Fire Pro Wrestling World is great in-ring but lacks depth

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Fire Pro Wrestling World [official site] is the indy high-flyer who has been wowing crowds all over the world. Maybe you were lucky enough to see her live years ago in a small out-of-town venue, where she was the clear stand-out in an underwhelming show. Maybe you just heard the buzz and envied friends who were lucky enough to catch her in action.

Well, now you can see the magic for yourself. After a long absence, Fire Pro is back and on PC for the first time. it’s not all good news though: the in-ring abilities are as dazzling and technically sound as ever, but a wrestler is only as good as their booking and in these early days of Early Access, everything outside the ring is far too bare.

Professional wrestling is about performance. It’s theatre disguised as competition – sports entertainment – and staying in character and playing to the crowd can be more important than athleticism. There are countless phenomenal technical wrestlers who will never have the broad appeal of Hogan and his big boot or The Rock and his eyebrow. A wrestling game shouldn’t be about trying to beat up the entire roster with your character of choice, or the one that you create, it should take the entertainment factor into consideration.

Fire Pro does that. You could play it as a beat ’em up, perfecting the timing for every situation and building a stable of ludicrously talented and powerful wrestlers, but it’s really a tool for setting up dream matches, recreating or rewriting wrestling legends, and creating your own stories.

The best thing about the game in its current version is the Steam Workshop integration. Within days of release, there were hundreds of real wrestlers to download as well as a decent Solid Snake, a faintly disturbing set of muscular Simpsons characters (Krusty looks like Doink’s terrifying cousin), and more are arriving every hour. The wonderful thing about the creation suite is its logic manipulation, which is simple to use and allows custom wrestlers to have programmed personalities and behaviours, so the best of them act as they should as well as looking just right.

Of course, you might also download a John Cena who doesn’t make improbable comebacks or a Roman Reigns that doesn’t spam the superman punch, but you can always tweak the wrestlers you download. And once you step through the ropes and into the ring, battling against them is a joy.

Fire Pro is tough. Rather than mashing buttons, you’re mostly working on your timing, hitting a move just at the right moment of a grapple, and being sure to control your pace and breathing. Thankfully there’s an extensive multi-part tutorial, called Mission mode, that’ll teach you everything you need to know. Even that is tricky in places though, demanding perfection before allowing you to move on to the next stage.

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Master the system and you’ll be able to stage proper wrestling matches, acting out brutal beatdowns, perilous near-falls, heroic comebacks, and desperate skin-saving tags. There are various match types already in the game, and more will surely be coming as Early Access continues, and as well as a superb grappling system, there are ringside weapons, pools of blood and other nasty hardcore bits and pieces. It’s all optional and if you want to run a league or a tournament using custom rules, you can do that, or you can just dip into single matches.

What you can’t do, unless you’re willing to make your own spreadsheets and do a lot of the work yourself, is run an actual wrestling company. This is where Fire Pro Wrestling World runs out of gas and falls flat on the mat. You have all these wrestlers and this wonderful performative combat system, which even has audience ratings at the end of each match, but there’s no way to put them in a persistent setting, beyond the brief custom leagues and tournaments.

This puts Fire Pro in a strange place. Between the bells, it’s exactly what I want from a wrestling game but as with the athletes themselves, the in-ring performance is only half of the story. Without the highs and lows of running a federation, both financial and creative, and with every heel or face turn having to be choreographed and noted outside the game, it all feels a little hollow to me. If there were a clearer statement about whether some sort of management mode, somewhat equivalent to the WWE games Universe mode, or even a Story mode for single wrestlers, I’d be happy to wait, but the plans are vague. “More modes” are promised, but there’s no word on what those modes will be.

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A long-time Fire Pro fan going by the name Carlzilla has already created a 3rd party management tool, which automates some of the processes you’d likely be doing if you were handling everything through spreadsheets. It’s great, but still requires lots of data input and alt-tabbing back and forth. That said, the actual interface in Fire Pro is cumbersome and slow, and makes basic actions such as transferring wrestlers between organisations or deleting downloaded content irritatingly time-consuming. There’s no way to move wrestlers in batches, so expect to be clicking names and backing in and out of nested menus a lot.

Currently, Fire Pro feels like having a massive toybox full of action figures. Infinite action figures, really, given how quickly the Steam Workshop is being populated. If you’re willing to put in the time, and bring your imagination into play, almost everything you need to create your own sagas is right there, but you’re not going to get any help from the game.

Tomorrow sees the PC release of Wrestling Revolution 3D, the latest grappling game from Mdickie. I’ve played it a lot on mobile and it’s pretty much the opposite of Fire Pro. The fighting system doesn’t have any of the flow or precision, but the world is packed with competing feds, and wrestlers who move between them, feud, retire, switch styles, compete for titles, and even die on occasion. It’s bonkers and messy and sometimes far too chaotic, but in a way that makes it a very honest depiction of pro wrestling.

Fire Pro has it beat every time in the ring but it’s currently a wonderful simulation of one side of sports entertainment. Perfect grappling that sadly takes place in a void.

Fire Pro Wrestling World is available now for Windows, via Steam Early Access for £14.99.

15 Comments

  1. antszy says:

    It’s just launched in early access and this series has had single player persistent modes since its SNES days. I think it’s a safe assumption that this stuff is coming.

  2. Wicked says:

    Despite acknowledging that it’s early access, you seem to keep falling into the habit of reviewing it as if it were a finished product.

    Considering it only launched onto Steam last week, a headline like ‘lacks depth’ should be so obvious to anyone aware that it is in early access that all it accomplishes is giving a negative impression to anyone skimming the headlines.

    • visor841 says:

      The thing is, Early Access games are sold “as-is” with no explicit promise that they’ll get better. Reviewing a game based on vague potential is a bit tricky. So, I think it’s only fair to review them as-is, perhaps with a re-review later, when it launches/if it gets better. The headline uses the present tense, so I don’t think it’s out of line.

      Edit: Perhaps the author could say something more like “needs depth”, but the headline is still accurate.

    • aepervius says:

      Some early access game never get their fundamental mechanic updated. As someone pointed out : once you ask money from people, then you get reviewed as-is.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Back in the days when I bought my PC Former magazine in paper format from a physical shop, I can remember countless reviews of games that scored impressive ratings because the reviewer was excited that it had lens flare or whatever graphical doodad was the current “must have” and the review level worked really well apart from the stuttering, tendency to clip through walls and occasional crash. Everyone wanted to believe that Quoom Life 3.5: invisible Darkness was going to be excellent, so it got reviewed as if it really was. Then the production copies shipped and everyone wondered how they could possibly have played the same game.

      I’d much rather the reviewers wrote the truth about what they experienced. That way people who buy into the early access will know what they’re getting, not what they might be getting in 1,2,5 years, never. For every game that has emerged from EA polished and containing all the promised features, I’m sure we can all name several that haven’t yet and probably never will.

    • DrollRemark says:

      Don’t point out how a game could be improved whilst it’s in early access! That’s bad, somehow!

  3. Jerppa says:

    “There are countless phenomenal technical wrestlers who will never have the broad appeal of Hogan and his big boot or The Rock and his eyebrow.”

    You’re talking about Cesaro, aren’t you?

    • Beefenstein says:

      Cesaro is one person and therefore, unless you are extremely numerically restricted, not ‘countless’.

      Also his fantastic arse is what makes him have broad appeal.

  4. ustvgm2 says:

    They actually mention feedback for a federation mode in this interview.

  5. Sithinious says:

    I need to check this out as a longtime fan of Playstation wrestling games. Slightly off-topic, but I really hate it when people dismiss real world wrestling as “fake”. Sure, everything is scripted and it’s entertainment not sports, but there’s nothing fake about the athletic talent of these guys and girls in the ring. It takes amazing talent to NOT permanently maim your opponent while still appearing to do so.

  6. Syt says:

    It should get married to the Total Extreme Wrestling series, which simulates all aspects of the wrestling business from signing stars, dealing with difficult characters, booking the TV shows and storylines, negotiating TV deals, and much, much more … except the actual in-ring action which is only available as short post match summary.

  7. supertiger says:

    Unfortunately Fire Pro hasn’t ever had what you’re referring to in this review as far as I know. It’s always been a hardcore simming game where it’s up to you to keep records of results and things like that if you’re so inclined. I think the only thing that the game remembers for you is belt history.

    I don’t mind this so much, as it does have a uniqueness to it and makes you feel a bit like a real booker driving themselves mad looking through your results document trying to work out who pinned who in the multi-man match, which wrestler won which tournament, which tag team won the tag team league and who deserves a title shot.

    I’ve already got a huge notepad file keeping a record of the ‘shows’ the promotion I’ve made up puts on and where I work out the card for upcoming spectacles. There’s something really satisfying when all the matches you’ve painstakingly booked without any help from the game itself end up getting really high ratings.

    What transpires won’t be recorded in game, but I’ll always be able to look back through that .txt file and remember the good times.

    • antszy says:

      Not true. Series has often featured single player career modes and storyline modes since at least the SNES.

      Super Fire Pro X Premium had a chase the belt career mode that I played a lot. Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special had a story that Suda 51 helped write where the main character eventually committed suicide. I think the Dreamcast version had a career mode too though I can’t remember at the moment.

      • supertiger says:

        Sorry I should of been clearer. I was referring to the part of the review that talks of a General Manager mode, similar to something like the Universe mode in the WWE 2k games.

        As a side note didn’t Suda51 appear in a video for FPWW? Would be great if he came back to write the story for story mode if/when they put that in.

    • noodlecake says:

      They are taking on fan feedback as the game goes, and they have acknowledged that some kind of career mode, and some kind of general manager/promoter modes are right at the top of the list of what people want. Whether it will be feasible for them to deliver those things is another matter but it seems like they are planning on one or two modes along those lines.