Wrestling games are perhaps one of the trickiest kinds of games to make, primarily because of the incredibly rabid fan base. No longer are fans content to merely pit superstars against each other; now, there's more of an interest in taking originally created grapplers and taking them to the top of the sports entertainment world. Similarly, players no longer want to face off in the squared circle. They want to take on players in cage matches, hardcore bouts and TLC fights (that's tables, ladders and chairs for you wrestling novices). They also want plotlines on par with the intrigue and drama of the TV shows. Well, wrestling fans, you're in luck, because THQ's Day of Reckoning fulfills every single one of these requests.
The most creative twist about Day of Reckoning is that it doesn't revolve around pre-existing athletes; the focus instead is on the unknown grappler trying to get a break into the industry. This effectively ties the create-a-wrestler feature that's been commonly included in previous WWE titles to the story mode. Players won't find themselves restricted in the creation of their alter ego. In fact, Reckoning features one of the deepest create-a-player modes ever seen in a game – sports, wrestling or otherwise. I spent more than four hours customizing one of my characters alone and still hadn't finished fully designing him. That's right, everything from attack moves and grapples to entrance movies and pyro explosions can be chosen, with plenty of little variables in-between included to tailor your virtual self to your playing style.
Once you've settled on your persona, you're immediately "introduced" to the chairman of the WWE, Vince McMahon, who commends you on your potential. This is quickly balanced with his observation about simply being a novice to the sport. To train your budding talent, he sends you down to a development farm, where you'll have to prove yourself to McMahon and the General Managers of Smackdown and Raw before you get a contract for the big time. You're not going to be stumbling your way through your career though. Jonathan Coachman A.K.A. Coach will mentor your player in the "minor leagues," running you through the paces and giving you stipulations for matches. For instance, he might ask you to perform submission moves on injured opponents or a certain number of high risk maneuvers from the top rope. This serves as a partial tutorial to inform players as to how to play the game, but also provides objectives to each contest. After you beat this competition, you’ll begin your slow, but inevitable challenge for a championship belt, starting on Sunday Night Heat before choosing to perform on either Monday Night Raw or Smackdown!, where players will wind up teaming up with and fighting against wrestling superstars.
Outside of the story mode, Day of Reckoning features many of the expected match types in a current wrestling game. You can initially set up a Singles, Tag Team, Triple Threat, Fatal 4 Way or Handicap match, along with the granddaddy of them all, the Royal Rumble. Once the match type is decided, you can set further terms on the contest itself, such as a Hardcore, Ladder, TLC, Cage, Ironman or Bra and Panties Match, as well as Hell in a Cell. Afterwards, you’ll have the option to choose your arena from 12 separate locations, including some of the most popular Pay Per View settings. This means that you can set up a fight with Summerslam, No Mercy or Armageddon as a backdrop to your action, before you establish ground rules for the match, such as pinfalls, time limits, etc.
In the midst of a bout, longtime wrestling fans will probably notice a number of tweaks to the gameplay and the fighting mechanics. There are still light and heavy strikes or grapples that can be used independently or in combinations with other moves to inflict damage. Adept players can still initiate light or strong counters to these attacks, and it’s not uncommon to even see counters to counterattacks. While button mashing players may be able to hold their own for a while, the player skilled in tactically inputting commands will beat them every time. This actually figures into the Momentum Shifting mechanic, which gives losing fighters a chance to redeem themselves by stealing a bit of their opponent’s thunder during critical moments in matches. What the Momentum Shift does is provide a superstar with a limited energy boost, one that, if used effectively, can turn the tide of a match. You may also notice a more readily displayed number of meters during “special” moments, such as submissions or tests of strength, which require players to hit the A button as quickly as possible to inflict damage, lengthen a hold or even lift a disproportionately larger opponent.
One thing that can be said is that Reckoning is easily one of the best looking wrestling titles ever made. Many of the arenas that matches take place in are accurately represented to the last stage light. Camera angles, particularly during moments when characters are busted open or finishers are triggered, are pretty solid, although I wish there was a bit more blood that covered the mat during severe beatings. Additionally, the game’s cutscenes are rendered in-engine, giving a very grounded and unified look to the game’s graphics. Character models are quite large and most of the bodies representing the athletes are very detailed. There is a slight hang up with some of the facial details, however. For instance, Reckoning’s Chris Benoit actually looks like the real life Crippler, while the game’s depiction of Trish Stratus doesn’t look like her real counterpart at all. There are a couple instances of slowdown that can occur during flashy entrances at the beginning of the game, and a number of odd animations that seem to plague the game also. (For instance. characters going in and out of the ropes seemed to stick on the mats at times, just as tag team attacks seemed to pause unnecessarily.) However, for the most part, it looks great.
Similarly, sound is decent but has a few notable exceptions. For instance, the effects during a fight, particularly those associated with the use of weaponry or outside items (announce tables, stairs, etc.) are pretty solid. Instead of the relatively generic music found in older titles, Reckoning features a number of licensed tracks from groups like Public Enemy, Zebrahead and Breaking Benjamin. The greatest downfall is the lack of vocalization from any wrestlers, meaning that you’ll be reading a ton of text to advance through the numerous cutscenes present in the game.
Although the focus on an unknown wrestler is a solid premise for the story mode, the implementation doesn’t feel fully realized. For one, the branching premise for the game does provide a reason to want to play through the game at least twice, but outside of that, it’s not completely used. I’d wish that I had more control over the fate of my created wrestler outside of simply choosing which show I wanted to perform on. Secondly, I wish that there was an additional story mode for the famous wrestlers that had their own plotlines to go through. This shouldn’t seem like a difficult add, but it feels lacking considering the “rags to riches” focus of the game. Speaking of the WWE Superstars, there are a number of excluded legendary and current wrestlers that just seem like natural inclusions for a wrestling title, such as Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, or even the Dudleyz. Hell, there are only four divas included as well, and as any wrestling fan knows, there more than that on both shows, which really limits the bra and panty wrestling match. Were it possible to unlock these wrestlers by buying them thanks to your performance, I’d be pleased; however, the exclusion is pretty glaring.
On top of that, there are a few other issues that I have as far as gameplay is concerned. For one, the AI in some of the matches, particularly that of Tag Team matches, feels somewhat unrealistic. In matches, tag partners don’t continually rush in and interfere with every attempted pin, particularly during the early stages of a match. Here, you’ll commonly find yourself fending off both the legal man and their partner. Secondly, the AI rarely tags up when they needed to, including grapplers that are in danger of completely running out of energy, allowing players to continually pound on opponents. Aside from tagging issues, there are also collision detection problems, particularly when a weapon is on the ground and a wrestler goes down nearby. It’s not surprising to see a wrestler pick up a weapon instead of dragging an opponent to their feet and vice versa, which can be incredibly frustrating during matches. You can also run entirely through other opponents, making it incredibly difficult to create realistic tackles, clotheslines, etc.
Apart from this, Day of Reckoning’s focus upon the dreamers and wannabes that are fighting day in and out at house shows is a creative spin for a wrestling game, one that will appeal to a number of wrestling fans whose ultimate dream is to be on that stage themselves. It may not fully realize every single feature that it tries to implement, but what it does pull off is pretty good.