WWE All Stars

We're pumped up and ready to lay the smack down on the latest pro-wrestling brawler...

THQ's latest interactive foray into World Wrestling Entertainment action manages to lay the smack down on every wrestling game of the past ten years, but sadly lacks that one knockout punch that would make it a true wrestling legend.

After years of dull updates to its games that saw little more than graphical tweaks here and there and the odd addition of a new superstar or two to its character roster, it's safe to say that the WWE licence was looking past its prime. What was once fun was now a tired old has-been, living on past glories, made even worse by controls that seemed to have been developed specifically to be as unintuitive as possible.

But just when you think that THQ is down for the count, it manages a last minute kick-out with WWE All Stars. A complete overhaul of the WWE franchise, the simple (but endearing) premise is the chance to pit today's superstars against the legends of yesterday - in other words, you can pit 'Macho Man' Randy Savage against Randy Orten or Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat against Kofi Kingston.

Making history
As we mentioned, it's a simple idea, but one that is handled extremely well in the game's most exciting mode Fantasy Warfare. Here you get to play as a specific 'legend' or 'superstar' in a fantasy match-up (for example, Sgt Slaughter vs Jack Swagger in a Stars and Stripes Showdown). But what really sells the fights and is sure to get any fans' blood pumping is the excellent promo video that kicks off each bout, comparing and contrasting the two wrestlers and showcasing why a match-up between the two of them would be a dream come true for any wrestling fanatic.

By the time you actually get to take control in the ring, you really do feel like you're taking part in something momentous. So it's a good job that it plays so well. Controls have been simplified back to using the left stick for movement, the right for targeting an opponent (when there's more than one) and the four face buttons for attacking and grappling (two for each). Combinations of the buttons pull off various moves, and as you attack you build up a bar that eventually allows you to unleash special moves and your character's finisher.

The only slight sticking point is the two shoulder buttons that are used for blocking, which are either not always responsive or are simply not tied to the optional on-screen prompts, which makes the latter pretty useless. But even with that glitch, gameplay is an absolute blast - with everything from climbing cages to tagging in a partner or picking up a weapon quickly becoming second nature. I'd go so far as to say that in sheer gameplay terms, WWE All Stars is the best pro-wrestling title since the peerless WWF: No Mercy for the N64.

Exagerated muscles
It also look pretty damn great as well. Eschewing the kind of visual realism that has been creeping into wrestling games, WWE All Stars opts for a slightly caricatured style with exagerated body types and musculature. At times it feels like a game based around WWE action figures rather than the wrestlers themselves, but that's no bad thing as it allows each to be pumped full of charisma and personality, and renders them stylistically similar to the character models in the sublime Street Fighter IV (although they're still nowhere near as pretty as those in Capcom's majestic brawler).

So far, so good. So what's the problem? Sadly, it's that familar old issue - longevity. Aside from the Fantasy Warfare mode and a wide variety of exhibition fight options, the only other choices for the single player are a couple of Legend and Superstar story modes where you go through a series of match-ups to eventually face down The Undertaker or Randy Orten for the belt at Wrestlemania. Beyond that there's the multiplayer options (both offline and on), and the chance to create your own Superstar (let's see any of you try to topple HCC's gaudy grappler, Neon Maniac) but that's where the fun comes to an end. If only THQ had included a career mode (with all of the old back-stage fighting fun) then WWE All Stars could have been the greatest game in WWF/WWE history. As it is, it's just a very good one that'll keep you going for a couple of weeks while you clean up all the Achievements, but after that will probably be forgotten about as you go back to your ongoing Tiger Woods or FIFA career.

PS3 (version tested)/Xbox 360/Wii/PSP, THQ, £45 approx, On sale now