Let’s Get Ready To Stumble!
When Mr. Gates announced that the Xbox would have a WWF game in time for the system’s launch, wrestling fans everywhere began to salivate. The WWF’s Rock was also on hand, seemingly endorsing the game and giving Bill some console credibility. But then again, this is the same Rock who promised us a realistic "People’s Elbow" for Acclaim’s WWF Attitude.
Well, the Xbox has been here for a while, and finally the WWF comes calling. After waiting so long for this game’s release, I figured the delay was to ensure that the much-ballyhooed "never-before seen" features were up to snuff, the roster was updated, and the gameplay was sufficiently tweaked.
Instead, the game feels rushed. WWF Raw definitely does some things really well, but in other areas it completely misses the mark.
The first thing it does right is look fantastic. From the pyrotechnics during the game’s opening to the sweat dropping from the grapplers as they, well, grapple, WWF Raw sets a new standard for wrestling game visuals. The game accurately duplicates the TV show opening with the cameras panning around a huge arena, showing thousands of screaming fans amidst the smoke and fireworks.
Once you access the main menu, though, things take a turn for the worse. Compared to THQ’s excellent Smackdown! series, WWF Raw features a stunning lack of different play modes and match types. There’s no steel cage, no table-ladder-chair matches, no "I quit" matches – really none of the gimmick matches that make the WWF fun to watch and play have been included.
The gameplay is similar to Smackdown!, while the fighting engine itself seems like an amalgam of Smackdown!, the UFC series, and the overly complex Legends Of Wrestling. The control scheme is odd. There is a block button that does what it’s supposed to, but in order to reverse, dodge, or counter an attack, you must press "grapple" and "strike" simultaneously. That’s two too many defense buttons scattered about the controller. The "taunt" button is also the "pin" button, which also serves as your "climb in and out of the ring" button as well as "climbing the turnbuckle." Imagine trying to taunt and instead pinning your opponent or better yet climbing the turnbuckle for no apparent reason. It’s counterintuitive at best, and there’s nothing worse than having to look down at your controller in the heat of battle.
WWF Raw works like other wrestling games in that your goal is to inflict a decent amount of damage on your opponent before going for your "finishing move." By using varied attacks and taunting your opponent, you build up a "voltage meter" at the bottom of your screen. When it flashes in your favor you can then pull your finisher.
Executing the finisher itself is a pain, however, as you first have to get the meter up, then stun your opponent, then grapple him, and then use a two button combination to actually do the move. Saturn’s "Three-Handled Family Credenza" is a nightmare to pull off in WWF Raw.
Another problem is that the crowd will always side with whomever the more popular Superstar was at the time the game was programmed. Good luck beating Triple H with Justin Credible.
The wrestler’s ring entrances are faithfully reproduced here, with everyone’s appropriate music, pyrotechnics and lighting effects. It’s pretty cool until you realize that everyone (including the women) walks like midget cowboys.
The ability to run up the ramp and interrupt your opponent’s entrance is an original feature, but it’s actually only a cut-scene showing you running up the ramp attacking. You don’t do anything but watch. There’s no referee and no announcers, even though there is an announcer table. You can battle outside the ring, but no further. No backstage areas, no parking lot, no nuthin’. The whole thing feels very slim compared to other more robust wrestling games.
You can take other Superstar’s possessions, though. Dig the Undertaker’s bandanna and shades? Beat him down, and you can knock those items off him and put them on yourself, or use these items in the standard Create-a -Superstar mode. There are many items of clothing and weapons to find and use, and normally this would be a really cool feature but…
…YOU CAN’T SAVE A GAME. Even though the instructions clearly state how to use the auto-save feature and actually show pictures of save screens, WWF Raw has NO auto save! Granted, there is no story mode (!), but there is a Title match mode in which you have to fight a series of opponents to win a belt. The number of opponents you face depends on the prestige of the title you ‘re currently hunting.
For example, the Light Heavyweight Title requires you to face five opponents, where the World Title hunt requires fifteen. These matches can take anywhere from three to twenty-five minutes each, and I think it’s ridiculous that one is expected to go through fifteen matches in one sitting, which is precisely what you have to do because, again, there IS NO AUTO SAVE. If you want to stop during the match or between opponents and continue later, you’re screwed, because you are immediately whisked back to the main menu and have to start over. So much for all the cool items you’ve collected and the characters you’ve unlocked.
The lack of modes and overly complex control could be forgiven. Hell, I could even overlook the lack of voices (characters and announcers), but no save feature? WWF Raw really feels half-finished. It promised features that never made it into the finished product, which is a big disappointment. It’s the Xbox’s best (and only) wrestling title out there, but it could have been so much more.