torstai 24. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (2003)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: October 2003

If there's one PlayStation 2 game that brings back memories, it's WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain. In 2003, my brother surprised me by buying us our first shared PlayStation 2. He had also bought a game for it, known in this part of the world as Project Zero, and as Fatal Frame everywhere else. This critically acclaimed survival horror game just didn't work for either one of us, and my brother went back out to trade it off and get another game. We both agreed that if he happened to stumble on Here Comes the Pain, he should get that one although neither one of us had fond memories of any wrestling games that came before. Well, he did stumble on it. We were a bit prejudiced, but as weeks and finally months went by, we had both clashed through countless seasons in the game. I could go out, have fun with my friends, drink myself piss-drunk, and return home with just one single thought in my head: the WWE Championship. "Fuck any amazing one night stands, I've got a virtual wrestling career to think about." When I was on weekend leave from the army, I valiantly defended my championship in one or two matches before heading out to see my friends - work comes first. Here Comes the Pain was the first wrestling game ever, that was so personal, that it really made you feel you were in it. When I finally got somewhat tired of the game, and when I finally had seen every possible storyline branch in the game (maybe), about two days passed and the sequel was released. Never since has my interest in one game in the series lasted so long. In fact, I'm not sure if there has ever been a game I've sacrificed more in-game hours to, except Final Fantasy games. Eight years later, I've had every WWE SmackDown vs. Raw game there ever was; eight years later, I dig up Here Comes the Pain from the hole it's been in for the last seven. Eight years later, Here Comes the Pain still OWNS.

Ask and thou shalt receive!

Finally, John "The Cleaver" Crane is ready to
kick some ass!
Graphics and sound are Here Comes the Pain's weakest qualities, but also pretty far the only reasons the game feels even the slightest bit tiresome these days. Again, some models look absolutely marvellous, especially The Rock, whose digital form has had a major overhaul from his wooden look in Shut Your Mouth. However, some look extremely awkward. Triple H looks like something I can't even rightly describe with his stiff hair and weirdly shaped face, and Shawn Michaels looks like a cancer patient, and his hair like a wig. The created superstars still don't look too shabby or dimensional, but at least this time they're not embarrassing to play as. There's an advanced body form editor that allows you to equalize your superstar's body and smooth out any deformities. The facial editor's more precise, which means you can make your wrestler's face a little more realistic than before. You can create two separate attires for entrances and matches, which on the other hand improves the overall realism. It's almost impossible for a casual player to make a character graphically up to par with the standard roster without some sort of tips 'n' tricks guide, though.

Commentary's been left out completely, rightfully so - the commentary in the last game was horrible. In turn, though, we get a repetitive soundtrack written by Nelson Bae, which plays in the menus, during the matches, during character creation - everywhere. You will grow extremely tired of the Raw and SmackDown! theme songs during Season Mode, too. They play on endless loop between matches. Noises from the audience are a lot cooler than ever before. While chanting the wrestlers' names they note the face/heel system ("Rocky!" / "Rocky sucks!"), they shout out real insults from WWE programming such as the "Shave your back!" jab at A-Train, and the epic "You suck!" anthem during Kurt Angle's theme song. The "Gooooooldberg" chant is just perfect. The audience sounds so good and authentic I wouldn't be amazed at all if someone recorded these chants at an actual WWE house show. However, they only boo to dirty moves. They don't boo heels during entrances, or at Vince whenever he's berating them. "YEEEAAAAAHHH, we're idiots! And our town sucks! YEEEAAAAHHHH!!!" It's authentic, but not always realistic. Same goes for the Season Mode... but make no mistake about it - it rules.

Before we get to the main feast, let's talk about a few things; the usual things. Roster, match types, controls, those sort of things. Before I begin, let me tell you one thing straight: when it comes to playability and lifespan (I can vouch for that one from personal experience), Here Comes the Pain was well ahead of its time. Being a sequel to the trinity of Raw, WrestleMania XIX and its actual predecessor Shut Your Mouth, Here Comes the Pain is that much more of an amazing trip. It's so ahead of those games that you wouldn't believe it had only been a year. Those who played Shut Your Mouth will immediately recognize this game. It's so similar on the outside. Once you break the surface, you will see that it's still similar, but everything that was even remotely good about the previous game, is done so much better. And it's got a truckload of whole new elements to boot. But let's not jump ahead of ourselves. First, the roster.

The most electrifying move in sports ent...
excuse me, ALL of entertainment!
Everyone who was anyone back in 2003 can probably be found from the list. If a guy or gal was worthy enough to be featured in an edited one-hour version of Raw or SmackDown!, he was worthy to be added on the roster. Main eventers are here all the way from cover boy Brock Lesnar to Bill Goldberg, from The Rock to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ironically, all of these four greats make their last appearances in the standard roster of a WWE game. Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash return to the standard roster as an epic tag team. Mid-carders who may or may not have been pushed at the time, and may or may not be the biggest names in the company today, are here in numbers: Booker T, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Edge, Christian, Rey Mysterio. Divas? Well, for sho'! Stacy Keibler, Trish Stratus, Torrie Wilson, Lita, Jazz, Sable, Victoria... yeah, we got them puppies. Opening acts? The Hurricane, Sean O'Haire, Rodney Mack, Chavo Guerrero, Lance Storm. Something for everyone here... wait, there's more? LEGENDS? Oh, that's right. There are seven individual wrestlers and two tag teams from days past, unlockable via the WWE ShopZone - including Legion of Doom and the Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff (the original Un-Americans), Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Sgt. Slaughter and an old school version of The Undertaker. I'm almost soiling myself already, but there's more. You can also unlock Vince McMahon and his insanely hot daughter Stephanie, as well as her arch rival, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff. Now can you dig that, sucka?

Since bloodshed is finally possible, First Blood is one of the new match types. Bra & Panties is in, of course as a Divas-exclusive. Created in 2002, also Elimination Chamber is in the house - one of my favourite wrestling match types ever, and I must say the version in Here Comes the Pain might still be the best and most realistic setting for a Chamber showdown in any game. Here Comes the Pain fails to shake some old problems; there are not really any new ones when it comes to the new types of matches. I thought I'd make a list of some of the problems that may have bugged me over the course of a few games released up to, and including Here Comes the Pain. Here goes.

Here's what Austin's cookin'.
General: the default rules in the Season Mode. No count-outs, no disqualifications. Why? Where's the realism? I'm having the most epic, sanctioned championship match ever and Eddie Guerrero decides to steal the victory by nailing me with a chair while the ref just looks on. Why is the ref there, anyway? Also, the lack of collision detection prevents certain, singled-out moves from inflicting the sort of damage they should. For example, a flying crossbody/pin combination looks epic, but it doesn't work. You're lucky if you can even hit the top of the opponent's scalp with the crossbody, and since you can't connect with the dive properly, the pin attempt is deactivated.
Tag: if a member of the opponent's team pins you, it's OK. You can call your partner in to break the three-count. However, your partner cannot do shit whenever you're locked in a submission. If your head damage indicator is bleeding red and Benoit locks in the Crippler Crossface, it's over for you if you don't make it to the ropes in time.
Tables: let me put it simply. Bell rings. Punch opponent 'til he's down. Get a table. Put opponent on table. Bodyslam. Bell rings. Ever seen a real tables match that lasts for 15 seconds?
Ladder: oh, let me count the ways! However, this time the long-anticipated health meter / damage indicator makes things a little bit more sensible. The opponent actually stays down for a while after a Rock Bottom on the concrete floor, and reacts to strikes from the ladder as well. However, moving the ladder under the belt is slow, climbing it's even slower, and actually being able to grab the belt and be able to pry it off its hook is up to luck.
TLC (Tables, Ladders, Chairs): like a ladder match but cranked up to the extreme! It's incredibly hard to pick up the win in this kind of match, especially if it's a tag team match (which it usually is). In the later games, the TLC match was changed to end in a pinfall or submission, which was a fabulous idea.
Cage: it's like a ring with a cage around it, and nothing more. There is virtually nothing you can do with the cage, no ways to utilize it. Getting thrown into the cage with Eric Bischoff on the opposing side makes you wish it was a Last Man Standing match instead - you can't really dish out any punishment. Collision detection fails again, and I must admit I once accidentally lost to Bischoff since I simply couldn't rattle the cage for him to fall off. I kept kicking the cage wall, but the thing didn't even budge. Just to save face, I've gotta say the bastard couldn't hit me even once during the match (on SmackDown! difficulty), ALL of his damage indicator was screaming red, and he was bleeding. So yeah, I whooped his ass. He just got lucky. 
Royal Rumble: do you know how disrespecting it is to whip your opponent out of the ring and eliminate him from the Rumble while his theme song still plays? It has happened in real Rumbles - but I highly doubt there will ever be a #1 entry, who just stands in the middle of the ring and Irish whips everyone who enters his domain out of it simple as 1-2-3, and finally wins the match and gets to go to WrestleMania, never even breaking a sweat.
Backstage Brawls: since when have they been officiated by a referee, or dependent of pinfalls or submissions?

I guess I'll stop here, 'cause I like most of what Here Comes the Pain has in store. Hell in a Cell, Battle Royal and Last Man Standing are still my definite favourites and they're all better than ever. I gave off a lot of the general gameplay there, but only the negatives, so not enough. The new control scheme is awesome. Not quite as awesome as the modern one, but they were getting there. Counterattacks have been moved to the further shoulder buttons, while Square has been made the action button for picking up objects, entering and exiting the ring, et cetera. What's great about the shoulder buttons is that pressing them never breaks the action, and you can engage in amazing counter duels if you've got the eye to deduce the opponent's next move and the technique to respond to it. Yes, you can still counter a finisher, as well, by pressing both L2 and R2 at the same time, at the absolutely exact time the opponent readies to finish the match. Taunting the opponent's been moved to the usually useless right analog stick, and this time taunting actually means something. If you have time to perform a taunt in its entirety, you'll gain momentum the same as from any other move.

Get up from that one, and you're a legend.
The momentum meter is still with us, but this time, there's also a damage indicator to each limb and the abdominal area, which means there are visible attributes to each and every wrestler in the game - except for Jerry "The King" Lawler, who's not exactly a playable character, but may have a minor part in a Raw storyline during Season Mode. These attributes include Strength, Submission, Endurance, Technique and Speed. The meanings behind Strength, Endurance and Speed are obvious. The number of the Submission stat has a direct effect on how many seconds you can keep your opponent locked up, and in turn, how long and easily you can withstand a submission lock. Technique determines how easy it is for you to counter attacks, and how hard it is for the opponent to counter yours. Now why did it take so fuckin' long to add in a simple system like this? Should I care anymore? No, it's here. Rejoice.

Some people have criticized the attributes, not for their inclusion, but how they're applied to existing wrestlers. Brock Lesnar, Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker look pretty much unbeatable if you look at their stats only, and I must say getting up from an F5 or a Pedigree is just damn near impossible. Since Lesnar's Strength is an absolute 10 and he has sufficient Technique and Speed stats as well, he can beat your ass in no time if you blink, and if your Endurance isn't leveled up to the hilt. On the other side of this debauchery, we have future champions John Cena, Randy Orton, Edge and Dave Batista, whose attributes suck, and their Star Points are quite insufficient. You see, back in 2003, none of these guys were really pushed. They were either mid-carders, faction members or guys that didn't even dream of a heavyweight title. You must do a lot of extra work to get these guys major title shots, not to mention win them the titles. By default, without the player's personal input, Yuke's and THQ wanted to keep the title picture as it was in reality, so we have Angle, Lesnar and Taker constantly quarreling for the title on SmackDown!'s side, and Triple H, Goldberg, Jericho and Nash on Raw's side. In addition, since there are weight limits, it doesn't matter what your Strength stat is - if you're too lightweight, you can't bodyslam a heavyweight. That's perfectly fine by me, but since when were Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero and Christian so lightweight they couldn't even lift up Triple H (which Michaels has done countless, countless, countless times) and slam him to the mat? Leveling up helps with the attribute problem, but not the weight limit. ...How do you level up, you ask? Shall we finally go into the pros and cons of the Season Mode?

There is one thing you should know about the Season Mode before you even begin, and that is: no one's a god in the business. In other words, it doesn't matter who you play as, be it The Undertaker or Tajiri. Depending on your character's championship status, and/or his Star Points, you start off from a different setting. Every season begins right after WrestleMania X8 and ends in WrestleMania XIX, but if your Star Points are, say, 85, you're pretty likely to get a major title shot right away. If they're below 60, you're lucky if you even have a shot at the Hardcore title. Rivalries and storylines develop strictly according to your SP, and current status on the brand. Everyone's treated the same way along the ladder. Your character has absolutely no personality regardless who he is, he's mute to boot. Might sound pretty damn dull, but you've got to understand: the Season Mode is HUGE. There are dozens of storylines and it will take you ages to take part in them all. Very few of them are totally original - most are reinvented scenarios from the past. Some of the most intriguing storylines may last for months, usually those which you'll end up a part of once you hit main event status; during your possible time as an upstart, you'll find yourself engaging in a lot of minor rivalries against some less aspiring superstars such as Val Venis and Lance Storm, and company executives that don't have the most amazing attributes to go by.

Since the Season Mode is somewhat optimized to be played as an upstart, who should I roll with? My own character, of course - and when you do that, and when you really get into the game, you will see that playing as your customized character is just amazing. He needs the experience points. You can level up anyone - you can play as Lesnar and level him up to a perfect 100, but what's the point? Your own character starts from the absolute bottom, and you're given some experience points in the beginning of the season to apply to him as you wish, according to what sort of wrestler you want to make of him, but you'll end up with an approximate total of 48 attribute points - you'll need to work for the last 52. Your SP in the beginning is something like 48 as well (I'm just making examples, I don't rightly remember my humble beginnings), so you'll need to work for those points as well, by winning matches. You start from the minor circuit, wrestling guys like Rico - or, sadly, guys like Randy Orton or Dave Batista. It's all about their SP. Week after week, month after month, you progress through a whole year of WWE programming, and your main objective is to make it to the main event of WrestleMania XIX, in one way or another. If you lose matches, or fail to build up a reputation within the company, you might not even have the most irrelevant match on the grandest stage of them all. But hey, new year, new tricks, right? And a few new storylines to engage in. Believe me, once you play through a season, you'll want to go at it again.

You can play any match on the card and manipulate other superstars' Star Points that way. I won't even begin to list all the reasons why this is so awesome. Just think about it. You WANT Edge to become the WWE or World Heavyweight Champion. Well, whenever Edge has a match on the card, against anyone and for anything, take part in it and do everything in your power to hand Edge the victory, and you're one step closer to making Edge reach main event status. In Shut Your Mouth, you could just play those matches which were on the card before yours - and they made no sense or difference at all, therefore they weren't fun to play. All the matches in Here Comes the Pain don't make no sense either, but at least they're not anything as stupid as a couple of jobbers duking it out at a Summerslam main event. Besides, Here Comes the Pain has the face/heel system, which you are able to manipulate to the fullest in the beginning of each season.

Say what you will, but he was one of the best.
Sadly, also one of the most arrogant in real
When you start off, you can decide for yourself who's part of WWE programming in general and who's not, just like before. You can't remove champions from the roster, and each show needs to have a certain amount of superstars. Customized tag stables can easily be made parts of the roster. After deciding on who you possibly never want to see during your career, you are taken to the whole new face/heel chart. Here, you can change each guy and gal's take on the world and the WWE fans. Each show needs a certain amount of faces and heels, but if there aren't enough of one or the other, the game will automatically decide on face/heel turns in the middle of the game - stables are usually broken whenever one member turns. The face/heel system can get quite ridiculous from time to time - after all, it's the SP that counts. The game doesn't just place certain superstars on your path, it generates them according to SP; for example, Rey Mysterio usually has incredible SP. If you're a face, and a heavyweight champion, don't be surprised if Mysterio suddenly turns heel (which would never, EVER, happen) and threatens to kill you over the championship... inside Hell in a Cell. It isn't even the most awkward thing - the most awkward thing is that even if you're a heel, your challenger is the one acting like a heel (those slimy grins, eww) and the one to use actual heel tactics throughout the rivalry. There are some exceptions, for example if you choose to form an alliance with Vince McMahon at one point instead of assembling your own faction to oppose him, you're pretty surely on your way to becoming the most hated guy in the company. The storylines have some incredibly weird turns, but all things considered, the realism holds together nicely. I really can't say how many possible storylines there are. I once made an FAQ of this game, and I ended up with a total number of something like 50 on the championship circuit alone, with an average of three possibilities how one single month can go down. Then, there are the miscellaneous storylines which may take place at any time regardless of your SP, and even if you end up as a jobber, you'll get your share of rivalries. Oh, believe me, you won't have seen all of the Season Mode even if you beat it three or four times. I'm not sure if I've even seen everything! I've tried to, though - by listing every decision I've ever made, championships I've won and lost and WHEN I've won and lost them, and the differences in my SP stats during certain time periods.

The Locker is your control panel for everything whenever you're playing Season Mode. It allows you to trade in experience points for attributes; you gain EXP from every match, but if you lose the match, you get a measly amount of points you really can't do jack with. You also gain SmackDown! dollars from each match - 500 for winning, 1000 (if I remember correctly) from winning a pay-per-view match and perhaps even more for winning and defending a championship, but only 100 measly bucks if you lose. The dollars can be used at WWE ShopZone at any given time - so you no longer have to play the Season Mode over and over again to simply be able to unlock everything in the game. The unlockable content is the same as before, but this time, the Legends are of course added in. What's crap about the Legends, as cool as their inclusion is, is that they're no real part of the Season Mode. You can play as them once you've unlocked them, and if you make them parts of the roster, you're pretty sure to entangle in rivalries with one or two of them, but even they are the same as everyone else; there are no Legend storylines. On top of all, their entrances suck. They have no theme songs, and they enter the arena riding the stupid-ass WrestleMania cart. They're only good for Exhibition, and certain types of matches, in my opinion. But, the concept of adding in Legends is priceless, and very much enhanced in the years that were to come. Where were we? The Locker, right. You can check the WWE Magazine for rightful contenders to each title and see if you're on the list. If you're on the list, you can march into the General Manager's office and demand a title shot if you're not actively engaged in a rivalry. If Stephanie or Eric won't give in to your demands, you can always jump ship to another show in protest. You can also visit other locations around the arena in a wholly different way than in the awkward, Shut Your Mouth first-person way. You should be careful who you talk to, and what you say to people, be they your people or villains. Wrestlers are very easily pissed off. It's nothing if Goldberg's in a bad mood and decides to whip your ass all around the backstage areas, but usually, if you piss someone off, you'll lose SP. So, be nice to people, and listen to what they say. Don't just blurt out something you might regret later. Kiss a little ass if you have to.

Deadman don't need no stinkin' permit to ride
his bike on his yard.
Here Comes the Pain's storyline will throw some nasty, nasty matches in your way, depending on how your career develops, of course. It's not a hard game, though. It's challenging in a fun way. If you choose the hardest difficulty setting, there are some epic matches to be had which are full of counters and fancy moves. The damage indicator makes it all so much more epic. I yell out "WOOOOAAAHHH!!!" loud every time, with sincere joy and satisfaction, whenever I manage to kick out from a Pedigree or Last Ride. Double that if I have just one red limb. Triple that: if I'm bleeding. It's so fucking epic! You wanna know what's even more fucking epic? OK, let's recap: I return home, piss-drunk from a night on the town. My brain tells me to get some sleep and suffer the consequences in the morning, but I say "NAY!" The WWE Championship is almost in my grubby little hands. I won the Royal Rumble and I'm heading to the main event at WrestleMania. It's me, versus my turncoat of a tag team partner, The Undertaker, at WrestleMania, in Hell in a Cell. It's my character - a puny underdog no one believes in, vs. The Phenom, Deadman Inc., 10-0 at WrestleMania (at the time, before WrestleMania XIX), inside a hellish structure he personally created in 1998. It's more than his yard, it's his WORLD. 15 minutes, 9 seconds. A Last Ride. A chokeslam. I'm still up. Two Fatal Skullcleavers (the name I unofficially gave my Brainbuster DDT), two of the most explosive spinebusters you've ever seen, payback for Mick Foley: I throw Taker off the top of the cell, and through the roof. Pin. Victory is mine! I won the WWE Championship, defeated The Undertaker where he possibly can't be defeated, and I'm heading to the next season as the most valuable superstar in the WWE. Life simply can't get any better.

WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is a gold standard, an absolutely amazing game with a lot of flaws, but a downright incredible, epic aura and enhanced features so ahead of even some of the latest games in the series, to fully compensate for those flaws. The Season Mode has never been the same, and as replayable as it is in this one game; it branches to eternity and will keep each and every wrestling fan glued to the controller and the TV screen. Here Comes the Pain is not only the best professional wrestling game ever released - I also consider it to be one of the best PS2 titles of all time.

SOUND : 7.5


GameRankings: 86.46%

All of Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan (and his alter ego Mr. America), and The Ultimate Warrior were removed from the originally announced roster of the game before its release. Hardy and Hogan were both released in 2003, and Jim Hellwig objected to the use of the likeness of his gimmick with a lawsuit.

The final canonical WWE game to feature the following superstars as parts of the standard roster: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Lance Storm, Rikishi, Rodney Mack, Scott Steiner, Sean O'Haire, Test, Ultimo Dragon and Val Venis.

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