tiistai 22. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth (2002)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: October 2002

Since WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, the originally PlayStation-exclusive SmackDown! series has been the definite cornerstone of THQ and the WWE's business relationship. Although Here Comes the Pain was the first SmackDown! game I ever bought, the earliest installment that can be found in my shelf at this time is its predecessor, the fourth game in the series - Shut Your Mouth. Though being a good game in its own right, Shut Your Mouth suffers from flawed gameplay, lack of realism, inconsistency, occasional butt-ugliness, and the otherwise advanced season mode's lack of replay value. It's the best game out of the four World Wrestling games that came out in 2002, but I see it as merely a raw prototype of Here Comes the Pain.


The graphics are of extremely mixed quality. Some models look extremely realistic, as in it's like you're watching wrestling on TV, but most have extremely big (and occasionally ugly) heads. Especially the baldies look like they have brain tumours the size of Texas; they look like their bald scalps are just planted on random heads. Since I always create a superstar after myself, he's bald too, but his strangely shaped head is the least of his problems; the created superstars look awful! I mean, extremely ugly and dumb. It's embarrassing to play as them when you have friends over. They don't even have teeth, just a pink light flares up whenever they open their mouths. You can't sensibly modify their shoulders; even if there's an extensive body mass modifier, you have to keep your created wrestlers' shoulders at a certain width if you want to maintain some sort of human look. Not really cool when you want to make a thin wrestler (I weigh about 134 lbs.). They're thin, all right - but their shoulders and arms must remain gigantic if you don't necessarily want to make your wrestler look like E.T. on diet. Since we got to this subject, I must say the editor is more comprehensive than ever, in theory. It's a good start, it just doesn't quite work. You can't create more than one attire for your superstar, which leads me to leave out some of my usual choices such as wearing a hoodie, bandana and sunglasses during the entrance. The editor for the entrances has been made part of the general moveset editor, and the list of choices is less than narrow. Quite a step backwards when it comes to customization, I reckon.

The game sounds fuckin' horrible at its worst, and I'm not talking about the fact that you'll be hearing Marilyn Manson on loop by an excessive lot while browsing through the menus. The repetitive original soundtrack's nearly OK when you compare it to the occasional voiceover work. In the Season Mode, you can't concentrate on the very slim, but moderately interesting plot since JR and King are constantly yelling random things in the background. The commentary is there for nothing. They just keep on commenting on certain moves and repeating random stuff and trivia about the guys involved in the match, over and over. "Kane is the Big Red Machine!" Yeah, we know. "Kane is the Big Red Machine!" Yes, that he is. "Kane is the Big Re..." Mute. Then there's stuff that might've become outdated info through the years. "During his illustrious career (or something like that), The Undertaker has never won the Royal Rumble." Yes, he has. They should've avoided using comments that had the slightest potential of becoming obsolete at some point in time. It's especially stupid when JR says that during Season Mode, right after the Royal Rumble - which I just won using The Undertaker. The wrestlers don't have voiceovers, but sometimes talking to them backstage may trigger a loud archive recording of a catchphrase - like "It doesn't matter what you think" or "Rest in peace". It's distracting and almost startling, not too cool.

The SmackDown! series is very dear to me and I know every game (from Shut Your Mouth forward) inside out. I no longer have possession of all of them, for varying reasons, and that is why I won't review the whole series - but believe me, I've played every game released since Shut Your Mouth to the absolute hilt of my capabilities. I was that much of a professional wrestling fan from 2002 to last year. Today, if it weren't for some occasional surprise returns, pro wrestling wouldn't interest me one bit. It's become all about pushing the new generation, no matter how untalented it is. OK, I like The Miz as a heel, but did he really deserve to be pushed to the "same league" as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, The Rock, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Bret "The Hit Man" Hart, Shawn Michaels, and all the dozens of other real legends that have held a world title? I like CM Punk even more, but he never was of a world title caliber in my opinion. Hell, same goes for Rey Mysterio while we're at it - but he was more or less granted his first title as a tribute to his late friend Eddie Guerrero. Not only is The Miz a shitty WWE Champion - the circulation nowadays, it's ridiculous. I've watched the results periodically. Most of the time, half of the results are of matches between guys I've never heard of. And will never hear of again, in just a couple of weeks. What kind of a Hell in a Cell match does not involve The Undertaker or Triple H? What kind of a Hell in a Cell match involves one of these guys, but not one absolute drop of blood? I'll tell you, the new "family-friendly" kind. I even stopped buying SmackDown! games. I used to do it every year, the same time of the year: I pre-ordered the new SmackDown! game about a month before its release, and it was a God damn miracle if I left the house the day the mail girl paid me a slightly heavier visit. I'm appalled of what the WWE has become.

Shut Your Mouth, however, was released at a time the WWE flourished. They had just bought out their competitor WCW and most of its essential roster, effectively ending the Monday Night Wars, as well as the Attitude era. However, the fanbase the WWE had gained during the Attitude era encouraged them to maintain its continuity on an unofficial basis. Problems emerged when they began scouting for new talent to outshine disgruntled main eventers, and some professional wrestlers found whole new interests in life. These problems, among others, resulted in many of the company's premium talent to leave the ring, indefinitely, most notably The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The developmental team of the WWE worked extra hard on storylines, new match types, and periodical bombshells to keep the company's cash flow in check. I think they made a great job and led the company into a new fantastic era. After all, that era made me a merciless professional wrestling fan.

He'll have to do.
That's quite an extensive bit of trivia there, and it's enough, at least for now. Shut Your Mouth has quite a roster. Both Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton make their debuts. Both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and to many people's great pleasure, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, are very central figures in the game, and the Season Mode's storyline. All of these three guys were on their way to leaving the WWE, while  Lesnar and Orton were to become two of the decade's most notable new superstars... except for John Cena, but since he's not in the game, let's save his story for another time. There's a total of 60 playable characters in the game, all of whom you can use in Exhibition Mode, but not Season Mode, since it's quite linear and some of the storylines involve superstars in crucial supporting roles that make it impossible for them to be members of the original, active roster.

The controls haven't changed a lot from the previous games and they're still a tad unpractical, like I've never understood why Square is the universal counter button, and the grappling moves are a game of chance since the directional controls are so damn sensitive. All in all, it feels like the order and purpose of the buttons is all messed up. However, they're quite easy to learn, not that easy to really sink in if you've played any of the more recent games though. And don't you go getting me wrong: in comparison to each and every Nintendo 64 wrestling game there ever was, the control scheme's a little piece of heaven. Wrestling games were definitely made to be played with four shoulder buttons, four action buttons, a digital pad and two analog sticks - not one analog stick and four camera buttons from which you never quite rightly knew what each one did, since everything was based on some half-assed button combos. The SmackDown! icon, which tells you when you should press L1 to execute your finisher, has officially been deemed most functional, as it returns once again, and has remained in every game in the SmackDown! series since, in some form.

If there's one thing I truly hate about the general gameplay, is once again the age-old nuisance of all the wrestlers being exactly the same; there are no attributes. Just Star Points, which I'll get to once I start bashing the Season Mode. If and when you are able to sink in the game's controls, not even the hardest difficulty setting gives you too much hell in standard matches at least, but a streak of bad luck can end in some really embarrassing losses, like Brock Lesnar getting pinned by Rico. I've never lost one standard match in this game if I haven't done it on purpose to see even the slightest twist in the flat storyline, but I know for a fact this kind of embarrassment is a perfectly possible event, especially if it's a triple threat or a fatal fourway match; without attributes, these kinds of matches are based as much on luck as they are on skill.

There are several match types which may have been present in some earlier games, but not THQ's last major title, WWF WrestleMania X8 for the GameCube: 3 Stages of Hell, submission, ultimate submission, special ref, Last Man Standing (one of my all-time favourites), and Slobber Knocker, a variation of Gauntlet from the past that somehow reminds me of a Terence Hill & Bud Spencer movie. There are many match variations that haven't been used before, but I don't feel a need to go too deep into them. Just imagine any sanction in any environment, and the option to go at it's probably here. Most of the match types are featured in the Season Mode, but at least when they don't directly concern your own character, they're like some really cooky demonstrations instead of really epic matches. Like, Al Snow vs. Maven in Hell in a Cell, as the opening match of Sunday Night Heat. That cooky. Let's take a look at the whole new Season Mode, featuring joint programming.

The first thing to note about the Season Mode is indeed that this was the first game in the whole franchise to have two different brands, SmackDown! and Raw, following the 2002 brand extension. The Season begins like the most beautiful dream - from a draft lottery between SmackDown! representative Vince McMahon and Raw representative Ric Flair. I'm with Raw all the way! Now, at this point, you can either let the CPU simulate the whole thing, choose one wrestler you really want on your show and THEN simulate the whole thing, or build the whole roster of your show by yourself. I won't even begin with measuring the awesomeness here... and I shouldn't, because the WWE roster at your disposal is indeed incomplete. For example, you can't pick Stone Cold Steve Austin. He's a free agent important to the first part of the storyline. So are a few other choice cuts. Vince already took The Rock, and The Undertaker is exempt since he's the WWE Champion, so hell, I'll just take Edge and simulate the rest. Oh, great. I got dudes like Billy, Chuck, Rico and Stasiak, while Vince got Triple H, Jericho, Lesnar and the APA. I haven't even got a team I would remotely like. That gimmick Billy and Chuck had at the time is just too much for me to handle - especially since there's already a homosexual vibe in some of the alliances that form during the game.

Playing as my own character is out of the question, I can't even stand to look at the guy in animated form. If you do play as your own creation or an existing superstar with low popularity, you need to start from the absolute bottom and work your way up from Velocity or Heat (depending on the show you're on), to main event status in either SmackDown! or Raw. That's another idea that's very cool on paper - I just don't understand why the hell I'm facing guys like Edge and Christian on Heat. It's embarrassing! Well, usually I play through the first season in all games as The Undertaker, but this time and this time only, he's the reigning champion in the storyline's beginning, so I think I'll let it pass for many reasons. I simply think working my way up the ladder to some extent is more interesting than playing as a champion, and at that time, there was only one heavyweight champion in the WWE, who had to compete on both brands. I think that playing as The Undertaker would make the game unnecessarily long (like this review, lol), since the Season Mode lasts for two in-game years as it is.

No one "thinks" of "entering" the Rattlesnake.
The Rattlesnake will be there.
Since the roster includes a graceful variety of people I'd gladly play as, I call a lottery of my own between seven people and end up with the Texas Rattlesnake, 3:16, the more recent WWE Hall of Famer, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin has about 90 Star Points, so he's automatically eligible for a major title shot. You gain more points as you win matches - and surprise, surprise - you lose them by losing matches, if you happen to have that mentioned streak of bad luck or keep losing on purpose. Otherwise, it's pretty damn impossible to lose. The storyline begins with a bang and I'm immediately feeling the game. Vince and Flair are fighting over who should have exclusive rights to the Rattlesnake, the glass shatters and Austin enters the ring, calls for a couple of cheap "WHAT?"'s from the audience, and stares down both executives. You are then given a choice of which brand to sign with, and regardless of your decision, Austin hits both men with a Stone Cold Stunner and leaves the arena, just like Stone Cold would do. Well, on to next week. You're suddenly just one of the guys. You're given the title shot, sure, but you're spoken down to by guys that wouldn't dare to be within two feet of Stone Cold's presence in reality. Test keeps telling you how you should enjoy your "small while" in the spotlight, since he's bound to kick your ass. What a fuckin' drag. I was just about to praise how this game notes your chosen wrestler's personality and already established status throughout the line much better than some of its sequels, including Here Comes the Pain.

Another problem sets in once I really get to the title hunt. I beat The Undertaker a few times during the weeks leading into Judgment Day, but he just keeps on talking smack on each show, fueling my anger. Then, he tells me the stipulation of our epic encounter; if I lose the match, I'm suspended from the WWE. Well, if Taker considers that a challenge, I'll gladly take it... but, I think silence speaks louder than words, so I just choose to stare the guy down when I'm given the option. Well, the game interprets silence a bit differently than us who have been raised on the motto "silence speaks louder than words": I actually just refused to take part in the match, like a coward. I didn't realize it at first, but when Taker started talking about me running home to my mommy, I figured something was horribly wrong. It just so happened that at Judgment Day, I suddenly didn't have a match at all. Wouldn't be much of a big deal, but I have unlockables to worry about. Well, then Kurt Angle comes and rescues me from total unemployment by challenging me to some sort of grudge match. I don't know what the grudge is about and he's on a different show, but of course I accept. It just so happens that this whole angle (no pun intended), like many others, is ripped straight off an old, actual WWE storyline. At Judgment Day 2002, Edge and Kurt Angle faced off in a Hair vs. Hair match, which Edge won and shaved Kurt Angle bald. Now this is cool and all, but where's the sense in Stone Cold Steve Austin participating in a match that has such a stipulation? Even to my created character, this would've been just a match among others. Hooray for baldies! ...So the point is, that the Season Mode's a bundle of inconsistencies, a puzzle game hastily assembled from random bits and pieces. It's fun to play to see what lies behind each corner during these two years and witness actual changes in characters (such as Hollywood Hogan reverting back to his old face gimmick), but the Season Mode in this game's no platform for a wholly interesting, flashy, consistent career.

Between matches, you can walk around the arena and the backstage areas in first-person view to meet up with other wrestlers and buy unlockable merchandise from the WWE ShopZone. The controls to this segment are so horrid I just needed to mention it. It makes no difference how you treat people, there's no real face/heel system. Even the audience reacts the same way to your actions, whether you're a pseudo-face or -heel. Just the storyline and match stipulations might slightly change, depending on what you say or do to folks, and on how much you respect the "ladder" which every superstar needs to climb. For example, you can rejoice and be proud of becoming King of the Ring, which is an accomplishment in itself, or wipe your ass on the flashy trophy to show how much of an arrogant asshole you are.

Open your eyes, ref! Y2J just kicked me in the
You need to play through the whole thing a few times to gain access to all the unlockables in the game: alternate attires, movesets, venues, additional superstars and some extremely cool video packages as cool as only the WWE promo team can make. Of course the storyline changes a bit depending on whether you're a champion, a challenger, a mid-carder or an upstart, but sooner or later, it starts to repeat itself either way, and it's not really entertaining in the proper sense. Especially since the game's so easy. There's still no health meter, there's just the momentum meter used in the earlier games of the series, that speeds up each time you gain access to a finisher, and just one finisher's sure to end a standard match about 99% of the time. No, that doesn't only apply to direct attacks, but also submission manouvers. If you get caught in the Walls of Jericho or the Ankle Lock, you will tap out. You will have no say in it. And, since neither you or the opponent can take any permanent damage, the positive outcome of ladder matches is still based on NOTHING except a great deal of luck.

WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth is a good game, and might even highly entertain those who just can't get enough of the SmackDown! series' basic style, no matter how inconsistent the Season Mode, or unpractical the controls, or ugly the created characters at the very least, are. I think it was not quite ready to be released. I wouldn't have been too upset if they had just skipped the game altogether, seeing that THQ had their hands full with WWE games for the whole year of 2002, and seeing what kind of fantastic updates to this game's basic scheme they came up with in less than a year.

SOUND : 5.8


GameRankings: 83.74%

Scott Hall was originally included in the game as an unlockable character, and he can be seen in some early screenshots. Due to his release from the WWE just a few months before the game's scheduled release, he was removed and his scenes were seamlessly cut from the nWo storyline.

Mick Foley does not appear in the game in any shape or form - only his moveset can be applied to a created superstar. However, he appears as Mankind in the game's European box art.

The last WWE game not to feature blood. Strangely, adding blood to the later installments did not affect the franchise's ESRB rating (T).

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