WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role Review

The men in pants are back with the best grappling game in the world… ever! Blimey. Perry Saturn has an impressive selection of suplexes in his arsenal, including this cheeky little double-underhook number

If you’re currently thinking something along the lines of, “It’s all fake – what’s the point?” take heed of the wise man who described wrestling as violent ballet. (But without the tutus, obviously. That would be silly.)

For this guaranteed Christmas best-seller is quite easily the finest wrestling title ever, a game so grappletastic that even avowed WWF-haters will be able to glean a generous degree of entertainment from it. Blimey!

The idea of basing games on the idiosyncratic brand of ‘sports-entertainment’ that is pro wrestling is rather an obvious one: kids like wrestling, kids like computer games, bingo! What’s not so easy is pulling off a grapple game that’s actually much cop, as was proven by early PlayStation efforts such as Powermove Pro Wrestling or WCW Nitro. Fortunately, by the time the first Smackdown rolled round (what is a Smackdown anyway?), someone had figured out how fit a gaggle of large sweaty men into a game and make it good all at the same time.

WWF SmackDown! 2, then, is a fantastically comprehensive and playable wrestling sim – if it’s actually possible to simulate something that isn’t ‘real’ in the first place. Which also begs the question of whether the characters in the game really are hitting one another or are merely pretending. Hmmmm…

Philosophical quandaries aside, SmackDown! 2 plays like a crazed and somewhat surreal beat ’em up – it’s not as if you’re ever going to see fights involving ladders or tables in Tekken – but with a huge array of characters (over 60 in all) and a mass of modes and options.

Best of the bunch perhaps is the brand new ladder match option which finally makes it into a WWF game, despite being a staple part of the shows for the last few years. A case is suspended above the ring which you must climb the ladder and grab in order to win the bout. Queensbury rules they’re not. Naturally, your opponent is going to do his best to stop you which soon leads to all sorts of ladder-related shenanigans, from being able to whack other wrestlers over the head with it, to being able to dive off the top.

Also notable are the new table matches, in which you have to chuck other grapplers through a trestle table, and the comically-titled Hell in a Cell bouts in which the ring is encased in a massive cage. Far from limiting the in-ring action though, you can actually break off pieces of the cage, climb onto its roof and even throw people through the top back into the ring: hours of endlessly stupid fun guaranteed.

On top of that little lot, there are more speciality matches than you can shake a barbed-wire baseball bat at – including Hardcore, Falls Count Anywhere and, ahum, Slobberknocker – and all the modes that now come as standard in any decent grappler: season, create-a-wrestler, multi-player, create-a-pay-per-view…

It’s pleasingly fast and smooth but sadly still doesn’t quite get over the control system dilemma that perpetually haunts wrestling games. Compared to traditional beat ’em ups, the controls are a touch unsophisticated, with the move you execute being based on where you are in relation to your opponent as opposed to a combo-based system. Even the most impressive-looking moves are a cinch to pull off, meaning that you don’t have the satisfaction of mastering moves in the same way you do with, say, Tekken. But what you do get is a massive selection of manoeuvres and accessible, arcade-style gameplay. After the rather pitiful WWF Royal Rumble for Dreamcast recently, THQ are most definitely back on form with SmackDown! 2. Wrestle-heads won’t be disappointed.