REVIEW: AEW Fight Forever (PS5)

June 28, 2023

Written by Jamie Galea

Since its inception in 2019, All Elite Wrestling has been one of the most fascinating new wrestling promotions to follow. With its collaborations with other wrestling promotions and its hard hitting style, it’s proven to be a viable alternative to a certain major promotion. After a long three years since its announcement, AEW has its first console game in the form of AEW Fight Forever. Does it provide a compelling and exciting wrestling experience, or is it an overhyped misfire?

The most important thing you need to internalize about AEW Fight Forever is to not compare it to WWE 2K. Where 2K’s efforts focus more on attempting to be a pro wrestling simulation, it’s best to think of Fight Forever as a throwback to early to mid 2000’s wrestling games. What this means is a faster paced and arcadey experience, but with some modern sensibilities.

To give you an idea, this is a game that opens with the old THQ logo that a lot of those games had. While WWF No Mercy may be the obvious reference point for how it plays, the game feels closer in spirit and vibe to WWE Day of Reckoning or WWE Smackdown Here Comes The Pain. Even the general look of the wrestlers and their move animations feel like they came out of that generation, which adds to the general vibe of the game.

This could all sound like a desperate nostalgia play, but the truth is Fight Forever succeeds in really evoking that era of wrestling games. It doesn’t take long to grasp the controls, focusing on a more streamlined set of moves and things you can do in any given match. The biggest learning curve is getting used to this game’s reversal timings, but just like the rest of the game, you can get it down fairly quickly. Matches also don’t last particularly long, with finishers and even signatures able to take out opponents quickly.

I can’t understate just how refreshing it is to go back to something as simple as what Fight Forever offers. Probably the most complex thing the game has going for it is that every wrestler has a set of perks and abilities, such as being able to steal finishers or dive outside the ring. Even then, pausing the game to pull up a movelist will just tell you how to perform signature or finisher moves. It may put people off if they were expecting more, but I wouldn’t trade the simplicity of Fight Forever for the overcomplication of WWE 2K’s moves and setups.

That said, the game could use a better tutorial than having concepts explained via slides midmatch. If you missed the slide during the match, you’ll have to check them out via a seperate menu in the game options, which feels bizarre. Even though there is a training mode for you to practice moves, it would’ve been great here to have a detailed set of tutorials actually running you through the mechanics.

Probably the biggest shift if you’re used to older wrestling games is that while there’s an AKI style momentum meter that represents how a match is going, there’s now a series of momentum buffs that can appear during the match. These include feats such as first attacks, mixing up offensive, or kicking out of pins. It all makes sense, is easy to understand and works well in complementing the action.

There’s also a bunch of cool little things that make this a good time. One of my favourites is an ability where you can attack an opponent before the bell starts, rewarding you with a momentum buff! Another favourite is when a match finishes, you can choose to take control again and continue to beat down on your opponent for a while. Seeing the all too familiar No Mercy crouching crotch shot is also a good time.

What’s less exciting is the lack of match types in the game. While AEW hasn’t been around for long, and the game does feature some of AEW’s big gimmick matches (such as the Casino Battle Royale or their take on the Exploding Barbed Wire match), it still feels quite limited as to what you can do. Traditional match types like Cage matches aren’t present, and due to a limit of four wrestlers in the ring at any given time, the 3v3 Trios matches aren’t present. There’s enough to have a decent time, but it would’ve been great to have more.

Speaking of wrestling game traditions, Fight Forever also allows you create your own wrestlers, and goes one step further by allowing you to create your own arena. You can also create custom variants of each AEW wrestler, if you’re wanting to do the work to keep them up to date. While I would’ve liked a few more parts for the characters, it’s made up for it with a huge pool of moves to assign, entrances to play around with and a heap more.

While the tools are pretty straight forward and easy to use, don’t be expecting anything like being able to import custom images or to easily share out created wrestlers or arenas, everything is locked to your game. The real bummer, if you’re used to making customs in other games, is that the game doesn’t really let you modify a customs physique and body. Those hoping to make this game your new monster factory will be sorely disappointed.

Though if you aren’t keen on making your own characters, the base roster of Fight Forever has got you covered. Just about all the big, expected names are here, but what’s more surprising is the inclusion of several wrestlers core to AEW, but have either departed the company or are no longer with us. If you’ve ever wanted to have a triple threat match between Cody Rhodes, Brodie Lee and even Owen Hart, AEW Fight Forever is your game.

There are some notable omissions though. One big hit to the roster is the lack of most of AEW’s established tag teams, so those hoping to play as teams like The Acclaimed or FTR will be disappointed. While the game is promising DLC to help fix up some of the more notable omissions (FTR is confirmed as DLC), and while the base roster is still good on its own, it still could’ve used a few more wrestlers.

Lastly, there’s Road to Elite, the game’s singleplayer campaign. Taking place over the course of an in-game year, your goal is to eventually become champion while taking part in storylines leading into the four big AEW events: Double or Nothing, Revolution, All In & Full Gear. It’s also the most the game genuinely feels like a lost PS2 game, and not always in the best ways.

It’s a mode accessible to every wrestler in the game, so you can take your customs into it, in addition to the AEW wrestlers. While it’s funny to see someone who’s as deathly serious as Eddie Kingston act incredibly out of character, it’s a mode best suited to your customs, since you’re able to actively develop them with the rewards you earn during matches.

Leading into each weekly Dynamite and the eventual big event at the end of the month, you’re given four turns to either develop your character or heal them if necessary, but most of your time will be spent exploring whatever city you’re in. This is either as simple as taking part in meet & greets or interviews to help motivate you, or sampling tourist sites or local cuisines. These encounters also see you interacting with other AEW wrestlers, with a chance to grab a selfie with them, a collectible unique to this mode.

It’s all weirdly charming, especially when you factor in the mini-games you can do any any point for some fast cash. All of these are extremely simple, but they’re a neat distraction. You can play them outside of Road to Elite, should you want to warm up your multiplayer sessions with some non-wrestling action.

Completing the experience is how it weaves in core moments from the short history of AEW, with video packages and compilations to match. As someone who’s only recently started getting into AEW proper, after watching years of clips and highlights, it does a good job of giving some context as to why these moments are a big deal and why they’re being recreated.

While the storylines aren’t particularly exciting, at least the ones that aren’t directly riffing on actual moments from AEW, the real killer of Road to Elite is the length. Once you’ve taken part in the four shows, the mode ends. While it’s designed to be replayable, especially if you’re planning to get all of the photos, I don’t think it holds much weight otherwise, especially if you’ve seen everything that mode has to offer multiple times over.

AEW Fight Forever is a game that shows a lot of promise, and as a first attempt, it’s got a lot going for it. It does a great job of feeling like a lost PS2/Gamecube era wrestling game, but modernized. Playing the game is a genuine blast, and as a local multiplayer game, definitely one to add to the rotation. Yet for as much as I want to sing its praises, it’s also very much a first attempt, and you can see it with the lack of modes, limited creation toolset and Road to Elite.

Even with all that said, AEW Fight Forever is the closest I’ve played to scratching that No Mercy or Day of Reckoning itch, and it’s going to be fascinating to see where the game goes from here.

Rating: RECOMMENDED

This game was reviewed on a Playstation 5 using a review code provided by the publisher. For more wrestling hot takes, follow Jamie over on Twitter at @jamiemgalea.

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