A day like any other.
Professional wrestling is a cultural platypus. It's a combination of elements that have no earthly business being together, a beast that's part sport, part soap-opera, and all macho craziness. Love it or hate it, it's proven to be as durable as the Hulkster himself.
But within its own world, professional wrestling is so predictable and rehashed it almost feels like you're watching spruced-up reruns of matches you saw in the 80s, just with bigger pecs, better athletes and hotter sidekicks. So it comes as a slight disappointment, if not much of a surprise, that THQ's new WWE Day of Reckoning 2 also feels like a refry of the original.
Since your last visit, you lost the title to Triple H, but scored Stacy Keibler as a girlfriend. Aside from baking her cookies, you've also battled your way back into the number one contender spot and are all set to face the winner of a title match between Triple H and Y2J. Shockingly, that match ends in a draw, cuing all sorts of shenanigans including a massive tournament and the theft of the title belt. A couple beatdowns reveal more clues, which unfurl a decently scripted story. Don't look for any branching plot threads, though, because the game is basically linear in its delivery.
All the modes from Day of Reckoning return, including Battle Royal, Tag Team, Hardcore, TLC, Bra & Panties, Steel Cage, and Hell in A Cell. Most of the wrestlers are back, though the total number has jumped to 45 including more unlockable Legends like old school Hulk Hogan and The Rock.
The Create-a-Wrestler mode is virtually the same as it was last year, aside from a few new cat's ears, pants, and moves. It's so similar, in fact, that it's a major bummer you can't just import your champ from the original. Instead, you have to grapple with long load times once again to remake your Ninja Mr. T. Since the story is supposed to pick up where the last one left off and you're literally supposed to be the same guy, it doesn't make any sense that you have to create a brand new one. You'll wonder if your factory fresh Jedi Mr. T knows what the hell these people are talking about at all.
We guess the developers too busy porting over the beat-on-an-area-to-weaken-it gameplay. The Momentum Shift function returns as well, as do hard and light strikes and grapples. It all works just as it used to, which is to say, pretty well. The system hasn't changed a great deal for a good five or six years, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Instead, break it! This go around, a stamina meter is introduced which depletes every time you use a move. This is presumably intended to prevent absolute maulings, but the result is an occasionally huge and awkward break in the action. If your stamina gets down to zero, your wrestler becomes totally unresponsive to your input for a good ten seconds while going through an 'out of breath' animation. The only way to regain your stamina is to stop attacking. Often times, you'll have to lamely stand next to your felled opponent and catch your breath instead of stomping his face. If only you could shell out some in-game cash to get Mr. T an inhaler.
Running also reduces your stamina, opening a serious exploit to any gamer worth his thumbs. If you Irish Whip your opponent, forcing him to run when his stamina is low, he'll run out of gas in the middle of the mat, buying you 10 seconds to regenerate some stamina and set up any crushing move you can think of.
The stamina meter slows down the action to prevent beatings from getting too out of hand, but a better alternative has been a part of the gameplay all along: counter moves. These can get you out of a bind more reliably than waiting for your foe to get tired of kicking your ass, and they don't halt the action. Ironically, Yuke's made counters harder to pull off in a bid to put emphasis on their stamina meter, effectively gimping their game's only skill-based feature.
Your CPU opponents, on the other hand, seem to have an easier time executing counters than before. While we're a little bitter that counters were made more difficult for human minds to grasp, this boost doesn't turn the computer into a counter-attacking machine. The A.I. actually needed this upgrade. In tag matches, computer opponents are much better about tagging partners if they're getting schooled. On the cheap side, the computer will occasionally loop its tags, trapping you in a turnbuckle while constantly tagging out and attacking until you finally land a successful counter.
The other big gameplay addition is a large radial menu that pops up whenever a submission move is applied. This presents four choices: Rest Hold (recharges stamina), Submit (does more damage), Drain (depletes opponent stamina), and Taunt (charges special meter). If your opponent is able to predict your choice, the submission hold is reversed. This is an interesting idea, but not much of an improvement over the old system.
Instead of actually adding tons of depth to the gameplay, the developers clearly focused their attacks on the graphics. The movement is tight and smooth, and the overall detailing has been upgraded from a shiny glaze to a striated fiber. While the superstars got the "special treatment" treatment, everyone in the audience got a cheap seat. This is definitely better than having awesome looking fans and ugly wrestlers, although we still wish the fans could have been given a little more over-the-top love.
Musically, Day of Reckoning 2 favors a blend of generic metal, techno and rap. The songs themselves aren't outstanding, but at least they barely repeat. The sound effects are neither compelling nor biting, and the matches lack any WWE voiceover. Whatcha gonna do?
With minor gameplay upgrades and some significant graphical tweaks, Day of Reckoning 2 feels more like a patch than a true sequel. Then again, patches usually make games better. This one damages the gameplay and commits a huge oversight by failing to let players import their custom characters from the last game. But in spite of these shortcomings, WWE Day of Reckoning 2 tells a wacky if familiar story and offers Gamecube owners some decent wrestling action. The body isn't fresh, but it's still strong enough to pin you to the couch.