Wednesday, 1 October 2003

Archive Review: WWE: Raw 2

(Xbox review)

Big men, and the sweaty canvas

Steiner is my hero

What is it about wrestling games that make them so appealing? I guess it's the mixture of the "CAW" (create a wrestler) phenomenon and the sheer fun factor of brawling in a different style to the conventional beat-em-up game. Not only this, but people also actually "like" wrestling in real life and play these games just so they, personally, can play as... to be honest, I don't know any modern wrestler names - Sid Vicious?

I recently bought myself an Xbox due to my frustration at the Gamecube and it's lack of good games. The only wrestling game I've ever played before giving RAW 2 a spin was WWF: Attitude on the Playstation in the old days. So in this respect, let's just call me a neutral reviewer here with no ties to the genre or great knowledge of "what makes a great wrestling game". Here I shall review the game in the context of it being a game and not some other entity.

It wasn't long until I got stuck into this game. I read the manual (7 out of 10) and decided to make a wrestler before I tried the game. This was because I really wasn't interested in controlling some "Superstar" - if you can call them that. In my view these guys and gals are just overpaid stuntmen with wooden acting skills and about as much philosophical edge as your Uncle's old razor. Let's just say I have little respect for these people, their entertainers who are followed like God's. For those of you who, like me to begin with, have no idea about the modern wrestling scene let me give it to you in one simple manageable chunk: A very rich man, the promoter, called Vince Mcmahon, writes scripts that are as cliche'd and lacking as any Police Academy movie and makes sure none of these "plots" are concluded until a big "pay-per-view" event is hosted where you, the hooked fan, must pay money to watch it. When you watch WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) on television it basically plays out as one huge advertisement campaign with lots of talk and little wrestling. You ain't missing much in other words.

Any modern grappler of a game will include a CAW mode or what RAW 2 now calls CAS - Create a Superstar - just to be different. Here you create your very own wrestler to play as on the canvas. In RAW 2 you can customize everything from body dimensions and haircut to clothing, moves, and personality. This is all pretty in-depth too and takes ages to polish off for your final product. As well as this RAW 2 introduces the big new feature that every fan has craved for, you can now rip your own music onto the Xbox hard drive and use this as your wrestler's intro music. Intro music is the music that is played when wrestlers walk down the aisle. It is real important stuff, so don't go using anything lame yo hear!

To say that the developers used this new feature to the best of their abilities would be so stupid that you may as well just announce John Kerry is America's Savior in the making! You can use your music for intro's but not for the in-game music! This means that whilst wrestling your forced to listen to the same 3 or 4 generic trash metal tracks over and over again. This gives the game a very arcade feel and it really would have been nice to be able to play your own stuff. Someone even mentioned that with this feature in the game the more creative of gamers could have actually done their very own commentary. Record you and a pal on the Mic on your PC. Bang that onto a CD in the correct format and burn it into the Xbox. Hell it would be better than anything they could have done!

Once your wrestler is made, and named, it's time to sample the real stuff. The intro was great fun to watch and the system of customizing lighting etc is very impressive, but once the fight starts so do the problems. The animation is good as is the overall fighting engine. It's a mixture of realism and good speedy action. There are plenty of moves too and they flow well. Then you discover that so much that was promised just didn't make the final code. We were promised blood that stained the canvas, none. We were promised the ability to pull on clothes, you can't. We were promised removable turnbuckles, they won't budge. None of these features would have saved the game though, for the real issues are the bugs the game has.

Season mode is the true single player experience. You work your way from zero to hero in typical working class fashion. Every time a fight is up you get the odd cutscene and you can interact backstage with other wrestlers and do all kinds of sneaky stuff. You can't actually freely roam backstage though, nor do your decisions (A or B) really make a true difference. Your being fooled from the start like a sheep you truly are. Cutscenes also repeat themselves which is about as sophisticated as beans on toast de la creme' and all through this experience we never hear a single voice. Everything is based around subtitles. Subtitles work in the right context. For example, you need them when your watching un-dubbed Hong-Kong action movies, but you damn well don't need them when your playing a £39.99 ($50) computer game. You want me to read? I don't do reading, unless it's vital for the sake of humanity.

Eventually I got my first tornado tag-team match up. This is basically a 2 vs 2 brawl. It was fun until the realization that this was, in effect, a 4 way battle. The A.I simply was not programmed to recognize it's allies. Your tag mate targets you and this is about as impressive as claiming you know the man who touched the elbow of the person who was apparently 70 meters away from John Kerry during one of his recent election tours.

This bug/absolute f*ck up occurs in any tag team mode and does not end with tag team partners. Say in Season mode your getting mashed (very unlikely due to easy A.I) and one of your allies suddenly comes racing down the aisle to help you out. Your probably thinking "thank God" but don't for all that is about to happen is that this said mate is going to charge into the ring, maybe with a weapon like a steel chair, and deck you. Thanks pal! That's the last time I teach you a body slam.

The problem with this game, and to be honest all wrestling games to date, is that they feel hollow and uninspired. CAW is fun, and RAW 2 does it well and with the ability to add your own music, but the fights get repetitive quickly and their not very advanced. A brawler will never get beaten to beyond recovery so the only way to win a fight is a pin or submission. As well as this wrestlers recover way too quickly from special moves that in theory should have half killed them. Recovery times on a whole are too fast paced and it just feels lacking after solid exploration. CAW itself is also by far from perfect. You cannot quite achieve desired looks due to an odd upper body clothing selection and lack of "multi-layers". This means you can't put on a shirt and then a jacket, only one or the other - very flimsy. If you love wrestling then your probably going to like RAW 2 for a few hours. If you don't like wrestling, the more sane of you, then your probably going to think this game is as good as the television show, need I say more.



CAW with your own music! Neat graphics (but not amazing) It can be fun in multiplayer.


Very obvious bugs, pretty shallow, hmm wrestling?


Pretty questionable game, or am I just getting old?

by Mojo Jojo 2003

Archive Review: Natural Selection (Mod)

(PC Review)

Natural selection is another new Half-Life mod such as the recently reviewed Day of Defeat 1.0. This time around however the setting is a sci-fi world depicting a struggle between futuristic, highly trained marines and an alien race known as the Kharaa.

This mod is extremely popular. NS 2.0 has been downloaded an estimated one and a half million times in it's first week of release! What really makes this mod special is the fact it is not just another FPS. This game is also a real time strategy (RTS) that requires tactics as well as teamwork. Often the word teamwork is used without justification but in NS I cannot emphasis enough quite how much teamwork is used, and is vital for victory.

Your first sight of the game will be in a ready room once you have joined a server. Here you will have the choice to join Aliens, Marines, or spectate the battle. Joining one of the two differing sides is a tough decision to make. Each side plays so differently. Marines have to have a player acting as Commander who will set waypoints (orders) for players, build various structures around the map such as automated turrets (I will go into this later) and also must drop down health packs/ammo on players for support during battles. A problem here is the serious lack of good commanders out there. Many a time when marine you will get a terrible comm or often no comm and this can get tedious and annoying. Marines really do rely on a good leader and it's a matter of luck if you get one although as we all learn 2.0 more and more, more good comm's will appear. Marines tend to stick together in groups due to fear of ambushes from the aliens. Aliens are completely different. Although very often a player will naturally take command of an alien side this is not an official leader. Alien players will tend to do their own thing but teamwork is still vital. Skulks (small dog like things) will run around and hide ready to ambush foolish marines. Gorges will build all the required alien structures and eventually the side will be able to evolve to tougher alien breeds like fades and the dreaded, and very damn large, onos. The idea for the alien side is to defend their hives. The hive is their power source and without it they would be nothing. They can build 3 eventually and then get access to evil powers which normally the marine side cannot match.

Marines rely on weapons such as standard light machine guns and pistols to shotguns and then the more powerful heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. As well as this they can get jetpacks and heavy armour and then they truly are a force to be reckoned with. This all relies on the resources the team has and these come from resource nodes. Teams must build on these to mine the resources and defend them against the enemy. With resources the marines can build armory's for better guns, radar tracking to detect enemy. The list goes on. Aliens rely more on the hive and need to get 3 hives up in order to gain access to their better tech tree's. They can do anything from go invisible and ambush marines to set webs to trap them. There is a lot of room to experiment here and the possibilities for evolving are almost endless in terms of combining skills.

Playing Natural Selection

As I have played this game more and more I have become more inclined to play as the marines. I prefer the way you get a commander and work in a tighter team. 2.0 has had a lot of criticism about the fact the alien side seems too powerful. They always seem to win now and this was not an issue in the last version, 1.04. My personal opinion of this is that the aliens do seem to win a lot. I have explored this game deeply and played on many servers including huge 30 player ones. But I don't think this is a game fault. My view is that the marines need to learn their tactics. Simple things like the marine ability to weld certain entry ways shut often go overlooked and the aliens take advantage on this and sneak through. Commanders are now beginning to realise how to beat the Kharaa. An example of this was a recent game I was in on a brilliant new map ns_veil. We were getting slowly pushed back and our comm decided to give us all shotguns. Now in 2.0 the shotgun is officially the don. It is ultra powerful but you need to be up close to your target. We all then went on the offensive with our shotguns and the comm constantly dropped us med packs and ammo. It took 15 minutes but eventually we decimated the aliens and drove them back to their only hive and destroyed it. This was all down to the shotgun and a few grenade launchers. This just proved to me that the marines "can" win and will begin to win a lot more in the next few weeks and months, because they will suss the tactics.

Playing as aliens is probably harder yet more rewarding. You start as a skulk and run around biting marines. This sounds primitive but that bite attack will kill them in 1 hit and you can run up walls and along ceilings and hide in dark corners. Ambush tactics are the basis of the alien side when on lower evolutions. Players who go Gorge (the builder alien) will create the alien equivalent of the automated turret and other alien forms of the marine tech tree. As I have said the alien side rely on their hives to evolve and must defend these. The marine side must defend the commanders booth in equally the same importance. Once the Kharaa get a few hives up and can evolve into better aliens the real fun begins. The Fade (think Alien - the movie) will hack marines up with it's claws and launch powerful acid rockets at structures and players. When you play as Fade and learn invisibility it is truly great fun. Marines will run past you and then you go visible and chew them up only to fade away again. Then we have the Onos - big nasty mammoth style creature. The Onos can charge into marines and structures and destroy them and, new to 2.0, can eat marines. They will go into it's stomach and digest. Sick. In previous game version the Onos was almost invincible but with the new powers of the marine shotgun it now is not as tough to destroy. Onos players now tend to attack quickly then run, instead of just decking everyone and camping the marine base.

Worth a download?

If this game was retailing at £29.99 I would consider it worth it. This is even with the fact it is a Half--Life mod. Graphically NS is really very good. Like DoD the dev team have really gone beyond limits of the Half-Life engine here and the game looks great. The atmosphere of every single map is tense and gripping. If your a fan of any type of science fiction style game grab this! It feels like the game of the Alien movie Saga yet has enough originality to seem completely unique. Smoke rolls around corridors, machinery sounds echo around the void, doors open with a loud mechanic thud - it's all here. The sound in 2.0 is much better than previous versions with new and improved gun sounds with neat metallic properties. As well as this each gun has it's own crosshair which really is a nice feature. The shotgun for example has a round circle that represents the pellet spread which would be useless for, say, the pistol which has a smaller X crosshair.

Games like this really make you realise something. If people, volunteers, are making games like this for free download and they are as amazing as NS is then why bother buying all these new games that are coming out? NS is a marvelous achievement. It's deep and requires a lot of time to master. The fact there are so many tactics in this create great arguments between players. Whether it be on the microphone or talk bar you will always be promised a great verbal clash in this game. It really gets quite serious too. The will to win in NS is so strong, probably due to the effort that goes into building (the RTS aspects).

Like DoD and CS this is another example of an amazing mod. I was asked recently which one was best: NS 2.0 or DoD 1.0? I refused to answer. In my view these games represent brilliant effort on the parts of the creators and are both completely free! But due to the fact they are all mods of an aging title there will never be as much content here as in a proper game. This must always be remembered.



Truly unique game style, brilliant gameplay, tense atmosphere, teamwork is a "requirement".


Needs more maps, maybe the shotgun is a little too powerful, where is Bishop?


Ripley would be proud

by The Critical Alien
© 2003