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WWF Smackdown (PlayStation) artwork

WWF Smackdown (PlayStation) review

"The advent of the McMahon-Helmsley era, The Rock 'N' Sock Connection, and a complete revamp of The Undertaker. Then along comes Smackdown!."

The acquisition of the World Wrestling Federation license by THQ brought a justified aura of optimism for the promotion's gaming front in 1999. Having spent a number of years plying the trade of the genre with WCW titles like World Tour and Revenge (we'll kindly gloss over Nitro and Thunder from earlier years), in which graphics were not as important as immersive and lasting gameplay, there was hope that something new might come along that could recover from the feeble competition of War Zone and Attitude.

A new game needed to come along that was a proper representation of the Federation at the turn of the millennium. As 2000 rolled in, what is now affectionately looked back on as 'The Attitude Era' was in full swing. The advent of the McMahon-Helmsley era, The Rock 'N' Sock Connection, and a complete revamp of The Undertaker from a gothic, gloomy monster to a grouchy biker. Attitude, while trying to capture the new hard-hitting streak to the business, failed in its bid to encapsulate the cutting edge risk and excitement factor.

Then along comes THQ's PlayStation effort with Smackdown!. On starting, the changes to its Federation predecessors are enormous.

Smackdown! features over 30 superstars - that being slightly fewer than in Attitude, but looking much better for it. Among the grapplers you'll find the obvious likes of The Rock, Triple H and Stone Cold, while also some interesting picks, such as Vince and Shane McMahon making their debut as playable characters, even Paul Bearer, the sporadic manager of The Undertaker or Kane. Every superstar looks impressive, and far superior to any wrestling game that has come before it. Other things have finally been implemented, much later than they should have been - most notably individual superstar height and weight, making The Big Show look genuinely more menacing and challenging as he towers over the opponents, rather than just another generic superstar.

Indeed, there is slick presentation throughout much of the game. All looking polished, consistent and well designed, it's very easy to flow through and hastily get to what matters: the ring. This doesn't mean that there's nothing inbetween however, as there's a wealth to choose from.

Smackdown! offers a large number of match types. As well as your standard single and tag matches, you can do battle in a Steel Cage, in a four-way elimination match, fight to the brink in a submission match, or even don the referee shirt and call a match entirely how you see fit. This list is non-exhaustive; these modes make the game all the more enduring and fun to play, particularly when there's more than one of you. The only thing missing here is the customisation to each match type that Attitude offered - you won't be able to set up a three-way hardcore match, for example. A debutant as far as World Wrestling Federation gaming is concerned, is the 'Anywhere Fall' match - which allows you and your opponent to do battle in a number of areas besides ringside, including the boiler room, kitchen, or parking lot - among others. It's fairly basic, but shows devoted inroads into catching the psyche of the hardcore WWF at the time.

The matches themselves play with lightning quick pace, thanks to the 'arcadey' nature of the gameplay and simplistic controls. Ridding us of the tiresome chain combinations of previous Acclaim efforts, moves are dictated in Smackdown simply by pressing a direction and either circle or cross together. This makes playing the game so much more fun and less frustrating having to pause the game every five seconds to study your move list and then botch the combination, throwing the match. Reversals, pinfalls and the like are all conducted in very similar fashions, making Smackdown! surely the most accommodating wrestling game for new players of the time. Each superstar packs a vast, specific move arsenal too, so cutbacks aren't significant.

Some interesting innovations have been made with regards how your superstar builds momentum over your adversary, too. Gone is the standard waning health meter; in its place, the 'Smackdown meter', a bar which fills as you attack your opponent (the amount it fills is dictated by the strength of the given attack) and, when full, a light appears adjacent to it. This allows you to perform your superstar's special move. When approaching a groggy superstar, the Smackdown! logo will flash over your 'meter', telling you it's time to pounce. One tap of the L1 button, and watch as your superstar buries your hapless adversary, whether it be with the Pedigree, Show Stopper or Tombstone Piledriver.

While this system is definitely fresh, it does, of course, mean that there's no definitive way of detecting when your opponent is getting tired. This tends to not be a huge issue, as the game plays so fast that it will rarely get to a frustrating moment of 'Why can't i pin him!?', and racking up a number of finishers at once is a sure-fire winner if you manage to execute them, but it might have been better to chuck in some sort of indicator. Another feature neglected from the Acclaim games is the in-match commentary, which is binned in favour of a generic music track. While the commentary could be quite well executed at times, it's not something which is missed, as equally often the commentators' quips would repeat a number of times per match, becoming more irritating than amusing.

Moving away from the Exhibition Mode, there's also the Season Mode. This allows you to take the reigns of one superstar and guide them through an unlimited stream of Federation antics, one week at a time. Each card has a number of matches, which you can choose to sit and watch or simply skip and get an instant result - up to your match (if, indeed, you're on the card). You can choose to play or, again, skip - meaning that the result will be randomly generated. Smackdown!'s Season is, sadly, quite poorly implemented. There are a number of ingredients there, such as cutscenes, impromptu matches, and title wins, but its execution lets it down. Cutscenes will appear out of the blue with a random superstar asking you to attack a second random superstar for no apparent reason. You'll see Chris Jericho saying he can't wait to get in the ring with Stone Cold, but the match will never actually materialise. With a bit more dedication to the season mode's structure, this could have been a very impressive break from the Exhibition Mode. As is, in some places, it falls short of the linear but less exciting modes that Attitude and War Zone pitched. Unlockables are included, but not as separate superstars - you can unlock the 'body parts' of Mideon, Stevie Richards and other grapplers, but you are left with the task of creating them yourself.

Another concept which is less effective than Acclaim's games is the Create A Superstar Mode. While Attitude provided a fairly robust system which allowed you to change features in fairly intricate detail, Smackdown! offers a very basic tool whereby you simply choose a head, upper body and lower body from a selection, meaning there's no customisation. Indeed, the only colour you can change is the skin tone. While there are a number of original 'parts' included, a large portion of these are simply the attires and faces of the superstars already in the game.

That's not to say the Create feature isn't thorough in other areas. It is no longer broken down to simply appearance and move set, you can now choose personality traits - allowing you to add more depth to the new superstar's in-ring strategy, selecting traits such as 'Good speaker' or 'Hardcore Match +' which will skew their effectiveness in both the Season Mode and Exhibition clashes. While being a bit stingy on the amount of superstars you can create, only allowing up to four (making the unlockables mentioned earlier an irritation if it means sacrificing some of your created stars in order to make another), you can't fault the attempts at adding more depth to the creation process away from the visual - though a more advanced visual would have been nice, of course.

When you've finished putting together your new fighter, you can take them through a 'Pre Season', which entails of taking on a number of lower card superstars, graduating right up to the WrestleMania main event, earning 'Creation Points' along the way. These allow you to build attack and defence in areas such as technical, power, and speed, meaning more damaging moves in these departments become available, making the following tussle, theoretically, less of a struggle, and furthermore allowing you to carve a specific niche for your superstar.

In many ways, Smackdown! is the clear front-runner of World Wrestling Federation games. Its visuals of previously unseen standards, its authentic presentation and inviting gameplay means that it is exciting and fun to play, and remains so. The only real flaws in Smackdown! are isolated from the Exhibition Modes, where some over-simplicity and inconsistent storyline structure hamper the other game features. But these are surely just some minor rookie mistakes - it's pleasing to see so many new concepts brought to the fore, and it's very easy to say that in Smackdown's case, the positives outweigh the negatives quite considerably.


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Community review by Louisutton (April 28, 2011)

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True posted April 28, 2011:

Man this review makes me nostalgic.

Well done on all points. I'm glad you mentioned the created styles being mostly comprised of existing wrestlers. After Attitude and the countless options they provided it almost seemed like a step back. My wrestler ended up as Test in medieval armor. Good times...

It was cool that you could name your own Finisher though.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Excellent job.

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