Put down the smack and pick up the game.
THQ's WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, the sequel to the acclaimed WWF Smackdown, fell just inches short of receiving that parent-pleasing Game Revolution A. But before I explain why it didn't, let me explain what got it so close.
This is an incredibly fun game. It's all here. Table matches, ladder matches, casket matches, and for the first time in any videogame…the dreaded "Hell in a Cell" match! Can you say "salivate?" In Exhibition mode, the rules for the matches can be customized to an amazing degree, which allows the player to re-create almost any special stipulation match. The backstage areas are massive, and include such venues as the concession stands, the parking lot and locker rooms.
Almost every inanimate object in the area can be utilized as a weapon. In one backstage cut-scene, my wrestler was having his match critiqued by Kurt Angle. In a rare moment of interactivity, I was allowed to respond to King Kurt's suggestions by piledriving him through a table and beating him with a potted plant. It's more fun than ding-dong ditch!
The graphics are a bit grainy, but it still looks good. From re-creating wrestler's mannerisms and appearances to the working "Titantron" at the top of the ramp, Smackdown replicates the distinctive feel of a WWF event. Constantly shifting, multiple camera angles break the monotony of watching the same moves over and over, but do not adversely affect the gameplay.
The in-game physics have to be seen to be believed. Say you wanna toss your opponent over the top rope to the arena floor. Sure, you can do it, but if you mis-judge the distance, the poor sap gets bisected at the waist by the top rope, and he hangs there, half in, half out of the ring. Defenseless. Whip your opponent into the corner, and either set him on the top turnbuckle for a high-risk maneuver or stomp a mudhole in him until he's prone on the canvas (I checked the command list. It's actually called "mudhole stomping.")
Outside the ring, you can whip your opponent into the steel steps at ringside. You can then pick up the steps and bash in your opponent's head. Cool. You can even set a ladder in the center of the ring, climb to the top, then leap off, crashing into your opponent on the arena floor! Picture it. Yeeeeaaaaah!
You can even pull tag-team maneuvers with no trouble at all. Getting beaten up horribly in one tag match, I frantically started to mash buttons while screaming, "Tag, you bastard! Tag!" Suddenly, my partner reached in, tagged me, and together we pulled the 3-D - by accident! Now that's cool.
Control is a breeze. There's a button for grappling, one for striking, and one for defense. Nice and simple. Depending on your positioning and the direction you hold the D-pad, your wrestler does different things. For example, pressing "grapple" will hurl your opponent into the ropes, while pressing "Down + grapple" will let you do a arm-bar or leg sweep or any number of moves. Very intuitive.
All of the sound effects in the game are impact related, but sound authentic enough. The music seems to be the same type of generic metal that THQ used for the first Smackdown game. It's a bit inappropriate and just feels wrong to have music during the matches. I guess the programmers felt they had to do something to cover up the lack of voice-overs in the game. No verbal taunts, no play-by-play, no audience chants. Nothing! It's simply not the WWF without the announce teams. Even the substandard voices in the Acclaim series of wrestling games would be a welcome addition to Smackdown 2.
Smackdown 2 was a mere twelve minutes away from getting some sort of an "A." Just twelve minutes. Confused? Just take a gander at Season mode.
After turning it on, going through the various interfaces, reading the manual and screwing around with the Exhibition mode, I thought I would go to the "meat and potatoes" of any sports title - the Season Mode. At the character select screen, I chose former ECW world champion, Tazz. While reading the names of the participants in tonight's wrestling extravaganza, I was getting hyped...until I don't see my name. Hey! I'm not even competing on this card! No big deal. Like it's predecessor, Smackdown 2 gives you the choice of either watching the matches you aren't participating in, or hitting "X" to simulate a winner.
So, I hit "X" to start advancing through these pointless matches, and I'm rewarded with a "now loading" screen. Now loading? For a simulated victor? Whatever. So I wait. Eventually, I get a cut scene with Michael Cole interviewing The Undertaker backstage. No voices, just dialog boxes. This is actually kind of cool, because it mimics a WWF broadcast with wrestlers cutting promos between matches. The 'Taker wonders who his mystery opponent is. I could care less, 'cause I know for certain it ain't me.
Unfortunately, just like the previous Smackdown game, you're not given the option to interrupt the cut scenes. So you sit there and wait. Thus far I have been "playing" for about six minutes, but have yet to see my wrestler. After another load screen, I finally get to see who won the match. I press "X" to skip. Much to my dismay, instead of tapping the button and getting a winner, I get a snapshot of both competitors with rapidly depleting power-meters. Yes, this also has to be endured, because there is no way to jump past it. Three minutes and two cut-scenes later, I'm off to the next event. This is a total of nine minutes.
In the end, it was a full twelve minutes before I was able to actually participate. Twelve minutes! That's waaay too long to hold an inactive controller in a wrestling game.
You're probably wondering, "But Joe, why bother with Season? Just play Exhibition!" That's the problem. You have to play Season mode if you ever hope to unlock the game's many secrets. Certain characters, venues, and match types are available only after they have been unlocked. Sure, it adds to the replayability, but having to wait for CPU matches to end is irritating, frustrating, and certainly NOT entertaining.
Once again, Smackdown 2 is a great game, but having to stand around backstage and watch the other characters perform is maddening. I guess that's what any rookie wrestler goes through.