THQ's newest GameCube wrestling title is a big improvement over their previous offerings.
For Nintendo gamers, the N64 WCW and WWF games developed by AKI and published by THQ represented the pinnacle of wrestling games. As Nintendo changed consoles and the WWF changed names, THQ did likewise and chose Yukes to develop its recent wrestling games for the GameCube. Thus far, the results have been underwhelming, with WrestleMania X8 and WrestleMania XIX delivering experiences that failed to live up the legacy set by the likes of No Mercy and WrestleMania 2000. This year, THQ kept Yukes as the developer but opted to drop the WrestleMania name and start anew with WWE Day of Reckoning. With the new name come several notable changes to the gameplay that help bring Day of Reckoning close to the lofty standards set by the N64 games.
Day of Reckoning's most significant changes lie in the structure of the single player Story Mode. While last year's WrestleMania XIX took the bulk of the action out of the ring to let gamers recreate the memorable Kurt Angle vs. the security guards matches at some nameless mall, Day of Reckoning takes a more conventional approach and keeps the single player action within the confines of the wrestling arena. I'm sure this'll disappoint all two of the people that enjoyed those classic imaginary mall brawls, but for fans who actually watch WWE wrestling, the return to the arena is greatly welcome. Unfortunately, Day of Reckoning might have taken things a step too far in that there is no backstage fighting. It's not really a big omission, but it's just one of those extra things that would've made the game that much more authentic.
Another change to the single player mode that's less conventional is the fact that you cannot play through it with an established WWE superstar. Instead, the story revolves around your customized wrestler trying to climb his way up through the WWE developmental ranks into either the Raw or Smackdown rosters and eventually to the main event at WrestleMania. Along the way, you'll have various run-ins with WWE superstars and follow a storyline that could easily pass for a script from Raw, and to a lesser extent, SmackDown. The storyline is pretty much the same regardless of whether you join the Raw or SmackDown roster, which is a bit disappointing as the replay value of the story mode is diminished. Also, because the story involves an established stable of heels (bad guys, to those of you unfamiliar with wrestling terminology), it is much more fitting if you choose to join the Raw roster, which has the already established members of Evolution, than if you join SmackDown; which uses a group of previously unassociated heels. On the whole, though, Story Mode is very engaging and works well for your newly created wrestler. It would be very awkward for an established WWE superstar, which is likely why Yukes chose not to allow players to use them in the story mode.
Of course, if you really wanted to, you could create a nice replica of your favorite superstar thanks to the robust Create-a-Superstar mode, but then that would be a waste of the modes' numerous customizable features. The create-a-wrestler mode allows you to adjust a wrestler in about as many ways as you could want. You can adjust a wrestler's cheekbones, jaw, eye brows, lip angle, outline, eyes, nose and mouth...and that's just for the face! Other individual body parts can be similarly adjusted, so the possibilities for a wrestler's appearance are huge. Additionally, you can customize a wrestler's move set, wardrobe and entrance. The entrance editor is particularly noteworthy as you choose your wrestler's animations for the stage, ramp, and ring as well as set the camera angle, lighting, and special effects for each of these areas. All of the customization is enhanced by the fact that the game's character models and animations are truly top-notch. The Create-a-Superstar mode is definitely one of the game's strengths. It allows you to create a wrestler that you can really care about in a way that could not be done in previous WWE games (including the AKI N64 games).
So, Day of Reckoning's Story Mode is a great improvement over recent efforts, and the Create-a-Superstar mode is truly excellent but it's all worthless if the gameplay is poor, right? Thankfully, the game is quite solid. Gameplay was of the things that last year's WrestleMania XIX did right and Day of Reckoning's gameplay only improves upon this foundation. Day of Reckoing uses a traditional gameplay system complete with light/heavy strikes and grapples, a momentum meter that allows you to build up specials, counters (for strikes, grapples, and specials), and rapid pressing of the A-button (used mostly for submissions and recovering from damage). Veterans of previous N64 and GameCube WWE games should feel right at home, though there are some minor changes to the game balance so that the overall speed of a match is slightly slower with a greater emphasis on counters, submissions, and slowly damaging your opponent to use a heavy grapple move or a special. The end result is gameplay that is a good representation of the current style of wrestling favored by WWE management that includes more rest moves (i.e. submissions) and fewer dangerous spots (i.e. fewer heavy grapple moves). Players looking for high speed arcade style gameplay may be a bit disappointed, but fans of the WWE should have no problems with it.
As with most recent wrestling games, Day of Reckoning offers a tutorial mode, a four-player multiplayer mode, and a Shopzone where moves, attire, accessories, and arenas can be purchased using money earned in Story Mode. None of the features really break any new ground, but all are fairly solid and help extend the game's play value. Along the same lines, the game's Exhibition mode features the requisite match types including triple-threat, hell in a cell, steel cage, and royal rumble matches. One area where Day of Reckoning does not meet the standards of recent wrestling games is the roster. There are a total of 40 wrestlers in the game including 4 unlockable legends; Bret Hart being the most notable. While most major current superstars are included in the game, there are some notable omissions including current SmackDown champion John Bradshaw Layfield, tag team staples Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley, and Rene Dupree. The Create-a-Superstar mode allows diehard fans to recreate any missing wrestlers, but doing so can be a time consuming process.
For better or worse, new games based upon a popular license or franchise are compared to previously released games. Up until now, this has been a burden for the GameCube's WWE games, but with Day of Reckoning, the GameCube finally has a wrestling game that stands up to the high expectations set by the AKI developed N64 games. This easily makes Day of Reckoning the best wrestling game on the GameCube. With a wonderful Create-a-Superstar mode, a good Story Mode, solid gameplay, and most of the other features found in recent wrestling games, WWE Day of Reckoning should be judged favorably with all other WWE games.