WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain
Anyone who has been following WWE programming as of late can attest that Smackdown! has been the far superior program in regards to RAW. This wasn’t just a recent trend, however, as THQ’s WWE Smackdown! line of games has consistently been the best of the three WWE-themed series. Now we have the latest entry in the vaunted franchise and it’s not only the best wrestling game to come out this year, but it very well may be the best wrestling game ever made.
Yukes! has done an admirable job of addressing the issues and problems that have plagued past entries in the series while adding just enough features to make this franchise fresh and engaging again. Issues such as move variety, match depth, match pacing and opponent AI have all been addressed. Toss in some pretty hefty visual upgrades, a few new match types and an engrossing season mode and you’ve got yourself a very deep and entertaining wrasslin’ title.
Once again you’ll be able to control your favorite wrestler as he runs the gamut known as WWE programming. There aren’t too many changes between the season mode of Here Comes the Pain and Just Bring It! but the differences in place amount to quite a large molehill. Making the largest impact is an experience points-based system that allows you to upgrade your wrestler’s abilities as he progresses. Each wrestler now is now rated according to their abilities, taking out some of the ambiguity that ran amok in other Smackdown! Titles. This makes the game even more realistic, ensuring that jobbers like Stevie Richards won’t be able to manhandle Kurt Angle or The Rock. This is especially important for your Create-A-Wrestler who is relatively weak compared to the other wrestlers in the WWE. Be prepared to lose some matches, especially when you start out with a rating of 40 while the lower tiered jobbers are in the 60s. You’ll get points for participating in matches; how many you get depends on just how well you do. After the matches you’ll be able to spend points on various attributes, all of which have a bearing on how well you do against your opponents.
Speaking of the create-a-wrestler system be prepared for the shock of your life. Those of you who were used to beating up on the series’ retarded AI will get their asses handed to them on a repeated basis. While I used to go through an entire season without ever losing a match I’ve found myself losing about 1 of every 3 matches. Hell when I just started my record was an embarrassing 3-8, but hey, gotta pay my dues right? This leads us to another area that has made some great bounds, the computer AI. While they’re not geniuses they’re more than competent this time around. No longer pushovers you’ll have to work hard in order to pull out a pin fall in this game. In a nice little unexpected bonus this helps to add some pacing to the match so that it has time to develop and grow. Many wrestling fans can attest that a great wrestling match tells a story, this is exactly what Smackdown! allows you to do.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive roster then you’ve come to the right place. You’ll get WWE mainstays like Austin and The Rock as well as newcomers like Haas, Benjamin and Batista. Most of the wrestlers appear as they do today meaning that Rock has his new tattoo and Kane is unmasked. In a nice nod to history the roster includes a number of Legends that have graced the WWE rings in the past few decades. This lineup includes the likes of Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter (pre-massive gut days), Hillbilly Jim and the RoadWarriors. A few are available for you at the start but most have to be unlocked in the game’s WWE Shopzone section, accessible in the career mode. The legends can be used in any mode of the game including the career mode so you can put the World Title around Animal’s waist if you please.
In regards to timeline Here Comes the Pain picks up the show after WrestleMania XVIII as you strive to be in the main event of WrestleMania XIX. Forgive me for not being able to relate to the WWE but the past two years of programming have just been a mishmash of horribly booked programs that aren’t entertaining nor or they memorable. Hell, I completely forgot that Jazz was the Women’s Champion at one point in time or that she was actually still on the WWE roster. I do remember recent occurrences though and I must admit that the game is pretty spot on when it comes to predicting the outcomes of their matches in comparison to the actual product. To show just how accurate the new skill rating system is at accurately predicting match outcomes in Eddie Guerrerro’s first title defense he lost the US Title to the Big Show, just like in real life. In a strange lapse of judgment in three seasons HHH had a record of 112 wins and 2 losses. Everyone knows that HHH NEVER loses, come on guys.
In an interesting move Smackdown! allows you to relive some of the WWE’s most prominent storylines. In the season mode you’ll be given the opportunity to gather up wrestlers to start up a faction. We were expecting some generic hair brained gimmick that allowed us to scoop up wrestlers, give it a lame name and then head down the road to nowhere. Boy were we wrong. We were presented with a menu that allowed us to choose our name, a list that included the likes of D-X, The Corporation and the Nation of Domination. What’s more, which name you choose dictates how your storyline pans out. For instance, we chose D-X and were able to relive the entire D-X Express storyline from 1999, including the destruction of the beloved bus. This could have been sloppily executed but Yukes! went the extra mile to ensure that this wasn’t just another failed gimmick.
If seasons aren’t your bag then you can always jump into the exhibition mode; choose your match style, wrestler and then jump into the ring. There are two notable additions to the match types, the bra and panties and the elimination chamber. While it didn’t come off too well on the Pay Per View the elimination chamber is an awesome addition to this title that really shows just how brutal wrestling can be. It’s a massive enclosed chamber that can house up to six combatants. Think of the Hell in a Cell except you’re trapped inside and there’s nowhere to run and hide. You can climb the sides, perform massive aerial moves off of the tops of the chambers or do some old-fashioned mat work in the middle of the ring.
On the other end of the spectrum is the crowd favorite bra and panties match. It seems like just another gimmick match but it’s actually a really well done match that serves as a worthwhile addition. Working very much like a best of 5 falls match, you’ll have to wear down your opponent to the point where they can’t defend themselves. Then you approach them like you’re pinning, when you do so a meter will appear where you’ll have to fight with your opponent in order to rip off a piece of clothing. You rip off the bra and panties separately, the first one to do so wins. This is a nice little sideshow attraction but THQ should have gone the extra mile and added in the Thanksgiving gravy wrestling match as well as the chocolate pudding match. Hey, it sounds perverted but we’re talking about chicks trying to disrobe each other. You gotta add some depth to these matches to make them worth participating in.
Not that the game is lacking in depth though, this is by far the deepest Smackdown! Title to date. Most of it comes from the all-new psychology system that allows wrestlers to focus on specific body parts. This isn’t necessarily important to a brawler like the Undertaker, but to a tactician like Chris Benoit this is a blessing. It works in a relatively simple fashion too, next to your character’s Smackdown! meter is a visual representation of their body. As specific areas get targeted the body becomes highlighted, giving you an idea of which areas you’re wearing down. After sustaining enough wear and tear that part becomes red and primed for a submission maneuver. So let’s say I’ve worn down Chris Jericho’s head and neck; he’s toast if I stick him into the Crippler Crossface. In previous games psychology never played a role, you just garnered a tap out by doling out damage to your opponents. Now you’re given the ability to target specific areas so that you can be more efficient in the ring.
Another new addition is the lost art of selling, a pivotal part of any wrestling match. This works here as it would in the WWE too. You won’t just get wrestlers who sell after taking a huge bump or after taking a powerful move. When they’ve received enough punishment they’ll go into a daze as their bodies are worn down. This means that you can actually be put into a daze when you’re on the offensive. If Brock Lesnar has been punishing you the whole match and you pull off a fluke snap mare don’t expect to spring up instantly and lay some boots to him. Instead the game opts for a more realistic system where your player will show how winded he is by stumbling around or holding an ailing body part.
The last major change to the game is the weight system which lends the game a more realistic feel. With the new system in place midgets like Rey Mysterio can no longer slam the Big Show. Trying to pull off a vertical suplex will result in failure, leaving you open and primed for a counterattack. Also, on the other end of this is a system that makes moves more devastating when performed on smaller wrestlers. This means that bumps taken by Spike Dudley will be much sicker than a bump taken by Mark Henry.
Bring the Pain is also the first wrestling game to incorporate transition moves between grapples and maneuvers. This helps give the game a more realistic flow because as any fan knows, wrestlers don’t generally just go from a standstill into a belly-to-belly suplex. Generally someone gets clobbered first and then the move is executed. It keeps the match flowing smoothly instead of just moving from highspot to highspot (*cough*RVD*cough*) Another key addition comes in the form of the retooled grappling system. Many complained that the simplistic grappling system stifled wrestlers move sets essentially giving players only 4 go-to moves to work with. This time around Smackdown! Employs a two-step system. First, players press the circle button and a direction to set the grapple system into motion, when they’re successful they then press another direction and the circle button. This effectively gives players 16 moves that they have immediate access to. This ups the ante significantly and adds the depth that many of the series’ detractors have been clamoring for.
If you’re a big fan of sweaty oiled up men then you’ll be happy to know that this is the best that the franchise has ever looked. While not quite up to snuff with its Xbox cousin, Smackdown! Does an admirable job of recreating the look and style of the WWE. Wrestlers now have a sheen to them, lending them a sweaty look that’s convincing and interesting to behold. Tights are now affected by lighting as well with some of them exuding a sheen that gives them flash and flair. Players still don’t quite look like they do on TV though as it’s difficult to recognize them during interviews and close-ups. Forget about trying to tell the difference between Goldberg and Steve Austin in the Royal Rumble, you’ll just be wasting your time.
For the most part the entrances are accurate representations of the real thing but they’re missing a few minor details. WWE RAW 2 on the Xbox shows us just how obsolete the PS2’s hardware is becoming. Small nuances such as colored lighting and particle effects are noticeably missing on these entrances. Also missing are the videos that play on the small side screens on the RAW set, yes it’s minor but true WWE fans are bound to pick up on these sorts of omissions. On the most part they’re pretty realistic although they’re not as entertaining to watch as the GameCube and Xbox variants.
On the audio front Yukes! decided to scrap the idea of play-by-play entirely. Instead, you’re treated to some generic rock tracks that play over and over again while you deal out the pain. In a nice touch the crowd now engages in some trademark chants that pertain to the wrestlers in the current match such as "Shave Your Back!" when Albert's involved. All of the mat sounds are authentic and do an excellent job of replicating what we’re used to hearing every Monday and Thursday night. Some more variety in the music would be nice; I would have settled for some of the tracks from the WWE-produced CDs as opposed to the generic fodder that we’re saddled with here.
If Smackdown! Has any weaknesses they lie in the season mode. While it gets the job done we can’t help but think of what Yukes! could do if it really put its mind to it. You can only play through one whole season and then you have to start all over again; effectively wiping the slate clean while you rebuild feuds and alliances. It also seems a bit empty as sometimes you’ll go three or four weeks without even having a match on the card. We understand the need to lend the game an air of realism but there’s nothing worse than having absolutely nothing to do.
Another huge problem resides in the AI. Even though it’s been significantly improved over the previous versions the computer will still do some pretty brainless things like attack allies or take out their aggressions on the ref. It’s not as bad as the AI in RAW but I’ve seen it do some pretty stupid things. At least Yukes! had the sense to allow players to control both members of a tag team in the single-player mode, saving us from a lot of potential headaches.
Small gripes aside WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain is probably the best wrestling title ever made, No Mercy included. It not only plays well and looks great but is also the most accurate depiction of the WWE product to date. If you’re a fan of the WWE then you simply cannot pass this one up.
One of the best wrestling games to date, any fan of the WWE would be a fool to pass this one up. It features more depth, better visuals and some unique innovations that make this the most realistic depiction of the WWE product to date.
Rating: 9.2 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile