You've played this game before.
I've seen the good and bad of "updates" of popular games, but WCW/nWo Thunder belongs in the ugly category. This game is the same as WCW Nitro in virtually every single way with hardly any significant changes to gameplay, sound, or graphics. So what's the point of putting out the exact same game twice in two years? Well, considering WWF War Zone's revolutionary (pun intended) success, it appears everyone's jumping on the professional wrestling bandwagon. WCW Nitro wasn't a bad game in its time. However, that time has long passed and THQ has done little to make Thunder competitive with other wrestling games available on the market.
The first glaring weakness of this game is that you can win every single match and every single belt using only one move! I figured out how to easily win two different ways within the first hour of gameplay. The computer AI is non-existent and never compensates for this. On the normal setting, the computer never blocks your attacks and frequently walks right into them.
The second weakness of the game is that it's very easy to win a match with a ring-out, as the computer hardly ever makes a concerted effort to get back in the ring before the twenty second time limit expires.
The controls are a little more intuitive than in Nitro, but that's still not saying much. The poor layout and lack of an on-screen menu make learning the moves much more of a chore than fun. Couple that with the fact that you can win a title belt just by doing one move and you have a very one-dimensional, boring game where there's no incentive to learn anything but a handful of your favorite moves.
The single life bar is just too limited to give this game any kind of depth. Computer opponents can be dominated in a very short time. However, if you don't finish off the computer in a set amount of time in a match he's losing badly, a run-in will occur which increases the length of the match, thus increasing the amount of boredom.
Graphics just plain suck. Wrestlers aren't nearly as detailed as in War Zone or THQ's own WCW/nWo Revenge. In fact, this game looks sadly outdated. The crowds are heinous low-res 2D cardboard cutouts that probably could've been left out altogether since it makes the game's weak graphics look even worse. Anytime there are more than two wrestlers on the screen at once, the screen updates slow considerably, making the game barely playable. The slo-mo action makes gameplay tedious and difficult.
Sounds haven't changed much from the Nitro version. The names of major moves are announced every time you pull it off ad nauseum. In addition, the announcers sound like they're sedated and the commentary is delivered with hardly the enthusiasm essential to a pro wrestling match. In fact, they almost sound like they're bored; but with this lame game, I can hardly blame them. In fact, the sound is worse in some places than in Nitro since they omitted the soundbites from the wrestler's taunts. One of the best and most entertaining parts of Nitro was playing as the Macho Man and taunting your opponent, "OOoooh Yeah!" and all.
The camera is slow and confusing. During run-ins, the wide-angle shot and weird camera rotation make gameplay very difficult. Considering that many moves are directional, it's easy to get confused as to which way the move goes. Also, the camera's intelligence is just as bad as the AI. During intense out-of-ring action, the camera will sometimes pick a shot with the ring in the foreground, thus blocking 50% of the screen's viewable area and you're left wrestling blind.
The good points are few but noteworthy. A new update to Thunder that isn't available in Nitro is a customization feature in which you can strengthen a wrestler's legs, arms, etc. Unfortunately, the changes don't make a significantly noticeable difference in the gameplay. It's a mediocre idea at best.
Also, the "rant" feature in this game should be included in every wrestling game. Before you choose a character, you can hear that wrestler's "rant", a mini-FMV sequence in which the wrestler talks a lot of smack. This is a particularly entertaining and innovative part of the game and should ceratinly be included in future wrestling games.
Keeping in the tradition of Nitro is the awesome amount of secret characters to unlock. This is inherently good. However, trying to unlock all the secrets in this game reminds me faintly of NASCAR '99. In NASCAR you are required to race an inhumane number of laps before you die of boredom to unlock NASCAR legends. In Thunder you are required to play an inhumane number of matches, each exactly like the previous ones in order to unlock a secret character. In both cases, you'll die of boredom after the first one, two if you're lucky. You might as well just cheat to get 'em anyways.
If you liked Nitro enough to want to play it all over again, then this is the game for you. Otherwise, if you're in the market for a quality wrestling game, WWF War Zone is still the benchmark by which this reviewer judges all others, and WCW/nWo Thunder falls far short of the mark.