"Best in the world?" Not quite, but it's getting there.
WWE '13 is a good example of ambition getting in the way of the basics. That isn't really a bad thing or a good thing, it's just kind of "a thing."
The heavily-hyped Attitude Era mode is sure to satisfy fans from back when wrestling was hot in the late 90's. The overall attention to detail for fans of WWE & WWF history is shockingly impressive, and the highest it has ever been in a WWE game. Remember how Steve Austin 's theme was slightly (almost unnoticably) remixed in 1998? Both themes are present here, and are used when appropriate. Or how about the time Shawn Michaels and Triple H teamed up, pre-DX, to take on Mankind and The Undertaker, resulting in a chairshot that would be the first time The Undertaker ever bled on television? That scenario is here too, and there are dozens more. It's almost overkill seeing the lengths the developers went to in order to recreate moments from the Attitude Era - even somewhat forgotten ones - with authenticity. The Attitude Era mode is also the path you'll be taking for the majority of the game's unlockable content. There is a generous amount of it to be discovered, from past wrestlers, to past arena settings, to alternate attires, to retro versions of current wrestlers.
With all that fanservice thrown in, all it would take is a great playing, great looking, and great sounding game to suddenly be staring down an incredibly unlikely Game of the Year contender. Unfortunately, it's when you get to the basic presentation and some annoying bugs that the game goes a little off the track.
THQ made a lot of noise about their new crowd audio system this year. When it works, it really does add to the atmosphere of the match. The audience will get louder as the match builds up to a participant executing their finishing maneuver, and a wrestler throwing in a taunt makes an audible difference in the way the crowd reacts as well. All of this is great, until you run into one of the many bugs present, which can range from unexpected music playing in the background, to the crowd being dead silent (not even ambient noise) and suddenly springing to life before falling silent again, to an empty arena match being intentionally silent, but then having creepy chanting from an audience that isn't there. Ring announcers will bizarrely say things out of order ("Here are your winners - Daniel Bryan, Kane, and!"). The commentary is handled by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler for the Attitude Era mode, and Michael Cole & Lawler for the modern era, although I've had rare occasions where Cole's voice suddenly pops in on commentary during Ross/Lawler matches.
Graphical presentation is solid - mostly unchanged from last year's title, but this is forgivable considering how near we are to the end of this console generation. For the most part, the wrestlers are very well represented, and the settings/arenas are perfectly acceptable. It'll be nice to see an upgrade in the appearance of the crowd once the new consoles arrive, though.
Gameplay is sort of a mixed bag on the default settings. Similar to last year's offering, it is a pretty easy process to get the hang of things, even if you skipped WWE '12. The main issue with the AI is the absurd amount of times you'll have a move reversed on you during matches. There's a fine line between a challenge and an annoyance, and sadly this game falls on the latter pretty strongly. Fortunately, there are sliders in the options menu that allow you to set how often the AI will reverse your move attempts. There is something to be said for a cool series of reversals when you're having a bout between two "technical" wrestlers, but watching giants like Great Khali and The Undertaker exchanging standing switches and wristlocks over and over gets pretty asinine. I found setting the reversal frequency down a few notches in the options made gameplay much more enjoyable without turning it into a cakewalk. On the topic of what is not enjoyable, the kick out system is based on a timed button push, and even when you've barely been damaged less than a minute into the match, if your opponent opts to go for a pin, don't be surprised if you slip on the timing once and end up losing right then and there.
WWE Universe mode returns this year and gives you a pretty deep, customizable experience of a year in WWE (beginning just after WrestleMania and going to the following Wrestlemania). Rosters of TV shows, who is holding which title, who forms a tag team, who interferes in what match, and plenty more granular options are all present here. It's kind of an interesting mode because there isn't a ton of motivation to stick with one character (other than some achievements/trophies). You are more than welcome to simulate or participate in whatever matches you wish. If this is your first experience with WWE Universe mode, it's kind of jarring at first to not really have a set goal that the game pushes you towards. After you realize what is being presented though, it's kind of fun to essentially "play God" with a year of WWE.
Customization is as deep as it has ever been. Create wrestlers, entrances, storylines, arenas, crowd signs, titles, and more. If you don't want to start from scratch, you're able to slightly tweak (or completely overhaul) any character already present in the game in just about any method you an think of. This can lead to some pretty hilarious moments - it won't be long before you're changing Triple H's "Grr I'm a tough guy" entrance to something where he's dancing down to the ring to some corny sounding female wrestler's theme. And just as it did last year, the online pass-enabled features give you access to "Community Creations," which will allow you to seek out just about anything or anyone you want - from non-WWE wrestlers like Sting & Bill Goldberg , to UFC stars like Dan Severn & Chuck Liddell, to fictional characters like Skeletor & Shao Kahn, to the completely absurd and hilarious ("Paul Bear" - aka Paul Bearer with an oversized bear head mask).
Other random bugs pop up here and there...you'll run into things like unlockable costumes earned in Attitude Era mode not unlocking, AI opponents getting stuck in a loop where they do the same move to you over and over for literally a minute or so before you're able to break out of the cycle, and even the occasional "created character suddenly has his moveset erased" glitch.
It's sort of cliche to say that this game is a patch or two away from being great, but that really does appear to be the case with WWE '13. It seems like Yuke's had so many great ideas & fanservice to get to that they sort of overlooked the base presentation. If you are a wrestling fan, and you are willing to put up with a few annoyances, this is a pretty easy recommendation.
Disclaimer: Time played - 12 hours, 325/1000 achivement points. Attitude Era mode completed, 3 months in on Universe mode. Download and rate my Dan Severn created wrestler (under user The KaneRobot) and I'll be your friend. His mustache is the real deal.