Review by Rottenwood

"Yay! Another Rushed Wrasslin' Game!"

There are a lot of wrestling fans in the video game community, so it's no surprise that wrestling games are huge sellers. Grappling fans often have their own ideas for wrestling angles, dream matches, and all of that good stuff, so the ability to play those out in a video game is very appealing. All a game developer would have to do is construct a game with a huge roster, tons of play options, a solid grappling system, and a competent story mode, and wrestling nuts would be in mat heaven. But naturally, THQ has discovered that said wrestling nuts are so hardcore that they'll buy any wrestling title as soon as it hits the shelves, so there's no real need to take the time and resources required to put a game together properly. With 'Smackdown 3' for the PlayStation 2 and now 'Raw is War' for the X-Box, we've been saddled with two fairly promising games that have been hampered by the sloppiness that comes with rush-job development.
Just about everything in this game is a mixed bag, including the wrestling engine itself. The striking-and-grappling system is rather like 'No Mercy' for the Nintendo 64, although it's a bit faster and less smooth. Unfortunately, it also adds 'grogginess,' which is when you beat your opponent enough to make him or her dizzy on their feet. Groggy opponents are ripe for some of your best high-impact moves, but since you can only use these moves when your opponent has been beaten into dizziness, it limits your arsenal during the rest of the match. Expect a whole lot of punches, kicks, and really basic moves like body slams and arm drags for the opening four or five minutes of a match.
Keeping things interesting is a stamina meter for each wrestler, which drains whenever he or she attempts a punch, hold, or what have you. It refills quickly through rest, but it drains quickly as well, which helps keep one person from banging away mindlessly on the punch buttons to get a cheap win. You can also block striking moves, although how a wrestler blocks a stomach kick by puffing out his chest is beyond me. Last, there's the voltage meter, which measures fan support of the fighters in the ring. Fans will cheer for the guy who's winning for the most part, but if you or your opponent use the same moves too often, the crowd will begin to boo and root for the other guy. This creates the odd situation of a guy gaining momentum as his opponent kicks him into a pulp in the corner, over and over. I was also annoyed at how tired my wrestler would often be after my opponent kicked out of a pin. In fact, I once lost a match because of this. I was Tajiri, and I had just given X-Pac a finishing kick to the head. I went for the pin, and he kicked out in two. For whatever reason, this caused my poor Tajiri to lay on the mat in a daze, and X-Pac got up before I did! He then pinned ME for the 3-count. Sure, it was a long match and I was tired, but who gets pinned from a kick-out?
Finishing moves, as always, never seem to get the job done. Most of the time, I'd hit my big finishing move, and the other wrestler would get up off the mat with no time to pin him. Sure, he'd get up slowly and heavily weakened, but it was still aggravating. Shouldn't finishing moves, you know, FINISH a guy if he's sufficiently drained ahead of time? Sadly, most matches will end in a pin after a weak slam or clothesline, since you won't want to wait around for your finishing move to finally leave the guy flat on his back.
Sloppiness abounds in other areas. There are far too many holds that are broken up by button-mashing, especially by the wonderfully cheap computer. Trying to grapple a guy who's in the ropes leads to some weird 'throw out my arms and hurt the guy' animation, better for laughs than for any real wrestling action. And most of the wrestlers use the same basic moves, especially mounted punching, the 'throw-the-leg-into-the-mat' move, kicking inside the leg, and so on. The taunt button is also the enter/exit the ring button, and used to pick up items, which leads to some confusion. And the walking and move animations just seem sort of stiff and robotic; I don't know, the whole thing reeks of a lack of polish.
The wrestling roster is a bit dated, with none of the more recent 'Alliance' guys, but plenty of Haku, K-Kwik, and other useless lumps of carbon. All of the WWF's big hitters are present, though, and a lot of their signature flair is there with them. Lots of wrestler-specific animations help make the game seem more like the real thing. In other words, ''hey, he punches like he does on T.V.!''
Other options are a bit sparse. There are only the basic match types; none of the Coffin Match or First Blood exotica of other titles. The big backbreaker, though, is the lack of a story mode. Earth to wrestling game developers: people want a good story mode. It's really quite simple. You think millions of people would watch the WWF just to see the athleticism of the matches? I'm sure that the people behind 'RAW' are using the old excuse that they just wanted their first X-Box game to get the wrestling engine down. Hey, for fifty bucks, I think a complete game isn't too much to ask.
Still, there are some high points. The game looks fantastic, with amazing character models. Wrestler entrances are also splendid. Of course, good-looking but mediocre X-Box games are already a dime a dozen. Still, if the console's official magazine is any indication, X-Box fans seem to expect beautiful graphics and don't care too much about actual game play. (''Who cares if this game sucks? That car looks like a real car and stuff!'') Visual hounds will dig what 'RAW' has to offer.
The music, however, is abysmal. It's some of the weirdest, most annoying wrestling music that I've ever heard. The menu and entrance tunes are authentic and well-done, so what happened to the in-game soundtrack? Turning off the game music also turns off the entrance songs, which is very annoying. Seperate controls for each would have been excellent. The sound effects are the usual wrasslin' fare.
Overall, we've got another sloppy wrestling game on our hands, rushed out the door to cash in on the not-too-picky wrestling audience. (And the monstrous X-Box controller doesn't help matters.) Everything about this game, especially the thrown-together Create-A-Wrestler mode, just doesn't cut it. Still, despite the game's problems, this is a fairly solid foundation on which to build a sequel. Let's make sure to fully develop that one first before releasing it, please?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/20/02, Updated 02/20/02

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