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Matt Spaulding




Electronic Arts strikes again.

Almost a year after Mayhem, we're graced with the release of Backstage Assault, which is notable because of the advance press it got for one factor: the absence of a wrestling ring. People immediately decided it would suck, myself included. Were we right? Let's find out...

GRAPHICS: Not good. Blocky. Lots of rough edges and not a whole lot of texture. The level of detail varies; the wrestlers' faces look plain and motionless, but their clothes look authentic down to the designs on their tights. Body sizes and types are pretty much accurate, though everyone almost seems shorter in the game than they are in real life. Strange.

The Truck Yard screen might be the worst-looking background I've ever seen in a video game. The most realistic-looking objects in the game are the weapons. Not a good sign. *1/2.

SOUND: Again, not much to say here... it's pretty average. You've got your standard people-bumping-into-things effects, various industrial sounds, random pings. Entrance music is current; background music is, thankfully, non-existent.

We have commentators from the announce position, which in this game is somewhere in the nether regions. As you'd expect, Tony Schiavone's as annoying as ever. Heenan, sadly, is in current form. *1/4.

CONTROL: I think the best way to describe the controls of Backstage Assault is "awkward." It wants to be a single-button grapple system like the THQ games, but it plays like a version of the Warzone engine with the multiple-button combinations, so you often end up in that pattern where you're doing the same move seven times in a row.

The strange thing is that in this game, it actually slows you down. Even on Easy difficulty, I noticed that the computer always seemed to move a little faster than I did when pulling off a move. And climbing, despite being a one-button function, is next to impossible. *.

CREATE-A-WRESTLER: Again, nothing special. It's got a decent collection of faces and hairstyles, body types, clothes, boots, and so forth. Creating Rocky was no problem.

You get a certain number of points to use on moves, and all moves cost points. This isn't as limiting as it sounds; there's no ring, so you probably won't want anything too complicated anyway. There's enough here to suit your needs for this game. **1/2.

GAMEPLAY: It's true... there's no ring in this game.

All of the action takes place in selected backstage areas (Truck Depot, Locker Room, The Block), with more rooms opening up as you play through the game. You can unlock new moves, rooms, and wrestlers by winning your match in an area after fulfilling specific conditions, and the room descriptions offer clues (some more obvious than others) as to what's available.

And about that... there's something you should know right off the bat. These are the selectable characters when you first start the game: Jeff Jarrett, Booker T, Stevie Ray, Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, Tank Abbott, Disco Inferno, Konnan, Corporal Cajun, Torrie Wilson, Mona, Major Gunns, and Doug Dellinger.

Now, I understand that the big trend in wrestling games is playing through and unlocking new features, characters, CAW items, and so on. But you shouldn't have to sit through the game for over three hours just to try to unlock the entire active roster. And why the hell is Doug Dellinger a selectable character and Mike Awesome isn't?

Anyhow. There's a Career mode spanning quests for three singles belts: Hardcore, U.S., and World. They range in difficulty from easiest to hardest, and the World title path is DAMN hard. There's no tag team mode, but considering WCW's tag team division, this is probably a good thing. There's also a Challenge mode which is one big gauntlet: take your wrestler and have him beat as many competitors in a row as you can, with no time for a break. You'd think not having a ring would open up the game options, but it actually limits them.

A few other things: Since when is the Rock Bottom/Book End a sidewalk slam? And Don Harris does NOT know the Flatliner, I don't care WHAT the game says. *3/4.

THE VERDICT: The advance press was correct - this game isn't very good. Middling graphics, slow and confusing controls, and the poor execution of a seemingly innovative idea (sounds like WCW to me) drag this title down to the point where I can't really recommend it.

Having said all that, this game was fun to play for a while. I'm serious - I found something oddly amusing about the whole "backstage" experience, although this is coming from a person who laughs his ass off during most Big Two hardcore matches. But it's not fun enough or good enough to want to play all the way through and unlock all of the hidden rewards.

So... better than I expected, but still not all that great. If it comes down to a choice between buying this game or SmackDown! 2, get SmackDown! 2. Otherwise, Backstage Assault is good for a weekend rental or a time-killing diversion, but that's about it. *3/4.

Matt Spaulding

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