The guys at THQ are huge fans of the WWE. Every time I meet up with them at E3 they always go on and on about how much they love the WWE and how sweet their licensed games are. I tend to believe them, especially when some of them ramble on and on about the greats and the current state of wrestling. I respect the guys on the PR staff as well as the good folks at Anchor for the copious amounts of hours that they put into developing a game based on McMahon’s creation. Still though, all that respect doesn’t save WWE RAW 2 from being just another mediocre game that’s saved by the fact that it’s one of the few grapplers on the Xbox.
It’s not that the guys didn’t try to improve the franchise. There are plenty of additions that help flesh out the game a bit more and move it up towards N64 No Mercy
status. The largest improvement is the new season mode which allows you to move a wrestler up the ranks until he gains enough popularity to warrant a title shot at Wrestlemania. In order to do so you’ll have to compete, and do well, in Smackdown, RAW and the monthly Pay-Per-View. Doing well moves you in favor with the company while losing sends you into Buff Bagwell territory. Where the season mode really fleshes out is in the method that it is executed. You can setup traps and pledge allegiances, just like on the real show. This allows you to essentially build and craft your own storylines as opposed to rehashing the same ones that you’ve already seen on TV. If you’ve been watching WWE programming for the past year and a half you’ll definitely view this as a huge plus. No stupid Dudley/La Resistance feuds to deal with in Charlie’s WWE and as a major shock, HHH actually loses a match or two! Well, until he manages to manipulate his way into my good graces that is.
You want me to do a clean job? Yea right? Don't you know I'm sleeping with the owner's daughter?
Like in Smackdown! Just Bring It!
for the PS2, you can choose to interfere in other matches on the card. Before the show you’re shown the list of matches for the night, in this screen you can choose to make enemies by interfering in matches and such. Of course interfering in a match may also get you in good graces with the wrestler you just helped so it’s not all bad for you. To ensure that you don’t pull an NWO and steal everyone else’s heat you’re given a stamina meter that determines whether you can perform an action. Under most circumstances you’ll need to take breathers in the locker room. Of course since you probably just pissed someone off by costing them a match they just might show up in the locker room and kick your ass while you’re reading the latest issue of Cosmo so pick your poison.
One annoying part of the storylines is that you’re often forced to imagine just what transpired. Whenever you see two characters interacting you’ll see lips moving but no spoken or written words are to be found. Basically it’s like when you’re at a crucial scene in a movie and the sidekick says to the hero, “I know how to stop that evil bastard!” and then he puts his mouth up to the hero’s ear as the screen cuts out. You’ll eventually find out what happened when someone kicks your ass in the locker room for what you thought was for no apparent reason. I guess RAW 2 likes to dish out its lessons tough love style.
When you get into the ring the action gets a little better, albeit marginally. One of our biggest complaints with the first RAW was that it plodded along like a Mark Henry vs. A Train match. The action is a lot faster thanks to the fact that you can run freely via the left analog stick. It’s a bit too loose for our tastes but it’s a mighty fine addition that could be tweaked as the series progresses. While the pace has picked up the grappling engine is as unresponsive as ever.. The grapple system hasn’t changed much and is very much the same one that was employed in last year’s game. It’s still sloppy and is pretty bad at picking up input for the gamer. Under most circumstances you’ll press a direction and a button only to have your wrestler stay in the grapple position. To make matters worse when it actually works it’s very slow and sluggish. There’s often couple of seconds of lag time between the moment that you input the command and the wrestler actually performs it. Sometimes I just decided to abandon the grapples entirely and just pound my opponents with strikes from time-to-time.
To compensate for this the AI is just absolutely braindead. Most of the time you can just walk up to them and pummel them into submission. Forget about busting out the rolling germans, just take em down with the awesome double axe handle of doom. They’ll even do some truly moronic things that prove to be counterproductive to your side. Pray that you don’t even have to endure a tag match with the AI, it’s far too insane for one man to handle. On numerous occasions I had my AI partner come into the ring and hit me when I’ve got the opponent pinned, potentially costing us the match. The insane thing was that it kept doing it over and over again, as if it had some sort of vendetta against me. If at all possible avoid having to team up with the AI, you’ll thank us for it later.
The gimmick matches work a little better, especially after THQ decided to remove the majority of the silly objects from the game. Some stupid ones, such as the fish, still remain but most of the time the objects consist of usual WWE plunder. The chairs now work like they do in SmackDown in that you can use an alternate button to perform a more damaging attack such as a DDT or a Van Daminator. The table match works pretty well although it’s still pretty sloppy, just like in all of the other WWE titles. Some of the animations used for putting wrestlers through tables looks really cheap and doesn’t quite exude the visual quality of the rest of the game.
If you’re into sweaty men then this is your heaven. Without a doubt, RAW 2 showcases the best sweaty men in the business. Most of the characters, especially the top-tier ones such as The Rock, look great and are very similar to their real-life counterparts. Some of them still have a slightly plastic cartoony look to them, however, especially the new characters such as Rey Mysterio. His model looks pretty good but it seems like the modelers got a bit lazy and decided to just reuse most of the models from last year’s game. Since Mysterio’s was built from scratch there was no foundation to build upon thus the model looks weaker than the ones that were already present. The animations are still very fluid and look very lifelike, even the aerial moves. Everything else still looks great, the audience and the arenas in particular. Make no mistake about it, this is one of the best looking games available on any platform, it’s a great showpiece if you want to make your PS2-fanboy buddies jealous.
Ha ha Undertaker! Prepare to face the wrath of the People's BO!
Season mode, table matches, sweaty men, these are all nice and all but the true highlight of this year’s game is the create-a-wrestler mode. This is, by far, the deepest and most intuitive CAW mode in the history of wrestling games. It’s not quite as technologically advanced as the one employed in EA Sports’ Tiger Woods 2004
(you can actually make a good model of your own face in that one) but it’s pretty damn good. In past wrestling games you were held at the mercy of a few aesthetic options, minimal entrance options and a few meager settings. Now you’re in full control of every aspect of your character, even his entrance. You can make your own graphics, change light colors, position TV cameras and even use the music on your hard drive as entrance music for your characters. It’s plenty of fun and wrestling enthusiasts will probably spend plenty of hours crafting and tinkering with the CAW to ensure that it’s up to their standards.
Anchor took some time to ensure that the game would deep but it appears that far too much time was spent on adding features and far too little was spent on improving the weakest part of the first RAW, the gameplay mechanics. It’s still too sloppy and can’t keep up with the decent WrestleMania engine and excellent SmackDown engine. It’s just so unintuitive and the majority of the time you’ll go nuts over how unresponsive the whole damn thing is.
Speaking of going nuts, the audio is rather bad as well. As a nice touch THQ decided to get Lillian Garcia and The Fink to do the wrestler introductions for their respective shows. On the bad side of this though is how horribly recorded Garcia’s audio is. Most of the time it’s drowned out by the entrance video or ambient arena noise. When you can
hear it it usually sounds like it was recorded at a very low quality, almost as if it the audio were compressed in order to save space on the disc. The matches are silent as well and lack any sort of commentary or play-by-play. Everything else is rather generic ring fodder, basically what we’ve become accustomed to in our WWE games.
It’s not that I didn’t want to like RAW 2, after all it allowed me to create the most lifelike depiction of myself in a wrestling game to date. It’s just that the slow and methodical action took me out of the game before I could really get in to it. It’s like putting Benoit and Angle in a match and having them work with a script from a Test vs. Nathan Jones matchup. On the whole RAW2 is a significant improvement over the first installment but as HHH would say it’s just a paper champion. It looks pretty damn good on black and white but when you see it in the flesh on the screen it’s just missing that certain something to make it fun and exciting. The new features, the create-a-wrestler in particular, are excellent additions to the franchise, now if only THQ can implement a decent grappling engine they might be on to something.