WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth! Review
The PS-born wrestler has long been in the running -- as far as wrestling game series go -- and is usually regarded as one of the best wrestling series out there, if not the best. Yuke's first foray at a PS2-established Smackdown game was rather satisfying, but it didn't reach nearly its full potential, and while Smackdown SYM shares some of the same shortcomings, the game is far more developed and refined everywhere you look.
From a visual standpoint, Shut Your Mouth absolutely blows away Just Bring It. For starters, the wrestlers' faces have been fabricated with an excruciating amount of detail. It's quite scary at how the resemblances of these wrestlers look so spot-on. Some of the most notable ones include Hogan, Golddust, Brock Lesnar and Undertaker. Undertaker's aging-yet-bad-ass appearance is shown off perfectly, with every facial hair and accessory right on. Likewise, Hogan looks amazingly real when heading down the ramp, sporting everything from his stippled mustache to his developing facial wrinkles. With only a handful of wrestler faces that actually need improvement, it's simply stunning.
Not only have the faces undergone some augmentations, because the arenas also include a lot of detail. The Raw and Smackdown sets are just as they are on TV, with the PPV arenas likewise being dead-on. The only real drawback here is the rendering of the crowd, which, for some reason, always looks pretty awful.
Watching the entrances are always among the favorites when a new wrestling title first comes out. Seeing how closely the developers can replicate the entrances seen week after week is quite fun, and most of the entrances were accurately crafted, and each is bolstered by tons of sparkle, like fireworks, smoke, and more. Little details also arise, like the ongoing chant of "You suck!" as Kurt Angle makes his entrance. Some issues still come about though, concerning the robotic-like walking that some of the wrestlers have when entering the ring, but for the most part, the wrestlers come to the ring with a lot of flair and character.
With every new incarnation to the series comes a good degree of improvement concerning the body structures, and Shut Your Mouth certainly looks better than any Smackdown game to come before it. Even Just Bring It had a considerable amount of blocky-like curves and displacement in structure; but Shut Your Mouth has smoothly-rounded edges and accurately structured body frames, especially with wrestlers like Lesnar and Booker T, where there is a lot of definition and curves in their body tone. It should also be noted that the accuracy of the hair movement and its interaction with what that wrestler is doing has also been increased to a considerable degree.
Unfortunately, the title also yields a number of flaws, graphically, which have been plaguing wrestling games for years. The interaction between the player and the ropes always seems to be a problem, chiefly when the wrestler is laying in a corner against them. In addition to the body parts going through the ropes, the game also suffers from the flatness in clothes that each wrestler dons. Instead of being a separate material from the wrestler, they still have that flat, painted-on look.
The included roster is impressively up-to-date, especially when looking back at past rosters. New wrestlers to the Smackdown series are great to see, like those included in the Invasion story line -- such as Chuck, the Hurricane, Lance Storm, Booker T, and Rob Van Dam. In addition to that, wrestlers from the nWo reformation are also all included, with the exception of Scott Hall, who was taken out early in development. X-Pac hasn't been taken out, nor has Kevin Nash; and Steven Austin and DDP still remain, despite the release and retirement of these wrestlers, respectively.
The Smackdown series has always hosted essentially the same types of matches, and the inclusion of new matches to Shut Your Mouth is very minute, but Shut Your Mouth still includes a wealth of game modes and matches to engage in, including Single, Tag, 6-Man Tag, Special, Survival, Hardcore, King of the Ring, Royal Rumble, Handicap and Season.
In the Special category, you can then chose from a number of different sub-category gimmick matches that the WWE has to offer, featuring Cage, Elimination, Hell in a Cell, I Quit, Ironman, Ladder, Last Man Standing, Lumberjack, Slobber Knocker, Special Referee, Street Fight, Submission, Table, TLC, and 3 Stages of Hell. Upon choosing one of the aforementioned gimmicks, you can then give even more distinctiveness to your match by choosing how many people are to compete and how the winner will be determined.
Of course, the meat of the series has always been the Season mode, and while Yuke's hasn't quite gotten down a plausible formula to this mode in past years, Shut Your Mouth's is incredibly more evolved. Portraying a certain time period in WWE television, the Season will commence with Linda McMahon at a booth explaining the new roster split that will soon take place. From there, the roster split will begin, where you can actually take place in the draft and pick wrestlers in turn, or players can simply simulate the draft and then edit it as to get the rosters corresponding with those on TV At any rate, the roster will be divided into the two distinctive brands, and the player you've chosen for the Season mode will compete on his designated brand.
Climbing up the ladder in Season can differ enormously depending on what player you picked in the beginning. If you decide to pick a created player, then he'll have to fight well and hard to earn himself a spot in the main events, coming into the federation with virtually no credibility; and the created player will start off with a low number of star points, which displays that wrestler's status in the company, as well. However, those who pick a more established player like, say, Benoit or Jericho (who have a lot more star points), will not have nearly as much difficulty finding themselves vying for the Undisputed Championship.
As a default, the Undertaker is the Undisputed Champion, so you'll have to take down the "American bad ass" at a PPV before garnering the strap. Before attaining the belt, your player will only compete on his respective brand. Once the Undisputed Championship is collected, however, you'll compete on both brands, having all the wrestlers backstage gunning after your title.
While playing through the Season mode, you'll encounter many moments in WWE's recent past, such as the roster split, Austin saying "What?!" repeatedly, and the reformation of the nWo. Week after week, there will be plenty of cut-scenes before and after matches. Some are more inclusive than others as to how much significance they'll have down the road. Receiving title shots, getting challenged to a match, and being jumped from a foe will all more than likely happen.
Many of the cut-scenes that do include dialogue will give the player more of a decision as to what happens. Players can turn down matches, accept challenges, befriend fellow wrestlers in the back locker room, and so much more. Most of the decisions involving another wrestler will involve a honorable decision along with immoral one. So in essence, players can actually chose whether they want to take on the role of a face or a heel -- or even both. For instance, after the King of the Ring is decided, that winner will come down to the ring in order to receive his trophy. Here's where you decision comes in as to which road you want to take. On one hand, you could congratulate the winner and show dignity and camaraderie, while on the other side, you could instead attack him and furthermore create an enemy. The choice is yours; however, if you chose the former, you might find that such wrestler returning the favor in a later cut-scene where you're the one being attacked.
The cut-scenes also help create more of a rivalry and help to build up a feud between the two individuals. Post-match cheap shots and pre-match stare downs really help to set the mood for a more emotional and dramatic square-off. Yuke's did well here, and the end result is a more involved experience.
After taking part in a month's-worth of competition, you'll then enter the PPV of that month, which is represented accordingly and starts off with a captivating display of fireworks and is aided by the introduction lines of the King and J.R. After a PPV is completed, you can then chose to unlock one of the many Smackdown cards that are before you. Players can unlock a bevy of different goodies, too, such as movies, new move sets, create-a-wrestler parts, new wrestling attire, arenas, and more.
As the night goes on, your player can roam the backstage area, and partake in a number of various activities. There's usually someone roaming around backstage that you can talk to, and there are also other areas you can venture off into, such as Vinnie Mac's office, where you can see how you're progressing and what your chances at a title shot are looking like, if, in fact, you're not already the champion.
The game boasts a number of subtleties and intangibles, as well. While some may not notice them at a glance, the whole performance inside the squared-circle -- the maneuvers, the way the wrestlers carry themselves, and the animations -- is ultimately better than any previous iteration. Sometimes you can only notice the subtleties once they aren't there any more, and that's proof right here. If you were to put in, say, Smackdown 3, you'd notice the upgrade performance-wise.
Another great aspect of Smackdown 4 is that more and more moves are fabricated around linkages of different kicks, moves, bumps, and slams. While most wrestling titles have your fighters simply trading slams and punches, Shut Your Mouth actually has many moves which initiate a string of attacks and blows in one, making the technical presence of the game flow smoother.
The Smackdown series has always played and controlled fairly the same with each new sequel. Shut Your Mouth is no different, as its premise is basically the same from head to toe. The arcade-doused game hasn't changed much in speed respects either. While it's not quite as fast as a Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, it's still fast for some people's taste.
No Smackdown game comes without the gameplay innovations, however. With Shut Your Mouth, a gaggle of new activities and actions can be executed and explored. The turnbuckle padding, for instance, can now be taken off, as players hope to inflict more damage as a result; and Undertaker's bike is now not only mobile in the intro, but actually throughout the duration of the match, as well. Players can only grapple when they pick the other player up, and the opponent you're locked onto will now automatically change and toggle according to proximity. Furthermore, those who enjoy a nice dosage of eye-candy will be pleasantly pleased when they see a Matrix-esque effect that they can summon via the L1 button during that player's special move, of which each wrestler has two of.
An integral part of the series has always been the Create mode, which gave players freedom galore to create basically any type of competitor they like. But there have always been flaws here, most noticeably the fact that most of the noses and hairstyles were just to bogus. This left little room for genuine looking ones and in turn made it harder to accurately create some of the superstars that weren't included. In addition, most of the pony tails and hair styles just didn't look too natural. Well both of these problems have been fixed, thankfully. Moreover, the create-a-wrestler as a whole is more evolved and complex, and allows an incredible amount of depth in variation. Players will also notice that the wrestlers that didn't quite make the cut, such as Mysterio, will have their repertoire and accessories available.
The aural factor of the series has probably undergone the least amount of change, overall. Instead of the choppy and outright horrible play-by-play that we were bombarded with in Just Bring It, we are instead accompanied by a less vocal team of J.R. and the King, who deliver short comments here and there, but more importantly, they make sense and fit the wrestlers they're talking about. All the while, eclectic guitar beats will play in the background of the ‘thumps' and ‘thuds'.
Shut Your Mouth shows us something great in its genre. While wrestling is a very diverse, intricate, and always-changing program, which makes a video game rendition that much harder to create, Yuke's still delivered a very well-crafted wrestler thanks to the time and care they employed into it. The game's far from being spotless, but it's definitely the best choice you can make as far as next-generation wrestlers are concerned.
11/18/2002 Joseph Comunale