A steel cage match is a perfectly viable way to resolve a dispute between two parties.
When a fellow co-worker steals your car park, you could leave a petty note. When they beat you to that promotion, you could put it down to your poorly worded resume. When they hit on your girlfriend at the office Christmas party, you could put it down to alcohol. Or you could take a leaf out of the Undertaker's book, redeeming your honour by choke slamming them through a table whilst wearing makeup. It’s only fair.
Imagine how much more fun life would be if the real world was in any way related to the world of wrestling entertainment. Imagine being able to take to your boss with a steel chair, then marry his daughter, all in front of a live audience. Only in the world of Vince McMahon.
As ridiculous as the pageantry and posturing of wrestling is, it may well be the sport most suited to video games. With its larger-than-life personalities, hilarious outfits, and over-the-top moves, it’s about as close to a video game as a real life event gets.
And let’s not forget that for 22 years, WWF/WWE games have been entertaining wrestling fans around the world. To think the first licensed WWE game was made in 1988, by RARE.
Flash forward to today, and it’s still big business. Sure, personally I miss Stone Cold, Hogan, The Rock, and even classics like Rick Rude, but that was then, and this is now. SmackDown has a good selection of the current big names in wrestling, such as Randy Orton, Batista, and John Cena, and of course, the Undertaker.
For the single player, Smackdown has merged previous career and exhibition modes from other games into a ‘WWE universe’ system. Choosing from four characters, the player is sent on a career path determined by the results of their previous matches. It works well enough, though it’s still pretty uncompelling from a storytelling point of view.
There’s also the "Road to Wrestlemania" mode, which, as implied, follows the course of a wrestler on their journey to defeating the undertaker as the king of Wrestlemania. To be honest, both story modes do feel like they are there for the sake of being there, though whilst being plain, they don’t ruin the game, rather they just don’t give it anything extra.
You can now get back stage in some modes, giving you the chance to explore the stadiums, chat to other wrestlers, or push them around until they decide to fight you. It’s an acceptable addition, but it’s not exactly "grand theft wrestling". After a few repeated conversations, and realising that every stadium looks the same, the appeal soon wears off.
That's not the only let-down. The loading graphics serving as an advertisement for WWE HD aren’t actually in HD. Rather they are a low-res pixellated video. Nice one team. Road to Wrestlemania's attempt at being an RPG falls short, and feels like a chore. The controls that have been revamped aren't demonstratively better or worse, but changed regardless. The counter mechanic is almost too easy. If you have last year's title, you may not feel like spending $120 to get a few new features.
But with a few beers, and a few mates, none of this matters. Sitting down with some friends for a night of gaming is always fun, but when your giant bright green mutated creation of a wrestler gets tackled from behind by Randy Orton before you’ve even finished making your entrance, you have to admire the madness.
In all honesty, most wrestling fans aren’t going to care about pings, or load times, or minor technical glitches. If they get to play as their favourite wrestlers, pull off some sweet moves, and fight their way to the top, they’ll be happy. And in that respect, the game delivers.
All the good parts of wrestling are there. Steel chairs, trash cans, somersaults, backstage brawls, random wrestlers interfering in your matches. All recreated to make the game feel very close to the real thing. Beating your mates at Hell in a Cell is still very satisfying. Smashing them through a table by punching them off a ladder is an even better feeling. Especially if you’ve been talking smack all night.
Because when it comes to the actual wrestling matches, with mates or even against the AI, THQ have it right. The game has what many modern, and slightly more polished titles don’t have; a real sense of fun.
It’s big, it’s dumb, and it’s much better for it.