts than John McClane, who was beat up to shit and still kept coming; the role of Sawyer showcases the Rock’s more vulnerable side, it’s true, and he spends much of the film nursing injuries and overcoming his emotion to find unique ways around problems, but he’s far more likely to leap from a construction crane, climb a rope, and stabilise a collapsing bridge than enter into a fist fight with a gun-wielding terrorist. Møller, though relatively well-rounded and reasonably charismatic, is no Alan Rickman but, to be fair, very few actors are. Far from Rickman’s chilling, magnetic Hans Gruber, Botha is a driven and focused individual who is more than capable of backing up his ice-cold threats with physical violence. His willingness to take the Rock’s daughter hostage shows how he will do anything to retrieve his USB drive and he makes for a serviceable villain.

SkyscraperHeart
Skyscraper has a lot of heart beneath its action.

Rounding out the cast are Neve Campbell as Sawyer’s wife, Sarah, who is far from a damsel in distress; she holds her own in a fight, uses logical and intelligent solutions to help keep her children safe, and convinces the Hong Kong authorities that Sawyer is trying to save lives rather than being responsible for the blazing skyscraper. Make no mistake, this film is an over-the-top action set piece through and through and going into it expecting anything deeper or more meaningful is a fool’s errand. The Rock defies physics, logic, and gravity on more than one occasion but it’s the freakin’ Rock! Would you really want anything else? If you’re looking for a movie to shut your brain off (not completely, I should add; it’s not a brainless action movie) and just enjoy with some friends, a few drinks, and a pizza than Skyscraper more than meets that criteria.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Recommended: Sure, yeah, the world always needs more Die Hard-like films.
Best moment: Anything involving the Rock using his physicality to absolutely absurd limits, like leaping to the Pearl or climbing down it using a precariously-secured rope.
Worst moment: The side plot that sees the Hong Kong authorities brand Sawyer a criminal was a bit annoying, and didn’t really play into the overall plot in the end.

Game Corner: WWE 2K18 (Xbox One)

GameCorner
WWE2K18Logo

As may already be evident, I have a long-standing preference for the WCW and WWF videogames released by AKI/THQ back in my youth; however, another WWF videogame series I have been particularly fond of and spent many hours and days of my childhood playing has been the WWF SmackDown! series released by THQ and Yuke’s on Sony’s PlayStation in 2000. Eventually, this series evolved into the WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw franchise, which was released on multiple consoles between 2004 and 2010. I believe I came into this series with WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 Featuring ECW (Yuke’s/Amaze Entertainment/THQ, 2007) and bowed out with WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2011 (Yuke’s/THQ, 2010) as, by this point, it was pretty clear to me that I was simply purchasing the same videogame every year with additional wrestlers, some new match types, and minor improvements to the graphics and gameplay. As a result, I decided to buy a new title every two years or so and, after enjoying WWE ’13 (ibid, 2012) and deciding that WWE 2K15 (Yuke’s/Visual Concepts/2K Sports, 2014) was far too stripped back on features to justify the price tag, I settled on getting WWE 2K14 (ibid, 2013) and biding my time.

WWE’s videogames eventually aped the yearly formula of the FIFA series.

As a result, I have not bought or played a new videogame in 2K Sports’ WWE 2K series for about four years now, and with good reason; as the series made the jump to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, reviews and feedback ranged from resoundingly negative to mediocre displeasure as 2K Sports apparently removed many expected gameplay mechanics and features in what was nothing less than a blatant attempt to sell features seen in previous PlayStation 3-era titles as being “new”. Despite the additions of never-before-seen superstars such as Sting, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe, I decided to wait it out until the release of WWE 2K18 (ibid, 2017) to give the series a chance to iron out these kinks and to create an ironic sense of symmetry given that the last title I played was WWE 2K14. As such, it took me a little while to become accustomed to WWE 2K18’s control scheme; previously, these titles allowed you the option of controlling your wrestler with the directional-pad (or “D-pad”) and taunting with the analogue stick, which is my preferred control scheme given how it mirrors that of the AKI/THQ titles.

WWE2K18Submission
WWE 2K18 loves these little wheels of death!

However, WWE 2K18 does not allow you to change the control scheme, meaning that I was forced to control my wrestler with the left analogue stick and taunt using the D-pad which, for an old school player like myself who dislikes change, took some getting used to. One of the other main reasons I prefer D-pad control is that I find it easier to direct and aim my opponent during running attacks or Irish whips; I find the analogue stick makes such aiming harder as the stick is more sensitive. WWE 2K18 also features some new mini games which replace the ones I had grown accustomed to in WWE 2K14; when being pinned, for example, you now have to press X on a little wheel rather than stopping a little bar that bounces back and forth. This is actually a lot trickier than it sounds as it seems the videogame is set up to make kicking out of pins harder than before to, I guess, allow for more “realistic” matches. Additionally, there is no longer the “Breaking Point” submission system; instead, there’s either a tricky mini game involving the analogue stick or you must mash one of the four action buttons when they appear onscreen. I went with the button mashing option but have found that winning a match by submission is not as easy as it used to be, potentially because you can no longer select a match to be either quicker, normal, or epic; this, and the improved attribute system, means that you are forced to work for your submission victory.

WWE2K18Triple
Suffer enough damage and you’ll roll from the ring to take a break.

Other gameplay changes can be seen in multi-man match; now, when you or another player receives enough damage, they automatically roll out of the ring and you must mash buttons to fill up a bar and re-enter the match. It sounds good on paper and, again, appears to be tooled towards making matches more “realistic” but I found it more annoying than anything else as you could end up stuck on the outside and lose the match. This mechanic carries over into ladder/TLC matches as well, making them considerably more frustrating than usual as you incur far more damage much faster in these matches so you’ll spend a lot of time mashing buttons to get back into the matches. Also, in ladder/TLC matches, you no longer pull down the belt of briefcase using the right analogue stick; instead, you have to play a little mini game where you must fill up segments of a circle by rotating a ball into a small hole using the right analogue stick. It’s fun but quite distracting; I found myself concentrating more on the mini game than the match and, if you get interrupted with only a couple (or, even worse, one) segments left to fill, you are almost guaranteed to lose the match as the next wrestler to play the mini game will probably complete the circle while you’re busy mashing buttons to get back into the match.

WWE2K18TLC
Multi-man TLC matches are still the worst.

The Royal Rumble match is also noticeably different and, technically, more difficult; rather than hitting buttons in a quick-time event as in WWE 2K14, you now have to mash a button when trying to eliminate an opponent. Honestly, I’ve played a couple of these matches and never once eliminated anyone using the button-mashing mini game no matter what their health and stamina. I found the best way to eliminate wrestlers was the tried-and-true Royal Rumble finisher, clotheslining them out of the ring or countering a run attack, or by exploiting a glitch where, if you whip the opponent onto the apron and quickly punch them repeatedly, they simply fall from the ring.

WWE2K18Rumble
I struggled to legitimately eliminate anyone in the Royal Rumble…

As I always found ladder, TLC, and Royal Rumble matches tedious any way, these gameplay changes don’t bother me that much; you are not forced to play these matches and, on the whole, I would just avoid them. Some good changes have been made to tables matches, though; every time you hit your opponent with or into a table, it fills up a break meter and, once it’s full, you can smash the opponent through it using some new and expanded options. 2K Sports have also introduced a carry system, similar to the one from WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007 (Yuke’s/THQ, 2006), which allows you to smash your opponent off the ropes, turnbuckles, apron, and other objects. They’ve also brought back in-crowd fighting, to a degree, allowing you to smash your opponent through (or hit them over) the barricade at ringside or toss them from the stage area to fight in little areas near the crowd.

WWE2K18Universe
Universe mode is back, bigger and better than ever.

Although create-a-story and create-a-finisher are no longer options, WWE 2K18 is still full to the brim with creation options. I honestly spent maybe five days or so setting everything up the way I wanted it and creating wrestlers, entrances, victories, shows, and teams in the expanded Universe mode. As before, Universe mode allows you to create a show, place wrestlers and championships on the show, and then create monthly pay-per-view events for that show. I like to recreate the product as closely as possible so I created a Raw, SmackDown! Live, and NXT brand (with 205 Live and Main Event as minor shows) and, for all the Legends and duplicate wrestlers, a WCW Monday Nitro brand (with some crossover between them all). You can create more than one Universe at a time but I prefer to have it all in one place rather than jumping backwards and forwards all the time; I then moved every pay-per-view event to their correct calendar month and also created some additional pay-per-vews for my NXT and Nitro brands; this is extremely in-depth, allowing you to choose from a whole bunch of preset or created arenas (with scene transitions, an array of screen filters, a bunch of different referees, and more).

WWE2K18Materials
There are loads of colour and customisation options.

You can still create your own championship belts as well, if that’s your thing; given how many old school belts are in the videogame, I don’t tend to do much with this, though. Instead, my focus was on the massively deep create-a-wrestler mode; created wrestlers look more realistic than ever before and you can choose from a whole bunch of options, from wrinkles to scars, facial and body hair, eye colour, veins, muscle definition, and even how much body oil your created wrestler has! There are also a whole load of attire options, including blank attires that you can customise as you desire and also pre-set attires worn by the featured roster; you can change not only the colour of these attires but also the material type, which allows shirts and jeans and the like to be leather, take on a metallic hue, or even glow in the dark! Finally, there are far more options for names for your created wrestler this year and the in-game commentary team will refer to your created wrestler by these throughout their matches.

WWE2K18Store
Apparently you can put a price on greatness.

Although there are many WWE and superstar-related images available to you in this mode, there are noticeably less options for body tattoos this years, unfortunately. This is where the Community Creations option will come into play; you are able to upload images to the 2K Sports website and transfer them into the videogame, meaning you can search in the WWE 2K18 for a whole bunch of professionally-designed images, logos, and tattoos to apply to your created wrestler. You can also download created wrestlers created by others to account for those wrestlers omitted from this years roster, though you are limited to twenty downloads a day and cannot download created wrestlers that feature aspects from wrestlers you’ve yet to unlock or purchase. Speaking of which, WWE 2K18 features an in-ring store mode, as is the norm for this series now. As you play matches, you are awarded virtual currency based on how many stars your match scored; the more stars you get through move variety, countering, and such, the more currency you earn. You can then spend this in the store to unlock Legends, and additional arenas and championships and, make no mistake, this is the only way to unlock this extra content. Previously, in WWE 2K14 at least, you could unlock new wrestlers by playing the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode but, here, you can only do this by purchasing them.

You can do this by playing any match in any mode and, also, through the MyPlayer mode, which is the career mode of the videogame. You have to create a wrestler, using far more limited tools and options, and work your way through training and wrestling on NXT before being called up to the main roster. You can make some limited decisions to decide whether you are a Company Man (a heel) or a Fan Favourite (a face). In my playthrough, I was initially called up to Raw and forced to lose a bunch of matches, so I jumped to SmackDown! Live, where I won the United States Championship, Money in the Bank ladder match, and Royal Rumble match and am currently feuding with Triple H and the Authority on the path towards the WWE Championship. Along the way, you can partake in side quests to earn rewards (new moves, attire, and currency), make a signature t-shirt to earn some extra cash, and perform in-ring promos and run-ins.

WWE2K18MyPlayer
You’ll need to pay to get the most out of MyPlayer mode.

Overall, this mode is quite enjoyable but, honestly, it’s a poor substitute for a Road to WrestleMania-type of mode. There are a lot of load times and some noticeable frame drops; you are also forced to walk/run from the garage to the producer and back every single week, which begs the question why they bothered putting in the free-roaming backstage area at all rather than just have a set-up similar to the PlayStation 3-era titles where you had a locker room with a phone and just did everything through text. There are some inconsistencies; I was regularly teaming with Sami Zayn then, randomly and with no explanation, my partner suddenly became Fandango. I was also once asked by Tius O’Neil to attack Primo Colón one week but, when I couldn’t find him, ended up attacking Kassius Ohno. There are also a lot of times when you do more promos than matches, when the match objectives aren’t completely clear (the Money in the Bank match springs to mind), and when your matches end due to interference more often than not but, these issues aside, it’s a pretty decent mode, though I found it more enjoyable and profitable to play Universe mode more than anything.

It’s interesting that the load times for the MyPlayer mode are so atrocious as, normally, they’re not that bad; matches in Universe mode load much faster than in WWE 2K14. I learned from some of my mistakes in WWE 2K14 and don’t have nearly as many custom arenas or created wrestlers, which may help with this, and also towards limiting crashes. WWE 2K14 would crash all the time, usually after a match but sometimes before one, and it was very frustrating. I have had a few crashes in WWE 2K18 but, as the matches and the videogame loads up a lot faster, it’s not as annoying. One bug that is annoying is, when downloading a created wrestler, attached logos and images will sometimes not download, meaning you’re left having to either find them separately or with an incomplete created wrestler/attire.

I haven’t played WWE 2K18 online yet, mainly because I don’t have Xbox Gold or whatever you need to do that but also because online players are trolling, move-spamming sons of bitches; also, the learning curve for timing reversals and having competitive but enjoyable matches that I actually won was quite steep. Sometimes, you’ll have a match and be in complete control and all the opponent has to do is a couple of moves and you can’t recover, then you get hit with one finisher and its over. A good feature, though, is that miss-matched opponents (like Braun Strowman against Kalisto) often trigger a squash match, where you gain full momentum and a finisher after your first hit and win the match in seconds for a decent payday.

WWE2K18STINGS
All the Sting you could ever want!

The roster in WWE 2K18 is as deep as you could want; there are some noticeable omissions from NXT but, otherwise, everyone you could want and more is in the videogame alongside some decent and surprising Legends. Hulk Hogan and Yokozuna are gone but Vader and the Big Boss Man are back; there are some crazy instances of numerous duplicates, such as five (five!) versions of Sting and separating Finn Balor and his Demon King attire (though the Demon King does still act as an alternative attire to regular Balor) but, mostly, there’s some good inclusions this year. The soundtrack, apparently “curated” by the Rock, is mostly miss rather than hit, with the only decent track being a radio edit version of Disturbed’s Down With the Sickness, though a similarly-edited version of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ is used as the entrance theme for Undertaker ’00 despite this particular version of Undertaker’s biker gimmick actually being more associated with You’re Gonna Pay. The in-game commentary is all-new, at least for me anyway, including the three-man team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton; mostly, it is far better than what I experienced in WWE 2K14 but there still times when they refer to women as “guys”, talk inanely about things not even relevant to the match in progress, or ask each other questions that are never answered.

WWE2K18Balor
Graphically, WWE 2K18 is very impressive.

Overall, WWE 2K18 is a challenging and enjoyable affair; Universe mode is bigger and more expansive than ever, with shorter load times and significantly less crashes and glitches (so far), and the star rating system does make it feel as though each match is important and worth something. MyPlayer suffers a bit (though admittedly this may also be because I don’t want to waste my virtual currency upgrading the MyPlayer character unless I absolutely have to as I want to unlock the Legends) but is, otherwise, fun enough for what it is. I would have also liked to have seen, at least, Showcase matches similar to previous titles or themed around a wrestler (this year’s pre-order bonus, Kurt Angle, for example, or Shawn Michaels, or even the cover star, Seth Rollins) to assist with the unlocking of extra content. Creation options are deep and versatile; you can waste hours and even days crafting the perfect created wrestler (I know I did!) or downloading extra attires and wrestlers to fill out the already impressive roster. I am glad that I waited for 2K Sports to add in many of the features they previously omitted and refine their current-generation gameplay engine as it seems to have paid off; matches are far more realistic and challenging than in WWE 2K14, where I could win with a minimum of effort, which is good once you’re used to the control scheme and what is expected of you, if admittedly somewhat detrimental to those who just want to pick it up and play a quick match without any obligation to simulating a real-life WWE match. Based on my experience with this title, I will probably wait until WWE 2K20 for my next entry into the series as I would never recommend anyone buys these titles on a yearly basis but, if like me, you’ve been away from the series for a while, I would definitely recommend picking this one up.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff