The Rock serves up a four star meal.
This has been a fantastic month for fans of the WWF. Not only did we get a preview of the upcoming Wrestlemania's main event last week on Raw, and get to see Kane choke-slam Tori, but we also get WWF Smackdown from THQ. Smackdown literally goes places no other wrestling game has gone before (boiler rooms, garages, kitchens, etc.), and improves upon its awesome predecessor, WWF Attitude. While still just a wrestling game, it contains some extremely intricate features, giving this game depth beyond that of any wrestling game yet made.
In past wrestling games, boring and repetitive combat has been a serious problem. However, Smackdown breaks the monotony of typical combat by putting several moves at a wrestler's disposal at once and varying the speed and power of the attacks. For example, a wrestler typically has four strikes and one striking combo at his or her command. Since the power and speed of the attacks vary, different strikes become useful in different situations. Once you figure out which strikes are good coupled with what others, you'll be able to lay a serious Smackdown.
The player-editing feature in Smackdown is entertaining, but by now this is pretty regular fare. The feature does give you quite a bit of freedom and quite a few choices in designing your character. After you create a character, you can further customize it (and you can make some real "its") by running it through the pre-season. As your character wins matches, he essentially gets experience points, which you can choose to delegate out in literally countless ways. The potential depth of characterization is astounding, and watching your weak, pathetic wrestler develop into a serious ass-kicker is highly amusing. With real size and shape modeling (if you make a character big, that character will really be huge in the ring), this is a nice addition.
Nearly every aspect of the game is customizable through the edit player and the pay-per-view match options. In fact, every mode except for the Season mode has a dump-truck load of potential options and choices for a player to fiddle around with. The pay-per-view events get pretty old, as their significance is contained completely within the matches (once the match ends you don't go on to anything). But the hundreds of changeable features allow for all sorts of different multi-player matches, which keeps multi-player interest high for a really long time.
While Smackdown's customization possibilities add a lot of depth, the game still lacks a story line. Sure, there are little snippets of wannabe story shoved in between matches in the Season mode (which is the quintessential single player mode), but they have very little bearing on the actual matches and are really not very interesting. They're not very well done, either. For example, one story scene might be a shot of Christian and Edge bumping into each other and then just standing there, while a caption at the bottom of the screen informs you that they seem to be irritated with each other. Pretty lame.
One of the coolest match-types you can choose is the "Anywhere Fall" match. In these matches, you can slam your opponent around back stage, in an office, in a kitchen, or in a garage. Each different setting contains all sorts of props to further the violence and some nifty little extras, like car headlights that flash 'on' when you ram your opponent's head into them. There are also the typical wrestling game matches like Hardcore and Steel Cage matches, but the Anywhere Fall match is what really sets this game apart from the others.
New to the genre is the option of refereeing the matches. Guest referees will come down and ref matches, usually leading to plenty of interference. However, this is really more of an entertaining diversion than anything else.
Smackdown's graphics are decent, though the animation is a little choppy and the hit detection is a bit unpredictable. The players are pretty recognizable, although they all seem slightly flabby. This is due to the fact that the details are pretty much painted on and don't get too much into the third dimension.
It's also apparent that some aspects of the wrestlers' appearances received greater attention that others. For example, Debra's cleavage contains more detail than any other wrestler's entire body (Ahem...this is a bad thing? - Ed.). The FMV in the intros and the beginning of the game is well done. They are comprised of actual wrestling footage and really do the wrestlers justice (especially in Tori's and Debra's cases. Zowee!).
Music in Smackdown kicks ass. Though the tracks loop, they sound good and are long enough that you don't even notice the repetition. The actual music from the Smackdown TV show is included in the intro, and each of the wrestler's personal themes are included in their intros. The combat music is sort of a hardcore track which suits the violence well.
While still essentially similar to other wrestling games in terms of gameplay combat, WWF Smackdown is loaded with enough features to keep you interested for a long time, and is ultimately a step above all other wrestling titles. The action is fast and furious, the sound bumps, and it looks fantastic. This game truly lays the smackdown on every other wrestling game to date.