maanantai 28. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Chrono Trigger (1995)

GENRE(S): RPG
RELEASED: March 1995
AVAILABLE ON: DS, PS1, SNES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Square, TOSE (DS, PS1)
PUBLISHER(S): Square, Square Enix (DS)
PLAYERS: 1

Chrono Trigger might well be the single most important game of my life. Not only was it the first true role-playing game I ever played and paved the way for me to get familiar with my favourite game of all time among others, it was an awesome game in itself. ...Why am I talking in past tense? The truth is Chrono Trigger does not get old, it is still an awesome game, frankly one of the best there ever was. The initial planning for the game began as early as 1992, between Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama. In time, this trinity was baptized "The Dream Team", which is exactly what it was. Being sworn fans of the time travel mythos, Toriyama and Horii created a concept of a group of young people, travelling time to stop an ancient evil from bringing the apocalypse a thousand years after their time. Chrono Trigger seemed like it would be stuck in development hell, since everyone involved with the project was committed to something else. Even some of the game's storyline elements were scrapped on the go and put into use in the Final Fantasy series. Somehow, the team managed to keep their project together and scheduled a release for late 1994. The game was a little delayed, but on March 11th, 1995, Chrono Trigger finally hit the shelves in Japan. The rest is history.

You will never be the same again

A review this epic deserves
some ultracool Photoshop
wankery! Looks cool from
afar, don't it?
Once every thousand years, a Millennial Fair is held at the village of Truce to celebrate mankind's victory over the black wizard Magus and his army of Mystics in the year 600. Crono is an eager, young man from Truce, who's more excited about the Fair than anyone else. Once there, he bumps into Marle, a lonely, somewhat strange but lively and passionate young girl, who he decides to accompany. Crono takes Marle to see his inventor friend Lucca's newest apparatus showcased on the Fair - the Telepod, which can be used to move any organic or non-organic object to another location. Crono tests out the Telepod and everything's fine, but when Marle steps into the machine, her very distinct pendant reacts and she is sent through a warp gate. The strapping young lad he is, Crono takes the pendant and follows Marle, and finds himself 400 years in the past. Crono manages to bring Marle back to the present, but gets into serious trouble with the law. He, Marle and Lucca don't have no choice but to find another warp gate and escape to another time period. They end up in the very bleak future, in which they find that an ancient alien lifeform named Lavos brought the apocalypse in 1999, on the eve of the second Millennial Fair. Being able to scout the seas of time as they please, the three youngsters decide to prevent the end of the world from ever happening.

I have told you before that time travel fascinates me, and whenever you make a video game based on time travel, you've got to have a winner. I've also told you that I've been wrong about that: here's to LJN's series of games based on Back to the Future, which I will not be reviewing any time soon, and Mario's Time Machine, which I've already reviewed two versions of and that's twice too much. Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle was one excellent game. Two years after Tentacle, a video game heavily influenced by Final Fantasy, the biggest game in terms of cartridge capacity on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, not to mention one of the most graphically stunning games yours truly had ever seen at the time, was released. It was based on the idea of rewriting history for the better. It got 95 points out of 100 in my favourite video game magazine, and the review was, like, five to six pages long, complete with character profiles. How could I not be fascinated by Chrono Trigger? What you should know, though, is that I knew nothing about how role-playing games worked. I didn't understand the ATB system, I didn't understand the concept of leveling up, I was the simple kind of player who just ate mushrooms, stomped a few Goombas and saved princesses. I had no idea what games like Final Fantasy VI or Chrono Trigger were really about, they just looked so damn cool and the critics were all over them in a positive sense. That was enough for me to begin drooling after 'em.

"Guilty." I'll never get a French lawyer again.
I've told you this story before, but just to do a short recap: my mom bought me the game in '96, and suddenly my American version of the SNES was a sacred artifact. The original SNES version of Chrono Trigger got the treatment that nearly all RPG's did - it was never released in Europe. The price she paid for the game was ridiculous... ly cheap; back then, it wasn't as much of a collector's item as it is today, but still, she got it cheaper than she would've gotten some games that were released in '93. It was only a year old, and usually, imports of Japanese and North American exclusives were more expensive than average games in general. Anyway, I didn't get the game at all. I thought it still looked cool, it looked amazing - indeed one of the most visually stunning games I had ever witnessed with my own pair of eyes, but as far as gameplay went, I didn't understand it at all. Well, my brother didn't just understand it, he loved it! He beat the game up and down for the next few months, got about a half of the unparalleled amount of endings, and then forced the game upon me, teaching me its rules and how its different systems worked. Well, I beat the game a few times using my brother's save file and the very graceful "New Game +" option, but as you can probably guess, it didn't do a lot for me in terms of enjoyment. Level 99, final boss, a few strikes, that's it. I loved the story, but I didn't quite feel the game itself back then since hacking it on NG+ was so damn easy. I had learned how to play an RPG, but I hadn't understood the joys and advantages of level farming, among other things, just yet.

Well, then came this little game called Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation, and I immediately fell in love with the game. Even though I didn't have the game or a PlayStation at the time, I bought a strategy guide, studied the game's twisted plot like a maniac, and just about everything I did related to this masterpiece. After a friend of mine (God rest the soul he no longer has) had finished Final Fantasy VII, he told me I could borrow his PlayStation and the game for an extensive period of time, if I borrowed him my SNES and Chrono Trigger. Well, that sounded like a great deal. I had no interest in Chrono Trigger, but I loved Final Fantasy VII and I still hadn't finished the game. After finally doing that, there was only one thing in my mind: start Chrono Trigger from scratch and beat it. It was like a holy pilgrimage or something. When I did it, I finally realized that the game was one of the greatest ever made, and that I wouldn't have found the joy in Final Fantasy VII without it. It was about time I beat it, since it was late 1998. This time, I didn't rest before seeing every ending in the game. Chrono Trigger was about the first game that prompted me to make a list of each and every big decision I made. Nowadays, many games prompt you to do that, but Chrono Trigger is 16 years old. It was definitely ahead of its time. It's been about ten years since I last played the game. Now I'm returning home, to where it all began.

So, basically what you're saying is: we're fucked?
I'll have to say it one more time: Chrono Trigger looks amazing. If you're looking for the most obvious main comparison, it's Final Fantasy VI, which looked great, but the detailed sprites and different graphical effects (such as changes in the weather) in Chrono Trigger are like they're from some whole other planet. Think how God damn large it is, too: there are five or six world maps, depending on which ones you count as "world maps". You wouldn't believe how many fundamental geographical changes the world goes through in 65 million years. Get this, too: at least I feel like the game gets better graphically, all the time and on the go. For just an example, the interior design in the Dark Ages is so stunningly detailed I could die. Oh, and there's a Mode 7 sequence too, ripped straight out of F-Zero, but who cares? - they had extra space to squeeze it in, which is a feat in itself. I seriously think Chrono Trigger is the best looking game on the SNES. There may have been games which were more advanced, such as Super Mario World 2, Donkey Kong Country 2 and Super Mario RPG, but none of those games were this huge in size, and all of those games had something that bugged my eye and disturbed the balance; there's nothing of the sort in Chrono Trigger.

For the most part, the soundtrack is simply in-your-face awesome, just what you'd expect from a Square game released in the middle of two of their best. Yasunori Mitsuda wrote most of the music before backing from the project due to an illness, and passing the torch over to Square's maestro Nobuo Uematsu, who wrote only about ten out of the 60+ different songs, so Mitsuda deserves his credit, which he isn't given - at all. He isn't mentioned in the credits, which is just downright preposterous. He wrote the best of the best, such as "The Trial / The Hidden Truth", "Ocean Palace", "Black Omen", and the best damn boss theme ever, "Magus Confronted". After nearly two decades, game developers have to do some serious work to do something as epic as that whole battle; definitely one of my favourite boss fights in history, from the music to the general atmosphere, to of course the amazing character of Magus himself. After giving it a lot of thought, I must say that Chrono Trigger has a more diverse and solid soundtrack than any single Final Fantasy game in my opinion. It has very few weak tracks. In return some recurring sound effects are pretty rancid.

On to my old favourite when it comes to Square RPG's released when Nintendo of America still had their say - the North American localization. Let's start with the censorship. All in all, Chrono Trigger is a "nice" game, when you compare it to Final Fantasy IV, which had obvious sexual innuendo, exceptionally bad language and exceptionally violent outbursts by characters in its true Japanese form. I probably don't need to go back into how the game was destroyed by Nintendo of America. In Chrono Trigger's case, they only needed to rub out a few minor references involving sex and religion, and many instances of alcohol consumption. The weird thing is that it's still 100% obvious what the characters really do when they "drink soda" or "eat soup". After that one prehistoric party, it's crystal clear that Ayla at the very least has a hangover. That soup must've been some good shit!

That eagle got it good.
As for the translation... well, I don't need to play the game more than two minutes to figure out who was on the job. My good old friend, Ted Woolsey - who else? I must say that Chrono Trigger is his finest work. Sure, the characters are a little emotionless and their personalities twitch back and forth in general, as always. Frog speaks very distinct old English, but when he was still human, he spoke normally - his accent breaks down a couple of times to my recollection. The quality of Robo's dialogue goes on and off all of the time. There are also many distracting typos all over, but at the very least Ted kept with the plot this time around and took some time to explain things clearly; as twisted as Chrono Trigger gets, it's easy to understand all the way. Get this: after he was done with the game, Ted began to bitch about how Sakaguchi didn't give him enough time to work on the game properly and how he was disappointed in how the translation turned out. For the one time this guy gets something approximately right, he starts to explain himself and his mistakes. Ted Woolsey is one strange son of a submariner.

The cast of characters is a mixed bag between unorthodox protagonists only a Japanese game could have and universally acceptable heroes. They're all fascinating in their own ways, with the exception of Crono; due to the sole fact that he is completely mute, he is probably the lamest original lead I've seen in a game of this caliber. I like his moves, I like his look, I like the direction the plot takes concerning him later on in the game, but I just don't like mute characters. Period. I also don't understand why he suddenly speaks in one of the endings, probably some bad joke by the team. Marle is the kind of girl everyone wants to date; she's a lot like Garnet in Final Fantasy IX, the main difference being that Marle is always in a good mood and rarely gives up hope. She's awesome, really not annoying like her kind usually are. I once jokingly said Lucca is in this game only to explain the plot to us. Since she's very intelligent and extremely gifted in the field of science, she's always the first one to figure out a time paradox and explain it to the rest of the party, so that we can go on yet another quest to prevent yet another awkward twist in history. She's still as annoying in her self-proclaimed greatness as she always was, but has since become one of my favourite characters to use as far as combat goes.

The first battle against Magus is one of the most
epic ever.
Frog is like an ancestor to Cyan Garamonde from Final Fantasy VI. Cyan wasn't as green and scaly, but just as angst-ridden, stubborn and devoted to his kingdom, and he also had the death of a few loved ones leading him to ask himself questions like "Am I worthy?". In all seriousness, Frog is one of the top characters in the game. He has the second greatest backstory out of all the playable characters in the game, and it's second only to that of his arch nemesis, the most powerful (not to mention the coolest) black mage in history. Yes, absolutely, Magus joins the group... if you want him to. If you accuse me of spoiling, then accuse everyone else who's ever written a review of this game, too. I will not go into the details to spare you from an actual spoiling trip, but I'll just say you'll start to feel for him so much after seeing what really motivates him, that I'm really amazed if you still hate his guts once you have the chance to either recruit or obliterate him. Obliterating him is not easy, either, by the way. Not even on New Game +. Although Robo's localized dialogue is not too consistent, I like the character - a robot with some form of emotion. Cool. Last but not least, we have the prehistoric amazon Ayla, who is like some sort of 16-bit sex symbol to RPG nerds around the world. I'm really surprised Nintendo of America didn't raise hell about her extremely skimpy clothing. The game is very humorous despite its apocalyptic main theme, and Ayla provides perhaps the best laughs in the whole game with her neanderthal swag and her savage ways of solving conflicts. Ayla is perhaps the most consistent character when it comes to dialogue. I was expecting her to bring up Woolsey's name once again by suddenly blurting out something civilized and well articulated at a key moment, but it never happened. "No rubbish or Ayla head go BOOM!" Each character has his or her own major part in the main storyline, as well as a personal sidequest or two to conquer.

On to the game. I had to bold that up 'cause I'm sure there are people who were expecting this review to be over already. It's just that Chrono Trigger brings back so many memories, and I know the game so darn well that it's easy for me to get stuck on the characters and the story. I didn't necessarily need to write all that stuff above, but personally, I'm not willing to edit it out either. I already went over how this game looks and sounds, so let's go into how Chrono Trigger works, starting from field work. Although heavily influenced by Square's flagship series (and considered a part of it by some people), Chrono Trigger differs quite a bit from Final Fantasy.

OK, so what you've got to do first is choose a difficulty setting between "Active" and "Wait". The difference is that on "Wait" you can take your sweet time choosing your commands without worrying about the enemy attacking you. It might not seem like a difficulty setting, only a setting of your own preference, but believe me, if you decide to go "Active" without any sort of experience, you're going to have serious trouble sooner or later. Some of the boss fights in the game demand full speed and concentration at the same time. You start off as Crono, and although your objective is to go to the Millennial Fair, you can do a little exploring around the whole continent first and communicate with people to gain some more money, have a tutorial session if you wish and even practice fighting on the forest path to the royal castle. You're quite free to explore throughout the game without having to worry too much about getting totally assraped, the game sets strict limits all the way up to the point you can truly begin sidequesting - at that point you'll already be in a quite formidable battle shape to take on anyone. Not saying taking on anyone is recommendable, but it's more or less possible to survive any predicament from that point on.

Now THAT'S what I call a view.
The game's storyline up to the turning point is divided into chapters - the names of those chapters are shown every time you save the game. Now I have to skip ahead a little, because the first few chapters are kind of a prologue to the whole thing and the basics of the game rear a while later. You travel between five different time periods on different quests, and your ultimate agenda is to find out who or what Lavos is, where and why was he born, and finally, make your way to the Day of Lavos in 1999 and destroy him before he destroys the world. The End of Time is your headquarters. There's a quite informed guide, who helps you whenever you're stuck, warp gates to time periods you've visited and a shortcut to the Day of Lavos, a save point, an HP/MP restore point and a guy... or a thing, who teaches your party to use magic. The warp gates are located in specific places in each time period, and you need to use them as exclusive means to travel through time for the longest while. Since this is a Square game, later on you'll find other ways to get around and be able to explore the worlds more thoroughly.

Learning battle techniques and magic spells in this game is very, very simple. You just simply fight, to get TechPoints in addition to EXP. Crono, Lucca and Marle have a couple of techniques they can learn before actually learning to use magic. Crono has some devastating physical attacks, Lucca can use minor fire spells, and Marle has some minor skills in the use of white magic. Spekkio at the End of Time teaches your characters actual magic; whenever one new character visits Spekkio, from that point on he or she gradually learns all there is within his or her skill range - some dastardly spells, I tell you. None of the characters really have classes in the vintage Final Fantasy style, they're all quite balanced. For example, a total of four characters can use some sort of healing spells. Crono, Lucca, Marle, Frog and Magus, however, each have one specific strong element. Crono's Lightning, Lucca's Fire, Marle's Ice, Frog's Water, and Magus is Shadow. They learn their strongest offensive spells based on these elements. Robo and Ayla don't have magical skills; Robo's a non-organic lifeform and Ayla lived before magic was discovered. However, Robo can use laser technology that is equivalent to Shadow magic, and Ayla... well, she gets by just fine with her fists of steel.

Some of the bosses are God damn huge.
It doesn't end in what your characters learn by themselves, though. Whenever you have a certain group of people as your active party (you can change the party at almost any given time), you also learn Double- and TripleTechs whenever one solo spell or technique is learned. Let's dig up a few quick examples. Crono and Frog can learn Spire, and when they do, they can use that technique whenever they're in the same party. Crono powers Frog's sword up with a bolt of lightning, and Frog sticks the electrified sword up an enemy's ass. Lucca and Marle have a series of DoubleTechs named Antipode, Antipode 3 being the strongest spell in the series. In Antipode 3, they basically combine their strongest fire and ice spells to do some serious elemental damage. TripleTechs, naturally, require the presence of a certain group of three. The downside to using these amazing spells, is that they consume the MP of all the people involved, and count as one turn for all of them as well.

As you can imagine, the fighting takes some good strategy due to many more factors than just the tempting use of Double- and TripleTechs. There are no random encounters in this game. If there were, you would go crazy. The dungeons are mazes, like gigantic visual puzzles, from the very beginning - random encounters would be all but distracting. Most enemies are in plain sight and you can dodge them with very little effort. There are many ambushes, however, usually when you come to a point of progress like a switch that opens that one crucial door. Press the switch, and very likely there'll be a welcome committee to test your skills before you pass through. Battles in this game can take place anywhere. For example, if you go into a shop and the owner doesn't like you, he might pick a fight with you. The screen doesn't cut to a sideview like in Final Fantasy - your characters simply unsheathe their weapons, the battle menu comes up, and then it's showtime. Due to the free positions your characters and the enemies have, anything can happen. A selfish enemy might cannibalize his bro. He might grab him and throw him at you. He might even grab Crono and send him head first to the wall. You might think the enemies' positions make no difference, but oh, they do. Many techniques that you have at your disposal have an area of effect. You can attack several enemies on a straight line with one Slash attack, or enemies forming even a slight circle, with just one Cyclone. Later on in the game, when the enemies become smart enough to scatter all around the screen, just use Crono's Luminaire or Magus' Dark Matter. There's no escaping death for those bastards.

That Mother Brain sure does get around in the
video game business.
Many enemies from the very beginning of the game require a certain strategy to be used on them. It's quite usual for an RPG to have enemies that have amazing physical defense, and they absorb all magic except for one certain element, and there are certainly a lot of those enemies here. But, there are also large enemies with different parts, such as a head and a pair of hands. You need to figure out a working strategy for each body part, and a precise order in which to destroy them in to emerge victorious. There's also a boss who has a kind of a roulette wheel around him, composed of five different targets. He spins it around every now and then, and you need to find the right target after each spin, and hit it to deal damage to the boss. Hitting the wrong target results in a cheap counterattack. To name just one more example, I have to mention the armed goblins on Denadoro Mountains; attack them and they shrug it off like you just poked them with a stick or something. Burn their wooden hammers to ash with a fire spell, and they pretty much crap their invisible pants. Simply put, I love Chrono Trigger's interactive and strategic battle system. All the different tricks to it are exactly the reason why class-specific commands and classes altogether were removed. Ayla has a technique that is equivalent to a vintage Thief's Steal ability, but it hasn't really got any use. There's simply not time for any nonsense, and I don't find myself missing that "nonsense" one single bit. This isn't Final Fantasy, this is Chrono Trigger, and I love it as what it is.

One thing I don't love about the game is the battle menu. Instead of organizing spells into two or three different columns, the team decided to clutter 'em all up (including Double- and TripleTechs), same goes for the items. It's hard to find what you need from a huge list of commands. For example, a Revive among all those million different sorts of Tonics, Ethers and Elixirs whenever a party member is down and you're apparently next - the enemy is already counting down for his next huge attack, and you're browsing over and under for that one single item that might give you the slightest chance to survive the fight. I'm not surprised at all, and I don't blame you, if at some point you want to switch from "Active" to "Wait" in the middle of the game - luckily that's possible - just because of the troublesome battle menu. One minor thing that also bothers me is that the menu and the info screen (which tells you what each spell and technique does) occasionally obscure the cursor, and you might not be able to see which target you're attacking. Not very nice in some particular boss fights. The last thing I'll say, is that since the battle menu's so small in size, why do regular dialogue boxes take up a half of the screen?

There are a few minigames you can participate in if you want, none of them are absolutely forced upon you except for two occasions when you have to get a couple of key items by first engaging in a little button-mashing action and then in a little test of reflexes. The most famous minigame is of course the bike race, which is heavily influenced by F-Zero right down to the Mode 7 effects, but shot from the side. Even that isn't mandatory and winning it is easier than heck, but it's a cool little addition to the whole cool experience that is Chrono Trigger - and it comes complete with yet another fiery, vintage Uematsu rock piece that has Deep Purple written all over it.

Resting up before the final showdown.
If and when you decide to take on Chrono Trigger, you need to remember two things. First, the bosses are hard. Second, Black Omen is an evil place - it's boss after boss after boss, in the longest dungeon this game keeps within. Yet overall, Chrono Trigger isn't a difficult game, it's not even close to being Square's most difficult RPG; hell, beating it to the best possible ending, which practically is a sign of beating 100% of it, takes roughly 20 hours of your precious time. There were some keywords there: "best possible ending". How many endings are there, exactly? Glad you asked: there's an unparalleled total of 15 different endings in the SNES version. Some say there are 12, that's true too, since you losing to the final boss doesn't count as a "real" ending according to a lot of people, and a couple of the real endings have only slight, almost unnotable differences between each other. The endings are what the New Game + is for. The ending changes depending wholly on the exact point when you decide to fight the final boss. The path is laid open to you from the beginning of the game, it's totally up to you since in New Game +, you get to keep all the stuff you had when you made the last save during your last playthrough. Hell, fighting the final boss two minutes into the game, with only two characters in the party becomes possible, and leads to a very special ending. Some of the endings are very difficult to achieve, since they are very sensitive to even the most subtle actions and decisions. I've seen all of them, and I'd say it took me about 250 hours. So, even if you do everything in the game in 20 hours, it's far from over! Sometimes, 100% isn't the end. Chrono Trigger has incredible lifespan for an RPG.

All that stuff I was saying about Crono being mute and the troublesome battle menu might've sounded like I'm trying to come up with shit to throw at Chrono Trigger. You know what? It feels like it, too. I went into this game after a ten year break, a bit worried that I wouldn't like it nearly as much as I did way back when, but I still love it, and I'm still fascinated by it. I even picked up some small storyline threads that I never even noticed when I was a stupid teenager; I finally figured out a lot of the stuff that used to puzzle me about the game's story relating to timelines and time paradoxes, and who or what the famous "Entity" is. Even if the game is a little flawed and not quite on a straight line with the best of the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger is one of the best games ever made. There's no doubt in my mind about that.

GRAPHICS : 9.8
SOUND : 9.5
PLAYABILITY : 9.3
LIFESPAN : 9.6
CONCLUSION : 9.6

TRIVIA

GameRankings: 91.82% (DS), 95.10% (SNES)

Nintendo Power ranks Chrono Trigger #21 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The game was officially released in Europe for the first time, on the Nintendo DS, on February 6th, 2009 - almost exactly 14 years after its original release on the Super Famicom.

In the North American box art, Marle powers up Crono's sword with a fire spell. Marle cannot use fire magic in the game.

Many character names were localized for North America. Actually, Robo is the only lead character whose name is exactly the same in the Japanese in North American versions of the original SNES game. The original names of the other lead characters are Chrono (Crono), Marl (Marle), Rukka (Lucca), Kaeru (Frog), Eira (Ayla) and Maoh (Magus).

The name Ayla is a reference to the female protagonist in the Earth's Children series of novels, written by Jean M. Auel.

Interestingly, only three out of the seven lead characters go by their real names: Crono, Lucca and Ayla. Everyone else uses an alias.

Magus' three henchmen are called Ozzie, Flea and Slash. They are named after rock musicians John "Ozzy" Osbourne, Michael "Flea" Balzary and Saul "Slash" Hudson. Amusingly, a woman in Sandorino Village describes the three as "tone-deaf, evil fiends".

The three Gurus - Belthasar, Gaspar and Melchior - are named after the Three Wise Men (formally known as Biblical Magi) from the Holy Bible.

Biggs (mistranslated as Vicks) and Wedge, who have had cameos in almost every Final Fantasy game since Final Fantasy VI, appear at the Tent of Horrors, accompanied by a third person called Piette. Biggs, Wedge and Piette are all minor characters in the original Star Wars trilogy.

lauantai 26. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 (2009)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: October 2009
AVAILABLE ON: DS, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, X360
DEVELOPER(S): TOSE (DS), Yuke's
PUBLISHER(S): THQ
PLAYERS: 1-4


We've come to the end of an era. I am still very interested in professional wrestling history, but nothing that has happened during the last year and a half. About exactly a year and a half ago, I bought the very last professional wrestling game I will probably ever buy. I would very much like to think buying it was just a bad habit of mine - the last three games in the SmackDown vs. Raw series had disappointed me on some level. Well, I had some extra money, I necessarily wanted to buy a new PS3 game, and this one just called out to me. I knew back then, that if I did buy it, it was going to be the last wrestling game for me. Not a bad way to put an end to a cycle - WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 was the best wrestling game released in four years. There's no easy way to put its greatness into words, but its only true downside can easily be explained: there's no challenge to it besides the usual learning curve.

Maybe not fresh, yet certainly solid

As far as the visuals go, I think the game looks a lot more at home on the PlayStation 3 than the previous game did. I think that here they finally drew a clear line between the PS2 and PS3 versions. The mo-cap technology and the physics engine work wonders; for the first time I feel like I'm really watching wrestling instead of playing a game. Created superstars look better than ever - again, for the first time, it's possible to create a wrestler or Diva that really look like they belong in the game. Finally, I have nothing to complain about when it comes to the commentary. During Road to WrestleMania, both teams are on the mark all of the time and discuss things that actually have happened during the storyline, instead of repeating generic lines about how their show is better than the other one and cracking cheap jokes on each other. Even during exhibition, they make comments about the arena - there's a difference between having a match at Summerslam or SmackDown! - and they have a wide array of different comments in store for all wrestlers in the game. Finally they had some interest in making the commentary sound real.

After 11 years in the virtual wrestling business,
Crane's retiring.
There are only six songs on the soundtrack, by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sick Puppies, Trivium and Adelitas Way, and two songs by Skillet. Great songs, all of them, and there's no space for repetition since they play on constant shuffle clamped together with the wrestlers' theme songs. Like in the 2009 edition, you can convert any song on your PS3 hard drive into your created superstar's theme, and this time it doesn't glitch at all, and it mixes in perfectly. I chose "Victorious March" by the Swedish death metal band Amon Amarth as Crane's theme song, and it's perfect. So's my entrance - I haven't had this much fun creating a superstar in any wrestling game, the editor is absolutely seamless; albeit a bit limited in terms of the amount of layers you can slap on 'em. You can also create an entrance video and your own logos. Awesome.

This is the final review of a WWE game I'll probably ever write. Not the last review of a wrestling game, but the last review of a game in the most important wrestling game franchise ever. I've had a long trip from 1989 to 2009, and I must say I'm even a bit surprised how I reacted to some games that I used to like a lot, such as WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007. Unoriginality has plagued the last few games. There's always been these one or two gimmicks to all of the games released since Here Comes the Pain. In the case of 2006, it was the immersive GM Mode, which was such a huge part of the gameplay experience that it left a mark. None of the games that came after had anything that big. Well, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 has nothing. It's a shameless update to all the working formulas from the past. Seriously, it has nothing really new - as in a feature that is hyped to high hell, but either it doesn't work, or it really isn't an essential part of the game. If you are interested in going deeper into the game, past the Career Mode and Road to WrestleMania, both of which were already in the last iteration, there is Story Designer. It isn't forced upon you in any way; however, depending on your skills and patience, you might find it the most intriguing feature in a WWE game ever. More about that later, let's check out the usual basics.

Captain Charisma's come home!
We start off with a roster of 44 male wrestlers, 11 WWE Divas, and one non-playable "manager" in the returning Hornswoggle. In addition, Ezekiel Jackson, Eve Torres and Jesse are unlockable members of the standard roster, we have five WWE Legends including Bob Orton, Dusty Rhodes, Vince McMahon, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, and FFFFFFIIIIINALLY (well, not really since he only missed 2009) the most electrifying man in all of entertainment, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Oh yeah, and the first female WWE Legend ever, the queen of all modern Divas, Trish smokin' hot Stratus. Quite a crew, I'd say, and I love it. Stone Cold Steve Austin remained the only downloadable superstar right up until the end of the game's lifespan, and to my knowledge, he was only available via pre-order. What a shame; I guess the game didn't sell well enough for the developers to put a little extra effort into the DLC. Oh well, I personally think I can live without Sheamus or Drew McIntyre. The Royal Rumble has once again gone through some nice changes, and Championship Scramble shines as the game's most important new match type. Notable success of certain fashion in both matches results in Trophies, more about that later.

Career Mode from the previous game is brought back as a slightly improved version. It's still kind of boring. To those who haven't played the previous game, let me explain it as briefly as I can: you take a superstar, preferrably your own creation, and contend for every championship in the WWE, with the ultimate goal of becoming a WWE Hall of Famer. Unlike in WWF Raw for the PC and Xbox all those years ago, you can't win the Women's Championship as a male wrestler, though - sorry if that disappointed someone. This wasn't my favourite gameplay mode in 2009, and it still isn't. My favourite mode in 2009 was Road to WrestleMania, and it still is.

No one wants to be in the ring with Taker.
Road to WrestleMania is a three-month storyline for a specific superstar. This year Edge, Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton have their own Roads as single competitors. Edge behaves like an ass, Shawn Michaels behaves like a true showstopper, and Randy Orton is one mentally disturbed monkey. In other words, Road to WrestleMania is as real as a WWE game can get when it comes to storytelling. Oh, but there's more - there's also a storyline written specifically for any created male superstar, a Diva storyline for Mickie James, and a co-operative storyline for Triple H and John Cena. All of the storylines are extremely linear; if you lose a match you shouldn't, you are forced to retry - if you don't, it's the end of the road. What the storylines lack in liberties apart from a few tiny branches, they pay back with a level of realism never seen before, not even the Roads in 2009. Certain matches have bonus objectives; nailing them results in unlocked goodies. These objectives range from performing two finishers during one match, to winning in a given time.

OK, you've done it all. You played through all game modes, the Career and all the Roads to WrestleMania. You unlocked everything. What's left? The Story Designer. So what's that about? What's so special about it? Well... I believe you remember a game called Here Comes the Pain. What if I told you, that you can use the Story Designer to create your own season in the vein of Here Comes the Pain? I am sincerely not kidding here. If you have the skill, and the patience, you can certainly do that. Not only can you make weekly programs like you could in the GM Modes of the past, you can also spice your programming up with handmade cutscenes and promos, write dialogue for them and make a devastating bunch of dream rivalries that never happened. For example, I created half a season of Raw, then I hit a writer's block, so to say. Anyway, my season began with John Cena coming out as a heel and telling how he's beaten everyone who was ever anyone - in my own alternative reality, he had just beaten Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania. He berated former champions and then made a deadly mistake of calling himself "the new people's champion". If there's one individual who hates it when people declare themselves "people's champions", it's The Rock. So, The Rock returns to Raw, beats the shit out of John Cena and ignites my main rivalry for the next three whole months. Awesome.

The Story Designer is not quite as exciting as GM Mode was at its best, since it's no manager sim, it's simply your sandbox and there are no rewards for completing a season. This is not a totally bad thing, since who knows of all of its possibilities? Of course there's a limit to how many matches and cutscenes you can have, but I believe that limit's pretty fair since I already have fully scheduled shows to last me six in-game months and a lot to go in the meter. Where are the last six months, you ask? Blame the Platinum Trophy.

This reminds me: you can create aerial finishers.
It's either really easy, or I've just played wrestling games a tad too much. This game only has 26 Trophies, from which you can get four or five in the first ten minutes. Platting the whole game takes just a few days from a veteran such as myself, and what's left in a game after getting all Trophies and Achievements these days? Nothing, I tell you. It just doesn't feel the same anymore. I'd say the only really difficult Trophy is Royal Rumble Specialist (Gold), which requires you to enter the Royal Rumble as the #1 entrant and win the match. You already did it on Legend difficulty as a Hall of Fame challenge in 2008, so it shouldn't be much of a problem, right? About the value of the Trophies: there are five Golds, 15 Silvers, only five Bronzes, plus the Platinum. So, a game for Whores? Unfortunately, yes.

It may have no substantial new features apart from the Story Designer which some will surely find extremely intriguing, but WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is a solid, extremely playable game with just about the best controls you can demand from a wrestling game, all of the greatest features of a few of its predecessors, and incredible atmosphere. It may not have the longest lasting appeal ever, but every minute of it is better than any minute spent on 2008 or 2009.

GRAPHICS : 9.3
SOUND : 9.0
PLAYABILITY : 9.0
LIFESPAN : 7.0
CONCLUSION : 8.4


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 73.29% (DS), 76.00% (PS2), 80.60% (PS3), 71.00% (PSP), 79.00% (Wii), 81.28% (X360)

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 (2007)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: November 2007
AVAILABLE ON: DS, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, X360
DEVELOPER(S): Amaze Entertainment (DS), Yuke's
PUBLISHER(S): THQ
PLAYERS: 1-4


At the time WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 was released, I still considered myself a die-hard professional wrestling fan even if the previous game disappointed me, and all of WWE programming had been moved to expensive cable. I felt that I just couldn't afford to miss the game, and a lot was promised of it, as always. Well, then came the reviews, a day before I had received my pre-ordered copy of the game. The game was totally crapped on by just about everyone. I thought to myself: it's the same as every year. At that point, I didn't care. At that point, it was enough for me if the game was an updated version of the previous one, as long as it was a quality game in itself. Well, I've never grown tired of a SmackDown vs. Raw game as fast as I grew tired of the 2008 edition. As cool as it looks on the outside with the addition of ECW and some long-anticipated additions to the roster, on the inside we have some of the weirdest glitches ever, the crappiest Season Mode you could ever imagine (and the last incarnation of it, for now at least), and a GM Mode that is "improved" the wrong way. Sure, it's a playable game, it has good controls and all, but all that's good about it was invented years ago.

WTF 24/7

One would expect the graphics to be grand; the game was the first one in the whole franchise to be carried over to the PS3 powerhouse, and the PS2 version was promised to have the best damn graphics the last generation could possibly generate. Yeah, well, on the surface it does look quite good... until someone opens his or her mouth in a cutscene close-up. Everyone has a mouth like Steven Tyler, their eyes look weird, and the Divas look butt-ugly, especially Ashley and Candice, and butt-ugly isn't exactly what I'd describe them as in real life! There are so much graphical glitches I really have to stop from time to time and reflect on how seriously Yuke's took the development of the PS2 version. Sadly, glitched graphics are only the beginning when it comes to some serious buggery.

The soundtrack features the least impressive tracks in the franchise's history. Only the Xbox 360 version has the option of custom entrance music, and it's really hard to find a suitable theme song for my created wrestler in this PS2 version. The Season Mode sucks so bad, that actually the only reason I even created John Crane in this game was force of habit. The commentary's a bit improved in Season Mode, but both teams still make amusing, sometimes downright annoying mistakes, in all other gameplay modes. I have to ask this one more time: was the game rushed, or is it just the PS2 version?

Here he is again, and for the first time in my life,
I don't know why.
The roster's moderately strong; we've seen larger ones and it has to be noted that 42 regulars is less than a sufficient amount of wrestlers when there are three rivaling shows in the GM Mode; I haven't even seen the GM Mode through in this game, but the small amount of decent wrestlers on my roster is not the reason. I'll tell you about the reason(s) later. There are only nine Legends, too. Accompanying the usual group of Bret Hart, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley and Roddy Piper, we have Ravishing Rick Rude, Sabu and Terry Funk. This was the last game to feature WWE Legends, probably due to the fact they couldn't come up with truly exciting new ones.

The game boasts with having over a hundred different match types. Well, that's true depending on how you count, but the only really, undisputably new match type never seen before in any game is the ECW Extreme Rules match, one of my new favourites. Submission manouvers have this new analog-controlled pressure system, and all forms of Ultimate Control, interacting with hotspots, and ladder matches are notably improved. All in all, the controls are great, while the game itself isn't that exciting. The most important new "gimmick" of this game is the fighting style system. Each and every superstar in the game, counting your own creation, has a very distinct style. For example, Jeff Hardy (welcome back!) is a high flyer, and very proficient when it comes to dives and springboard moves. CM Punk is a submission artist, which makes him better than the average wrestler when it comes to submission locks. The system's good, but it somewhat limits the earlier experience, since you simply cannot execute certain actions if you don't have a corresponding style in your arsenal.

There are three main modes in this game. Let's start with the smaller ones. In Tournament Mode, you can take part in a King of the Ring tournament or Beat the Clock Sprint, OR create your own tournament for whatever you wish. It's that random fun which every game has had thus far - there are not really any rewards for it to the casual player. WWE Hall of Fame replaces the old Challenge Mode, but the idea is pretty much the same. You have to win certain types of matches with certain criteria, sometimes using a certain superstar. For example, you need to repeat Shawn Michaels' success in the 1995 Royal Rumble by entering the Rumble at #1 and winning on Legend difficulty. Or relive his glorious victory over Bret Hart in an Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII. Trying to conquer all challenges to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is by far the most entertaining part of the whole game. See, we don't have a traditional Season Mode, or a GM Mode... we have a boring abomination called WWE 24/7.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a chair.
WWE 24/7 allows you to hack through a very faceless variation of the Season Mode as the most boring superstar ever. The storylines suck, and your wrestler has zero personality - regardless of who you choose. The cutscenes are so whacked, and feature those butt-ugly Divas on such regular basis, that I usually just skip them and play the matches, never really understanding what's going on in the plot. Oh well, I'll just read the recap in WWE Magazine after the pay-per-view and crack myself another one while doing it. The GM Mode is the same as before, only this time there are three shows, which means you have absolutely no chance in hell to get everyone you want, and which also means you have to watch as ECW steals high-profile wrestlers who would've left the WWE in a heartbeat if they were forced on its roster: The Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, name whoever. I got lucky and got the best roster I could've possibly imagined of getting, so I headed into the GM Mode for the first time feeling pretty damn buffed. Well, it's full of glitches, I'll tell you that. I'm really not in the mood of recapping all the glitches I've bumped into while playing the mode, but I'll tell you two of them.

First, I created a stable between Carlito and Johnny Nitro, and made them the tag team champions on my show. Then, I created a rivalry between them and the Hardys, for the tag team gold of course. Well, then I put Edge and The Undertaker in a feud for the heavyweight championship. Well, then came Backlash, the first pay-per-view on the calendar. Carlito & Nitro vs. The Hardys in a TLC match for the tag team gold, and Edge vs. The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell for the championship. The game said "nuh-uh". What the fuck just happened? Why? Well, first of all, the game tells me I'm trying to pit Carlito & Jeff Hardy against Johnny Nitro & Matt Hardy, which does not fit the picture. Hell no, it doesn't fit the picture and that's not what I'm trying to do! Obviously, I have the teams lined up just right, so what's the problem? Well, then I took the tag team gold out of the picture - then it was OK, the teams were lined up right and the rivalry could continue. Marvellous. And mysterious. OK, we are not going to see a tag team championship match tonight, so on to the main event - the Hell in a Cell. I'm trying to set the match to be for the championship, it doesn't work. Motherf... The Undertaker IS the champion! Not according to the file. The file shows that the heavyweight championship is in fact, vacant. Which is kind of funny, since I defended the title just last week on Raw.

Needs more tongue.
I'm not saying these glitches can be stumbled on by everyone, but they're possible and I don't know about you and your unexplained love for glitches, but I don't find them very entertaining. In fact, I just simulated my whole season as a GM, and for some reason, I got lucky and got the "GM of the Year" award to nail the Hall of Fame trophy for it. Yay. Feel my excitement? On top of all, they "improved" the GM Mode to a whole wrong direction. Remember how you were forced to put guys in matches even though they were practically dying, or you didn't personally like them and couldn't come up with any use for them? Well, the game's called 24/7, so now you need to work up your roster seven days a week, by placing them in promos, movie shoots, anything to increase their popularity. Sounds cool, right? Well, it's boring. And slow. And repetitive. Just struggling through two months of programming, especially with all the rampant and totally random glitches, takes as much time as completing the whole season did before.

Like I said, I've never been done with a SmackDown! game as fast I was with 2008. If I remember correctly, the only mode in the game I returned to after owning it for three months and letting it rest on the shelf for the last two, was the Hall of Fame - and a couple of the challenges on that list are just otherworldly, nearly impossible to nail. Yep, there's yet another Money in the Bank ladder match challenge to be conquered, on Legend difficulty. That near impossible. But still, at least the Hall of Fame manages to uphold some interest unlike the 24/7 Mode.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 gives new names to age-old stuff, and all of that stuff's downgraded to some extent. It's full of those damn annoying bugs to boot. If you own Here Comes the Pain, SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, and/or 2010, you really, really, really should not waste your time with this edition. It's second only to the first SmackDown vs. Raw title when it comes to the weakest game in the SvR franchise. And, since the next game will not be reviewed, I'll just say right now that it didn't turn out much better.

GRAPHICS : 7.9
SOUND : 7.2
PLAYABILITY : 7.3
LIFESPAN : 6.2
CONCLUSION : 6.8

TRIVIA

GameRankings: 61.64% (DS), 73.60% (PS2), 71.72% (PS3), 66.20% (PSP), 60.62% (Wii), 70.26% (X360)

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 (2006)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: November 2006
AVAILABLE ON: PS2, PSP, X360
DEVELOPER(S): Yuke's
PUBLISHER(S): THQ
PLAYERS: 1-4


As I have mentioned a few times before, I've had every WWE game released under the title SmackDown vs. Raw. Now I have to jump from Here Comes the Pain to SvR 2007, 'cause my copies of the two previous games both broke down - I don't rightly remember why, but they did. Also, I sold SvR 2009, so there won't be a review of that one either. The first SmackDown vs. Raw game was the worst game in the whole SmackDown! series in my opinion, the fact that it was the first sequel to a masterpiece like Here Comes the Pain only made things worse. The 2006 edition, on the other hand, was one of the best games in the series, second only to Here Comes the Pain - an exciting title that brought in perhaps the best feature in a wrestling game ever, the General Manager Mode - which has since been removed, 'cause Yuke's couldn't figure out how to improve it any further. Where does WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 stand, then? Well, it brings in a whole new control scheme, which is incredibly difficult to learn, but fully functional; a hotspot system that allows you to drag your opponent's ass all over the arena and dish out some punishment like never before; great new qualities, no doubt, but overall, it feels like we're playing just an update to 2006... and the Season Mode sucks.

Tonight's match will be to the death

The graphics are excellent. Too excellent, because the framerate occasionally sucks very hairy ass. For example, creating a superstar is extremely slow. It takes the longest time for the PS2 to load the smallest changes you make to your wrestler's appearance, and consequently the loading times in general, especially when you're playing as your own superstar, are incredibly long. The game is rich with audiovisual glitches, more and less disturbing ones.

He's back. A little more buffed than I could ever
dream to be, though. The body form editor has
some sort of limit to how skinny your male
character can be without looking ridiculous.
The commentary's back, as repetitive as ever, but at least it makes sense for the most part. Occasionally during exhibition matches, though, the commentary teams amusingly confuse finishers with each other. For example, if you do a Rock Bottom, don't be surprised if Michael Cole yells out "Tombstone Piledriver!" Yet, this only happens during exhibition, for some strange reason. The soundtrack includes licensed music from Godsmack, Black Stone Cherry, Rise Against, Three Days Grace and other more or less aspiring rock bands, but also some cheap rap which I can't stand. All in all, there aren't that many songs on the soundtrack, so you can safely expect one song to play three to four times during superstar creation. My ex-girlfriend actually noted the level of repetition before I did, and she didn't even play the game, she was just sitting on the couch next to me, studying. She claimed to have heard Godsmack's song about a total of six times during superstar creation alone - I don't doubt that one bit.

There are 51 superstars on the standard roster. To make especially the GM Mode as enjoyable as possible, it's very even between Divas, tag teams, main eventers, show openers and mid-carders. As per usual, there's a handful of Legends and essential NPC's. I don't remember Vince McMahon ever even making an appearance in this game, but the hottest model of Stephanie ever, and Shane (billed as a WWE Legend) are here to represent the McMahon family. The Legend roster has a total of 16 names, including the "three faces of Foley" - Mick Foley as himself is a part of the standard roster - the late trio of Eddie Guerrero, Bam Bam Bigelow and Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan (only one incarnation this time around), the original Hart Foundation (Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart), and the usual pairing of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. Just try to make a WWE game without them, and watch the shit pour. Oh, we have a lot of superstars here - the roster's my favourite part of the game. Too bad it's so tiresome to complete.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the game when it came out, but now that some time has passed, I find myself missing WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, and regarding this game as just a fundamental update to its predecessor, not really an amazing milestone of virtual wrestling in itself. The new control scheme, like I said, is absolute hell to learn, and actually it's absolute hell to return to after getting reacquainted with the old school controls. In other words, I had to learn it again to do this review, I've grown so accustomed to the Here Comes the Pain controls during the last week. However, when you finally learn all there is to the new analog control system, you will find it awesome. It's comfortable, and makes the gameplay experience more authentic than ever before. So, I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to the control system. I still don't like the stamina meter, I think it's all but distracting, and I also think the momentum meter goes up way too fast. You can take the beating of a lifetime in under one minute if you're unlucky, regardless who you play as. I played as Triple H, and I made the deathly mistake of immediately changing the difficulty to Legend, without any sort of warm-ups. I got so pussy-whipped in my first match... I don't remember the last time I lost a standard match in this game.

The analog control system introduces a new sub-feature called Ultimate Control, which almost directly relates to interactive hotspots. Ultimate Control moves allow you to improvise a little. For example, if you manage to lock your opponent up in a DDT-ready position, you can decide whether to do a standard DDT, a reverse DDT, or ditch DDT altogether and lift your opponent up for a fatal suplex. Even when he's in the suplex position, you can torture him in the air for a while and let all the blood in his body run up to his head before finally slamming him to the mat. Cool. But not quite as cool as the interactive hotspot system, which is especially essential during Last Man Standing matches or other bouts that don't have any rules at all. Fancy bashing your opponent's head into steel steps instead of simply beating him around with a set? Want to strangle him with a power cord taken from an announcer's table before Pedigreeing him through the table itself? Want to go one step further and throw him into the crowd, then take some cripple audience member's crutch and stick it up your opponent's ass? It's all possible, thanks to the ultra-cool hotspot system. As you can see, I love the controls in this game, as hard as they are to learn. I love the new subtleties 2007 brought along. I pretty much love the most important gameplay features - the controls and the authenticity of the matches themselves. However, I'm very disappointed in two of the game's most prominent game modes.

Take a good, last look at perhaps the greatest
technical wrestler of all time. We miss you, Chris,
no matter what you did. Rest in peace.
Let's start with Season Mode. Many people start off from Season or any equivalent of it whenever they get a new wrestling game in their hands, but some people don't - this time, playing Season is pretty much mandatory. Not just once, but twice; you need to play a season on both brands to be able to unlock everything in this game. You can't really get everything out of creating a superstar without the unlockable movesets. You can't enjoy GM Mode to the fullest without unlocking a few Legends and making WrestleMania dream matches that never happened - The Rock vs. Shawn Michaels, oh hell yeah. You can earn money from the Season and Challenge Mode, but you need to play Season to capture the simple theoretical rights to purchase most of the stuff. For example, you need to win any match you have at the Royal Rumble to earn the right to purchase Stone Cold Steve Austin. You need to win at WrestleMania to earn the rights for both The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Almost every won pay-per-view match results in some unlockable becoming available for purchase. As far as money goes, you'll never run out of it. Just one standard, mid-card match won during Season Mode wins you about 15,000 dollars. If the Season Mode was anything like it used to be, having to hack through it just twice would be no problem at all. However, it isn't.

I first started off using my created character, 'cause as always, the Season Mode is optimized to be played through as one - as ridiculous as the storylines might get, your character is the only one that has no existing background, so the storylines are always believable on some level. However, after my first match, I figured that developing my own character to the fullest all over again would be too damn slow and time-consuming - it would take me weeks to get this review online, so I decided to remain on the Raw branch, but switch to Triple H. Well, I got thrown in the very same storyline. The Big Show is targeted by a small group of heel cruisers and mid-carders, and they force your character to be a part of their posse, or else. Well, as Triple H, the King of Kings, the Cerebral Assassin, I find it pretty damn ridiculous to join forces with Carlito, Chavo and Daivari, so I decide to fuck 'em good and join forces with the giant instead. Well, suddenly Carlito is sending me threats via voicemail and telling me how I just made the biggest mistake of my career and how his group of degenerates is going to kill me. YEAH, RIGHT! This is how the Season Mode is. It's ridiculous. It makes no note of who you are, the only thing you can do to change each brand's storyline is being the champion from the beginning. At WrestleMania, I have an Ultimate Submission match against Kurt Angle, which is cool and all, but it's the main event and its only purpose is to stop Stephanie McMahon's pilgrimage of cleaning up Raw from filth like "skanky" Divas strutting their stuff on a weekly basis. About the most lame WrestleMania main event ever - even lamer than Edge vs. Alberto del Rio or John Cena vs. The Miz, two matches that are coming up this year. I miss the old days, when all storylines were recycled from actual programming. It really feels like the writers didn't give a rat's ass how die-hard wrestling fans would react to these sucky and totally non-contextual plotlines. Did it really matter? Once again, you need to see them through, as ridiculous as they are, to be able to unlock everything.

The 3D locker room is still fully customizable to your liking, and Challenge Mode returns with some extremely tough challenges from the very beginning, including recreations of classic matches, as well as some dream pits. Let's see now - in January 2006, Rey Mysterio entered the Royal Rumble and won it. Although he was the definite underdog due to his small size, it was obvious he was going to win the World Heavyweight Championship - just a few months back, his dear friend and a hero to all of us true wrestling fans, Eddie Guerrero, passed away. Randy Orton defeated him for the WrestleMania main event at No Way Out, but Mysterio regained his championship opportunity and the match was changed into a triple threat match between Mysterio, Orton and reigning champion Kurt Angle. Mysterio did win the match. Well, that's your first challenge right there: repeat Rey Mysterio's success in an already difficult match that has two guys in it who Mysterio can't even lift up. What else? Defeat the Brothers of Destruction in a tornado tag match. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Well it is, since you have to use the Mexicools to do it. "M vs. N & M"? Joey Mercury, in a handicap match against Johnny Nitro and Melina Perez. Believe me, this is just one handicap match that has "scream murder" written all over it - once you take on the Legendary Challenges, get ready to enter Mick Foley's schizophrenic mind and fight off all of his three demons: Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack, in a 3-on-1 handicap match. Fun. Seriously, the challenges are fun - but insane.

Just watched their classic match at WrestleMania
13, with Ken Shamrock as the special ref. Amazing,
vintage stuff.
Then, to what I personally consider to be the main feast of the game, and the one gameplay mode that makes it stick: the General Manager Mode. I loved the GM Mode in the previous game; I seriously played that one single mode for months. I started over countless times after my ratings had steadily gone down for several in-game months, and when The Undertaker went down with a neck injury that was approximated to last for 13 weeks, I felt that my show was done - my biggest star, who was supposed to represent my brand at Survivor Series, was down and out. I stood no chance. I took the game so personally that I made a long text file on my computer to list each and every one of my decisions I made as a General Manager, as well as my brand's title and match history, to keep my show alive and maintain the most exciting, diverse show on earth. God damn, it was fun! ...But flawed. The list of possible rivalries was boring, and to improve my show, I was told to do things I simply couldn't, like giving Edge a title shot. I would've loved to do it, but Edge's popularity had gone down by such a lot, that he wasn't viable for a shot of his caliber. Besides, he was involved in a rivalry that didn't allow for an inpromptu title shot. He ended up leaving my show and there simply wasn't anything I could do about it. I was asked to create the best main event ever - something brutal. Well, at that point, I had two superstars with popularity levels that went through the roof, but they were so close to injuring themselves, that if I had placed them in something like Hell in a Cell or Last Man Standing, I would've had to say goodbye to both of them for several weeks. Also, rivalries in general seemed to end by themselves; I had built up a HUGE rivalry between Stone Cold and The Rock, and was planning on letting them settle it once and for all at Summerslam. Well, in the last Raw before Summerslam, I placed them both in a match in which they never directly fought each other. Come Summerslam, their rivalry had ended, like magic. Farewell to my grudge match of the year, one that I had planned from the beginning of the season. I sincerely hoped 2007 would've scraped off some of these small splinters... but it didn't. In fact, it's ALL the same. Only the roster's different.

Cena's gonna get a whole lot of thuganomics
speared right out of him, yes siree. I always
rooted for Edge, even during his time as a
super-heel.
The GM Mode is indeed 100% identical to that of the previous game, the only notable difference being that you can make rivalries between more than two people. Even the list of possible rivalry settings is exactly the same. Of course the mode is still fun to play, but it leaves an extremely bland aftertaste, as you can probably imagine. The reason I just wrote so extensively about the flaws in the GM Mode of the previous game, is because even the same flaws are still here. Let's see now, how many times have you actually seen a  match for a heavyweight championship on regular programming? Does it make any sense to schedule a heavyweight title match at least every other week as Raw or SmackDown!'s main event? No, it does not, but Jim Ross keeps telling me I should have those matches or the audience will lose interest. The way I see it, is that major title matches should be exclusive to pay-per-views. Having too many title matches on regular programming kind of eats away at the importance and meaning of pay-per-views, in my opinion. The game simply doesn't give a shit of your personal thoughts, preferences or points of view. You're supposed to be in full control, but you aren't - you're a puppet of the GM Mode, not the other way around. Your success in the mode depends on what the game allows, and wants you to do. You have to work a little too hard to find a balance between your vision of how your show should be, and the game's limitations - up until the point you finish the mode for the first time. As before, after that you can do whatever you want: build up a perfect roster, remove injuries, and remove monetary costs.

Depending on how much of a wrestling fan you are, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 will keep your hands full for the longest while. The Challenge Mode is merciless in its difficulty, and I don't believe anyone would quit playing the game before clashing through the GM Mode just once. The Season Mode's a bit tough, but it really makes no difference if you win or lose regular matches, and you can change the difficulty level at any time without any fashion of punishment. Unlocking everything in the game is more difficult than ever before, since doing that requires you to conquer each and every challenge in the game, beat the GM Mode, and play through one season on both brands. Oh, it packs a lot all right. Again, not much more than WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, though.

It has wholly new, great controls, which partly affect incredibly real gameplay and atmosphere, and which have huge, different positive effects on special match types such as cage matches and the Royal Rumble. However, the arguable main mode of the game is identical to its previous incarnation, and the Season Mode is simply uninteresting, boring, and ridiculous to boot; it doesn't even have one single storyline that would make me jump up and down in my seat out of pure excitement. Not even the storylines that have Legends in them - available for certain superstars only, for some odd reason. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 is a great game from all the most important angles, but as a whole experience and a successor to a couple of the most revolutionary titles in the wrestling genre, it fails to leave a permanent, truly memorable mark.

GRAPHICS : 8.8
SOUND : 7.9
PLAYABILITY : 8.0
LIFESPAN : 8.5
CONCLUSION : 8.1


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 78.74% (PS2), 80.56% (PSP), 80.52% (X360)

The last game to feature Chris Benoit, who died on June 24th, 2007. He was planned to be brought back posthumously as a WWE Legend like Eddie Guerrero in this game, but due to the obvious controversy surrounding his death (double homicide/suicide), the plan was scrapped in an early stage of the next game's production. Bam Bam Bigelow, one of the WWE Legends in this game, passed away on January 19th, 2007 - a few months after the game's release - as a result of a drug overdose.

REVIEW - WWE Survivor Series (2004)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: October 2004

AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): Natsume
PUBLISHER(S): THQ
PLAYERS: 1-2


I feel quite disheartened right now. Something didn't quite add up when I was getting ready to review WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 - it felt wrong, like I had forgotten something. I checked THE LIST - this is the first time I've regretted writing the whole thing - and I did indeed find one more game that was unrelated to the SmackDown vs. Raw series, released in 2004... for the Game Boy Advance. After playing the last game in Game Boy Advance's exclusive WWE sub-franchise - WWE Road to WrestleMania X8 - I made somewhat of an oath never to touch a pre-PSP handheld wrestling game again, but what can I do? I already knew what I was in for, I just didn't quite expect to see a game that has not changed AT ALL in two years as far as graphics and crappy controls go. WWE Survivor Series is a pathetic waste of time, the stained crown jewel of the crappiest year of modern wrestling games there was.

There's one good thing about it - it's the last one

Graphically, the game is absolutely identical to Road to WrestleMania X8. Since they added the "Story Mode", I guess the technical limitations of the Advance prevented them from improving the graphics. It still looks good, but makes the feeling of "been there, done that, hated it" that much more prominent. The game sounds the best of all the three Advance titles; the original music's good and the theme songs are at least recognizable. Even in MIDI, Motörhead rules... they're Motörhead, of course they do.

For the first and only time in a Game Boy Advance game, the brand extension from 2002 is dearly noted. There are eight wrestlers on the Raw brand, and an equal amount on the SmackDown! brand. The funny thing is that about 14 out of the 16 wrestlers are of undisputed main event material, and we have Chavo Guerrero on SmackDown! and Christian on Raw to cap it all off. I love Captain Charisma to bits, but back in 2004, when he was still a heel, he got an anti-push for the ages; he wasn't really the most ideal playable character in a game. And Chavo? Regardless if he was face or heel, Chavo has never really struck me as a very special singles competitor.

Not quite the most epic match we've seen
between the former tag champs.
WWE Survivor Series has a Story Mode like the first game in the Advance series, but this time they luckily settled with still images of wrestlers and executives talking to you in simple text format instead of appearing in those poor man's cutscenes they had in Road to WrestleMania. I chose Chris Jericho as my wrestler and started hacking through the story right away. First, Vince turned up and welcomed me to the WWE and all that. Well, thanks, though Jericho has been with the company for quite some time. Former world champion, mind you. Then, Eric Bischoff laid down some house rules, which unfortunately are very strict. You see, to make it in this game you need to follow a certain code which is nearly impossible to follow due to the horrible controls.

To make a long story short, the "code" is all about winning matches, being flashy and using as many different moves in all matches as you can, using a variety of weapons in Hardcore matches, and using your finishing move to win. For example, just doing one DDT in a match counts for an increase in popularity. Sounds all dandy, but like I said, we would need a somewhat playable game to keep up with the code. Even trying to colour the match up a little usually results in your opponent grappling you from the back and suplexing you from here to eternity. Never turn your back on the opponent! And never get caught up in a pin, to point out a recurring problem. So, I've only won three matches and therefore, made it through the first "storyline" in the game, and my popularity is still worth an "E". Well, of course it is - the bad controls prompt me to do everything I can to win the match - punch-kick-punch-kick-punch-kick-a lucky bodyslam - instead of really trying to live up to Bischoff's demands of high-quality sports entertainment.

If the game was any more responsive, it would be challenging and fun to live up to the code. This unique theoretical feature of the game has all the potential to separate it from the games that preceded it, but it doesn't work by itself. They had a good idea here, but seemingly Natsume forgot that a good idea is only the first part of execution. It's useless to utilize a good concept if nothing is done to improve the gameplay. I'm willing to bet they thought Road to WrestleMania X8 was criticized because it didn't have any sort of Story, Season or Career Mode. Wrong, it was criticized 'cause it was a shitty game with horrible controls. They followed the wrong path here, ending up with another shitty game with horrible controls - another ridiculous, useless item in the history of professional wrestling games. Luckily they finally realized they were going nowhere with these Advance exclusives.

GRAPHICS : 8.9
SOUND : 8.8
PLAYABILITY : 4.4
LIFESPAN : 4.5
CONCLUSION : 4.5


TRIVIA

GameRankings: 52.62%

As of March 26th, 2011, the only game I've ever reviewed that can't be found in the MobyGames database. A very random piece of trivia, I know, but interesting.

torstai 24. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (2003)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: October 2003
AVAILABLE ON: PS2
DEVELOPER(S): Yuke's
PUBLISHER(S): THQ, Yuke's
PLAYERS: 1-2

If there's one PlayStation 2 game that brings back memories, it's WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain. In 2003, my brother surprised me by buying us our first shared PlayStation 2. He had also bought a game for it, known in this part of the world as Project Zero, and as Fatal Frame everywhere else. This critically acclaimed survival horror game just didn't work for either one of us, and my brother went back out to trade it off and get another game. We both agreed that if he happened to stumble on Here Comes the Pain, he should get that one although neither one of us had fond memories of any wrestling games that came before. Well, he did stumble on it. We were a bit prejudiced, but as weeks and finally months went by, we had both clashed through countless seasons in the game. I could go out, have fun with my friends, drink myself piss-drunk, and return home with just one single thought in my head: the WWE Championship. "Fuck any amazing one night stands, I've got a virtual wrestling career to think about." When I was on weekend leave from the army, I valiantly defended my championship in one or two matches before heading out to see my friends - work comes first. Here Comes the Pain was the first wrestling game ever, that was so personal, that it really made you feel you were in it. When I finally got somewhat tired of the game, and when I finally had seen every possible storyline branch in the game (maybe), about two days passed and the sequel was released. Never since has my interest in one game in the series lasted so long. In fact, I'm not sure if there has ever been a game I've sacrificed more in-game hours to, except Final Fantasy games. Eight years later, I've had every WWE SmackDown vs. Raw game there ever was; eight years later, I dig up Here Comes the Pain from the hole it's been in for the last seven. Eight years later, Here Comes the Pain still OWNS.

Ask and thou shalt receive!

Finally, John "The Cleaver" Crane is ready to
kick some ass!
Graphics and sound are Here Comes the Pain's weakest qualities, but also pretty far the only reasons the game feels even the slightest bit tiresome these days. Again, some models look absolutely marvellous, especially The Rock, whose digital form has had a major overhaul from his wooden look in Shut Your Mouth. However, some look extremely awkward. Triple H looks like something I can't even rightly describe with his stiff hair and weirdly shaped face, and Shawn Michaels looks like a cancer patient, and his hair like a wig. The created superstars still don't look too shabby or dimensional, but at least this time they're not embarrassing to play as. There's an advanced body form editor that allows you to equalize your superstar's body and smooth out any deformities. The facial editor's more precise, which means you can make your wrestler's face a little more realistic than before. You can create two separate attires for entrances and matches, which on the other hand improves the overall realism. It's almost impossible for a casual player to make a character graphically up to par with the standard roster without some sort of tips 'n' tricks guide, though.

Commentary's been left out completely, rightfully so - the commentary in the last game was horrible. In turn, though, we get a repetitive soundtrack written by Nelson Bae, which plays in the menus, during the matches, during character creation - everywhere. You will grow extremely tired of the Raw and SmackDown! theme songs during Season Mode, too. They play on endless loop between matches. Noises from the audience are a lot cooler than ever before. While chanting the wrestlers' names they note the face/heel system ("Rocky!" / "Rocky sucks!"), they shout out real insults from WWE programming such as the "Shave your back!" jab at A-Train, and the epic "You suck!" anthem during Kurt Angle's theme song. The "Gooooooldberg" chant is just perfect. The audience sounds so good and authentic I wouldn't be amazed at all if someone recorded these chants at an actual WWE house show. However, they only boo to dirty moves. They don't boo heels during entrances, or at Vince whenever he's berating them. "YEEEAAAAAHHH, we're idiots! And our town sucks! YEEEAAAAHHHH!!!" It's authentic, but not always realistic. Same goes for the Season Mode... but make no mistake about it - it rules.

Before we get to the main feast, let's talk about a few things; the usual things. Roster, match types, controls, those sort of things. Before I begin, let me tell you one thing straight: when it comes to playability and lifespan (I can vouch for that one from personal experience), Here Comes the Pain was well ahead of its time. Being a sequel to the trinity of Raw, WrestleMania XIX and its actual predecessor Shut Your Mouth, Here Comes the Pain is that much more of an amazing trip. It's so ahead of those games that you wouldn't believe it had only been a year. Those who played Shut Your Mouth will immediately recognize this game. It's so similar on the outside. Once you break the surface, you will see that it's still similar, but everything that was even remotely good about the previous game, is done so much better. And it's got a truckload of whole new elements to boot. But let's not jump ahead of ourselves. First, the roster.

The most electrifying move in sports ent...
excuse me, ALL of entertainment!
Everyone who was anyone back in 2003 can probably be found from the list. If a guy or gal was worthy enough to be featured in an edited one-hour version of Raw or SmackDown!, he was worthy to be added on the roster. Main eventers are here all the way from cover boy Brock Lesnar to Bill Goldberg, from The Rock to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ironically, all of these four greats make their last appearances in the standard roster of a WWE game. Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash return to the standard roster as an epic tag team. Mid-carders who may or may not have been pushed at the time, and may or may not be the biggest names in the company today, are here in numbers: Booker T, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, Christian, Rey Mysterio. Divas? Well, for sho'! Stacy Keibler, Trish Stratus, Torrie Wilson, Lita, Jazz, Sable, Victoria... yeah, we got them puppies. Opening acts? The Hurricane, Sean O'Haire, Rodney Mack, Chavo Guerrero, Lance Storm. Something for everyone here... wait, there's more? LEGENDS? Oh, that's right. There are seven individual wrestlers and two tag teams from days past, unlockable via the WWE ShopZone - including Legion of Doom and the Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff (the original Un-Americans), Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Sgt. Slaughter and an old school version of The Undertaker. I'm almost soiling myself already, but there's more. You can also unlock Vince McMahon and his insanely hot daughter Stephanie, as well as her arch rival, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff. Now can you dig that, sucka?

Since bloodshed is finally possible, First Blood is one of the new match types. Bra & Panties is in, of course as a Divas-exclusive. Created in 2002, also Elimination Chamber is in the house - one of my favourite wrestling match types ever, and I must say the version in Here Comes the Pain might still be the best and most realistic setting for a Chamber showdown in any game. Here Comes the Pain fails to shake some old problems; there are not really any new ones when it comes to the new types of matches. I thought I'd make a list of some of the problems that may have bugged me over the course of a few games released up to, and including Here Comes the Pain. Here goes.

Here's what Austin's cookin'.
General: the default rules in the Season Mode. No count-outs, no disqualifications. Why? Where's the realism? I'm having the most epic, sanctioned championship match ever and Eddie Guerrero decides to steal the victory by nailing me with a chair while the ref just looks on. Why is the ref there, anyway? Also, the lack of collision detection prevents certain, singled-out moves from inflicting the sort of damage they should. For example, a flying crossbody/pin combination looks epic, but it doesn't work. You're lucky if you can even hit the top of the opponent's scalp with the crossbody, and since you can't connect with the dive properly, the pin attempt is deactivated.
Tag: if a member of the opponent's team pins you, it's OK. You can call your partner in to break the three-count. However, your partner cannot do shit whenever you're locked in a submission. If your head damage indicator is bleeding red and Benoit locks in the Crippler Crossface, it's over for you if you don't make it to the ropes in time.
Tables: let me put it simply. Bell rings. Punch opponent 'til he's down. Get a table. Put opponent on table. Bodyslam. Bell rings. Ever seen a real tables match that lasts for 15 seconds?
Ladder: oh, let me count the ways! However, this time the long-anticipated health meter / damage indicator makes things a little bit more sensible. The opponent actually stays down for a while after a Rock Bottom on the concrete floor, and reacts to strikes from the ladder as well. However, moving the ladder under the belt is slow, climbing it's even slower, and actually being able to grab the belt and be able to pry it off its hook is up to luck.
TLC (Tables, Ladders, Chairs): like a ladder match but cranked up to the extreme! It's incredibly hard to pick up the win in this kind of match, especially if it's a tag team match (which it usually is). In the later games, the TLC match was changed to end in a pinfall or submission, which was a fabulous idea.
Cage: it's like a ring with a cage around it, and nothing more. There is virtually nothing you can do with the cage, no ways to utilize it. Getting thrown into the cage with Eric Bischoff on the opposing side makes you wish it was a Last Man Standing match instead - you can't really dish out any punishment. Collision detection fails again, and I must admit I once accidentally lost to Bischoff since I simply couldn't rattle the cage for him to fall off. I kept kicking the cage wall, but the thing didn't even budge. Just to save face, I've gotta say the bastard couldn't hit me even once during the match (on SmackDown! difficulty), ALL of his damage indicator was screaming red, and he was bleeding. So yeah, I whooped his ass. He just got lucky. 
Royal Rumble: do you know how disrespecting it is to whip your opponent out of the ring and eliminate him from the Rumble while his theme song still plays? It has happened in real Rumbles - but I highly doubt there will ever be a #1 entry, who just stands in the middle of the ring and Irish whips everyone who enters his domain out of it simple as 1-2-3, and finally wins the match and gets to go to WrestleMania, never even breaking a sweat.
Backstage Brawls: since when have they been officiated by a referee, or dependent of pinfalls or submissions?

I guess I'll stop here, 'cause I like most of what Here Comes the Pain has in store. Hell in a Cell, Battle Royal and Last Man Standing are still my definite favourites and they're all better than ever. I gave off a lot of the general gameplay there, but only the negatives, so not enough. The new control scheme is awesome. Not quite as awesome as the modern one, but they were getting there. Counterattacks have been moved to the further shoulder buttons, while Square has been made the action button for picking up objects, entering and exiting the ring, et cetera. What's great about the shoulder buttons is that pressing them never breaks the action, and you can engage in amazing counter duels if you've got the eye to deduce the opponent's next move and the technique to respond to it. Yes, you can still counter a finisher, as well, by pressing both L2 and R2 at the same time, at the absolutely exact time the opponent readies to finish the match. Taunting the opponent's been moved to the usually useless right analog stick, and this time taunting actually means something. If you have time to perform a taunt in its entirety, you'll gain momentum the same as from any other move.

Get up from that one, and you're a legend.
The momentum meter is still with us, but this time, there's also a damage indicator to each limb and the abdominal area, which means there are visible attributes to each and every wrestler in the game - except for Jerry "The King" Lawler, who's not exactly a playable character, but may have a minor part in a Raw storyline during Season Mode. These attributes include Strength, Submission, Endurance, Technique and Speed. The meanings behind Strength, Endurance and Speed are obvious. The number of the Submission stat has a direct effect on how many seconds you can keep your opponent locked up, and in turn, how long and easily you can withstand a submission lock. Technique determines how easy it is for you to counter attacks, and how hard it is for the opponent to counter yours. Now why did it take so fuckin' long to add in a simple system like this? Should I care anymore? No, it's here. Rejoice.

Some people have criticized the attributes, not for their inclusion, but how they're applied to existing wrestlers. Brock Lesnar, Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker look pretty much unbeatable if you look at their stats only, and I must say getting up from an F5 or a Pedigree is just damn near impossible. Since Lesnar's Strength is an absolute 10 and he has sufficient Technique and Speed stats as well, he can beat your ass in no time if you blink, and if your Endurance isn't leveled up to the hilt. On the other side of this debauchery, we have future champions John Cena, Randy Orton, Edge and Dave Batista, whose attributes suck, and their Star Points are quite insufficient. You see, back in 2003, none of these guys were really pushed. They were either mid-carders, faction members or guys that didn't even dream of a heavyweight title. You must do a lot of extra work to get these guys major title shots, not to mention win them the titles. By default, without the player's personal input, Yuke's and THQ wanted to keep the title picture as it was in reality, so we have Angle, Lesnar and Taker constantly quarreling for the title on SmackDown!'s side, and Triple H, Goldberg, Jericho and Nash on Raw's side. In addition, since there are weight limits, it doesn't matter what your Strength stat is - if you're too lightweight, you can't bodyslam a heavyweight. That's perfectly fine by me, but since when were Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero and Christian so lightweight they couldn't even lift up Triple H (which Michaels has done countless, countless, countless times) and slam him to the mat? Leveling up helps with the attribute problem, but not the weight limit. ...How do you level up, you ask? Shall we finally go into the pros and cons of the Season Mode?

There is one thing you should know about the Season Mode before you even begin, and that is: no one's a god in the business. In other words, it doesn't matter who you play as, be it The Undertaker or Tajiri. Depending on your character's championship status, and/or his Star Points, you start off from a different setting. Every season begins right after WrestleMania X8 and ends in WrestleMania XIX, but if your Star Points are, say, 85, you're pretty likely to get a major title shot right away. If they're below 60, you're lucky if you even have a shot at the Hardcore title. Rivalries and storylines develop strictly according to your SP, and current status on the brand. Everyone's treated the same way along the ladder. Your character has absolutely no personality regardless who he is, he's mute to boot. Might sound pretty damn dull, but you've got to understand: the Season Mode is HUGE. There are dozens of storylines and it will take you ages to take part in them all. Very few of them are totally original - most are reinvented scenarios from the past. Some of the most intriguing storylines may last for months, usually those which you'll end up a part of once you hit main event status; during your possible time as an upstart, you'll find yourself engaging in a lot of minor rivalries against some less aspiring superstars such as Val Venis and Lance Storm, and company executives that don't have the most amazing attributes to go by.

Since the Season Mode is somewhat optimized to be played as an upstart, who should I roll with? My own character, of course - and when you do that, and when you really get into the game, you will see that playing as your customized character is just amazing. He needs the experience points. You can level up anyone - you can play as Lesnar and level him up to a perfect 100, but what's the point? Your own character starts from the absolute bottom, and you're given some experience points in the beginning of the season to apply to him as you wish, according to what sort of wrestler you want to make of him, but you'll end up with an approximate total of 48 attribute points - you'll need to work for the last 52. Your SP in the beginning is something like 48 as well (I'm just making examples, I don't rightly remember my humble beginnings), so you'll need to work for those points as well, by winning matches. You start from the minor circuit, wrestling guys like Rico - or, sadly, guys like Randy Orton or Dave Batista. It's all about their SP. Week after week, month after month, you progress through a whole year of WWE programming, and your main objective is to make it to the main event of WrestleMania XIX, in one way or another. If you lose matches, or fail to build up a reputation within the company, you might not even have the most irrelevant match on the grandest stage of them all. But hey, new year, new tricks, right? And a few new storylines to engage in. Believe me, once you play through a season, you'll want to go at it again.

You can play any match on the card and manipulate other superstars' Star Points that way. I won't even begin to list all the reasons why this is so awesome. Just think about it. You WANT Edge to become the WWE or World Heavyweight Champion. Well, whenever Edge has a match on the card, against anyone and for anything, take part in it and do everything in your power to hand Edge the victory, and you're one step closer to making Edge reach main event status. In Shut Your Mouth, you could just play those matches which were on the card before yours - and they made no sense or difference at all, therefore they weren't fun to play. All the matches in Here Comes the Pain don't make no sense either, but at least they're not anything as stupid as a couple of jobbers duking it out at a Summerslam main event. Besides, Here Comes the Pain has the face/heel system, which you are able to manipulate to the fullest in the beginning of each season.

Say what you will, but he was one of the best.
Sadly, also one of the most arrogant in real
life.
When you start off, you can decide for yourself who's part of WWE programming in general and who's not, just like before. You can't remove champions from the roster, and each show needs to have a certain amount of superstars. Customized tag stables can easily be made parts of the roster. After deciding on who you possibly never want to see during your career, you are taken to the whole new face/heel chart. Here, you can change each guy and gal's take on the world and the WWE fans. Each show needs a certain amount of faces and heels, but if there aren't enough of one or the other, the game will automatically decide on face/heel turns in the middle of the game - stables are usually broken whenever one member turns. The face/heel system can get quite ridiculous from time to time - after all, it's the SP that counts. The game doesn't just place certain superstars on your path, it generates them according to SP; for example, Rey Mysterio usually has incredible SP. If you're a face, and a heavyweight champion, don't be surprised if Mysterio suddenly turns heel (which would never, EVER, happen) and threatens to kill you over the championship... inside Hell in a Cell. It isn't even the most awkward thing - the most awkward thing is that even if you're a heel, your challenger is the one acting like a heel (those slimy grins, eww) and the one to use actual heel tactics throughout the rivalry. There are some exceptions, for example if you choose to form an alliance with Vince McMahon at one point instead of assembling your own faction to oppose him, you're pretty surely on your way to becoming the most hated guy in the company. The storylines have some incredibly weird turns, but all things considered, the realism holds together nicely. I really can't say how many possible storylines there are. I once made an FAQ of this game, and I ended up with a total number of something like 50 on the championship circuit alone, with an average of three possibilities how one single month can go down. Then, there are the miscellaneous storylines which may take place at any time regardless of your SP, and even if you end up as a jobber, you'll get your share of rivalries. Oh, believe me, you won't have seen all of the Season Mode even if you beat it three or four times. I'm not sure if I've even seen everything! I've tried to, though - by listing every decision I've ever made, championships I've won and lost and WHEN I've won and lost them, and the differences in my SP stats during certain time periods.

The Locker is your control panel for everything whenever you're playing Season Mode. It allows you to trade in experience points for attributes; you gain EXP from every match, but if you lose the match, you get a measly amount of points you really can't do jack with. You also gain SmackDown! dollars from each match - 500 for winning, 1000 (if I remember correctly) from winning a pay-per-view match and perhaps even more for winning and defending a championship, but only 100 measly bucks if you lose. The dollars can be used at WWE ShopZone at any given time - so you no longer have to play the Season Mode over and over again to simply be able to unlock everything in the game. The unlockable content is the same as before, but this time, the Legends are of course added in. What's crap about the Legends, as cool as their inclusion is, is that they're no real part of the Season Mode. You can play as them once you've unlocked them, and if you make them parts of the roster, you're pretty sure to entangle in rivalries with one or two of them, but even they are the same as everyone else; there are no Legend storylines. On top of all, their entrances suck. They have no theme songs, and they enter the arena riding the stupid-ass WrestleMania cart. They're only good for Exhibition, and certain types of matches, in my opinion. But, the concept of adding in Legends is priceless, and very much enhanced in the years that were to come. Where were we? The Locker, right. You can check the WWE Magazine for rightful contenders to each title and see if you're on the list. If you're on the list, you can march into the General Manager's office and demand a title shot if you're not actively engaged in a rivalry. If Stephanie or Eric won't give in to your demands, you can always jump ship to another show in protest. You can also visit other locations around the arena in a wholly different way than in the awkward, Shut Your Mouth first-person way. You should be careful who you talk to, and what you say to people, be they your people or villains. Wrestlers are very easily pissed off. It's nothing if Goldberg's in a bad mood and decides to whip your ass all around the backstage areas, but usually, if you piss someone off, you'll lose SP. So, be nice to people, and listen to what they say. Don't just blurt out something you might regret later. Kiss a little ass if you have to.

Deadman don't need no stinkin' permit to ride
his bike on his yard.
Here Comes the Pain's storyline will throw some nasty, nasty matches in your way, depending on how your career develops, of course. It's not a hard game, though. It's challenging in a fun way. If you choose the hardest difficulty setting, there are some epic matches to be had which are full of counters and fancy moves. The damage indicator makes it all so much more epic. I yell out "WOOOOAAAHHH!!!" loud every time, with sincere joy and satisfaction, whenever I manage to kick out from a Pedigree or Last Ride. Double that if I have just one red limb. Triple that: if I'm bleeding. It's so fucking epic! You wanna know what's even more fucking epic? OK, let's recap: I return home, piss-drunk from a night on the town. My brain tells me to get some sleep and suffer the consequences in the morning, but I say "NAY!" The WWE Championship is almost in my grubby little hands. I won the Royal Rumble and I'm heading to the main event at WrestleMania. It's me, versus my turncoat of a tag team partner, The Undertaker, at WrestleMania, in Hell in a Cell. It's my character - a puny underdog no one believes in, vs. The Phenom, Deadman Inc., 10-0 at WrestleMania (at the time, before WrestleMania XIX), inside a hellish structure he personally created in 1998. It's more than his yard, it's his WORLD. 15 minutes, 9 seconds. A Last Ride. A chokeslam. I'm still up. Two Fatal Skullcleavers (the name I unofficially gave my Brainbuster DDT), two of the most explosive spinebusters you've ever seen, payback for Mick Foley: I throw Taker off the top of the cell, and through the roof. Pin. Victory is mine! I won the WWE Championship, defeated The Undertaker where he possibly can't be defeated, and I'm heading to the next season as the most valuable superstar in the WWE. Life simply can't get any better.

WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is a gold standard, an absolutely amazing game with a lot of flaws, but a downright incredible, epic aura and enhanced features so ahead of even some of the latest games in the series, to fully compensate for those flaws. The Season Mode has never been the same, and as replayable as it is in this one game; it branches to eternity and will keep each and every wrestling fan glued to the controller and the TV screen. Here Comes the Pain is not only the best professional wrestling game ever released - I also consider it to be one of the best PS2 titles of all time.

GRAPHICS : 8.2
SOUND : 7.5
PLAYABILITY : 9.0
LIFESPAN : 9.5
CONCLUSION : 9.2

TRIVIA

GameRankings: 86.46%

All of Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan (and his alter ego Mr. America), and The Ultimate Warrior were removed from the originally announced roster of the game before its release. Hardy and Hogan were both released in 2003, and Jim Hellwig objected to the use of the likeness of his gimmick with a lawsuit.

The final canonical WWE game to feature the following superstars as parts of the standard roster: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Lance Storm, Rikishi, Rodney Mack, Scott Steiner, Sean O'Haire, Test, Ultimo Dragon and Val Venis.