I'd give anything to find out the motivations behind some of these major business deals I read about everyday. Are these deals and maneuverings done to provide a better service (or product) or are they just the result of long held grudges and enviousness? For example, when Ted Turner bought National Wrestling Organization (NWO) and turned it into World Championship Wrestling (WCW), it was no secret that Turner and WWF president Vince McMahon were not fond of each other. Wrestling industry insiders saw this move as purely personal. Wrestling fans don't seem to mind much mainly because they now have two wrestling organizations to keep their remotes busy and are showing their appreciation by boosting wrestling back into the mainstream. Now let's get out of the wrestling world and into the gaming world where, from out of nowhere, Electronic Arts (EA) announced it would now own the rights to the WCW license, which was previously owned by THQ (who now owns the rights to the WWF license). And hence, EA is throwing its hat into the ring. With this move EA, the largest publisher in the industry, has shaken up the status quo and put the fear of EA into the hearts of wrestling game publishers Acclaim and THQ. Was this move something personal or was it simply business never personal? In any case, EA is here and they have wasted no time with the release of WCW Mayhem.
While WCW is always keeping an eye on the WWF, publisher Electronic Arts (EA) was obviously paying attention to Acclaim and their WWF releases. Like WWF Attitude, WCW Mayhem is loaded with options, but which are not quite as extensive as Attitude's, but it isn't far behind. There are more than 60 wrestlers within the game, but some are hidden and only to be unlocked as I beat the harder levels of the 'Quest for the Best' mode. There are a number of different wrestling venues including Monday Night Nitro, and up to 12 Pay-Per-View settings. Apparently, a prerequisite in all "sports" titles now is a create-a-player feature and Mayhem's developer, Kodiak, delivers a nice and thorough version of their own. Kodiak admitted their admiration for NWO Revenge and it shows in their product. Like Revenge, Mayhem comes with a relatively sparse selection of moves for each wrestler, but it more than makes up for that thanks to the sheer ease with which I can control my guy. The simple controls make getting into the game a breeze. The wrestlers animate smoothly and thanks to over 900 motion-captured animations, they move just like the real thing. Topping it off is the ability to fight outside the ring and in other parts of the building. There is nothing like fighting in a parking lot or locker room to make me feel like a part of the WCW family.
Unfortunately, Kodiak fails to put it all together into a nice complete package. For one thing, for all the variety amongst wrestlers, many of them are actually just copies of other wrestlers with superficial changes and a different name. The small wrestlers and mid-card wrestlers are all pretty worthless; if I wanted to lay down an even halfway decent smackdown, I'll need one of the big boys. Another problem is that the character models in Mayhem look deformed; it's as if they were all put in a trash compactor and crushed from 7 feet tall to 5 feet tall. Another error on their part is the game's collision detection. There were many times when I was beating down on some punk wrestler when my punches and kicks would start missing from pointblank range. It normally wouldn't even be a problem because the action moves so fast, but the fact that it happens so frequently makes it a serous distraction. To further kill the realism is the overuse of blurry and ultra-bland textures in the stands and throughout the arenas. A few posters of the Nitro Girls or a few gyrating 3D figures dancing sensually in the background would have really helped. As is the whole game looks so unbelievably uninteresting that I just couldn't stand it.
I did the research and couldn't find out if EA's chairman is feuding with THQ's or Acclaim's so I'll put that idea on the back burner. But EA has never been one to let a publisher make money in a market without getting a piece of it for itself. I'm not going out on a limb when I say that it's evident that EA was tired of standing by while Acclaim and THQ rolled in the dough and correctly believed that there was enough wrestling fan dollars to go around. Their mistake was believing that Mayhem would be the right way to get at it. Aside from the above average gameplay, Mayhem overall only succeeded at underwhelming me. It comes into the ring with the minimum (create-a-player, lots of wrestlers) and does little else to bring it over the top. If this release is any sign, then Acclaim and THQ have little to worry about even from a big player like EA.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Nintendo 64 version of the game.