Is THQ's newest wrestling game a jackhammer of a sequel or just a piddling roster update? Get the answer from a true wrestling fanatic.
In what is being billed as the first ever “true” wrestling sequel, Day of Reckoning 2 continues the storyline from the first Day of Reckoning game, which was a marked improvement in the GameCube wrestling titles developed by Yuke’s. The incremental improvements continue, with an overhauled graphics engine and new gameplay features, but the title still falls ever so short from living up to the pedigree established by AKI and games like No Mercy on the Nintendo 64.
The first thing a fan is likely to notice is that the overall interface for the game has been given a new level of polish. Yuke’s has created a fictional (as much as anything is fictional in wrestling) sports facility called “THQ Arena”, and you sort of move through the arena as you select your game options. It would be a nice way to extend the metaphor if it weren’t for the atrocious load times and grating cheese-metal guitar riff playing in the background.
There are a total of 45 WWE Superstars to choose from amongst the regular roster, Divas, and Legends. The “Legends” are a bit of a puzzle, since rather than choosing from the Hall of Fame, they’ve simply included fan favorites like “The Rock”, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and, oddly enough, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. The roster is especially puzzling given that some of the other THQ games have more Superstars in the mix, but considering how fluid the WWE roster can be, cuts are almost to be expected (for example, Charlie Haas, Doug Basham, and Spike Dudley were recently released from the company). It would have been nice to see some of the Hall of Famers such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper or Sgt. Slaughter.
Just about every television or PPV setup that a fan would expect is included, such as RAW and SmackDown!, and even the one-off “Taboo Tuesday” show. Many of the stages are locked until you purchase them in the WWE Shop or unlock them through Story Mode play. Match types are plentiful as well, from Triple Threat and Fatal 4-Way matches, down to the girls-only “Bra & Panties” match. Tables, Ladders, Chairs, and all of the above are also available, as are both a standard Steel Cage and the Hell in a Cell variant.
The “Create-A-Superstar” mode (or CAW, for Create-A-Wrestler, as the Internet likes to call it) is the shiniest gem in the game, but also part of the biggest disappointment. There are literally hundreds of thousands of combinations for your created character, including some homages to Superstars past and present that couldn’t be put directly into the game for legal reasons. Want to create Brock Lesnar or “Ravishing” Rick Rude? The animations and body types are there, it’s just up to the player to come up with the combinations of parts. Unfortunately, players already spent a great deal of time doing this with the previous game, and while DOR2 is a sequel of a storyline involving your created superstar, you don’t get to bring it in from the first game. The storyline is decent and even plays on some of the past storylines from the actual WWE product (the simultaneous pin and tap-out that happened during a Chris Jericho and Triple H match last year), but it's still largely forgettable, and you’ll probably skip through most of it to get to the matches.
The overall presentation of the game is much improved, with higher polygon counts in the wrestlers, improved texture mapping on the faces (which does get a bit eerie at times), and a more or less “realistic” sweaty look to the wrestler’s skin. These upgrades don’t come without a cost, however, as the presentation of the entrance videos is noticeably compressed, with the occasional stutter (like during Kurt Angle’s entrance, most notably). As good as most of the characters look, there are still a couple that they just can’t seem to get right, like Triple H, who has looked far too much like a Neanderthal in every Yuke’s game. It’s possible that the folks at Yuke’s have their own favorites that they like to spend time on, so “The Game” ends up getting the short end of the stick.
Once you get into the ring, there are a lot of changes to the core gameplay system. A new stamina feature makes sure that stronger players can’t just wail on the weaker ones from the get go with getting “blown up” (wrestling speak for getting winded during a match), so careful management of your stamina becomes crucial. In theory, it’s supposed to add a strategic element to the game, but in practice, it’s far too easy to circumvent the system, making it fairly useless.
The new submission system, on the other hand, is a fantastic addition to the mix. Once you execute a submission hold, tap a direction on the C-Stick to choose from a taunting submission, draining submission, standard submission, or a rest hold (to regain your own stamina). The fun part is that the opponent gets to guess which you’re going to try as well, and a correct guess will create a reversal and possibly even damage the aggressor. It’s a fairly well-balanced addition, and it ends up being a fun way to regain control if you can guess what your opponent is up to.
Finally, Yuke’s has added a one-time “Momentum Shift” feature, which allows you to swap Pulse and Stamina meters with your opponent if executed correctly. It’s fun (and frustrating) to think that you’re about to nail a finishing move, only to have your opponent reverse it and use your own move on you, humiliating you and leaving you for dead. Considering how often this happens in wrestling, it adds a bit more realism, as well as that sense of “anything can happen in the WWE.”
Of course, all of this only applies if you’re playing with a friend or three, because the AI is so atrociously bad as to suck all of the fun out of the game. The default difficulty level allows for some ridiculously cheap wins. It was not uncommon for my created Superstar to finish an opponent in less than two minutes without ever having used a finishing move. Higher difficulty levels are a little better, but still woefully inadequate. Given that completion of the story mode is one of the only ways to unlock certain features, gamers are forced to trudge through the substandard AI just to play some of the best PPV sets with their friends.
It’s great that THQ and Yuke’s continue to make great forward progress with their GameCube wrestling titles, and Day of Reckoning 2 is certainly the best one yet, though not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s actually quite telling that the game is actually in better shape than the early demo that the WWE has been promoting for the last several months, so you can tell that a certain amount of care has been put into the game's development. It would be fantastic to see a game that more closely resembled the actual TV presentation (like when you hit “A” to skip an entrance, having a wrestler run-down to the ring “all fired up”), but for the most part, they’ve gotten it right. Giving the limited storage space on GameCube, it’s possible that we might not see a game that manages to keep the corners intact until Revolution. Definitely worth a purchase for die-hard wrestling fans, and it is still a fun rental for a weekend slugfest with your friends.