After being immersed in the game known as WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain for a little over two weeks without seeing barely any sunlight, I can now say I'm ready to review this beast of a game. I'll cover such things as the new weight system and match types to how the game looks visually and sounds.
The jump from Here Comes the Pain's predecessor Shut Your Mouth has been huge, and despite the similarities between the games, it always fails to amaze me how much better the next game is. Here Comes the Pain was given multiple upgrades that are very noticeable and some that are not so noticeable. One of the major upgrades that first comes to your attention when playing a match is the new grappling and weight detection system. The whole feel of the game has changed, and that is mainly due to the game taking a turn into 'Simulation Lane' rather than keeping its arcade like tradition.
While playing the game, or even just watching it for that matter, you can tell the difference. Wrestlers now have 16 basic grappling moves now, rather than the 8 from the previous Smackdown! games. A direction + circle will choose your type of grapple, from Submission, Power, Signature and Quick. After that is chosen your wrestler will 'lock-up' with the opponent and you press one of the direction buttons and circle to perform the actual move. This makes the wrestlers seem more life-like, having a complete move set with all their signature moves and taunts. Wrestlers will also stand with their trademark stances, and will move just like them. A perfect example of this is the legend version of The Undertaker, who does is 'sit-up' move after being knocked to the ground. An injury system has been introduced this year, now by each superstar's name there is also a small figure of a person, which will change colour as the match progresses, providing you dish out the punishment. When this person has a red area, they are fairly injured and a red head section will mean that they are vulnerable to being busted open.
Along with the new grappling system is the weight detection, possibly one of the best inclusions in this year's title. No longer can lightweights such as Hurricane or Rey Mysterio pick up heavyweights like Big Show, or Rikishi. When the smaller wrestler attempts to pick up a heavyweight, they will struggle to lift them, and will not succeed. Although it was a good attempt by Yukes to implement this feature, it is sometimes a cause for hot debate. The weight detection is based on whether the wrestler is one of two things, a lightweight or a heavyweight. For instance, Shawn Michaels is unable to lift most heavyweights in the game due to being classed as a lightweight. Although these small errors aren't too noticeable they can sometimes be a pain. Reversals have also been overhauled, with some wrestlers (Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit) able to reverse a move into their own special manoeuvre. And on the Smackdown! difficulty of the game, be prepared to become face to face with a lot, and I mean a lot of reversals. Another gameplay change is the submissions, which have been greatly improved. Submissions can be locked on for much longer now, and 'button-mashing' is needed to either make the opponent tap out, keep away from the ropes or escape from the submission yourself.
As always improved in the Smackdown! serious, the Season mode is again much better than last year's attempt. No longer are you walking around aimlessly in a painful first person mode, but you are presented a menu/locker full of options to view things like match history, where you can view your last 200 matches. Superstar Info, where your win/loss record is stored and who your opponents have been over the season(s) and even how you won each match. Attribute settings for your wrestler, so that that can become more skilled in certain areas. ShopZone, where you can spend your hard earned Smackdown! Dollars which are gained by winning matches, on unlockables including legends (more about this later), attires and a smaller menu which lists the backstage areas you can visit to talk to other wrestlers. Of course there is the Start Week option, which takes you to that week's card, either RAW or Smackdown! depending on what TV show you choose to be on at the start of the season. There are 3 matches each week and also only 3 matches at each Pay-Per-View, which is somewhat of a disappointment if you were looking for full 6-10 match cards at the monthly Pay-Per-View. While the hype built for this game, THQ released details about the games season mode, such as the fact that there would be over 200 storylines that you can follow. In reality the season mode only provided a handful of differences each play through, making the potentially impressive season mode, lacking and repetitive.
The exhibition mode of the game is what keeps people coming back, whether its you versus the computer controlled opponent, or you versus a friend the matches ensue some serious fun. With plenty of options, such as KO's on or off, DQ, Give-Up's, to name some to play around with, many different styles of matches can be created. And if Single matches aren't enough for you, all of last years match modes are back such as the Hell in a Cell, Ladder, TLC, 6-Man Tag. This year we also received three extra modes, Elimination Chamber, Bra & Panties and First Blood. The Elimination Chamber is an exact replica of the steel-hell structure that was used at Survivor Series 2002 and SummerSlam 2003. It is 6-Man elimination style entertainment. Bra & Panties is one of the matches frequently asked for in the past few Smackdown! instalments, and is a submission based mode where you must strip the opponent down to her underwear. Yes, this match is only able to be played with women, and unfortunately not with created woman from the Create-A-Wrestler mode. First Blood is a very enjoyable match where you must bust the opponent open in order to make them bleed. While it can be fairly easy to win with a weapon, it is quite fun with no weapons against a friend.
The roster for this year's game is somewhat of a mixed bag. It is increased from Shut Your Mouth, and includes mega stars left out of last years game such as Goldberg, Scott Steiner and Rey Mysterio but it lacks quite a few of the minor wrestlers such as the entire FBI, La Resistance, Molly Holly, Maven, Spanky, and quite a few more. However as if to fill these gaps, Yukes have included 11 past WWE (WWF) legends. These include the L.O.D, Old School Undertaker, George Steel, Roddy Piper and for some reason Hillbilly Jim. While each of these legends have their trademark move set and taunts, they are completely missing their entrance music, video and proper entrance, with all legends coming down in a mini-ring (Like one which was used at WrestleMania III). This takes away a lot of what could have been a great addition to the game for me, as it seems as if these legends are only in for looks and not to be used. However the fact that they are in the game as extras only adds to the game.
Whatever wrestlers aren't in the game for whatever reasons can be replicated with the Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) mode. While nearly identical to last years installation, the CAW mode provides less, but a wider range of hair, shirts pants, etc. Wrestlers made through the CAW mode rarely look realistic and how you wanted them to look, providing a fair challenge in making a realistic Rene Dupree or Hulk Hogan. However it can be done and when the hours you have put into making the created wrestler is over, you should be very pleased with the product. The appearance section of the CAW mode contains all the clothes, from the normal things such as shoes, shirts, pants to some of the more obscure including horns, masks, a wide range of tattoos and designs. You also set your alignment of the CAW, face or heel (good guy or bad guy), the signs for the crowd, his or her name, and their attribute points and logic. You can literally make a super heavyweight who is very strong but has no speed attributes, likewise you can make a cruiserweight with high speed skill and endurance but low strength attributes. The other section to the CAW mode is the moves section. This is where you choose what moves you want your newly made grappler to have. From powerslams to top-rope moonsaults, the game has them all. You also choose the wrestler's entrance music, video and moves. Give him trademark taunts and set how he will stand. One of the good points of the move editor is that you can change any of the in-game wrestler's moves and/or entrances. This means you can give all those legends some music, and in Old School Undertaker's case, there is music that fits him well.
The entire look of WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain has been revamped, from pyrotechnics to wrestler models, it is very good looking. Around a month ago I was playing the predecessor, Shut Your Mouth and remember thinking the graphics are good in this game I'll think I may not buy Here Comes the Pain. How wrong I was. As soon as I loaded up a game in Here Comes the Pain I became aware of how second-rate the graphics were in Shut Your Mouth. Most notably, muscle tone - it's there! Yes, yes, Shut Your Mouth did feature wrestlers with some muscles, however after playing this latest game I saw big time heavyweights like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar with incredible muscles and they look very realistic. Not only muscle, but the entire model looks incredibly accurate, The Rock has his latest tattoo on his arm, Rey Mysterio with his detailed mask, and many more. The best wrestler model in the game would have to be Goldberg though; his entrance is just spot-on with the sparks flying at him and the smoke coming out his mouth. His face is damn near perfect and really highlights what the PS2 can push out in terms of polygons.
Another great graphical enhancement is the blood, which has just been added to the Smackdown! series this year. While wrestlers can only bleed from the head, it looks impressive when they do get busted open. A wide range of moves will bust the wrestler opponent, from chair shots to DDT's. As stated before, wrestlers now use the location specific injury system with the small figure of a person to represent what injuries they have sustained. When your face is broken open, the camera will move to a close-up view of the wrestler so that you can see the blood trickling down the face. After the match the blood will stay on the wrestler when he is either celebrating his win, or lying in defeat. A very nice feature added by Yukes.
The menu system is still fairly much the same as the previous games, although it is quicker loading between sub-menus and all the speciality matches (Hell In a Cell, Cage) are not scrambled all over the Exhibition menu, they are stored in the 'Main Event' section, to keep things tidy. The entrances are improved over that of Shut Your Mouth, and there are more fireworks, flames and sparks to play with. While still not the complete versions that you see on TV, they come pretty close. And finally the moves, what connects the start of the match to the finish. And with wrestler models being improved, the crowd now in 3d, you would only expect the moves to look that much better. And they do, well most of them. I found around 60% - 80% of the moves were reanimated to look more powerful and have that extra effect of hurting your opponent. Kicks look like they really do connect with power, and slamming your opponent from above your shoulders is quite impressive, (as is chokeslamming someone from the top of the Hell in a Cell to the floor).
In my opinion, the sound is where the biggest let down of the game is. The sound in the game is indeed great; however it's the sound that isn't in the game which makes for a bad audio experience. The 3rd part of the Smackdown! series, Just Bring It featured commentating, and while it was pretty gosh darn awful, Shut Your Mouth did a fair bit of improving, but still lacked the quality that you see in the Madden and NHL games. To fix the commentating problem Yukes didn't charge head on, instead they opted to chuck out the feature, can't complain about what's not there right? Wrong. If the commentating had been improved it could have drastically increased the game's gameplay. We now get to listen to the same old music during the matches, which isn't all that bad, but some other sort of audio could help out. One plus to the audio this year is the inclusion of crowd chants, while although they last only a few seconds and seem to pop up randomly, they add to the overall audio experience and make you seem like you really are watching a televised WWE match.
The entrance music provided in the game is also a great selection and easily beats any of the other wrestling gameï¿½s music selection. But again, the selection has missing tunes, such as those of Rob Van Dam, Kane, Victoria and the Dudley Boyz, all of whom either have bad quality MIDI type versions or older versions of their proper entrance music. While this small handful of tunes can go unnoticed being missing, there is one major instance where it is not unheard (excuse the pun), that being the legends entrance music. None, I repeat, none of the legends have their proper melody, instead their entrances are dead silent unless you change their entrance to include some of the games ï¿½originalï¿½ music, which really only suits for one legend, that being Old School Undertaker. Yuke's really dropped the ball in this area; legends would have been at least 10 times better with proper music.
To say WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain is one of the best, if not the best, wrestling game out today would hit the nail right on the head. Here Comes the Pain takes the previous game's positives adds in a new gameplay system, piles on a whole lot of extras and ups the replay value with all the new match types and wrestler injuries.