WWF SmackDown!
Wrestling Review
Developer: Yuke's
Publisher: THQ
Available: March 2000
Players: 1-4
Written by Chris Hoffman
I've got two words for ya: quite good.

Oh, you didn't know about WWF SmackDown? Well, if you didn't see our preview last week, here's a brief rundown of the first PlayStation game produced under THQ's acquisition of the WWF license: SmackDown! is based on the Japanese Toukon Retsuden wrestling game from Yuke's. Over 35 WWF stars are featured in more than a dozen match types, and all the features we've come to expect like season mode, pay-per-view mode, and custom character mode are included. WWF SmackDown! has more than a solid foundation to work with, and it builds upon it nicely, though not quite as well as I would have liked.

Much like WWF Wrestlemania 2000, SmackDown! features a simple control system that lets anyone just pick up a controller and play. One button strikes, one button performs a grab attack, and the other buttons are for non-attack functions like running, blocking, taunting and focusing on opponents. There is no lock-up button. Punches and grabs are varied by holding directions on the control pad, resulting in a fair selection of ready-to-execute moves, but I would have liked more (read: as many as Wrestlemania 2000). This scheme also has problems with joystick-neutral moves, as it's hard to get within range of an opponent and grab him without touching the directional pad, especially in the heat of a four-man battle. It works well enough, though, especially with convenient options like indicators that tell which opponent you are focused on.

SmackDown! has play modes covered, too. Singles, Tag, Royal Rumble, 3-Way, Handicap, etc…all the usual suspects. The unique Special Referee mode is interesting, especially when playing with friends, because it's way more fun to spoil a victory for someone you know than for the computer. I Quit matches are something different as well. It's not just a submission match - you have to practically destroy your opponent, then grab a microphone and make your opponent say "I quit" by attempting a pinfall with mic in hand, just like on WWF programs. Strangely, Battle Royale is a four-man elimination match, not an over-the top affair, but oh well. Of course each mode allows for multiplayer action (up to four players with a multitap in some modes) or you can battle the computer. The CPU isn't quite the slouch we though either. While on low difficulty, the computer can be, as my colleague Rev. Smith put it, "about as alert as Scott Hall on a Sunday morning." However, the AI is perfectly capable at higher levels.

One of SmackDown!'s most touted features is the inclusion of yje storylines and backstage antics that have made the WWF the huge soap opera...er...huge hit that it is today. And I admit, it's pretty nifty to be approached between matches and have the option of double-teaming an opponent backstage (That's terrible! It's just not right!) and it's even better when you get attacked only to have an ally interfere on your behalf and send the attacker packing. Unfortunately, it doesn't really affect gameplay, as I never developed any running feuds or teamed up with allies to thwart those rotten blindsiding heels. I feel this feature is only scratching the surface, however. Hopefully next year's edition will reach its full potential in that regard.

Players can make up their own storylines as they please, however. Titleholders are consistent through the game's season mode, custom PPVs and exhibition matches, and titles save to the memory card. You can put all the belts on the line in one event and have Jeff Hardy win every one if you want.

I'm also pretty pleased with SmackDown's graphics. True, some of the body and limb detailing can be plain, but facial features balance it out. Most of the characters are easily recognizable, and character models are smooth - the fighters don't look like Wrestlemania 2000's marshmallow men. I especially like the changing facial expressions. The Undertaker actually rolls his eyes back in his head when he comes to the ring, Ken Shamrock grimaces, Paul Wight opens his gaping maw as he raises his arm, and then there's this little thing called the People's Eyebrow.

Each character of course has his or her signature moves and taunts, and comes to the ring with the proper theme music and Titantron video. You don't actually see them walking to the ring, however, (they just animate in front of a full-screen Titantron FMV) and there aren't any pyrotechnics, so there's room for improvement. While I'm nitpicking, characters only have one costume (which can't be modified), and some superstars are notably absent. Why is Paul Bearer in the game while Too Cool and Shawn Michaels are missing? Granted, some secret superstar character models are unlockable in custom mode, but that's not really the same thing.

Speaking of custom mode, you'll know that the options are a bit slim if you read our SmackDown! preview. You can customize only six appearance aspects, and most visual elements are lifted from the WWF stars. There's a lot more freedom when assigning moves, especially after you play the game's pre-season mode and gain new attributes. For example, my character, Default Man, is sexy, powerful and on bad terms with Mankind.

[Editor's note: you forgot to mention his finishing move, the universally-feared Default Death Drop.]

If SmackDown! has one inexcusable flaw, it's the sound. As mentioned above, the musical themes are excellent, but the game has no commentary whatsoever and no voice clips from the superstars. The atmosphere just goes down a few notches without Jim Ross hollering "Oh my God, he's been broken right in half!" or Billy Gunn announcing he's got two words for us. There's no crowd interaction either. Like Rev. Smith mentioned to me, THQ should be embarrassed that ECW Hardcore Revolution actually surpasses SmackDown! in any respect.

But despite that, SmackDown! is still a very good game. Not a great game, but still very good, and a worthy addition to a wrestling fan's game collection.



Hunter Hearst Helmsley Intro MPEG - 2.50 MB

Val Venis' Money Shot MPEG - 1.25 MB

The People's Elbow MPEG - 2.03MB

Images Acquired