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Matt Spaulding



WWF SmackDown! for the PlayStation - Second Opinion

THQ's long-awaited WWF PSX wrestling game finally showed up at my video store this week, and I've spent most of the week playing the heck out of it. This game got a lot of hype in the gaming press as "the best wrestling game for the PlayStation to date," or at least better than Attitude. Is it?

GRAPHICS: Well, we get the most recent entrance videos and music (except for Al Snow's), but most of them get old after a while. The wrestlers themselves don't look quite as good as they could. The detail isn't quite what Attitude players are used to, although they look somewhat better in this game than in WrestleMania 2000 for the Nintendo 64, where the bigger guys appear to have been put together with Lincoln Logs.

That said, the wrestlers are all the right size (no more of Kane looking eye-to-eye with X-Pac), and the ring environments (in-ring and backstage) all look good by THQ standards. Plus, when a wrestler gets knocked down, he'll actually sell the impact (yes, even the Rock) rather than lying there for a few seconds like in the Acclaim games. **1/2 (of 5 stars).

SOUND: The entrance themes sound good, but the in-game fighting music is nothing to write home about. But the big problem is the complete absence of ringside commentary. While it's a good thing that we are spared Shane McMahon's uninspired ramblings from Attitude, I still missed Jerry Lawler's acerbic, high-strung color commentary work. ("Not really, Shane. He just reverted to idiocy - his natural state!") *1/2.

CONTROL: For anyone who hated the Mortal Kombat-like button mashing in the Acclaim games, you will love the simplicity of SmackDown! It's one button to grapple, one button to whip, one button to attack, and one button to run. All you have to do then is aim the D-pad and you're doing a move. What a novel concept.

You execute your finishing move (called a "special" move here) by pressing L1. That's all. No Twister-like button/D-pad combinations here. The catch is that you can only do it when the SmackDown! indicator flashes below your name on the screen, and that's exactly what it does - flashes. If you don't see it in that second, forget about pulling the move off.

I only have one other gripe with the control, and it's the same thing Justin Transue touched on in his review, which you can read here if CRZ is nice enough to put in a link: it's almost impossible to pick up a weapon. I've actually done it, but it was purely by accident and I don't remember how I did it. Otherwise, THQ got this part right. ***3/4

CREATE-A-WRESTLER: Let's start with the positive. You can select a specific style of wrestling for your creation, then select moves to fit that style. You can also add skill points to strengthen your expertise in other areas, so you can have a speedy high flyer who can hold his own in a brawl, or, in my case, a fast technical wrestler with some decent standard power moves.

All right, enough of that. Hey, THQ, the point of having a Create-A-Wrestler mode is so that you can actually create NEW wrestlers, not mix and match parts from CURRENT wrestlers. This part is the most unimaginative CAW since they started putting them into wrestling games. The only good thing about this part of the CAW is the ability to adjust height and weight. Justin rants on this much better than I could. *, for the style thing I mentioned.

GAMEPLAY: This is SmackDown!'s strength. First off, this game is FAST - it plays much faster than Attitude, and that makes it look more realistic, more like a wrestling match.

SmackDown! boasts a lot of the standard wrestling game mode options, but it does do a few things better. The Falls Count Anywhere mode really means "anywhere", not just "around the ring and two feet up the ramp", which is a lot more entertaining to play and watch. The "Special Referee" mode is also quite cool (Fast counts! Nothing but fast counts!), but I wasn't crazy about the "Submission/Knockout" option; I would have rather had these two separated.

The Season mode presents you with the opportunity to play your chosen superstar through a career wrestling house shows, TV events, and pay-per-views. The Pre-Season mode, available only with user-created wrestlers, allows you to make friends and enemies backstage, as well as earn the aforementioned skill points to increase attributes and unlock more moves for your wrestler.

When the Season starts, you try to move up in the rankings by winning matches. The higher you go, the more title shots you could find yourself in line for. The matches start off seeming like they're randomly generated, but as you play on, you begin to see patterns and feuds emerge.

The "Easy" difficulty mode is just that... my "Agent" character beat Steve Austin for the WWF title after only one year in Season mode. The "Normal" mode is better if you want to be challenged, but not totally frustrated. Great job on the gameplay, THQ. ****1/2.

MANUAL: The source of a lot of this game's problems. There's so much left out of it it's criminal, and what's in it is so poorly explained, it's a wonder I was able to figure out how to play the game at all. _*, and that's only because the game's so easy to pick up without it.

OVERALL: While it's not the "savior" of PlayStation wrestling some would have you believe it is, SmackDown!, with its numerous play options and realistic action, is still pretty enjoyable. ***1/2.

Matt Spaulding

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Guest column text copyright (C) 2000 by the individual author and used with permission