It's no secret that the WWE is not "real". But the suspension of disbelief asked of fans and, of course, the maintenance of kayfabe by the performers ensures a larger than life spectacle for its audience.
However, even the most over-the-top performances given by the company’s biggest Super Stars has not proven big enough for NetherRealm Studios (famed creators of Mortal Kombat) in their latest one-on-one fighter, WWE Immortals.
In perhaps the oddest piece of World Wrestling lore ever seen, Immortals revolves around Bray Wyatt's Dark Lantern. This magical lamp has been stolen by the Authority, who unwittingly unleashs its power. Unable to control it, this opens portals to other realms, turning the WWE's roster into demons, monsters, barbarians, super heroes, and a host of other fantastical beings.
And yes, writing that has made feel like a crazy person.
The game itself is (very) similar to NetherRealm's other free-to-play beat down simulator Injustice. Taking three wrestlers into each bout, you must battle another team of three to the death. Each of your warriors is represented by a card that you can switch between each campaign battle or online match up.
By earning cards through play, or buying them through in-app purchases, you can expand your roster. You can earn credit at a pretty good rate, with daily challenges online providing a good boost to both character XP and currency. As fights get harder, however, this initial wealth of rewards slows and you will find yourself waiting for your card’s stamina to recharge - though again impatient players can pay to speed things up.
It can prove costly but, for the most part, it is a fair system that allows you play a lot without ever having to pay. Unfortunately, moving through the game organically does result in your leveled-up earlier cards being more powerful than any of the later ones you acquire, discouraging experimentation with the various character combinations.
Battles themselves are fairly simple affairs - particularly through the earlier rounds that require little more effort than persistent taps of the screen.
Each fighter’s specific moves are different, but the premise is always the same, with quick taps performing a series of fast light attacks, while swipes of the screen have them unleash more powerful, slower blows. String together enough strikes, and an onscreen prompt will have you swipe the screen to unleash a devastating final blow.
You can also block by placing two fingers on screen. While this is explained in the opening tutorial, it takes a long time until it is actually necessary to use this ability. Certainly I struggled to untrain myself from simply hammering onscreen - a tactic that had previously led my Giant Big Show to multiple victories – once the difficulty began to increase.
The final additions to this formula are adrenalin and a tag system. Both of these are activated from menus at the side and base of the screen, but their effect on the match are completely different.
The tag ability is somewhat self-explanatory. Tapping the profile image of another of your wrestlers causes them to leap in at the next available opportunity, providing a range of tactical possibilities.
More excitingly, Adrenalin is a powerful, character-specific move that can quickly decimate your opponent’s health. Once your character is fully leveled, these become incredibly visually impressive, such as the Demon Kane’s power move in which hevomits flames down his unfortunate opponent’s throat before hurling them into a pentagram to be struck by fiery lightening.
Unfortunately, especially on smaller screens, the reliability of activating these two skills is a little hit and miss. While this only proves a real problem at a few key moments, if you ever do lose the final match of a tournament due to this insensitivity of these menu selections it can prove hard to forgive.
NeverRealm's signature gritty style is on full display in Immortals. This leads to the WWE's already supersized roster being injected with a new blend of powerful steroids, before being turned into their comic book forms.
But there are some real strokes of genius in the line up of characters. While some do seem a little lazy - with Daniel Bryant simply being a member of the "Yes Movement" and Cena taking the role of a super hero – whoever thought of making the Rock an actual golem deserves a medal.
Unfortunately, given just how many wrestlers there are in the WWE, the current lineup of cards feels a little light on the ground. I am sure going forward this will expand but, for the moment, fans may find their favorite fighters absent.
The game world is dark. Though it is rich with detail it’s hard not to think that given the story, and the game's probable audience, that a slightly more lighthearted tone may have been better. After all, watching as a centurion version of Roman Reigns Superman Punch a Banshee incarnation of Paige into the ground is an experience that doesn't need to be self-serious to be entertaining.
Yes! Yes! Yes! (and a little no)
WWE Immortals - and I say this affectionately - is good stupid fun. Building on its stripped down but solid fighting game foundations, NeverRealms has done a fantastic job reinventing the WWE universe in a mythical, comic world. The fighting may be a touch simplistic, and the number of fighters is a tad sparse but, with future updates hopefully adding more characters, this could be a great little time waster for wrestling fans. For those unfamiliar with the universe, however, there are better brawlers out there.