WWE RAW 2 XBox review

It's rare when a company actually listens to consumers anymore. Why else do we still get "Tomb Raider" games? Here is a rare case when a company actually took to heart everything that was criticized about the first game (for the record, it was quite the list) and fixed it, but in the process created a whole new list of unforgivable issues that consumers will again have to wait to be fixed in "RAW 3" (if it ever surfaces of course).

Thankfully, there's some replay value this year. The inclusion of a story/season mode is intriguing, the various match types are more than welcome, and the ability to have 6 wrestlers in ring at once is outstanding considering the graphical detail, but the majority of these go horribly, horribly wrong. Beginning with the season mode, you'll have the ability to take any wrestler through an entire year in the WWE. There's an insanely cool feature that will let up to 4 of your friends join in and follow either their own storylines or even intersect with yours. Before each event (which consist of RAW, Smackdown, and PPV) you'll have the option to choose your options as to how you will act as the night pans out. You're given the option to interfere, steal, surprise attack, call out, encourage, rest, manipulate, and more before every match. Cool? Yes. Each of these actions will affect your character in some way depending on the outcome.

These outcomes will affect your popularity, spirit (I.e. energy), or both. Resting will most likely restore your "spirit," unless of course you're attacked by someone you're currently feuding with...and in some cases not even feuding with. Surprise attacking a popular wrestler will most likely decrease your popularity, hereby decreasing the chance at a title shot. Stealing also proves dangerous to your health, if of course it's successful. Regardless, everything except resting will most likely affect your health in someway, so this becomes a necessity.

While backstage resting, there is a chance that you will be attacked as mentioned above. This is the one of the first of numerous issues with the story mode. Every time you are attacked, you'll be treated to the same animation routine before your allowed to counter your attacker in a one-minute melee (the only backstage action you get in the entire game). If you're not attacked, the resting sequence simply gets repeated every time. There is no variety to speak of and it's downright dumb that every locker room in every city looks exactly the same, even down to the shoes on the floor. How about a parking lot or something?

Conversations, which occur in the ring (for match announcements) or backstage have no real sense of surprise, mostly due to the fact that no text or voice accompany the graphics engine. It's great to the see the Undertaker and Goldberg backstage chatting, but why? You'll never know due to this glaring oversight. Worse yet, as enemies are formed through the season, they'll constantly interfere in your matches.... by beating on your opponent. Even if you begin attacking them, they'll continue to help you out. The sheer logic in this is baffling. Worse yet, you can be relentlessly attacked by an enemy for months, but never be given a singles match with the opposition. Instead, you'll be booked with someone you've never even spoke to or attacked repeatedly, defeating the entire purpose of feuds in the first place.

There are many more issues to be dissected within this mode, but those mentioned are enough to get the point across. Once into the ring, things get worse. The engine has hardly been refined at its base, where it needed it the most. It has been slowed a bit to give it a more realistic pacing, but it hardly helps. The new match types are intriguing and include the awesome hell-in-a-cell, a staple of WWE programming. This match is executed well (you can even throw them through the top to the ring below just like Mick Foley at KOR versus the Undertaker), but others like the TLC and ladder match are simply putrid.

The announce table (minus the announcers) is located ringside, obviously set for destruction. Unfortunately, a flying clothesline can destroy it accidentally while not even on top of it. The same holds true with standard tables. Jumping off the ladders to grab the belt is a mystery since THQ was kind enough to leave any mention of how to do it out of the instruction book (or anywhere in the game). The entire match inclusion seems like an afterthought and was obviously not refined (or tested) before release. Other now standard matches include tornado tag, battle royals, hardcore, and normal tag amongst others.

The gameplay is more derivative of "Smackdown" on the PS2 than anything else. Countering is the only decent addition, but the A. I. generally abuses this feature to compensate for lackluster programming in this area. It's funny to watch the computer elbow drop the mat when you're already standing behind it...until you realize that it happens far too often. Tag matches can be downright infuriating as the computer interferes with every pin/submission attempt. Your partner isn't smart enough to make the move and stop them, instead opting to stand over you and watch. The wrestlers react with painful expressions and some of the hits are downright gruesome to watch, but the amount of moves is far too limited for extensive play. Gamers need an update to the N64's No mercy...fast.

To make matters worse, the sound is just plain atrocious. Sure all the wrestlers have their theme music (and custom soundtracks are supported in the create-a-wrestler mode), but the complete lack of commentary, any voice work by the wrestlers themselves, and the gaudy music played during the matches (which can be turned off mercifully) is unforgivable. The menus feature specific show theme songs, but are repeated every time you are presented with one. The new CAW mode is a much-needed feature and thankfully has done well. Not only do you create the wrestler, but their entrance as well, all the way down to the timing of the pyrotechnics. You can even go as far as creating your own TitanTron video, a first for the genre.

If the game has anything going for it, it's the graphics engine, though issues are apparent here too. The wrestler models are simply packed with polygons, more so than any other wrestling game in recent memory. Check out the back of Bubba Ray Dudley's head... it's scarred just like in real life. Their walks are still robotic at times and some of the transition animations still don't look right, but all of this is resolved by the improved collision detection. The ring ropes, an issue last year, have few (if any) issues interacting with the combatants; though you'll still see a foot pass through an opponent (an issue that will hopefully be rectified by the next generation of consoles). The entrances are almost photo real at times, the pyro being the highlight. The first 6 or 7 rows of fans seated at ringside have also been brought to life via polygons, a refreshing change from the usual cardboard cutouts sports fans are accustomed to.

Yes, the new features are more than welcome, there's no denying that. But if your going to go through the trouble of including them, why not go all out and do it right? It's obvious time constraints didn't allow for refinement in the gameplay area as the developers tried to address other issues with this edition, but the game is far from complete. There are still too many issues outstanding and it almost seems like the game has reached stores in an unfinished form. Maybe this is an evil government conspiracy forcing wrestling fans to buy incomplete wrestling games year after year and boosting the sagging economy in the process? It's the only logical explanation for this barely average piece of software.

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