Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Review: WWE Day Of Reckoning (NGC)
Posted by Shocker :: 9:21 PM

ITVR, the site we all originate from, at least initially, was a wrestling site. We've all known each other for about 3 years now, and it's sort of moved beyond being just about wrestling to being a community of friends who get together and talk about whatever. But in the back of all that is still what brought us to the dance initially - the wrestling.

Personally, I don't watch wrestling anymore. I used to be very into it, and have a huge box of tapes to show for it. As far as my wrestling game credentials go, I played a lot of Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy on the N64, as well as spending a whooooooooooole lot more time on TNM7 than anyone should. But my absolute favorite game in the history of wrestling games is Fire Pro D on the Dreamcast. Reason being that the engine was versatile enough to accomidate just about every style, from lucha libre to American pro-style to Japanese strong-style to mixed martial arts, etc. But the venerable series has been, as far as American consoles are concerned, Japan only. I've had to make do with the games we are given here.

What I'm working toward is basically that what I want out of a wrestling game is versatility. The versatility to be able to run different match styles with different sorts of wrestlers and have the result be... different! In that respect, WWE Day Of Reckoning fails the test. Don't get me wrong, the game has a lot going for it, but it's still mired in the relative simplicity of its American design.

DOR has a great engine in many respects. It uses a combination of No Mercy, and what I was told was the engine in Wrestlemania X-9 (NGC). It's got some improvements over the No Mercy engine in terms of the grapple: pressing A [and a direction] close enough to your opponent performs a grapple move. It doesn't perform the actual grapple- rather, it just does the move, assuming it is not countered. Pressing and holding A performs a hard grapple. In this grapple, you can perform pre-selected strikes with B or your hardest grapple attacks. This simplicity in the lower grapples, and allowance of striking in the upper grapples allows the game to flow more like a real wrestling match, where it looks more like performers performing moves. Countering works very well too, using L to counter grapples and R to counter strikes. It also chains counters pretty well. Each wrestler also has a diagram of their bodies showing where they've taken damage and how much, ala Giant Gram 2000 (DC). This is useful for setting up submissions or just tailoring offense to a certain area of the body. Crowd meter as well, just like No Mercy, and their Charisma attribute determines how much the crowd responds to them. Unlike No Mercy, however, a wrestler doesn't gain access to special moves by pumping up the crowd, they get them by performing moves and filling up a secondary meter. When that meter is full, you gain a special (you can have up to 3 stored). Specials are accessed and performed by pressing A+B. There is also a "Momentum Shift" which can be used when your wrestler is in danger. Pressing A+B in that instance performs a designated move and puts you at red-hot with the crowd, and puts your opponent in danger.

In the single player arena, you have a ton of options, from regular matches, where you can decide the length and type to tag and tornado matches and a variety of special match types (Hell in the Cell, Cage, Bra and Panties, even). I can't remember what all was there, but not much seemed to be missing. There's also a ShopZone, for buying new clothes, moves, arenas, etc with cash you earn from the Story Mode (more on that below). There's also a tutorial mode that I didn't use, but I imagine would be somewhat useful (except also more on discovering the engine below). Disappointing to many was the choice and number of wrestlers in the game. There were noticable absences. I didn't notice them because I only played with created wrestlers and haven't watched the product in quite some time.

The Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) mode is also outstanding, if a little daunting. There can be a line there that can be crossed, but I won't hold its scope against it, because for my purposes, I just wanted to create my guy and get out there (you are required to play though the Story Mode with a CAW). Thus, foregoing facial options, both of my test wrestlers were (masked) luchadores: Leyenda and Legend. Leyenda was made as a tribute to El Hijo Del Santo, quite possibly the most famous Mexican wrestler alive today. Legend was made in tribute to Vader, a huge hulking giant who pulverized opponents and generally won by KO. I was pleased to be able to assign the Camel Clutch as Leyenda's finisher - No Mercy forced the finisher to be a strong grapple move. In fact, the game allows you to set something like 11 finishers, one for almost every position. I have a feeling this flexibility was written in to accomidate the wide variety of finishers employed by the wrestlers availible in the game. One thing it does not allow you to do is set more than one finisher per position. I feel this was an oversight, and something that was written around in some of the licensed WWE wrestlers. This example is strained from the halls of my terrible memory, but I remember something like needing to grapple from the rear to reach Booker T's Book End finisher, because his front standing finisher was designated as the Scissor Kick. This also severely limited finisher options off the top rope and in the front grapple positions for Leyenda and Legend respectively.

There are a decent number of options for outfitting your CAW, but like Fire Pro D, it's a little difficult to figure out how it all comes together in the end. You end up with scenarios where the Top Pants only go down to the knee, and you have to link that up with knee pads and Lower Pants in order to complete a pair of pants. It's a little extra annoyance that I'd rather not deal with, but I recognize it's potential versatility in the end. I also didn't spend a lot of time monkeying around with the Entrance options, but it seemed pretty versatile. In leiu of wanting to bother with all of that, you can choose to go through it quickly, basically choosing a template for an entrance and editing music and the entrance video, for instance.

Another word on templates: the game has a lot of them - one for every active wrestler in the game (in other words, you can turn your wrestler into HHH or Ric Flair by selecting their move template), and some for wrestlers out of the WWE, so you can create your own unlicensed Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar. It's a nice feature, especially if you know what kind of wrestler you want, and only want to make a few minor tweaks.

The CAW mode was also instructional on showing me how the engine worked. There are apparently combos you can string together by successive presses of B, and B+Left Analog stick. Additionally, there appear to be a vast number of options for when a wrestler is down. However, I'd argue there are too many options. Not really realizing what I was doing, Leyenda initially had three different attacks, all of varying length, counterability and power, one for opponent face down at the head, middle and feet. Combine that with face up and you've got a total of 6 different ways to essentially stomp on your opponent. You can also perform different grapples from each of those positions (2 in each, IIRC). This is too much. It literally is. I like complexity, but I really hate pulling off the wrong attack because the collision detection can't tell if I'm at the guy's midsection or his head or his feet. Additionally, attacks you're trying to aim at their legs sometimes hit their midsection, head, etc.

Let's talk about the collision detection for a second: It's pretty decent overall, though I have some gripes with it. For starters, some moves completely whiff. They just don't seem to work at all. Leyenda had a flying kick in his running attack that I have yet to see hit anyone, and Legend had a giant clothesline that never hit anyone either. These are frustrating because they're the exact sort of thing the computer will hit on you in a heartbeat. I am a firm believer that the game should be a lot smarter in deciding who you actually intend to hit when you interfere. It's "neat" that you can jump in and knock your partner, his opponent and the referee down with one attack, but come on! How often does that happen in wrestling? Developers need to implement something that pretty much assumes that if an opponent has my partner in an abdominal stretch in the middle of the ring, my dropkick of ultimate doom isn't really meant to knock the crap out of everyone. There are some spacing issues that fit in here as well: the game is poorly designed in the sense that it's sometimes impossible to run toward the ropes when you intend to (he'll jump out of the ring), or to run toward ropes far from you, because as soon as you let go of Y, they stop running. But if you hold onto Y, they jump out of the ring. It takes out the speed aspect that makes playing as a luchador more routine than it should be. The distance you jump from the top rope seems to be standard, no matter what type of character you're playing. The game also does not hold the opponent on the ground for you when you go up the ropes as it did in No Mercy (unless I made that up). So expect to get stranded there.

The story mode is straight forward. I didn't play through all of it, because frankly I got bored, because the goal is always the same: Win. Go out and win every match. Don't lose. If you lose, you start over immediately. There's no consequence or relation to reality. Again, I'm a big dork. I totally admit it. I enjoyed the fact that if you hold the analog stick in No Mercy, your guy will stay down. It's a wrestling term called "Selling". Another wrestling term is "Fake", because that's what wrestling is. And you don't always win in wrestling. In fact, interesting avenues open if you lose, which is what happened in No Mercy's story mode. I played through Story Mode twice, first as Leyenda and secondly as Legend. It appears the only choice you ever make is Smackdown or Raw. Even when it appears as though you might have a choice, a wrestler pipes in during dialogue and makes your choice for you. As far as the Raw/Smackdown thing, the storylines are exactly the same either way. If you go to Raw, you will be aligned with Evolution. If you go to Smackdown, you're in the New Ministry.

As you go through the story mode, you're introduced to various match types, and some terrible AI. You start at WWE Developmental, meet Matt Hardy as he's "working at getting back into shape", try to make it onto Heat and go to Smackdown or Raw. Later on, he attacks, you, you fight him and must win. There is not a lot of room for any real feuds to get into, so you're pretty much just rushing through the game as fast as possible. Except for all the speed bumps. These speed bumps include the match where Rhyno MUST win a tag match, even though his AI is so retarded that it'll stand there waiting to Gore the guy for the entirety of its special move period. Or the cage match, which is just horrendous (it's the same jam-the-A-button thing in No Mercy, except on enough E to have burned its brain out). The game encourages button mashing all over the place. You have to mash A to get up, to get out of submissions and rest holds, to win test-of-strength contests, you have to mash A as fast as possible and with consistency to get out of the cages.

Graphics are very good, especially when the full lighting effects are on during the intros. The disc also comes loaded with a lot of licensed WWE themes, as well as some Nu Metal songs that sound very WWE-ish that I've never heard of. For the GameCube, this is fine, but I prefer wrestling games on a format where I can add my own music in (my custom-burned Fire Pro D CD with Jushin Lyger, Satanico, Shocker, Kawada and Negro Casas' music on it, for instance), but these are generic enough that you can usually fit them to a particular CAW.

Again, coming from the perspective of someone who has loved wrestling with a passion, as well as has been totally disinterested in the product, this isn't the game that's going to hook me back into the product. It's also not going to make me forget Fire Pro. However, for a kid, or for someone who's totally into the WWE and either has never seen other kinds of wrestling, or doesn't care for/about them, you're going to find a good amount of stuff to like in this game. In a world without Fire Pro and No Mercy, this game would probably set standards, because what it does well (grapple system, CAW, match options) it does very well. However, the story mode, collision detection, wrestler selection and AI are all subpar. Therefore, I have to rule it

- Dan

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