It's no secret that developers don't have the best track record when it comes to producing videogame sequels. Some will attack the problems that plagued the original in a deliberate attempt to improve upon the playing experience. The rest will just add the prerequisite bells and whistles fans are demanding without giving much thought to how the entire package will fit together. That appears to be the case with Yukes sophomore WWF release, WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role.
I have always taken issue with the graphical appearance of WWF Smackdown!, and I'm a little irritated to see that it has not been improved at all. The graphics are just as pixelated as ever, and the backgrounds suffer from horrible distortions thanks to the PlayStation's inability to render lines that go off into the distance. I also take issue with the character models that Yukes has been in love with since it first began developing wrestling games in Japan. There is usually no difference in the look of each wrestler despite their unique facial textures. The men especially still lack muscular definition, looking like they were made from a mold based on Popping Fresh. I may once have been able to suspend my disbelief when seeing The Rock's physique mirror that of Al Snow, but I can't any longer. Realism takes another hit when I see the wrestlers walk around and perform their wrestling moves. Everyone seems to walk around with his or her arms sticking out from their sides and their movements are clearly lacking in frames of animation. Other imperfections like break-up, polygonal tearing and clipping further mar the overall presentation.
I was also surprised to find that what could have been its one saving grace turned out to be its biggest detractor. I'm referring to its season mode. As Smackdown!fans already know, it was an engaging feature which allowed gamers to take their wrestler through a career battling for a shot at one of the many title belts. This time I think Yukes took all of this for granted and didn't bother trying to improve on the experience. Matches take place in a series of weekly venues like Raw is War or Smackdown, with a select number of wrestlers set to clash on that particular day. Where Smackdown! 2 differs is in Yukes' decision to force players to watch every possible match-up whether they are involved or not. There is the "option" to skip these matches, but the catch is that you still have sit through an endless series of virtual matches as the computer mathematically decides a winner. Why put people through that? Sure, we should have the option to view the match-up if we so choose, but once the decision has been made to the contrary, we shouldn't be coerced into watching. What's even worse is that the entire line-up of matches may not even include your wrestler. That means you have to sit through matches that you wont participate in and then wait for a new venue to be set up and hope you are involved. Common sense would dictate that gamers should be able to bypass all of this nonsense entirely, but that is never the case.
It seems that forcing gamers to wait is a constant in Smackdown! 2. Personally, I don't think Smackdown! 2 is so complex a game that it manages to push the PlayStation far beyond its limits, but an accounting of the load times that frequent the game are an indication that something is wrong. I certainly don't remember things being this bad in the previous release, and at this stage in the PlayStation's lifecycle, I would have thought developers had figured out a way to avoid—or at least hide—the load screens. But hindsight is 20/20, so you'd better get used to doing a great deal of time waiting to do anything. The load screens are everywhere. Something as simple as going from one title screen to the next produces one. Changing venues and transitioning to new matches are even worse, though understandably this is due to the fact that these are more memory-hungry operations. Gamers lacking a Picture-In-Picture television, someone to talk to or ample reading material will find themselves going nuts while playing. Yukes does try to make up for this inconvenience by throwing up load screens sporting images of today's WWF superstars, but a far better solution would have been a reduction in load times to begin with.
Smackdown! 2 does have some things going for it. For one thing, it is the probably the most feature-rich wrestling game on the market today. I doubt you could find one wrestling venue or match that has not been thrown into this game—barring any that were invented yesterday by McMahon himself. And when I say any, I mean any. The usual standbys like Anywhere Fall, King of the Ring, Royal Rumble and Steel Cage matches get excellent representation, but we also get to try our hands at the more "unique" matches like Hell in a Cell, I Quit, Slobber Knocker, Casket and the ever-popular, Tables Ladders and Chairs (TLC). For the record, I only got to enjoy these modes when playing the games Exhibition mode because the Season mode was such a chore.
Smackdown! 2's trademark control system is another plus. Yukes was intent on reducing the learning curve to ensure that the on-screen action was never hindered by confusing control schemes. Grappling usually consists of various combinations of the face buttons and direction pad. Throwing an opponent to the ropes is as simple as the press of a button and pulling off double team moves requires little more than standing next to a tag team partner and pressing a button. The handling of foreign objects like ladders and tables is equally uncomplicated. This all makes for quick on-screen action, which always equates to riotous fun when playing with a friend or two or three.
Rounding out the highlights is the create-a-wrestler mode. This has been a mainstay these days as wrestling titles have taken on the role of sports titles. Yukes' create-a-wrestler feature is once again one of the best in the industry and makes it incredibly easy to insert a digital version of you in the game. The moves list is not as extensive as those in WWF No Mercy, but Smackdown! 2 more than makes up for that with an extensive inventory of customizable physical attributes and costumes. It's one of the finest examples of the developer getting out of the way of the player to increase the entertainment of a title.
WWF Smackdown! 2: Know You Role was a title that was clearly rushed to get to market in time for last year's Christmas rush. It had to be because its flaws are all curable, but having gone unchecked they wind up doing everything possible to hinder the gameplay. Smackdown! 2 does have some things going for it, but you'll have to look hard to see them. As far as I am concerned, the flaws are too great and ruin what could have been a worthy sequel.
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