lauantai 19. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWF War Zone (1998)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: June 1998
DEVELOPER(S): Probe Entertainment (GB), Iguana Entertainment (N64), Acclaim Entertainment (PS1)
PUBLISHER(S): Acclaim Entertainment

It had been four years since the last REAL wrestling game relating to the World Wrestling Federation was released for any platform, and the face of the WWF changed by a great deal during those four years. Wrestling had become more real and mature, due to the arrival of new superstars such as the foul-mouthed, bird-flipping and beer-drinking Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the iconic, very articulate The Rock who was inspirational and namely electrifying as both face and heel. Degeneration-X was born to piss off censors and parents all around the States. The Undertaker also took on a new satanic gimmick, that was met by varying critical response, and in 1998, we were introduced to his "half-brother" Kane, who Taker had supposedly burned alive as a kid along with his parents' house. WWF programming has never been as golden and exciting as it was in the late 90's, during the Monday Night Wars. WWF War Zone was the first three-dimensional wrestling game, the mother of all of the professional wrestling titles that have emerged since. It's no surprise that it's dated, but let's take a look at how the Nintendo 64 version - the supposedly most technically advanced version - really fared 13 years ago.

I won? Seriously?

There have been times I've been more proud of
I don't know if moving the wrestling genre from 2D to full 3D was such a great idea at this stage, after all. I wish I could blame the Nintendo 64, which I usually do, but the PlayStation version doesn't differ from it much, graphically at least. Some random facial captures look OK, mostly they're really awkward. The wrestlers look like ridiculous, unanimated bobblehead versions of themselves, or really old. Kane has his old mask to cover up all errors in programming, so he's definitely the most believable dude in the bunch. All background textures are disturbingly pancake-flat, like in any N64 game. I never liked Nintendo 64's graphics, regardless who made the game, not even when the thing was released. At least this version of the game is a perfect reminder why. I'd take the rough edges of the PlayStation any day over this, it just doesn't look even remotely real. To save up space, the video packages of the PlayStation are sacrificed on the behalf of text, and MP3 files of the theme songs are replaced with MIDI versions. Kind of odd. Personally I would've left the repetitive, rude and non-contextual commentary by Vince, JR and King out. The wrestlers sound like they're dying protagonists in a Resident Evil game - the grimacing is just horrid, with the exception of Mankind, who sounds very real. Perhaps I'm not willing to bet Mick Foley did his own voiceover, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

There are 16 superstars in the game, including, but not limited to Mankind, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Bret Hart, and the late duo of British Bulldog and Owen Hart. In addition, Mick Foley's "other two faces" besides Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love, are unlockable, as well as a top secret character. We have the Headbangers, Mosh and Thrash, to even the card, as well as a few other low- to mid-carders. Quite a bunch, not much to complain here. I'm glad they didn't waste valuable space by including everyone that ever was part of the two major factions at the time (Nation of Domination and Degeneration-X), instead they included just a few choice guys from each. Of course, if the roster isn't enough for you, you can create your own superstar... IF you have a Controller Pak.

Even if the graphics fail to impress overall, the
mo-capped moves are cool.
Nintendo got smacked, again. Naturally, the create-a-superstar data is very, very large - despite the fact the editor's quite damn generic. And I mean: ridiculous. You can play as a created wrestler until you reset the console even without the Pak, but it doesn't make any sense since you can't modify his/her attributes before leveling up, in other words winning matches. You need to start from the absolute bottom every time, if you choose to go at it without a CP. As I told you, the editor isn't even worth it. It's a huge new feature, no doubt about it, but couldn't they have included a face model that looks perfectly normal on the N64 scale? All the possible templates make me feel like the game was produced by Nintendo themselves, they're so off and ridiculous. The variety of clothing and accessories is pretty respectable, considering this was the first editor of its kind. Personally, I can't come up with a character I would really like to play as. I always create the same superstar in every wrestling game that has the editor, a guy partly designed after myself, but there really ain't enough options to satisfy my needs here. The smiling dude in the screenshot is the closest I got, and you can't fit a goatee on that guy without making him look even more ridiculous. The variety of theme songs created exclusively for custom use includes maybe one tune that I would consider using, if I was piss drunk. I think I'll stick to the actual superstars of the game.

This happens a lot.
The most annoying thing about WWF War Zone, besides the fact that you can't even save the game itself without a Controller Pak, and mediocre controls which I'll get to in a bit, is the fact that there are no new match types except for the Gauntlet, which is exclusive to the Nintendo 64 version. It's more or less a survival mode, which would perhaps be interesting if the standard matches weren't enough to handle. The match simply entitled "Weapon" is a No Holds Barred match that was seen in WWF Raw, and before that, WWF Royal Rumble. Speaking of the Rumble, that's here, with the exception that it has 16 competitors this time around. The cage match returns, for the first time in years, and I must say they've improved it quite a bit from that last time on the NES. The WWF Championship tournament's different in theory, but it's still practically the same - you need to bolt through a hierarchy of random superstars in standard matches to get to the ultimate goal. It's like a 3D revision of any 16-bit wrestling game. Oh, how I wish it would work.

Let's get ready to jumble.
It does, to a certain extent. The mo-capped moves look cool, and every wrestler has a truly unique moveset this time around, starting from The Undertaker's patented chokeslam to Michaels' flashy recovery move. Also, Michaels is finally able to perform Sweet Chin Music, which is highly respectable. However, the controls are just awful. The movement is slow as hell, general collision detection works on a 30/70 certainty throughout the line, and in my honest opinion, the Nintendo 64 controller was never meant for complex beat 'em up combos you absolutely need to succeed in the game. You can use the analog stick if you want, but in this game, the D-Pad seems to work better, and I don't remember ever wanting to play a Nintendo 64 game using it instead of the stick; most of all, because of the uncomfortable grip you need to take of the controller when using the D-Pad. The worst thing is the complexity of the controls. Every move lies behind a combo extremely hard to pin down into your memory bank, including the finishers, since all camera buttons are essential to most of them. You might think this all simply makes flashy moves hard to execute, and therefore, the game more challenging, but actually it's just frustrating when you realize that just mashing buttons randomly will unleash the audience's wrath on you - introducing the momentum meter.

So, if you just keep punching and kicking the opponent like you did in every game that came before War Zone, the opponent actually gains momentum, while you lose it. When the audience starts chanting your opponent's name - although he might be a mirror image of your own wrestler, this is one of those games - you'll know you're in trouble. The opponent becomes even harder to hit or slam down into the ground than he was before, and you'll end up losing a lot of matches just because efficient use of the control scheme is so damn hard to learn and sink in. At some point I figured I should use Michaels, 'cause he's one of the quickest guys in the bunch, and therefore easier to control... on the other hand, his physical strength and endurance are not from the highest end. They sure picked a time to make the attributes mean jack.

How I wish there was a Hell in a Cell for these
guys to have a fair rematch. I guess the cage'll
have to do.
All the different match types have their own specific problems, including standard single and tag team matches. If the opponent manages to haul you outside the ring, he will usually make damn sure you'll be counted out. You're stunned every time you get thrown to the concrete, that gives the opponent a perfect opportunity to lock on a strong submission move that will make doubly sure you cannot respond to the 10-count, since applying and maintaining the lock might take as long as five seconds in its entirety. In cage matches, your opponent never stays on the ground. Even if you manage to ground him, he will be up in the time it takes from you to climb the cage, you can be sure about that. He'll either also climb the cage (and do nothing once he's at the top), or knock you off it. It's nearly impossible to perform a death-defying elbow drop from the top of the cage on him. On top of all, even if you manage to climb the cage and it's impossible for the opponent to do shit about your status, you just can't climb down to the arena floor and win the match, before reaching a certain turning point. You need to get back into the cage, and if your opponent did follow you instead of knocking you off, you can safely expect to get an elbow in the face the second you return to the ring. And watch your opponent win the match right after that.

WWF War Zone is one slow, unfair, frustrating game, but it was the first true wrestling game as far as I'm concerned. It's the one game that turned the whole genre upside down, with unique features such as the 3D setting itself, the character editor, and an overall system that effectively eliminated senseless button mashing, as unfair and awkward as it turned out at this point. I highly respect the game - but I don't like it too much. If I had played it when it came out, it would've probably taken me a few more than only five years, before I would've dared to get into wrestling games. The following overall rating pretty much goes out to all the future essentials that were originally invented for this title.

SOUND : 6.4


GameRankings: 52.00% (GB), 84.93% (N64), 80.46% (PS1)

The Headbangers, Bret Hart, Cactus Jack and Dude Love are not featured in the Game Boy version.

Bret Hart actually left the WWF almost a year before the game's release. This was the last WWF/E game to feature him until WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006.

Turok from Acclaim Entertainment's critically acclaimed series of first-person shooters is an unlockable character, but to this day, it hasn't been officially figured out how to unlock him except by using GameShark. Even though the Turok franchise was exclusive to the Nintendo 64 at the time, the character can apparently only be unlocked in the PlayStation version of the game.

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