WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain Preview
For years, "professional" wrestling has been a cornerstone of pop culture. From the weekly thrills of RAW and Smackdown! To the overblown Pay-Per-View "main" events, the WWE, formerly known as the WWF, has been one of the bigger television draws, due largely to the unique blend of entertainment and, um, "sports". However, as highly rated as the WWE is, games based on the license have been, for the most part, entirely useless. This was partly due to the fact that shows like RAW and Smackdown! Are a complicated blend of action, melodrama, sex and violence, and few developers have had any success at combining all those elements into a great game. In the past few years, developer Yuke's has had some spotty success with wrestling games. Some of their titles have done especially well, while others have enjoyed fervent criticism for their glaring flaws. Not one to give up until they have it right, Yuke's is back with another installment of WWE brand fun with Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain, and this time it looks like they may just be able to pull off one of the harder tasks in this industry- bringing the world of pro wrestling to life on your Playstation2 in a way that is realistic, accurate, and most importantly, fun.
Most wrestling games fail because they lack two things that are paramount in any wrestling show- story and variety. Yuke's has done well with the former, as previous games have had quite in depth story lines, but no wrestling game to date has truly captured the variety that comes with the WWE. Here Comes the Pain looks to offer far more variety in terms of gameplay, as well as refining the story mode a bit to deliver more depth. In an attempt to bolster the gameplay experience, Here Comes the Pain will offer a plethora of matches that are often seen on the wildly popular shows. Players will be able to choose from a variety of matches in addition to the normal single, tag, six-man tag, Royal Rumble, and Survival modes. Here Comes the Pain will also feature an option called Main Events, which includes Bra and Panties matches (the first girl to be stripped to her bra and panties loses), Hell in the Cell, Elimination, Elimination Tag, Cage Match, Elimination Chamber, Iron Man, Ladder, Lumberjack, Last Man Standing, Slobber Knocker, Tables Ladders and Chairs (TLC), Special Referee, Submission, Table, and First Blood. Yes, Here Comes the Pain will feature blood, and hopefully a lot of it.
As impressive as the gameplay options are, the Story Mode is even deeper than last year, with several slight refinements intended to further the melodramatic aspects of pro wrestling. When you first start, you can create a stable of wrestlers, several in fact. That means if you want to create a stable for Evolution wrestlers such as Ric Flair, Triple H and Randy Orton, you can. In fact, you can do a lot of things with the new "stables" that will let you change up the gameplay. On top of that, you can also switch out rosters between various shows. Have you ever wanted to see Triple H go head to head against Lesnar? Well, with Here Comes the Pain, you can do just that. The game allows endless roster switching, but that is not all. You can also decide which wrestlers are heels (bad dudes) and which are faces (good guys). I've always hated A-Train, but maybe I would like him as a face? Here Comes the Pain will let me find out! That is the beauty of Here Comes the Pain- you can make anyone a heel or a face, it doesn't matter. Of course, if you are content to leave things as they are, the game is using a very current roster which should help keep people in their respective places.
When in Story Mode, you can select a wrestler, and when you do, you will be able to converse with your respective manager after witnessing a brief cutscene that introduces you. After speaking with either Bischoff or McMahon, you'll be taken to a locker room. Unlike previous games, you don't exactly have total freedom of movement, but when in the locker room you can choose to move about. Doing so will allow you to meander, giving you the chance to talk to all the different superstars of the WWE. Depending on who you chose as a character and who you talk to, your conversations can vary wildly. You may find yourself in a shaky alliance with someone you don't like, or you may end up in a match. In fact, you may end up being zinged by The Rock with his notorious sense of blue humor.
As an add-on to the Story Mode, you can also access WWE ShopZone, which allows you to buy various things with SmackDown Dollars. You can earn these dollars by competing in and winning matches, and then use them to unlock special moves, clothing, and classic wrestlers. Ever wondered what it would be like to wrestle as "The Million Dollar Man"? Well, thanks to Here Comes the Pain, you can find out. Of course, it is going to take a whole lot of SD dollars to unlock the serious merchandise, but what can you expect?
In addition to earning SD dollars for your victory in the ring, you can also earn Experience Points, which works similar to some RPGs, in that you can use those points to buy additional moves and stamina for your chosen character. You can raise your stats in terms of skill, endurance, stamina, submission, and more. Therefore, it is worthwhile to go through the story mode to make The Rock (yeah, I love Rock, shut up) or whoever the real badass that he is. Depending on whom you choose, the stats that you can raise will vary. Obviously, guys like Rey Mysterio are going to have high-speed stats but low strength stats, and guys like Kain are going to be uber strong, but they will be uber slow as well. The customization appears endless, and for that we love Yuke's, don't we?
The gameplay, at least as it concerns specific moves, has been improved greatly. You will now be able to transition smoothly between moves, so if you want to throw an arm bar and then lead it into a suplex, you can do it seamlessly. However, due to refinements in the gameplay, you won't be able to just bust out the super moves; you will have to beat your opponent down a bit before you attempt any of the truly spectacular stunts. In fact, if you try to grapple an opponent right off the bat, not only will you not have a great deal of luck, but you may just get your ass beat in the process. When you try to grapple and are not successful, you may find yourself targeted in the head or legs, whatever is available. You can do the same to your enemy as well, so that later on in the match, certain parts of your body may not work as perfectly as you thought, giving you the feel of a real life match.
Of course, the Smackdown! Meter is still the same- as you go through a match, you will build up your meter which allows you to perform certain finishing moves. When you do, "Here Comes the Pain", so to speak. Of course, finishing moves are still hard to come by, but that seems more like a gameplay feature rather than a glitch, which is good.
The character models also look rather good. No matter whether you are grappling in the ring or busting someone's head on a phone booth, the models do their job, and do it well. The cut scenes are also really well done, showing the players in real light. Expect great advancements over last year's installment.
Wrestling games are hard to make, and even harder to make right. Yuke's is going for the gold with their newest installment, and only time will tell if they were able to pull it off. We'll have more on the game once information becomes available.
9/5/2003 Ryan Hartmann