AEW Fight Forever – A Much Needed Alternative to the Mainstream – gamescom 2022

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As wrestling games got closer and closer to simulating the real action between the ropes, it has felt like some of the magic that made the genre such a smash hit in the N64 and early PlayStation eras was lost. AEW Fight Forever is looking to reignite that magic, and for both better and worse, it’s succeeding — Fight Forever plays almost exactly like WWF No Mercy, and while the core gameplay certainly hit me with waves of nostalgia, it also stung me with little rocks and pebbles of things that hold up less well to a modern standard.

Let’s start with the good. Fight Forever is exactly the kind of solid, pick-up-and-play friendly, arcadey wrestling game that the genre is very much in need of. A gap that WWE 2K Battlegrounds tried to fill, but fell short. There’s a button to punch, a button to kick, a button to grapple, and those buttons can be held down to execute slower, but stronger versions of each of those techniques. On the defensive end, there’s a button to block strikes, and a button to block grapples, and you’re rewarded with a reversal for timing a block just before the attack lands. This forms the bedrock of the combat system in Fight Forever, and just like in the days of the N64, the simplicity works well.

Other little nuances from No Mercy remain too. One of the biggest holdovers is the ability to hold the guard button while you’re getting up to crouch on the mat. While crouched, you are invulnerable to attacks, and are able to punish overly aggressive opponents with a quick strike to take back control of a match. Or if your opponent is wise to the tactic and backs off, you can just do a quick back roll and reset to a neutral position.

Just like in the days of the N64, the simplicity works well.

The momentum system also returns in exactly the same fashion, with a colored momentum meter that builds from green, to yellow, to orange, to bright red as you land moves; and depletes as you take hits, going all the way down to blue. When your momentum meter is full, you can execute one of your signature moves by pressing the d-pad in a direction after landing a grapple, or you could taunt, and gain access to your finisher. From there you have a limited amount of time to hit your finishing move before the momentum meter goes back to green.

There’s a great tension that sets in once a character has a finisher in the chamber, as the player with the finisher is looking to land it as quick as they can, while the person on defense is looking for a last ditch effort to try and counter it, because if they do, they steal the momentum and gain access to their own finisher. My favorite moment from the demo happened when I got wrecked by the AI Adam Cole for most of the match, ducked The Boom knee strike, and then almost immediately countered with a One Winged Angel for the pin. It was a perfect encapsulation of what makes wrestling games so uniquely exciting, and Fight Forever nails that feeling.

But not everything was nostalgic bliss. There are some major hit detection issues in the build I played for Fight Forever. I would land the first hit of a strike combo and then completely whiff each follow up strike, leading to me being the one on the receiving end of a flurry of blows. Moments like this are especially frustrating because once you get knocked down in Fight Forever, it’s very hard to get back into the fight. You basically have to land a reversal in order to turn the tide of a match, an issue that was exacerbated by the fact that I was playing against an AI as opposed to a human in my demo. This isn’t a new thing in wrestling games, butmore modern wrestling games have implemented things like quick escapes under the bottom rope, more opportunities to counter certain combo strings and moves beyond just the first strike or grapple, and comeback mechanics that are limited, but give you another chance to get back in fight.

Another bummer is how brief the entrances are. They’re only about 10 seconds long and are limited to just the most iconic bits of each entrance. So you still get Kenny Omega’s throat slit taunt, and Adam Cole’s “Adam Cole Bay-Bay” shout, but that’s about it. In the grand scheme of things, this is the most minor of grievances, but entrances are such a huge part of AEW’s programming, that its hard not to feel a little disappointed by the truncated sequences, even if this too is also true to the N64 era of wrestling games.

Overall, my impression of AEW Fight Forever is that it is exactly what it looks like: A throwback to what many view as the Golden Age of wrestling games. There’s definitely room for a bit more modernization and there are areas that could use a bit of cleaning up, but even with those issues, I still firmly believe that this is exactly the type of wrestling game that fans need right now: an arcadey alternative to the mainstream, much like how AEW itself has established itself as a much need alternative to the mainstream in professional wrestling.

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Author: Mitchell Saltzman

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