Not many wrestling titles have been able to live up to the precedent set by WWF No Mercy on Nintendo 64. Featuring a huge roster, vastly improved game play, and a diverse engine allowing for near-realistic matches, it had seemed that No Mercy would remain the “Undisputed Champion” of wrestling game in the eyes of grappling fans forever. However, the king of wrestling games has met its match. Ladies and gentlemen? “Here Comes the Pain!”
WWE SmackDown!: Here Comes the Pain features an extensive roster of active WWE wrestlers, as well as legends such as The Undertaker – with his fan-favorite “dead man” gimmick – The Iron Sheik, Ted DiBiase, and more. My main objections to the inclusion of legends are:
1) Fewer active wrestlers.
2) The included legends will forever be debated by fans.
While I’m sure wrestlers such as Hillbilly Jim and George “The Animal” Steele have their fans, the absence of true legends such as Bret Hart and Mick Foley is questionable. With a decent Create-a-Wrestler system (which this game sorely lacks; details under “Challenge/Replay”), players should just be given the option to create any legend of their choosing. The decision to even include legends over current WWE Superstars is dubious at best.
But as stated previously, this is a minor gripe. Once the player is able to view the roster of current wrestlers, any gripes about the legends should almost immediately fade into irrelevance. Current favorites such as The Rock, Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar are fully intact with updated move sets to augment their character changes over the past year. Due to improved character models, detailed arenas, legends, and other miscellaneous inclusions, not all WWE superstars could make the cut. Those wishing to take wrestlers such as Jamie Knoble and La Reistance to glory had better fire up the Create-a-Wrestler mode, because they’re not in the game by default.
The game play of HCTP is vastly improved over any previous version of SmackDown!. Each wrestler now has 16 front grapple attacks to be performed, not to mention attacks that can be performed from the ground, from behind, on the turnbuckle, off the ropes, and more! The new grapple system is simple: pressing a direction plus Circle causes the player’s avatar to lock-up with the opponent. From there, pressing a direction plus Circle performs a grapple attack. Left and Circle is a “Signature” move, Right and Circle locks up for a “Quick” move, Up and Circle for a “Power” move, and Down and Circle for a “Submission” move. It’s easy to learn, and allows for much more authentic matches than ever before, since nearly all wrestlers perform moves their own unique way.
What’s more, fans who have been clamoring after a weight system for years have finally had their wish granted: no more Rey Mysterio power-bombing the Big Show. Adding to the wide array of changes is a new Submission system. After locking an opponent in a submission maneuver, each wrestler’s status bar will be replaced with a submission bar. On the left is “Submit,” and to the right is “Escape.” By mashing the buttons, the attacker is able to slide the meter towards “Submit,” while the victim must rapidly mash his or her own buttons to try to escape the submission. It’s great fun, and adds a good deal of intensity to the already exciting matches.
Probably the best new feature added to the SD! engine is the new damage system. In previous wrestling games, players had to focus on landing as many damaging moves as possible, hit the finisher, and quickly get the win. This lead to a lot of repetitive game play, as most players knew that once a special move was pulled off, the game was over. No longer! Next to each player’s name is a blue figure acting as a representation of the player’s avatar. Players can now focus attacks on the head, body, arms, and legs, and the blue figure will reflect the damage done to specific locations. So for example, if your character depends on heavy body damage for their special move, it’s a good idea to work the body of your opponent to weaken it for your special move. Because of this new damage system, it’s no longer a guarantee that the first person to successfully use a finishing move will be the winner. The days of 3-minute long matches are gone, and the competition better than ever!
However, with the good must come the bad. One flaw of the new weight system players will quickly notice is that while smaller characters cannot lift heavyweights, the weight system does not apply to finishers. That means Rey Mysterio won’t be able to throw around the 500 pound Big Show? unless he uses a finishing move. While most wrestling fans will simply pass this off as “selling,” – making it appear as though an attack really hurt – it is something that will bother most players.
Another gripe is the fact that the damage system seems to go haywire at times. I’ve played matches where though my legs were in near-perfect condition, I was still forced to submit to moves that didn’t target my legs. Annoying, but rare enough to be forgivable.
As if there weren’t already enough new additions to the diverse game play of Here Comes the Pain offers something purists have been after for years: a two button countering system! The R button counters grapples, L counters strikes, and pressing both simultaneously counters special moves. For fans of last year’s SD! game, you’ll remember that to counter a special move, you had to have a special move yourself, sacrificing it to make up for a successful defense. Not anymore! You can now attempt to counter an opponent’s finisher even if you don’t have one yourself, no sacrifice involved! The new countering system is a great addition, eliminating random button mashing in favor of precise countering. Final Score: 95 / 100
SD!: HCTP features some of the best graphics seen in a wrestling game yet, and not just on the PlayStation 2 system. Some would say the character models and arenas look even better than those featured on WWE Raw 2 for Xbox! This definitely adds to the realism of the game, as by watching the flow of the near-perfectly implemented move sets of the wrestlers, some may almost be convinced they’re actually watching a live WWE event. The only real complaints are some of the clipping problems that have been found in nearly every SmackDown! game. But the glitches are so minor that all but the most picky gamer will barely notice them in favor of the addicting game play. Final Score: 90 / 100
Perhaps the weakest area of HCTP is its audio. The BGM and SFX are the typical “rock and roll,” squishy-fruit-thud sounds that have become the norm in wrestling games. However, I didn’t mind the background music nearly as much as I have in past wrestling games. Where before I’d actually go into the Options menu and disable the BGM after hearing the same rock-n-roll track for the billionth time, I truly don’t mind the tracks featured in this game. Annoying? Yes, but hardly enough to detract from the overall experience of the game. My only real complaint is the crowd is not nearly as loud as in past SD! games. As any wrestling fan will attest to, the crowd interaction can make or break a match, as the adrenaline of the crowd flows through the audience, wrestler – and in this case, also the player – alike. Final Score: 70 / 100
This year’s SD! is a lot more challenging than any of the past games. Even at “Normal,” the A.I. can be brutal, countering nearly all of your moves, but not enough to frustrate the gamer. The A.I. is just good enough to irritate the player, but in a way that causes the player to pursue a deeper understanding of the game’s system, as well as their wrestler(s) of choice.
Unfortunately, the Create-a-Wrestler system, which is the most coveted part of a wrestling game to some players, is really pathetic in this year’s SmackDown!. As with all of the default grapplers, created superstars use experience points to improve their skills, and the created superstars hardly start off with any. This means a lot of lost matches in Season Mode for entry characters, which will be enough to make even the hardiest character builder shy away from the “CAW” mode. Final Score: 85 / 100
The SmackDown! series has come a long way, using brilliant additions to counter most of its criticisms. With a great grappling system, near-realistic weight classes, and two-button countering, this year’s SD! is sure to become a must-have for any wrestling fan. And yes? it is way better than No Mercy! Wrestling gamers rejoice: There’s a new king, and Here Comes the Pain is worth every cent.