It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan. Even with the somewhat lackluster creativity that the WWE is pushing out right now, with the build towards Survivor Series, the move of RAW from Spike to USA, and the upcoming debut of TNA Impact on Spike there is a lot to look forward too. If you happen to own a Gamecube, THQ just made it an even better time to be a fan. Day of Reckoning 2 picks right up where the first left off, both in storyline and gameplay. For newcomers, and fans of the first alike, it’s a hell of a ride.
In the first Day of Reckoning, you took over the career of an upstart young rookie looking to carve his initials in the hallowed halls of Sports Entertainment. You followed that career from house shows and heat to the Granddaddy of them all, Wrestlemania. Day of Reckoning 2 picks up about a year after the first. You are now a former champion, who hasn’t been granted a title shot since you lost your belt. Following a controversial decision which mirrors an incident that took place in the WWE last year, the belt is stripped from the champion, and a tournament is held to determine a number one contender. I won’t spoil any of the rest of the story for you, suffice to say that the road to wrestling glory is full of twists and turns, just like on T.V.
To compare this game graphically to the first is like comparing Ric Flair to Gene Snitsky. This game could be the best looking wrestling game to date. From facial expressions to the sweat on their backs during a match, wrestlers are incredibly accurately modeled and animated. Blood flows out of wrestlers in three different levels, a small cut that trickles blood, a larger cut that bleeds heavily, and the proverbial “Crimson Mask”. In a nod to the Legends of Wrestling series (and taking one of the only good things that series had), the blood isn’t contained to the wrestlers heads, as it drips onto the mat as well. The crowd is well detailed and animated, even if their motion tends to get a little repetitive. The entrances are also well done, with a few exceptions. Most fans will notice mistakes in entrances like Chris Masters’ and The Hurricane, but it’s mostly nit picky stuff that only geeks like me pick up on. The roster of wrestlers tallies up to 45 this year (40 active wrestlers and 5 legends). This is small compared to the Smackdown series games due to the limitations of the Gamecube disc, but the superstars that are in are pretty well chosen overall. There seems to be a good balance between the upper, middle, and lower card tiers of the WWE. Unfortunately, due to the cuts earlier this year, there are some wrestlers (Kenzo Suzuki) that are no longer with the federation, and other wrestlers who didn’t make it in but probably should have (Rosey for instance). The realism of the animation, texture, character models, and blood flow really adds to the overall presentation, and truly makes you feel more like you are watching RAW on TV instead of playing a game (insert HHH pun here).
Another thing adding to realism of the games presentation is the sound. All your favorite wrestler’s themes are here, from Carlito to Shawn Michaels. Licensed themes such as Alter Bridge’s “Metallingus” (Edge’s theme) and “Just Close Your Eyes” by Waterproof Blonde (Christian’s theme) are included as well. They even (thank God) snagged “Also Sprach Zarathustra” for Ric Flair to walk down that aisle, style and profile along to. The licensed music that plays during the menu’s and matches isn’t anything too offensive to the ears, but if you’re like me, you’ll turn it off after a couple matches to hear the awesome sound effects. Every slap, slam, punch and kick sounds great. The crowd reactions this year are pretty well done as well, fans chant for the wrestlers when they are getting beat down, boo heels when they go on the offensive, and chant “Holy Shhhh” when a big spot happens. Sometimes the timing seems off for these chants, but overall they’re pretty solid. There is no commentary, which is both a blessing and a curse. When it works, commentary can enhance a wrestling game. However when it doesn’t, which is most of the time, it can make it unbearable. There is also no voice acting in story mode, due to the constraints of the Gamecube disc. Coming off of Smackdown vs. Raw and Wrestlemania 21 that is a little disappointing, but I would rather have that space for more wrestlers and better graphics than the sub-par voice acting of those two titles.
There is an old saying in wrestling that “No matter how much glitz and glamour you give them, it still says wrestling on the marquee”, and it holds true in videogames as well. Wrestlemania 21 proved that all glitz and no substance makes for a pretty poor title, and the fact that a lot of people still play No Mercy on the N64 proves that incredible gameplay can make up for lackluster graphics (lackluster in hindsight, of course). I already mentioned that the presentation is on par with WM21, but I am pleased to report that the gameplay has a lot more in common with No Mercy then that busted title. The incredibly solid gameplay from last year, which was essentially the Aki standard of Strong and Weak grapples and strikes reworked for a new controller, returns this year with some additions. Limb specific damage returns, and works very well. A wrestler who takes to many shots to the legs will become slower, and a wrestler who takes to many to the head will bleed easier. The Spirit meters from last year also return, making your wrestler easier or more difficult to pin, and making it easier or more difficult to build up to a finishing move.
New this year is a stamina system. This gameplay feature, lifted from Spike’s Fire Pro Wrestling series, forces wrestlers to conserve their energy, rather than applying the age old “keep mashing the strike button” philosophy of earlier games. If a wrestler attacks, runs, or defends too much, their stamina meter will begin to fall. When it turns red, the wrestler is exhausted and thus more vulnerable to his opponents’ attacks. While frustrating at first to fans weaned on the attack heavy nature of games like Smackdown and last year’s DOR, this system actually provides a nice ebb and flow to the matches that also add to the realism factor of the game. Also new this year is a submission system that more accurately reflects the psychology of wrestling holds.
When locking a submission on to an opponent, you are given four options as to the purpose of the hold. You can use it as a straight submission, which works on your opponents limbs utilizing the location specific damage I mentioned above. You can use it as a rest hold, to gain back some of your stamina if you are worn down. It also can be used as a taunt to gain spirit for yourself, and sap spirit from your opponent. Lastly, it can be used to drain your opponents’ stamina. This is all controlled via the C-stick, using up, down, left or right to pick the kind of hold you want. Be warned, however, if you opponent guess which type of hold you put on him/her, it will be instantly reversed. The innovative reversal system from last years game, utilizing the L and R triggers to reverse grapples and strikes respectively, also returns and works just as well this year as it did last year. There are some timing issues on the reversals, but most of these seem to be due to the counter ratings of the wrestler you choose rather than a mistake in the game.
The gameplay in DOR2, while exceptional, is not without it’s flaws. There are still some issues with clipping and hit detection. Although they are not as pronounced as they were in say Wrestlemania 21 (I know-I know-.I’m kind of picking on that game, but it deserves everything it gets) they are still present. Difficulty is hit and miss, sometimes matches are too hard and sometimes too easy (especially in the career mode). I am waiting for a wrestling game to implement the sliders on difficulty that are so prevalent in sports games. This way reversals can be turned down for instance, and aggressiveness on the part of the CPU could be turned up. Speaking of the CPU, the AI is pretty solid this year. Every now and then a wrestler will just stare at his opponent, but by and large they counter well, and even work on specific body parts. As I mentioned above, the moves and reversals almost all look fantastic, thanks to the decision to animate rather than mo-cap.
If a game forces you to play through it’s career mode using only created wrestlers, then it better have a damn good CAW system in place. The CAW mode in DOR2 is diverse, deep, and detailed. Unlike the Smackdown series, CAW’s actually look like they fit in the game. They match up well size and detail wise with the actual wrestlers, which saves the distracting mismatch of other games. There is a diverse selection of apparel, tattoos, and facial features to choose from, enabling many unique options for your superstar’s look. There is also an incredibly diverse selection of moves from all around the wrestling world. Combined with the stat system, this leads to making a wrestler who works just the way you want him too. Want a mat technician like Benoit, a high-flyer like Mysterio, a brawler like Cena, or a guy who can give the Dirtiest Player in the Game a run for his money? The option to create all of these is available to you. Entrances are also hugely customizable, from the camera to the pyro and everything in between. It’s easy to create a memorable entrance that is faithful to your character.
However, even with all of these positives, one problem rears its ugly head and almost breaks the CAW system in this game: load times. All in all you will probably spend more time waiting on the game to load the options you picked for your character than you will spend picking them. Whether this is due to the functional limitations of the GC disc, the detailed graphics, or some other source is immaterial. It is incredibly frustrating, and even though I am a self confessed Create a Wrestler junkie, it has led me to create only one wrestler. All in all, if you can stand the load times you will find a deep CAW experience, however the impatient need not apply.
The nice thing about wrestling games with gameplay as good as DOR2’s is that they are infinitely replayable. No two matches will ever be the same, and with the dearth of modes that DOR2 sports, you won’t get bored with any match type for a while. All the major types (Ladder, Cage, Hell in a Cell etc. ) are here, except for the Elimination chamber. There are also a wealth of things to unlock, from legendary wrestlers like Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan, to new moves, apparel, weapons and arenas. There is definitely enough content there to keep you busy for a while. The only things sorely missing are the ability to Create a Belt, and Create a Pay Per View. Belt defenses and user made PPV’s would have added a lot to already staggering replay value of this game.
Overall DOR2 is, in my opinion, the best wrestling game on the market today. From the exciting gameplay and the captivating story mode, to the deep (albeit flawed) Create a Wrestler feature, there is something here for everyone. With Smackdown vs. Raw: 2006 shaping up nicely, I’m reminded of a statement often made by the greatest wrestler of all time. “To be the man-.you gotta beat the man”. Right now DOR2 is the man, and I’m looking forward to seeing if SVR2006 can knock it off the top. As another wise man once said: “It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan”.