Trawl through the original
previews and read about each game feature as and when
"Wrestling is an art form. I don't worry
about those who don't get it;
I worry about satisfying those who do."
- Paul Heyman
It's been a long journey,
across both 2D and 3D territory, but we're finally here at my first 3D
wrestling sim! That statement is either what you've been waiting to hear for 3
years, or it fills you with dread because your computer's not quite up to it.
In any case, I'm sure you'll agree it's the next logical step and has to be
taken - so let's see how it's turned out...
To The Jungle
The "Wrestling MPire" is a
huge network of promotions from all over the world, which has brought order to
the wrestling industry. Featuring over 200 wrestlers, spread across 9 talent
pools, it is by far the biggest world ever seen in gaming - or real life for
that matter! It's the most diverse world too - featuring 6 unique majors, a
wrestling school, a star-studded retirement home, and a resting ground for the
deceased. Each of the 6 main federations are truly distinctive - from their
selection of wrestlers through to their Popularity and Reputation. Federation Online
is a product of "shock TV", featuring the most outrageous action and characters.
All American Wrestling is the star-studded industry leader. United
Kingdom of Wrestling is a rough, no-nonsense organization. Rising Sun
Puroresu is an honourable Japanese outfit, which boasts incredible talent.
Maple Leaf Grappling is a brutal shoot-fighting group, featuring the
world's real tough guys. And finally, Super Lucha Libre is a colourful
Mexican show that specializes in high-flying action...
Before you get to enjoy any of
those promotions though, you must pay your dues on the "Wrestling School"
circuit. This pool is full of laughably bad wannabe's - all hoping for their big
break. You must turn up week after week, and bust your ass for free in an eerily
quiet training hall. It's not always such a depressing experience though. Every
month the students get to put on a small show for the local residents, which is
a rare chance to enjoy working the crowd. Even more exciting is the possibility
of a famous wrestler dropping in to give you a work-out! It's often an
eye-opening reminder of what it takes to beat a professional...
If you show potential at
wrestling school, the heavyweights will come sniffing around eventually. Their
agenda is to sign you up for slave labour, so it's a good job that you have a
say in contract negotiations! When the time comes, a booker will state his
position and then offer you a deal. You may then make any changes you see fit,
before submitting it back to be considered. This battle of wills takes place
until a deal can be agreed upon - or until the booker loses his patience! Your
power in negotiations is accurately based on how talented and valuable you are.
Popularity is the biggest factor, and those that have it can pretty much call
the shots. Those that don't will often find themselves lucky to have a job
Getting a generous salary and a
relaxed contract duration is just the tip of the iceberg in this game. Just like
in real life, there's the "small print" to look out for. These are 4 additional
options that can have a devastating effect on your life. The first is the best
example: image rights. If you let this one slip then you'll find yourself losing
control of everything from your name to your costume! You'll become a doll for
the booker to play with as he wishes. As frustrating as this is, it's simply another
case of paying your dues. Until a wrestler becomes a major player at an
organization, they cannot possibly be trusted to develop their own gimmick. Next
up is a "Performance Clause", which states what you have to do to get paid.
Bookers like to set it so that you receive a reduced amount - or nothing at all
- if you lose. This can ruin an unlucky wrestler's life, but on the flipside
it's the perfect motivation to succeed! Another clause that can ruin your life
is the "Health Policy". Injuries are all too common, and if you don't negotiate
some cover you could find yourself losing money whenever you can't work. The
fourth and final clause is the "Training Policy", which simply states how much -
if anything - the company is willing to pay towards your training. These clauses
make the 6 federations even more unique, because each booker has a different
approach to negotiations. Federation Online, for instance, don't care
about controlling your image - whereas Super Lucha Libre consider it
Bring Home The Bacon
All of this talk about money is
more important than you'd think, because every week your finances are
calculated. You have a bank balance to worry about, and your income can
sometimes go as easily as it came! First up is living costs. If your character
is over 18 then life isn't free. Roughly one sixth of your income - whatever it
may be - is fluttered away on life. This means you have to work hard just to
make ends meet, and as a student you will even find yourself paying out of your
own pocket to stay in the business! Other costs are a little more optional -
such as training, managers, and gimmicks. It's not just your ring work that
brings in the money though - backstage banter with fellow wrestlers can also
lead to an exchange of cash...
Into My Office
Contracts are just one of many
subjects that bookers like to talk to you about. Once you're employed by them,
you can be called into their office at any time for a discussion. These include
turning Face/Heel, becoming a Tag/Singles wrestler - and possibly less
honourable matters, such as taking steroids or being blackmailed! In this game,
how you handle yourself backstage is just as important as what happens inside
From The Locker Room
These meetings can also extend to
the locker room, where it's fellow wrestlers that are doing the talking. As
you'd expect, they can range from friendly offers to corrupt threats. Either
way, you have to be just as careful with them as you would with a booker.
When a wrestler gets upset they settle it in the ring - or even with a backstage
brawl! Either can make your life a misery if you're not careful. Anybody that
takes up residence as your "Enemy" will regularly interfere in your matches, and
perhaps even act as a corrupt referee if they get a chance! On the other
hand, you can also make friends who will cover your back more often than not...
The storylines can often spill
out into the ring. In fact, that's were most of them originate! The game
cleverly acknowledges what went down in a match - such as an interference - and
occasionally sets up an angle for the following week. With microphones in hand,
the wrestlers then make their voices heard. There are over 30 such storylines,
so you can go through an entire career without seeing them all! There are solo
speeches too - for situations such as arriving at a federation, or saying
farewell when your contract expires. Thankfully, they're arranged automatically
so all you have to do is go with the flow...
Your exploits in any company are
largely governed by the role you take. Once you've established a firm friendship
there's often the opportunity to work the Tag Team circuit full-time. This is
entirely a matter of taste, of course, but sometimes it's good to share the
workload. The obvious drawback is that dedicating yourself to the doubles division
takes you out of the World title race - although you do have the Tag titles to
pursue instead. In any case, you can revert back to Singles competition whenever
the opportunity arises. Another factor in the role issue is whether you choose
to be a "Face" (good guy) or a "Heel" (bad guy). Far from an empty gesture, your
allegiance decides which side of the roster you're likely to face (Faces are
booked against Heels and vice versa). So if you take the time to study the
rosters, you can actually make it a tactical decision...
If you're fortunate enough to
have control of your image then you can have a lot of fun developing your
character. You have access to a limited version of the editor at all times,
where you are invited to adjust everything from your name and theme music
through to your various costumes. You can even revise your move set if your
training regime is good enough. As drastic as these changes sound, they all
happen bit by bit - because it all costs a little money here and there. There's
also the fact that you don't have full control over things such as your build
and height (they come over time or with training). All in all, this means your
image evolves as it would in real life - whereby you look back after a few years
and barely recognize the person you once were! That feeling proved so
significant that it was actually incorporated into the screenshot system.
Whenever you take a photo it's saved in a special folder, complete with your
character's name and the date in your game world. You can then take a look a few
months later and be reminded of your greatest moments...
Developing your image is pretty
much a luxury, but developing your skills is essential. As a student, you start
out with mostly pathetic statistics and you must then mould yourself into the
wrestler you want to be. This is largely done with training, where you can
choose which area to work on and how hard to do so. Even then it's a slow
process - one which may never end! Due to the nature of the business, a
wrestler's body is constantly being knocked backwards. Every injury undoes most
of your hard work, and sometimes skills can deteriorate or improve at random
after each bout. If you don't make the effort to rehabilitate yourself then you
could find yourself struggling to perform...
Your most important attribute,
"Popularity", is one of the few things that cannot be honed to perfection in the
gym. This statistic is governed by your in-ring performance, as it goes up with
each win and down with each loss. Your "Reputation" is similarly affected. This
statistic tells the world what kind of wrestler you are - ranging from a
depraved hardcore act to a highly respected technician. The value goes up every
time you take part in a clean match, and down every time you overdose on the
weapons! However, Reputation is one of the few values that doesn't necessarily
need to be high. Your style is a matter of taste, and you're well within your
rights to become a hardcore legend. Just don't expect to have the world's most
respectable outfits fighting over you... and you can kiss that health insurance
You'd be forgiven for thinking
the MPire revolves around you, but it doesn't. Every week you're kept up-to-date
with the latest news - from your company and others around the world. The other
wrestlers evolve as surely as you do, and so do the federations themselves.
Titles change hands, careers deteriorate or improve, wrestlers jump ship, and
entire companies lose their way. This makes it essential that you pay attention
to what's happening. A promotion you had plans to work for might have lost its
appeal, whilst one you dismissed might have blossomed. Likewise, a wrestler you
grew up with at school might have soared to stardom - whilst the wrestlers you
used to respect deteriorate into cripples...
The fleeting of time makes the
evolution of the world even more interesting. Your annual schedule is broken
down into 12 months of 4 weeks - and even the year is recorded, taken from the
real life year that you started the career. It then progresses as it would in
reality, so you find yourself working deep into the 21st century! In any case,
the months consist of three TV tapings and one spectacular PPV at the end.
That's not your schedule set in stone though. Shows can be cancelled at the drop
of a hat, and new ones such as charity or inter-promotional events can be booked
for the weeks ahead. Your company can even go on tour with multiple PPV's, which
bring in some big pay days! The inter-promotional events are the most rewarding
shows though, because these rare nights bring the Wrestling MPire
together. Instead of the usual suspects from your own show, you get to face
talent from other companies - usually your counterpart too, resulting in a
clash of the champions! These events are made even more special thanks to formal
introductions, in which each wrestler is accompanied by their booker and
introduced by a guest referee...
This One's For You
The most special of nights are
the memorial shows, which take place whenever a famous wrestler dies. As
in real life, death is all too common - and can happen both in and out of
the ring. Far from the gratuitous butchering seen in most games, death in
the Wrestling MPire is a shocking event that's handled very
tastefully. Your booker solemnly asks you if you want to take part, and if
you do you will then proceed to lead a touching tribute to the deceased
grappler - whose portrait haunts you from the video screen...
"I'm a wrestler... get me outta here!"
With a bit of luck you'll
survive to see your retirement, which you can choose to do at any time. It's not
all about quitting when you're bored though. As it should be in real life,
retirement in this game is also about 'going out on top'. When you retire your
career is analysed, based on 4 key factors, and awarded a percentage. The first
factor is "Success", which is basically your win rate. Keep going when you're a
broken down wreck and you'll taint that score! Next up is "Experience", which is
perfected by working for all 6 major companies, holding all 6 World
championships, AND having Tag success. Achieving a good score there is what
keeps wrestlers going for as long as possible. Third is "Wealth", which is based
on how much money you had in the bank upon retiring. The fourth and final factor
is "Dignity", which is yet another reason to go out in your prime. This score is
based on the prestige of your final working place and the value of your body.
For instance, if you're a broken down wrestler that's embarrassing himself back
at school then you've got no dignity! The overall score is simply the average of
those 4 values, and works out to be spookily accurate. Another nice touch is
that your high scores are recorded in a "Hall of Fame", so you can compare and
contrast your previous efforts...
Throughout your career you
get to participate in dozens of different matches. However, the most amazing
contests take place when you set the rules yourself in the Exhibition mode! Here
you get to mix and match every single option that makes up a bout - from the
rules and aim, through to exactly what counts as a fall. You can even decide
what's on the line - from championships through to "Loser Leaves Town"
stipulations! For your convenience their are plenty of presets, but the
opportunity to create your own matches is hard to resist. Especially when you've
got the Royal Rumble style "sequential" format at your disposal. This option
takes Battle Royals one step further by breaking the wrestler entrances down to
one every minute. Sure enough, with each passing minute a buzzer sounds and the
next wrestler pops through the curtain to join the action. For added
authenticity, you can even choose "over the top" as the elimination method -
resulting in a sumo war like no other! The match is especially interesting in
this game, since there are countless ways to topple over the ropes - from move
throw-outs, to knock-outs, and even accidental stumbles..
Company; Twenty Two's A Crowd!
The most jaw-dropping aspect to
this game is that you can have a record-shattering 25 characters in the
arena at any one time! You do, of course, need a lethally strong computer to get
away with matches that big - but it's good to know that the option is there. In
any case, most computers will be able to handle up to 10 or 15 - and that's
certainly enough to be getting on with! This feature does, of course, enhance
the match possibilities even further. For a start, you can have "real-time"
rumbling - with every character on screen whenever they need to be. The team
possibilities are the most exciting though. You can have 10 vs 10 wars, or 5 vs
5 tag bouts - both of which offer mind-blowing chaos!
Even the most outrageous matches
never get out of hand, thanks to a handy label system that follows the
characters around. They remind you who the legal men are, who needs to "get
out!", who's been eliminated, who's injured... and practically everything else
you'd need to know! They never interfere with the action either; only ever
appearing when absolutely necessary. The health bars, on the other hand, didn't
translate so well to the world of 3D - so they're reduced to static displays
that adorn the top of the screen. They're nice and tidy though, and easy to
recognize thanks to each wrestler's name and portrait. In any case, like many
things, they can be toggled on or off at any time...
In true MDickie style,
every single aspect of these matches are fully interactive. You don't
need to be walked to the ring - you can do that yourself! Every wrestler starts
backstage, behind the curtain - as they would in real life. If you look closely,
or even move the camera back there, you can see for yourself! Then, when their
time comes, each wrestler appears and marches to the ring - where they
'patiently' wait for the match to start. At least that's the idea, but wrestlers
have been known to get a few cheap shots in before the bell. As ever, the
wrestlers are accompanied by their own light show and theme music too. Speaking
of which, this game sees the triumphant return of CD music - in addition to the
43 tracks supplied as standard!
When the match comes to an end,
you're even trusted to celebrate as you wish - and then make your own way back
to the locker rooms. Doing so is of course a pointless exercise (there's nothing
to stop you from pressing Escape), but in the Career mode it's sometimes nice to
cherish your first title win, or your last match for a company, etc...
Another reason to hang
around is to appreciate that each arena is decorated differently. Everything
from the ground and walls of the main arena, through to those backstage, have
several variations. These can range from the bright lights of a stadium through
to a cosy brick hall - or even outdoor locations! The ring itself changes just
as regularly, featuring various rope, canvas, and apron designs. Naturally,
they're faithful to the type of show you're at (TV, PPV, etc.) and the
federation that's promoting it. However, even the most familiar of arenas can be
given a new edge thanks to the atmospheric effects. These different coloured
clouds of mist give the locations a much more realistic feel - such as the sky
blue that accompanies outdoor locations. The lighting itself has even been known
to vary; giving some events a dull, realistic look whilst others are bright and
cartoony. The true atmosphere is provided by the fans in attendance though, and
it's painfully obvious how they vary. Depending on the promotion's Popularity,
attendance can range from the embarrassing silence of an empty hall to the roar
of a sold-out stadium! That's in the Career mode, of course. In Exhibitions you
can mix and match all of the above to create your own environments...
No arena would be complete
without furnishings, and that's yet another area where this game excels! Up to
50 items and 50 weapons can be placed on the scene - in whichever way you
choose, from the tidy "Standard" layout through to the messy "Random"
scattering. You can even choose which types of item or weapon are preferred -
such as filling the ring with glass or explosives! Whatever the layout, the best
thing about items is how interactive they are. Smashing through them is just the
tip of the iceberg, as you can carry them, throw them, climb on them, burn them
- and even fix them. You can even stain them with varying degrees of blood if
you go too far! When it comes to interactivity, the smaller handheld weapons
take it even further. These can be held during ANY action - and are often put to
use too! Everything from the moves, to attacks, to flying crushes - and even
submission holds - will carry a nasty little damage bonus if they're done with a
weapon in hand. This breathes new life into even the most standard of moves, and
opens up unlimited possibilities for destruction...
Wrestlers that display such
violent behaviour deserve to be 'behind bars' - and that's exactly where they'll
find themselves if they're not careful! This game features several variations of
steel cage - from wire mesh to square bars - each offering the same
claustrophobic action. Not only do the cages act as one huge item that can grate
the body of your opponent, but (for the first time ever in my games) they can be
climbed too! Scaling the walls of the cage allows you to launch flying attacks
from higher up than the usual turnbuckles - and they can be accessed much
more easily to boot. That's where the cage gimmick stops though; there's no
climb-out victory condition. I've never felt that works in real life, let alone
in a game...
If mountains of items, weapons,
and steel cages still don't do it for you then fear not - there's plenty more
carnage to see! The ropes themselves can turn the ring into a danger zone.
Whether it's barbed wire, electrified cables, or old-fashioned flames, the ropes
can become a flesh-eating weapon. With these gimmicks set, even climbing in and
out can be a painful experience - let alone being whipped against them! If
that's still not enough, you can also time the arena to explode. The explosions
caused by TNT, or electrical equipment, will be the least of your concerns when
the entire ring is due to blow! That's just the beginning too, as countless
smaller blasts litter the arena until the match comes to a bloody end.
Explosions are better than ever in this game as well - now sending anybody in
their vicinity flying into the air in dramatic fashion. It's not all bad though;
some explosions, such as those from fire extinguishers and water bottles,
actually put out fires...
If all of those deadly gimmicks
start to feel tame, then you'll just have to take danger into your own hands!
The most back-breaking bumps come from flying attacks, which can be launched
from pretty much anything. The turnbuckles, the railings, the items, the cages -
and even the video screen - can all be used as death-defying launch pads.
Pulling off such stunts is a game in itself, somewhat reminiscent of Big
BumpZ - especially when there are items involved! That feeling is enforced
by the fact that you once again have a little control over your flight...
In this game, such reckless
behaviour takes its toll like never before. The scarring introduced by Big
BumpZ joins forces with the gore from The MDickie Show to produce the
most painful action yet! It's serious business this time though, since you've
got a Career to worry about. The health you lose and the injuries you incur all
have very real effects - leaving you limping into your next match, or maybe even
out of action completely. Those regrets are nothing compared to losing a limb
though! As you'd expect, disabilities are also carried forward - leaving you
disfigured for life. In extreme cases, it's even possible to kill and be
Fortunately, it's not all
hardcore antics. This game builds on the brawling of The MDickie Show
with a vast range of more sophisticated moves - and the introduction of ground
grappling. Each wrestler has 2 holds for each half of the body (head and legs)
with which to stretch a submission out of their opponent. The system is nicely
handled too - featuring crawling, rope breaks, and even grimacing pain on the
faces of the wrestlers! All in all, it makes the action much more technical and
adds an extra dimension to the gameplay. So too does the introduction of Irish
Whips. This most basic of wrestling moves has been missing from all of my
previous games - but now it's finally arrived and is most welcome. Not only does
it add a momentum move to your arsenal, but it also gives you an amusing means
of sending your opponents hurtling into items!
The new move sets aren't the
only thing that makes the characters unique - a modified selection of models has
also pushed things forward. For a start there are new and improved body shapes,
extending all the way to Yokozuna style obesity! There are also one or two other
novelty bodies - such as a big chin that Antonio Inoki would be proud of,
and a male version of the skirt for punks like Raven. There are also new
hairstyles, including a better Afro and a bizarre "Spikey" style that wouldn't
look out of place in a Japanese cartoon! One of the most noticeable improvements
is that the characters now have various heights too - ranging from 5 foot kids
to 8 foot monsters. Seeing wrestlers of all shapes and sizes gives you get a better
sense of who you should and shouldn't fear - making it an important part of the
game. The system works perfectly too;
hardly ever messing up the way the wrestlers interact with the scenery and each
The Latest Fashions
However, all of the above revelations are insignificant next to the brand new
texturing system. Gone is the tiresome limb-by-limb approach; replaced by an
effortless system that paints entire legs, arms, and bodies in one go - much
like the 2D version. Not only does this make costume changes joyously simple,
but it also looks much, much better. Every single costume is designed to wrap
itself around the body correctly - and since they're dedicated to a specific
body part they can contain more detail than ever, such as muscle tone and
defined fingers. As ever, the images are available for your editing pleasure
too. In fact, you can add clothes to the range and the game will automatically
The characters also benefit from
a new range of taunts, gestures, and stances. The most nicely animated yet, in
fact. The stances in particular help to give each wrestler a unique style.
Technicians like Kurt Angle stalk you with ready hands, whilst brawlers like
Steve Austin have a fist at the ready - and monsters like Kane confidently tower
over you. The personalities even extend to things like pinning, where wrestlers
occasionally look to the sky and shake their heads at a near fall! Combined with
the facial expressions, it all comes together to make the models feel as though
they're very much alive...
The referees also help to bring
the matches to life, by enforcing the rules and counting the falls just as
they would in real life. The beauty of this gimmick is that the referees are
deliberately fallible - so you can stress them out or suffer at their
incompetence! They can even be corrupt by fast-counting for friends and
slow-counting for enemies. If you choose to be a referee yourself, then you too
can enjoy that power! If you like your wrestling called down the middle though,
you can always turn referees off and have the automated system that is commonly
used in other games. On the other hand, if you can't get enough of them, you can push the number of referees up to 5! Under those conditions you can't
put a single foot wrong without being punished. Speaking of refereeing, it's
also worth mentioning that the game has a super-realistic pinning system. Not
only can you hook the leg as you're used to, but you can also scores falls by
crawling over a lying opponent. This makes for some frightening near falls as
the referee acknowledges guys that have collapsed on top of you! It also means
you can steal falls when you haven't even got the strength to stand...
Extra referees can sometimes come
running in from the back to help restore order! However, more often than not,
intruders are out there to cause trouble. There's a nice system in place too, as bystanders are literally hanging around the arena or in the crowd -
biding their time to make a move. If you're feeling troublesome, you can even
provoke them with a cheap shot of your own! In hardcore matches, intruders have
even been known to become part of the match in true 24/7 style. With the option
to have up to 5 of these interferences, you'd be glad of a manager at ringside
to help keep you safe. Numerous wrestlers have these loyal friends or valets -
and you can even have one in the Career mode if you're willing to part with 10%
of your salary...
The game tops off its
unparalleled interactivity with an unparalleled selection of camera angles.
There are over 20 in all, ranging from playable views to various novelty angles
that are best reserved for spectators. These include "Fan's View", "Announcer's
View", "Referee's View", "Wrestler's View", and a nice "Building Plan" angle
that looks down from the rafters! The standard angles are less dramatic, but
they do work better than ever. Case in point is a new "Contain All" camera,
which cleverly calculates where it needs to be to track all of the wrestlers.
That one is, of course, a godsend for multiplayer battles and Rumbles. All of
these camera angles are backed up by the tidy presentation that was championed by
The MDickie Show. Wrestlers enter with a TV-style name line, complete with a
reminder of their championship status. Just as much effort has gone into the
menus that precede the action too - not least a new graphical box system, which
feels much more professional...
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