Review by GamerIncognito

"A preview of the future, yet still a long ways to go."

It seems that wrestling games, no matter what the system, are some of the most hyped and anticipated games at any given time. This is a given due to the popularity of pro wrestling; it's a shame most wrestling games are either terrible or mediocre. Take Smackdown: Just Bring It for the PlayStation 2 - hyped and hyped by almost everyone interested, and the game wound up being an average game; nowhere near as good as Smackdown 2, a genuinely excellent wrestling game. Along with the WWF games, Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling was anticipated by those who have an interest in old-school; that game was disappointing for many, though I did personally find the game to be above average and pretty fun.

Now, along comes WWF Raw - a game many looked at as an Xbox killer app and system seller. Given the pedigree of the developer, Anchor, and the initial wows of the realistic graphics, Raw's hype blew through the roof, despite constant delays - delays that saw the game pushed back from launch, to Christmas, to finally the middle of February 2002.

Despite the delays, which you'd expect would be put to use to fine-tune and polish the game, Raw turns out to be yet another average wrestling game - lots of fun in multiplayer, but lacking much to do in single player (actually, much more lacking than recent wrestling games). The game isn't horrible, I'll give you that - but it's still underwhelming and leaves you wanting just a little bit more to play with. Hopefully the recently announced WWE Raw 2 will accomplish the original vision that Anchor and THQ originally intended.

Gameplay

Raw comes with a decent feature set; the standard one on one fights, tag team matches, and various forms of 3 and 4 player matches as well. There's a King of the Ring elimination tournament too, which is just a bunch of single matches anyway. Along with that is a basic championship mode, where you pick to go after one of the titles in the WWF; WWF World, Intercontinental, etc. This is basically a Mortal Kombat-ish ladder tournament, complete with 3 continues if you happen to be defeated by a computer opponent. Also, Raw comes with a standard CAW mode, and a Museum mode where you can look at wrestler biographies and watch their music videos. The wrestler roster is deep - all the major WWF stars are included, along with many minor stars and some hidden characters, all of whom are the McMahon family (let's forget the existence of Fred Durst, shall we?).

The problem is - that's all there is. There's no career mode & no specialty matches outside of the fatal 4 way matches & triple threats (no ladder, hell in a cell, etc). It only takes so long before the standard WWF matches start to become stale and boring, and the championship mode is hampered by the inability to save in-between matches, meaning to win the WWF title you'd have to wrestle 12 matches in one shot, with each match lasting on average 10 minutes. Plus, you can win a title with anyone - I won the women's title with Steve Austin and the light heavyweight belt with The Undertaker. To paraphrase Austin - what?

Of course, this all can be ignored if the game plays like a dream. Raw doesn't play like a dream though, yet doesn't play like a nightmare either. There's certainly a lot of originality and creativity at play within the matches, but the execution is clumsy and seemingly rushed. 3 things are creative in my mind - the stamina meter, the voltage meter, and the ability to interfere in matches. However, they're all in need of some fine-tuning before they're a success.

The stamina meter is really interesting - if your character has no stamina, the amount of moves they can pull off is limited to just a few. The only problem is, this meter dries up your stamina so fast, that linking moves and creating combos is nearly impossible. However, it makes Raw seem very realistic, given that nobody has the strength to pull off a bunch of powerful moves without feeling a little worn out and in need of a breather.

The voltage meter, well, pretty much sucks for the time being. It's extremely wonky and isn't tuned to any sort of perfection. What the voltage meter does is show who the fans are cheering for, based upon what character is doing the best moves or taunts. This is where the problems start; you cannot execute the same move over and over or they'll turn against you, and you have to really mix up your moves to keep them on your side. The thing is though, when the ones they're not supposed to root for have an advantage, they'll turn on whom they're cheering for on a dime. Guys like the Rock and Austin are tough to get the crowd to turn against (though it is possible if you don't mix up the moves), others who aren't as popular shift fan favor multiple times during the match. When this meter is flashing in your favor, this is the only time you can execute a finisher. All this sounds good, but because the meter is so erratic during actual gameplay, and sometimes downright unfair, that it makes you wish you could turn it off (you can, but it still comes into play - only you don't see it on the screen). If it was tuned better, being the bad guy would elicit more boos, moving the meter in your favor because you'd have the momentum, not the opposite. Just a bit more tuning and it's sure to be a useful tool.

Finally, the ability to interfere in your opponents' introduction is neat but not in your control. Pressing Y when they come to the ring will automatically trigger a scene where your wrestler runs to the ring - something you have no control over. Personally I think you should be able to interfere on your own and do your own thing, or even be able to jump them when they turn their back in the ring. Wouldn't it be fun to pull Austin off the ropes when he's doing his 4-corner salute and kick his ass for a bit?

The actual wrestling engine is pretty well done, but as the theme is, it needs a bit more polish. There's a lot of moves at your disposal and executing them is easy enough, as long as you're able to press the buttons fast enough so that your opponent doesn't counter and break up the grapple. In hardcore matches, there's tons of weapons to use - unfortunately you can't leave the ring area and go backstage. You can put people through tables and such, which is fun. However, lack of more game modes, like Royal Rumble or steel cage matches reduce the gameplay value - once the strategy is down, the game becomes pretty mundane after a while. The pace is fairly slow and methodical, but that's in comparison to the spastic Smackdown, which would make anything seem slow.

If there's one thing that Anchor did almost perfectly, it's the CAW mode. While complicated at first, the CAW mode is really deep - the only thing it's lacking is the ability to use music ripped on the hard drive for introductions. Besides that, the CAW mode can bring out some awesome wrestlers. The gist is the same, but Raw brings in a few interesting additions. For instance, you're able to create how the entrance for your wrestler looks - fireworks, lighting, camera angles, everything like that. You can even edit WWF stars to make them look different - however it's more of a customizable clone, not a true edit.

Graphics

Raw's graphics were the biggest story when it was first announced - given the power of the Xbox, you'd expect great graphics, and you get them - to a fault. There's only one arena to fight in, the Raw arena. Sure the name of the game is Raw, but even Smackdown has all the arenas to fight in. Thankfully the Raw arena is detailed to near-perfection, complete with the Titantron and accurate entrance videos that look perfectly blended in and not fakey.

The crowd isn't animated badly at all, many of them holding signs and standing up to cheer big moves. Unfortunately those signs can get in the way with the camera angle, so you lose the view of what's going on in the ring. It's not that bad though.

Wrestler entrances are done nicely and realistically - Undertaker comes out on his bike, Austin does his salute, and the Rock does his usual antics. One small problem; they walk to the ring like they're either fitted with cement shoes or recently had something shoved up their rear ends. It's amusing, but really badly done and it carries over a little bit to the actual gameplay.

Speaking of the wrestlers, they all look darn near like the real deal - except Triple H anyway. HHH looks nothing like the real thing, which is too bad since he's one of the coverboys and one of WWE's biggest stars. The rest look almost exactly like they do for real, down to the tattoos and other extra accessories.

In-game animations are nice - almost all the signature moves are done like they look on the real WWE shows. And that clunky walking animation isn't as prevalent - it's there, but it's not really an issue because they all walk and run much better once they get into the ring. Weird, I know - the ring must have some healing process on their legs.

Sound

The audio is about as good as it can get in a wrestling game - all the stars' entrance themes are included and pumped through your TV as they make their way to the ring. The fans cheer and boo depending on who's doing what (based upon the voltage meter, of course), and there's plenty of grunts and groans after executing moves.

There's no commentary - which may not be a bad thing considering how terrible the commentary was on Smackdown 3. Instead, you get some generic rock music that plays - it's not really bad, but not really good either. Certainly the next Raw game will allow for using the custom soundtrack for this part of the game as well.

Overall

There's no doubt that Raw is a step in the right direction - the engine is in place, only now it needs fine-tuning. Raw may have turned out to be an average game, meaning a disappointment for those who expected the game to be amazing, but that's with the knowledge in mind that just a bit more polish and game modes would make Raw 2 a must-own wrestling game. We won't know how good Raw 2 is until next year, so for now if you need a wrestling game on Xbox, Raw is your best bet - unless Legends of Wrestling is more your speed. Either way, Raw serves as an indication that potential is there - now it's time to live up to that potential.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/04/02, Updated 06/04/02


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