Is it November already? It is? Then that means a new Smackdown! game is out, and this time, it’s the fifth one. In 2003, the snowman isn’t bringing the snow; he’s bringing the pain. Yes folks, Yukes and THQ are back again to deliver more WWE action to PS2 owners, and are hoping to building the successful Shut Your Mouth. This time around we’re treated to the biggest changes ever seen to the Smackdown! engine, as we’ve got new grappling systems and a new way to make your opponents submit. But is this game Pain-fully good, or are we looking at another disaster like Just Bring It? Let’s see.
The PS2 isn’t the most powerful of the current crop of consoles, but it’s certainly no slouch when it comes to producing graphics. In Smackdown! HCTP, there’s a lot of fantastic visuals to drool over. The character models look spiffy as usual and everything from the backstage areas to the fans in the arena look as if they have been improved. The only problems I have are with the pyro and flames, as they still look too far too much like a video game. THQ have included blood in a Smackdown! game for the first time, which looks perfectly acceptable. It doesn’t drip or stay on the canvas, but you’re not going to have a hard time telling if your opponent is bleeding or not.
There’s really not a lot wrong with SD!5’s graphics, as they capture the essence of each character. We’re spoiled when it comes to wrestling games, as we now expect characters to move in different ways (Brock doesn’t move like Rey in real life, so why should he in a game?) and have lots of individual touches to show how unique the characters are. Two thumbs up here when it comes to visuals, as while they’re not going to change the way that games are made, they certainly don’t take anything away from the game playing experience.
We take one step forward and forty-seven steps back when it comes to sound. It’s a shame that Yukes feel that they needed to get rid of all speech in the game, especially when recent previews suggested that over 65% of the backstage segments would have accompanying sound bites. But GONE is the commentary, which some people may be pleased to hear, GONE is any kind of wrestlers’ voices and IN is crowd chants, something that should have been in Smackdown!1. There’s also a lot of licensed music missing from the game, including the tunes of RVD, Kane, Stacy and Victoria. As with any wrestling game, our old friend generic in-game rock music returns, this time with all kinds of dull beats. The lack of talking really hurts the game’s attempt to make you immersed in the world of WWE, as it’s just not the same reading text during a backstage conversation. And that’s especially true when Yukes’ translation team are back, to give us more gems like “Matt has survived superstar Rumble!” or “Things have completely deviated from the normal course of events”.
Hold onto your hats folks, we’ve got a new control system! Yes, gone is the old “Circle and direction” method, and instead we’re able to use four different grapples, Submission, Signature, Quick and Power. The new system works pretty well, and it doesn’t take long at all to get used to the new method. As for the new submission system, some people like it, I don’t. It’s a bit better than the previous system where you have no control of a submission move once you lock it in, but the new way is a bit annoying. In order to apply more pressure, the player has to tap all the buttons as fast as he/she can. It does give you more control over the match if you’re a guy like Angle or Benoit and don’t want to win with a standard armbar, but it is a bit too easy. New players could easily beat a SD! veteran by putting them in non-stop submission moves, while tapping the button faster than a jackhammer operated by Dwayne Chambers on one of the drugs that he didn’t take (cough). There’s also a new block/reversal system that goes the radical way of assigning two buttons instead of one to reversing. To be honest, it’s not a big deal, and it’s just as easy or hard to reverse as SD!4. Aside from the fact that you don’t need a SD! dot to reverse your opponents’ finisher, the game plays almost exactly like the previous Smackdown! game.
Season mode, one of the main reasons for buying any wrestling game, is once again extremely playable in a Smackdown! game. OK, there’s some little stuff that’s basically been copied and pasted in HCTP from SYM, but the game does feature lots of new storylines, and a bigger focus on the roster split than before. Season mode only lasts a year compared to the two years in SYM, but you can now choose to keep title records intact when you start a new season, meaning that you can play forever with the same character.
There have been a few new modes added to HCTP. Players can now enter the Elimination Chamber, strip a woman half-naked in a Bra and Panties match, make your opponent bleed like a stuck pig (God bless JR) in a First Blood match, or try to keep your opponent down for the 10 count in the new and improved Last Man Standing mode. The Elimination Chamber is bags of fun, and plays just like the real match. With 6 men in at the same time, it can get wild when finishers are flying, people are being smashed through glass and you never know when someone will climb like Spiderman to the top of the cage, before landing on your head. First Blood is not as enjoyable, as it’s a bit of an anticlimax when you spend 5 minutes or more working on your opponent, only to bust him open with a bog standard bulldog, thus ending the match. Last Man Standing is my favourite mode, as the computers’ stamina goes into overdrive and you can be whooping your opponent for more than 15 minutes and still find that they get back on their feet at a nine count. It’s great to play on your own or with friends, and you’ll find yourself doing everything and anything possible to pick up the win.
As for Bra and Panties match, to be honest, I’m a bit peeved at how SD! HCTP has been marketed. The game is being advertised as nothing more than a way for people to get sexual kicks, by seeing polygon women ripping each others’ clothes off. The “Sponsored by…” adverts on WWE TV treat the game as little more than a notch above pornography, and I’ve seen some reviews by people not interested in wrestling who fail to even mention that Here Comes The Pain features more than just Bra And Panties mode. I mean, there are even people campaigning to have the game banned! Forget the fact that the game is meant for people above the age of 16. Kids might see it and decide to rip the clothes off of women in the street!
It’s all a bit ridiculous, considering the mode itself is, if I’m honest, crap. It’s just a way for THQ to show off their new submission system, and in my opinion, the game would have been better off without it. All that fuss over a mode that most people won’t even play twice, as they’ll not be interested in drooling over pixels that are shaped like girls when they can play a really good wrestling game.
There’s not a whole lot here that wasn’t in SYM. In fact, you wouldn’t be far off from saying that this is basically SYM’s CAW mode, with a dozen or so new things. Create A Move or Create An Entrance are still nowhere to be seen, but the SYM CAW mode was one of the better ones on the market, so you’ll still be able to create all your favourite wrestlers that aren’t in the game.
Oh dear. The past few SD! games have been pretty out of date when it comes to rosters, but this one takes the biscuit. People like Rosey, Tommer Dreamer, Jamie Noble and Nidia were in WWE when Shut Your Mouth came out in 2002, and while we were able to forgive THQ for leaving them out then, the fact that they aren’t in HCTP is just stupid. SD!5 is also missing key WWE stars like La Resistance, Rob Conway, Molly Holly, Gail Kim, Spike Dudley, Spanky, Scotty 2 Hotty, Hardcore Holly, Billy Kidman, Bradshaw, Farrooq, The Bashams, Shaniqua, Nunzio, Johnny Stamboli, Chuck Palumbo, Billy Gunn…The list goes on and on. OK, it would have been fine to leave out some of these wrestlers, but surely Yukes could have put in a few of these names. The people that are included are fine though, and it is nice to finally get to make people dizzy with Rey Mysterio or squash wrestlers (and paramedics) with Scott Steiner.
As for the “legends”, there isn’t a lot here to be excited about. When THQ promised that HCTP would feature 12 WWE legends, we were expecting such names as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Mr Perfect and Randy Savage. What did we get? Nicholi Volkoff and Hillbilly Jim. Were these guys famous in their time? Yes. Do they still have enough drawing power to make people buy a game in 2003? No. There are some useful names included like Roddy Piper, The Road Warriors and Old School Undertaker, but would you honestly prefer to have Hillbilly Jim, The Iron Sheik, Nicholi Volkoff and Sgt Slaughter instead of current WWE wrestlers? Chances are, you wouldn’t. It was a good idea to include legends in a WWE game, but it should have been scrapped if the people that the public wanted to play as didn’t want to get involved. By trying to beat Acclaim at their own game (and by that I mean Legends Of Wrestling), and failing, it makes THQ look stupid.
As usual, SD! games are tremendous in the short term, but you’re not going to be playing them in 6 months time. There are some nice things to unlock, such as WWE legends and alternative outfits, but once you’ve got all of these, seen every storyline in season mode and made plenty of CAWs, there’s not much left to enjoy in SD!5 unless you bring a friend round to play against.
Overall (Not an average)- 8/10
And wouldn’t you know it, SD!5 scores the same as SD!4 did a year ago. Drastic changes have been made to certain parts of the game, and I applaud Yukes for that. You’re just going to love the Elimination Chamber, Last Man Standing and all the other great modes from before, and there’s a few new guys and legends to master, and the season mode is brilliant once again. But the extremely out of date roster, poor selection of legends, lack of sound, button mashing gameplay and the fact that there is not a lot of things to do once you’ve completed the season mode is going to leave you feeling pretty disappointed with the game, considering it’s potential. Of course, this game is going to sell at a phenomenal rate, and WWE fans will love it, but you can’t help wondering whether THQ and Yukes could have done a bit more with the game, to change it from a great game, to a game that will go down in history as the best in the genre.
If only the game had been marketed as a wrestling game instead of cyberporn, then WWE and THQ might have gained a bit more respect by the mainstream media.
UK: £29.99 (PS2)
USA: $49.99 (PS2)