Playstation Developer: Jakks Interactive Publisher:THQ

Introduction

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The choice is yours

Wrestling is one of those sports that you either love or completely and utterly hate. Fortunately I am of the latter category, so can review this game with an enthusiasm for the sport itself.

It's only recently that I have become locked into the big soap opera that wrestling is. It's addictive, good fun and provides great amusement. Yes, of course it's all acted out. Hell, the scripts are written three or four months in advance for most shows. It is all so well choreographed though. There are times you wonder how the hell they haven't actually broken several important bones!

There's something that draws you in. It makes you want to find out just how The Rock is going to get revenge on Triple H and his cronies, for the latest totally unfair beating. Or maybe witness the day that Steve Blackman smiles!

There's a fair few WWF PlayStation titles already on the market. Some have been fair attempts at reproducing the WWF atmosphere, but others have been decidedly poor.

Can WWF Smackdown rise above the rest?

On With The Show

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Create match-ups made in wrestling heaven

After the intro video from the actual Smackdown TV show itself, you are dropped at the main menu. From here you can choose to go straight into an Exhibition match, create your own wrestler or tournament, see the current belt holders and even kick start a complete season of wrestle events.

Choosing Exhibition will bring up another menu chock full of game variants for you to set up. These range from a simple 1 on 1 fight, to a tag-team tournament. The sheer range of wrestling match types is very impressive.

Each option will allow you to choose which wrestler you want, and his or her opponents. You can even change the style of arena if you so wish, along with the canvas pattern. Other options include whether or not other wrestlers interfere, rope breaks on/off and match length.

To practice those special moves and to get used to the speed of the game, I recommend you just go for the Single Match option. Once you have a feel for the game, you can then start picking up baseball bats and microphones to hit your opponents with in a Hard Core match-up!

Raw is War

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Austin powers! Literally!

The main single player experience is in the Season option. This is where you take control of one wrestler over the course of a complete Wrestling season.

You have a total of 36 wrestlers to choose from at the beginning. As you progress through Season mode you will unlock a few more, including Prince Albert. Unfortunately these don't appear on your Wrestler list, but merely appear as additional body and head sections in the Create a Superstar section.

Season mode never ends, merely going on through various recognisable events; Raw is War and Smackdown itself being just two. At certain times you will be asked whether you want to change the wrestlers on show. This means you can get rid of less interesting characters like Tori, in favour of someone a little more kick ass.

Season mode works really well, with the additional cut scenes before fights setting the scene. For example, a wrestler can be shown getting ambushed and beaten up in a corridor backstage. This has a knock-on effect to that wrestler's heart rating, and thus begins the match already weakened.

Like the real thing, belts will change hands on a frequent basis. You will also have wrestlers interrupting a fight, either on your side, or coming to help your opponent out. This can spoil your plans drastically, and makes for some classic encounters.

Rock Bottom!

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Both players losing their heads

All these options and features are fine, but what's the game like visually? This is where WWF Smackdown excels itself. Graphically, the arena's and Wrestlers are extremely accurate in representation.

Pain staking attention to detail is evident. Before each fight, each wrestler gets his or her own introductory video and music, with a close up of them walking to the ring. Just from this alone you can see the amount of detail there is in the body and facial movements.

The Rock's trademark raised eyebrow, and smug look is there. Al Snow looks as psychopathic as ever, Big Show looks mean and Kane looks huge! Nothing has been skimped on.

This also applies to the moves each wrestler can perform. The Rock's "People's Elbow" is superbly rendered, and Triple H's "Pedigree" drop looks as painful as it does on TV! The diversity in moves from one wrestler to the next is superb, meaning that once you're tired of kicking butt with one, you can learn all the new moves of another. Each wrestler has his/her own finishing move, which is guaranteed to KO your opponent.

The game boasts some of the best graphics I've seen on the PlayStation. The pleasing thing is that all of this eye candy sits on top of an excellent engine, meaning everything happens at a blistering pace. There is very little slow down.

Speak Up!

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Stone Cold has had enough

Visually amazing, but not so cool in the sound department. The intro tunes for each wrestler are all accurate and get you revved up for the fight ahead. Sadly, this is where the audio department jumped ship it seems.

All fights are played out to a variety of heavy rock tracks. The only other sound going on is the slapping of opponents, and the odd thud as you crash to the canvas. The crowd cheers along merrily too. All of these are nice enough. So what's wrong? No commentary and no wrestler banter.

This is made even worse in Season Mode when you see the cut-scenes. The wrestlers are all mouthing words, but there's no speech. The only way of telling what the scene is supposed to mean is by the pop up text boxes.

With all the other near obsessive detail, I just cannot fathom why such an important area has been so neglected. I mean how cool would it be for Stone Cold to shout "Hell Yeah" during a fight, or to hear Big Show's roar! It's also hugely disappointing not to hear the familiar tones of Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross (the commentators), for me the backbone of WWF.

Conclusion

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On this occasion Rock is triumphant

WWF Smackdown looks and plays absolutely brilliantly, giving hours upon hours of frenetic two-player fun, not to mention the cool single player aspect. The AI of the computer controlled wrestlers is pretty much spot on. Only occasionally do they stand still, trying to calculate what to do next. This occurs quite frequently in Cage matches for some reason, which can make for some really easy escapes!

The Create a Wrestler feature is a little lacking. You can only use the heads, bodies and legs from all the existing wrestlers. It would've been nice to have been able to add/remove different hairstyles, eyes, mouths etc..etc.. That said, it's still quite fun to play around with, just very limited.

The total lack of commentary and wrestler banter is a massive disappointment. With all the other ingredients there, it's kind of expected for both to feature. Not only that, but the game sounds so empty without it.

Less vital, but puzzling nonetheless, is the omission of certain superstars. Wrestlers like Rikishi, Kurt Angle, Crash Holly, and Tazz, are all missing. The non-inclusion of inactive stars like Ken Shamrock could easily have made way for them.

Overall though, an extremely polished product, that oozes quality. The sheer speed of it all will be enough to impress alone. Thoroughly recommended and not just to wrestling freaks like me!

If you smell what DNM is cookin'!

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