Content Test 3

Original URL:
WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain
Graphics: 9.5
Gameplay: 9.1
Sound: 8.5
Control: 9
Replay Value: 9.8
Rating: 9.2

Outside of hardcore RPG fans, wrestling fanatics are probably the biggest sticklers when it comes to what they expect out of a videogame. The most current rosters, perfectly replicated entrances, and characters that are perfect right down to their tattoos are just a few of the litany of things any ďEdgeheadĒ or ďTesticleĒ will look for before they even buy the game. The last few incarnations of the Smackdown! series have all sold well but havenít been as warmly received by critics and hardcore fans as THQ would have hoped, and instead of just shoveling out another update theyíve really worked to improve the game. The result of all this hard work is Smackdown! Here Come The Pain, a game that has injected new life into the series and one that really pushes the level of realism in wrestling games to a new level.

THQ has added new match modes including the Elimination Chamber, and for all you T&A fans out there, a Bra and Panties match. There are 65 different wrestlers in the game, which is the most of the THQ wrestling titles. Several legends can be unlocked as you progress through the game, including: Old-school Undertaker, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy Snooka, The Road Warriors and more. The Hulkster isnít available, but thatís not really a shock as he left the WWE on his usual unamicable terms, and WWE doesnít want to keep his name popular if heís going to wrestle for another promotion.

While most wrestling games can be daunting for newcomers, Smackdown! features a control scheme that is accessible to all skill levels. The buttons are responsive and itís very easy to select what kind of move you want to perform by simply selecting a direction while pressing the circle button. Even things like picking up a ladder, placing it, climbing it, and then jumping for the belt are all easy to learn and sensibly mapped to the controller. The matches are fast paced, and while they do usually last a long time, itís not unbearable, and the action never gets stale. Each superstar has their signature list of moves, including all of their finishers, which can be earned by pummeling your opponent and filling your meter. One cool touch is if you get two finishers stored up, you can steal your opponentís finishing move and use it on them. Itís incredibly satisfying to Rock Bottom The Rock and then stand over him doing John Cenaís ďYou canít see meĒ by pressing the right analog stick.

The new special matches are lots of fun, and arenít just simple add-ons. The Elimination Chamber is a blast to play, especially if youíve got friends playing via the multi-tap Ė it really feels like the matches youíve seen on Pay Per View events. The Bra and Panties match is one of the few places in the game where the ladies really shine. When you want to remove an article of clothing, you simply press circle and down and then tap any button, just like you would for a submission. If you get the meter all the way down then a piece of clothing comes off, and the crowd goes wild.

The meat of the gameplay is found in the season mode, where there are over 200 different events awaiting your superstar, depending on what courses of action you take along the way. The scenarios were scripted based on actually storylines of the past so any longtime fan of the WWE will recognize them; and itís the better storylines, so donít worry about any Triple H shenanigans with a blow up doll here. Many of the minor scenarios are a bit goofy, and often youíll have no idea what choice to make, but itís certainly better than what any other game has to offer.

As you start a season, you can pick any superstar, add or remove them from the roster, set up who is on what show, and even decide who will be a face or a heel. Once the season starts you will work your way up the company ladder with the end goal being a championship bout at Wrestlemania. Along the way youíll be able to confront people and brawl backstage to try and get over with the fans, and even go to the GMís office and demand a transfer to the other show. If you are successful in your matches and put on a good show for the fans you not only will be able to boost your characterís attributes, but you will earn money to buy outfits or new characters.

Here Comes The Pain features an amazingly deep Create-A-Wrestler mode, which is right up there with what EA did in the latest Tiger Woods game. You can alter almost any aspect of a personís appearance, and you can even morph several of your characterís facial features. The one area in which itís lacking, especially compared to Raw2 is in the character entrances, but itís a small gripe.

Smackdown! is a phenomenal looking game that really pushes the graphical capabilities of the Playstation 2 to the limit. You may remember that a few years back the wrestlerís hair looked pretty horrible, well that all has changed. The accuracy in which even the wrestlerís haircuts have been recreated is stunning. Rob Van Damís clipper marks on the side of his head are a prime example of this Ė it is truly amazing looking. Even A Trainís hair has been recreated perfectly. Whatís that you say? A Train is bald? Ah yes, but you forgot his hairy back. You heard it right; each one of A-Trainís freakishly long back hair follicles is there in all of its horrible glory.

 As you would expect, each wrestlerís entrance is spot on, right down to the lolli-pop that Torri Wilson carries with her into the ring and the exaggerated bend that Stacy Kiebler uses to climb through the ropes. Each of the male superstars looks exactly like their real-life counterpart, but some of the female wrestlers donít look quite as good. Jazz still looks hideous, but itís a different kind of hideousness than what you will see on WWE TV. There are minor gripes that can be made about the graphics here and there, but on a whole, they are fantastic looking.

Probably the best thing about HCTPís audio is that there are no announcers this time around. Certainly good announcing can be done in a wrestling game, but after what we heard from Tazz and Michael Cole in the past, the game is better off with no sound at all. All of the gameís dialog is done with on-screen text, which is kind of disappointing. Thereís so much attention to detail paid to the rest of the game that a complete lack of voices is a let down. Certainly adding that much dialog would take a tremendous amount of time, something which THQ instead wisely spent focusing on the gameplay. With the exception of a few of the licensed songs like RVD and Stacy Kieblerís themes, all of the wrestlerís music is here, and the crowd will even chant ďYou Suck!Ē along with Kurt Angleís music. Itís the little stuff like that, which makes the game so stellar.

Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain is a fantastic wrestling game, and it is vastly improved over its predecessor. The new match modes are great additions, and from a visual standpoint, the game is without peer in the wrestling genre. There are so many improvements that itís safe to say fans of the series, as well as people that have lost interest the last few years will all be happy with what Here Comes The Pain has to offer. Hats off to THQ for a truly outstanding effort.

12/3/2003   Aaron Thomas