Well being a big fan of the WWE, and NOT being gay may come as a surprise to many of you non followers of this *cough* *cough* sport. Ok, so it’s just men dancing around each other in Lycra, but it has a special place in my heart, and judging by the amount of game licenses the WWE sells every year, there are more people than just me that like it.
Last year THQ delivered WWE RAW, and unless you’ve been living under a massive rock, you may have guessed that this is the follow up to the massive Xbox only release. But does it play better? Well I am afraid to tell you that I was really looking forward to this release with the imminent release of 'Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain’ on the PS2, but judging from what I have seen of that compared to this game, I was a little disappointed.
The Xbox in my opinion is a far superior games console, and as such should stand head and shoulders above the rest - but this game is the kind of game you hide when your mates come round for a bit of mat rough and tumble, and I mean wrestling, not anything else. Firstly you fire up the game, and having a quick look through all the options in the game's menu you find plenty to do and many game modes being present, like 'T.L.C’ (Tables Ladders Chair), 'Hell in a Cell’, and other favorites like 'Ladder Matches’, 'Royal Rumble’ and 'Tag Team Matches’. For this game the developers have called in the whole WWE roster, for favorites like Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and some of the real reasons us men watch wrestling: Lita and Trish Stratus, all come together for possibly the biggest selection of wrestlers on the Xbox. It’s just a shame they have butchered the gameplay so much.
Deciding I would go for the brutality of a match such as 'Hell in a Cell’, it yet again gives you options of having a manager, whereas you could have someone on the outside to interfere on your behalf when things go pear shaped. Eager to get into the game and feeling that I am a good guy like Stone Cold, I choose the 'One on One’ option to fight in the squared circle. You can cycle through all the characters of the game using the L and R shoulder buttons until you find the biggest and baddest pro wrestlers this game has to offer. Instantly I spotted Goldberg on the 3rd page. After straining my eyes to look at some of the pictures (that is even on a 28” screen), one bald character is hard to distinguish from another, so I seriously recommend the other option of moving the selector over the top of the picture to get the character's name. Right, first time player in this game, let's find someone weak and feeble to knock into next year. I know, pick a woman to beat on so I can get the feel of the game. I chose Stacy Keebler. Let’s start the game, boys and girls.
After a short load time, you are introduced to the arena and the entrance area of RAW, with the crowd screaming at the entrance of the superstars - and when I say crowd I should say there are about 10 people screaming 'Yeah!'. So I’m picking on this game a little, but honestly I watch RAW every week and the crowd sounds massive, but for some reason they sound pretty lame here. Looking at the big screen you can see your character’s entrance video playing behind them, and then out comes your character - looking from a camera that is placed in the ring you wonder what the graphic detail of this ring warrior is going to be like. Suddenly, the camera shifts to a frontal view, and I have to say I look more like Goldberg than this rendered version did, and I have a big belly. The entrance with the video and the effects are lovingly re-created, but the graphical rendering and likeness have somewhat been missed from this one character. After watching it for a few seconds, more pressing of the A button gives you the option of skipping the rest of the intro.
Instantly you're thrown into the ring in an isometric view with a referee and your opponent, and at first glance it looks crisp and clean. But not long after a brief play around on the controller you realize that the graphics alone are not really 'going to do it’, in the eyes of the player. For starters, the control system of the player is very spongy and seems unrealistically slow and unresponsive. You're either running or walking (there is nothing in between), which makes carrying out some of the more spectacular moves more than just a little bit difficult. After running round in the center of the ring, I decided to get a little grappling action on, so heading towards my opponent I started to experiment with the buttons. Ok, what do we have. Well B, which is the block button. We also have a hit button which is X. Nice and simple you may think... more like bloody terrible! With a Mortal Kombat game a couple of button combos could get you a spectacular move. With this it’s more like punch, punch and grab, now move your stick and maybe you'll get some kind of generic wrestling move.
Your health meter at the bottom of the screen lets you know how bad of a condition you are in. If you get knocked down you have to tap a button to get back up as quickly as possible, and the more you get damaged the longer it takes to get back up. After thrashing the button several hundred times, you finally get up and try to fight on, but with the controls being so unresponsive you can be just as quickly back on your ass again. I barely managed to get up from the mat after the 5th time, and I was knocked back down again and pinned. I simply could not retry that kind of match again, so I thought I'd test the graphical power of the Xbox by throwing 30 men in the ring for a battle royal. Even this mode could not quench my thirst for a good grapple. You start with four men and that’s it until one of them is eliminated, unlike the real event where a new man enters every 3 minutes. Too often I was thrown out after a few minutes of air punching. One good hit and I was on the ropes, and after being hit again I was out. Now it’s not that I am bad player, but the game just won't do what you want it to do, and when it does it’s too late. The only redeeming fact is that when you get knocked out, you can come back in as the next player, which lengthens this mode somewhat.
There's no Xbox Live support and even the co-op modes of RAW are kind of rubbish, with only the added bonus of thrashing your friend who has equal or worse playing skills. The big moves in the game are just too hard to achieve even when playing with a friend.
The thrash metal soundtrack in the background gets very annoying after 5 minutes, and even with the ring announcer trying to add to the atmosphere of the game it will never reach the excitement levels of the actual RAW TV show.
With plenty of game modes including designer wrestler, there may be just enough on the replayability front to keep the younger audience going for a while, but it will never reach the high expectations of Smackdown for the Playstation when it was first released. Clearly THQ went for fancy graphics and polishing the whole look, rather than going for actual gameplay and speed. Little things like a ridiculous control method and the fact that a 500lb wrestler pounding on a 120lb wrestler has practically zero effect, and that they are all on an equal footing, is just a disappointment for every true fan throughout the world.