Every game has a selling point; whether it’s an official license, a compelling story or a strong multi-player component. For WWF Raw, it’s the simple fact that it’s a wrestling game. Wrestling fans are a unique bunch, and loyal ones at that. Whether I recommend WWF Raw or not, they’ll likely run out and buy or rent a copy of the game none the less. Does it matter that a few of the features THQ and Anchor promised several months ago never made it into the finished product, or that the initial release date for WWF Raw was delayed? Can these factors be ignored? Let’s climb into the ring and find out.
The biggest thing that stands out about WWF Raw is the presentation; it’s easily the best looking wrestling game to date. An amazing amount of detail has been put into each wrestler and as a result, each of the 40+ WWF superstars look just like their real-life counterpart. From the entrances to the ring attire to the signature moves, it all comes across extremely well. Considering WWF Raw sports over 1000 wrestling moves, the animation is, for the most part, superb. When wrestlers walk towards the ring before a match, they look a little stiff, as they do when they carry objects that require two hands, such as a chair, but other than that, the animation is outstanding, particular in the ring. Everything from the custom pyrotechnics to the TitanTron videos is accounted for and the lighting effects are particularly stunning. The only other complaint I have about the visuals is the crowd, which is made up of 2D textures with sparse animation.
Complimenting the fantastic graphics is some solid sound work. Each of the wrestlers has their own theme music, some more famous than others, and each of the tracks is recorded well. The crowd may not look good, but they sound great, cheering for their favourite superstars. Similarly, the sound effects are authentic, including everything from a simple punch to a devastating chair shot. What’s lacking is ringside commentary from the likes of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, which hurts the game a little. Also, WWF Raw doesn’t support custom sound tracks, which would have been sweet when creating your own wrestler, a feature we’ll get to in a minute.
The gameplay in WWF Raw is a bit of a mixed bag. Energy and momentum meters play a large role in any given match, but they seem to be a little bit off. The energy meter dictates what moves your wrestler can perform. For example, if you give your opponent a supplex, a body slam or a spattering of kicks, your energy meter will dip. This prevents you from continually pounding your opponent with special moves, allowing the momentum to swing during the match. What doesn’t make too much sense is when you get knocked down and return to your feet with a full energy meter, only to remain groggy and open to your opponent’s next move.
Speaking of momentum, that meter indicates the crowd’s approval for your performance and plays a big role not only in your ability to pin your opponent or kick out of a pinning situation, but also directs you as to when you can unleash your finishing move. The momentum meter rises or falls depending how you get the crowd involved in the match. Faces often start with the momentum in their favour, as opposed to heels, but the best way to increase your momentum is to link a series of exciting moves together while tossing in a taunt or two for the crowd. If you get beat up on, or you continually perform the same move over and over, the crowd will begin to dislike you and the momentum will quickly turn. When your momentum is at its peak, it will begin to flash. At this point, if your opponent is groggy, you can perform your finishing move, whatever that may be. When all is said and done, the momentum meter is a fantastic feature that adds a new element of strategy to the game.
Like the gameplay, the AI in WWF Raw is a little inconsistent as well. For the most part, the AI provides a great challenge, particularly in-ring, but once you take the action outside the ring, all hell breaks loose. Due to collision detection problems, wrestlers will often get caught on the ring steps or the announcer’s table. Also, in multi-wrestler modes, such as a Triple Threat or Fatal Four Way match, the AI has a tendency to get caught taunting the crowd instead of breaking up a decisive 3-count. This can be particularly frustrating.
WWF Raw offers a variety of single-player modes. You can create a King of the Ring tournament or set-up a variety of contests including handicap matches, tag team matches, Triple Threat, Fatal Four Way or a hardcore match. Surprisingly absent from WWF Raw is a season or story mode, which takes away from the single-player replay value considerably. The closest thing to this option is the Title Match mode, which allows you to take any given wrestler and go for the WWF Heavyweight, Intercontinental, European, Hardcore, Light Heavyweight or Women’s Champ belts by facing a series of wrestlers. For example, to win the WWF Heavyweight belt, you’ll have to defeat 12 wrestlers in a row. Even this mode isn’t without its faults, since there’s no save game function. You’ll have to beat all 12 wrestlers in a single sitting otherwise you’ll lose your spot on the ladder, so to speak.
Where WWF Raw really shines is multi-player. Supporting up to four players, there’s nothing better than gathering a few of your buddies for an all-out brawl. WWF Raw also boasts an impress Create-A-Wrestler mode. Here, you can create your very own wrestler and customize everything from their ring entrance to their theme music to their portfolio of moves. You have control over every little detail, right down to the tattoos on your wrestler’s body. It’s quite impressive.
When the final bell rings, WWF Raw wins by disqualification; after all, there’s no other wrestling game out there for the Xbox. But that would be selling WWF Raw short. Despite its various shortcomings, including inconsistent gameplay, a lack of commentary and absent features, WWF Raw is a fun and challenging game; qualities every wrestling title should strive to achieve. And that’s the bottom line cause Joltin’ Jimmy Clydesdale said so!