AEW fans have had to wait a long time since Fight Forever was first announced back in November 2020. Cast your mind back to that god-awful period and you may remember the initial trailer alongside AEW wrestler Kenny Omega speaking about how they wanted to create a video game that resembled some of the classics from the past, naming WWF No Mercy as a prime example. AEW Games even went as far as to bring in THQ and Yukes, the company and developers famed for bringing us dozens and dozens of pro wrestling games over the years.
Fast forward to present day and AEW Fight Forever is finally set for release. It only takes one match, or even one glance at the gameplay, to see that their vision never wavered. This looks and feels like a mixture of No Mercy and Def Jam Vendetta that a lot of wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans alike will remember fondly. The question is, though, does this style of gameplay still work in a modern day environment? Is there longevity in this throwback or simply just a quick hit of nostalgia before we all quickly move on? The short answer is yes, this works. Whether or not it does enough to keep players coming back is another question entirely.
The noise coming out of the AEW Games camp has always been that they want this throwback to feel more arcadey than WWE 2K’s more serious sports simulation approach. Easy to play but hard to master has been the phrase most used by the developers, and to their credit that’s exactly what Fight Forever is. The face buttons are used to punch, kick, grapple and run. Simple. Blocks and counters are done with the bumper buttons but there’s even an option to switch on easy counters which lets first-time players counter with the face buttons instead. Then the triggers are used to throw your opponent or pick up weapons, it’s all very straightforward. However, if you want to master the Young Bucks’ arial style of springboarding off ropes, or become a grappling specialist of reversals like Bryan Danielson, you’ll need to put in the time and effort. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with feeling like an expert with that one particular wrestler, not too unlike mastering a main character in a classic fighting game.
If you have a bunch of friends over and tell them the basic controls, they’ll still have a great time button bashing their way to a half decent match, especially if it’s a multi-man match that usually ends up as pure mayhem in the best way. In all honesty, I thought that’s all Fight Forever was after my first couple of hours with the game. Then after I had switched the game off, I realised I didn’t know how to execute Hangman Adam Page’s Buckshot Lariat in which he goes to the ring apron and flips over the top rope before hitting a giant clothesline. “I’ll just switch it back on and figure that out” I thought to myself. Then the exact same process happened with wanting to know how to dive to the outside of the ring with Darby Allin, then how to catch opponents in midair with Miro, and on and on it went. Next thing I knew I had lost hours trying to master what I originally thought was a throwaway arcade beat ’em up, just like I did with No Mercy 23 years ago.
So the learning curve is addictive, but how does it actually feel to play? Well, for the most part very good. The moves are animated in a faster style to line up with the game’s overall arcade aesthetic which sometimes means there’s not as much weight to them as there is in WWE 2K for example. The upside, however, is that when it all comes together it feels like the matches are going at breakneck speed which fans of classic fighting games will undoubtedly appreciate. Fans of a more realistic approach will more than likely find this hard to gel with though. The speed and general chaotic feeling can also lead to some weird glitches where moves are missed entirely or characters randomly fly out of the ring while accidentally targeting the wrong player. Once again, not too unlike the wrestling games of yesteryear. Depending on your preference, you’ll either embrace the chaos or feel instantly turned off by it.
The only real game breaking complaint I had was with the pin system. Executing a pin is easy enough, you just press the left bumper then the player being pinned simply mashes the face buttons to escape. My issue was I found that as long as a character was hit with a finishing move, it was nearly impossible to see a kick out. Now this does result in finisher moves feeling ultra deadly and something that you have to avoid at all costs, but it comes at a price. That price being that you lose that edge of your seat drama that wrestling achieves with 2.99 kick outs after a finisher has been hit. The one time I’ve been able to do it in the week or so I’ve had the game felt electric and only made me question why it’s not slightly easier to do so. Hopefully this is something that is tweaked in an early patch.
There are a handful of different match types in Fight Forever which is quite impressive for a first release. The usual singles, tag team, and 3-way matches are all here, with the option to pick lights out (AEW’s equivalent of a no DQ match) or falls count anywhere for singles matches. There’s also ladder matches, the casino battle royale, and my personal favourite; the exploding barbed wire death match. It’s my favourite simply because there isn’t anything close to this in the WWE games so it sets AEW Fight Forever apart as being a little more wacky and definitely more violent, a bit like real-life. The ring is surrounded by barbed wire that, just like it says on the tin, explodes whenever a wrestler is thrown into it. Add to that a timer that counts down to all four sides exploding, and the sheer amount of blood that then comes from the characters, and you’ve got a match type that you won’t find in any other mainstream combat/sports/fighting game on the market.
The other match types are a mixed bag. The battle royale has been a real struggle to master and often feels like pot luck. Ladder matches can either feel hugely dramatic, especially as the system allows players to steal a last minute win, or anti-climatic as they can often end within a couple of minutes. The general feeling is that any match type with more than one player is where the game really shines. Because of its fast-paced arcade style, and the amount of fun weapons available, multi-person matchups just descend into utter madness that you’d have to be soulless to not enjoy. Seeing Orange Cassidy running around with his hands in his pockets at the same time that Darby Allin is chasing everyone on a skateboard and Jericho is smashing people with bottles of bubbly is pure joy and where Fight Forever is at its best.
Road To Elite
Road to Elite is the only real game mode that will take up your time outside of exhibition matches and online matchups. It’s a shame because just an addition as simple as a PPV builder (as seen in UFC games) or something akin to Universe mode or GM Mode in WWE 2K games would have helped longevity a lot. Sure there’s fun mini games but once you’ve done them all once, they lose their appeal rather quickly. At least we have Road to Elite though. It’s essentially a career mode which once again takes inspiration from the wrestling games of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. You’ll have the choice of taking a real-life AEW wrestler from the indie wrestling scene to become AEW World Champion, or doing so with a created character.
While we’re on the subject, there’s create-a-wrestler mode and create-a-show. Both feel way stripped down compared to what’s available on the 2K side of things, but that’s to be expected for what is presumably the first game of a longer series. They’re good enough for creating your own wacky characters and play areas, but there’s not enough here to create detailed versions of wrestlers that didn’t make the final roster, even if their names and entrance music have been included.
Back to the Road to Elite mode. It isn’t exactly revolutionary and if you’ve ever played any wrestling game then you’ve played something similar before. You start as an unsigned talent who is contacted by AEW founder Tony Khan offering you a spot on AEW’s first ever show. One of the coolest parts of all this is how much it focuses on the history of the company. For example; when you first start your Road to Elite, you’re given a short video package showing the real-life press conference where signings and shows were announced. Then depending what happens in your own personal story, you’ll get different parts of AEW’s history. In my story, my created wrestler (Mikey The Tank) ended up teaming with Death Triangle, this triggered another short clip that showed the actual Dynamite segment where Pac, Rey Fenix and Penta came together to form Death Triangle. For longtime fans, these are all fun callbacks. And for people who haven’t watched much AEW, they get to witness scenes that they have missed which may end up tempting them to begin watching in real-life. Great stuff.
The storylines themselves aren’t anything special and the entire experience will either feel retro or cheap in its excecution depending on which side of the fence you fall. There’s no voice acting at all, only text on the screen. The cutscene animations are short and a bit janky with a lot of scenes being repeated. However, given the old school feel to the game, I couldn’t help but feel that all of this only added to the charm. The majority of the storylines I’ve ran into have mostly been comedic rather than dramatic or overly serious. Seeing my silly looking character question Jungle Boy about growing up in a zoo, or being approached by Rey Fenix when going out for Mexican food, or even stumbling into the Young Bucks who say “Mikey the Tank, just the player-character we were looking for”, I couldn’t help but smile through most of my character’s journey to the top.
Another impressive feature is that you’ll likely have a unique story as what happens to your character is decided on how you perform in your matches. I was eliminated from a battle royale by Andrade on my first ever show so started in a storyline with him. Whereas I teamed with Death Triangle, I’ve seen others join the Dark Order. There was even one hilarious scene where I bumped into Brodie Lee who said “In another universe you actually join the Dark Order”. Road to Elite isn’t trying to revolutionise wrestling games as we know it, it just wants you to have fun. If you approach it in that way, you’ll have a good time. However those looking for something with a bit more meat on the bone will probably end up disappointed.
When the first ever trailer was shown, and even as more clips were released during the game’s progress, the visuals were the main point of criticism from fans who are used to their games looking a lot more life-like. Fight Forever instead showed more cartoonish characters that leaned a little too far into wacky visuals that actually borderlined on childish. It gained more comparisons to the terrible 2K Battlegrounds than it did to the retro games they were clearly trying to emulate.
The final version thankfully isn’t that bad, but I’d be lying if I said this game looked great because it doesn’t. Thankfully the game’s tone doesn’t require hyper realistic character models, but that shouldn’t excuse some of the terrifying faces that Mikey The Tank has had to cower from on his road to becoming Elite. Let’s just say that it’s no surprise that facepainted wrestlers like Sting, Darby Allin and Dustin Roades all look the best.
The biggest takeaway from the game’s sound is the decision to leave out commentary entirely. Instead we get music playing in the background during matches, a soundtrack that is packed with licenced songs, original AEW themes and even 8-bit versions of those themes just to add even more to that retro vibe that surrounds everything in Fight Forever. Personally I like this, if you can’t get commentary sounding good then don’t do it at all as it can often ruin the experience as much as it can improve it.
In 2019, All Elite Wrestling was built not to defeat the gigantic World Wrestling Entertainment, but instead to simply offer an alternative to fans who just wanted something a bit different. In 2023, AEW Fight Forever sets out to do exactly the same in the world of video games. For too long the only mainstream wrestling game on the market has been WWE’s 2K series. Now with Fight Forever, fans have a choice of two completely different style of games.
Fight Forever can sometimes appear to be a little wild and quite rough around the edges, but in it’s very obvious attempts to recreate the wrestling games of old, it undoubtedly succeeds. Gameplay is exactly what was promised, it’s easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. Playing the big multi-person matches with friends is where this game will peak for most players. The stupidly fun chaos that can come from Fight Forever’s over-the-top gameplay will be enough to keep this installed on my PS5 hardrive for a long time. It is sadly let down by only one real game mode outside of exhibition matches, thankfully Road to Elite is a lot of fun and will have AEW fans chuckling from start to finish, just don’t go in expecting anything too deep.
When all is said and done, if I’m ever wanting to get real nerdy and faithfully recreate the entire New Japan Pro Wrestling roster from scratch to get the most realistic experience possible, I’m still going to play WWE 2k23. But if I have a load of friends over for beers and we want to pass the time with something light hearted, easy and fun, I’m booting up AEW Fight Forever.