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.
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.
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.