Full Review: I smell what the Raw is cooking? and it smells pretty damn good!
Finally, after four months of delays and a name change, the Xbox has finally received it's first wrestling title in the form of WWF Raw. With Raw being one of the, if not THE, most anticipated games since the Xbox's launch, the question comes to mind ? was it worth the wait? For hardcore wrestling fans, the answer is a definite ?hell yeah?, but everyone else might want to be a bit cautious, Raw is not without it's mistakes.
Let me start all this out talking about Raw's fabulous presentation. Complete with the entire WWF license and a lot of time and effort, Anchor Inc. seems to have created the most authentic wrestling presentation around. From the get go we are treated to the official WWF Raw entrance video, and then from then on it only gets better. Most notably, of course, are the character introductions. Admittedly, these get boring after the first few times of seeing them, but they are no doubt cool. Each character is complete with their real music, videos on the TitanTron, pyrotechnics, and they even walk down to the ring in the same fashion as they do in the show. Granted, some of the music and intros are a tad out dated, but that's to be expected when you have a game in development for such a long period of time.
I guess the roster could also be considered part of the presentation as well, and Raw's will not disappoint. The game packs over 35 wrestlers, ranging from top guns like The Rock and Triple H, all the way to no names like Al Snow and Albert. You will notice a few missing members and you won't find any of the recently added stars from the now deceased WCW, like Booker T and Diamond Dallas Page. It seems the roster is based right after the New Radials (Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, and company) joined into the mix. A lot of time seems to have gone into these characters too, as each of them use attacks unique to their own personal fighting style.
Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Perfect, the game's presentation isn't quite ?perfect?. During matches you won't see a referee in the ring calling the shots, you see an announcers table, complete with chairs and all, yet, there's no announcers, and characters don't quite act like they should. For example, Kane shouldn't interfere in a hardcore match and start beating on his brother, The Undertaker. It just doesn't make much sense. While these few nuances will only really annoy hardcore fans, it seems as if Anchor should have done more research, especially on how the wrestlers react towards one another.
There is really only two ways to go about reviewing a wrestling game. Some people prefer zillions of different match variations, while other just look for spot-on, well-playing gameplay. And Raw certainly fits into the latter category. Come on now, what did you expect from the creators of the phenomenal Dreamcast game, Ultimate Fighting Championship?
Just as in every single wrestling title before it, once in the ring your goal is to weaken and then pin your opponent ? 1, 2, 3. Unlike Smackdown's arcade-like gameplay, Raw boasts a slower punch/grapple system. Which, thanks to a well-designed control scheme, works really well. The game offers a fair amount of moves and throws, and you're able to jump off the ropes, use different items, and basically whoop your opponents with much ease.
While in combat there are two main things you need to keep notice of -- your stamina bar and the Voltage Meter. The stamina bar is a small? well, bar, that is beside your character. On the right side of it you'll find a meter that shows how tired your character is, which works well in preventing you from cheesing you opponent with a barrage of powerful attacks. On the left side of the bar is a small square that blinks when you are weak and in danger of being pinned; the faster it blinks the more trouble you are in.
Then we have the controversial Voltage Meter, which is probably the most important item to take note of in the game. In a nutshell, the Voltage Meter is a large, colored meter at the bottom of the screen that shows whom the crowd is routing for. The reason this is important is because when the meter is completely in your favor, which is shown when it starts flashing, you are able to perform you finishing move by stunning your opponent, grappling them, and then by pressing A+B. Since these moves are easily the most exciting in the game and they usually end it all for your opponent, controlling the Voltage Meter is a must.
And thus, this is where the controversial part comes into play. At first, the Voltage Meter can be very confusing and frustrating. This has been the reason many people don't like it, and have written it off as being flawed. But in all actuality, it's quite the opposite. Once knowledgeable of it, the meter is in a way ingenious, and it certainly adds a new twist on wrestling titles. It's simple really, the Voltage Meter reacts positively towards people who mix up their moves and keep the crowd excited by showing off. So if you're the kind of person who likes to repeat the same moves over and over again, don't expect to have much success.
All in all, the gameplay in Raw delivers in many categories. The Voltage Meter throws in a little originality and helps in the depth department, the punch/grapple system works well and is entertaining, and the 150+ weapons keep things exciting. From your basic tables, ladders, and chairs, to your more personalized items like Angle's gold medals, Triple H's water bottle, and Mankind's mask, you'll not only be able to use the items to inflict pain, but you can also pimp around in some swank attire. You'll also notice a few odd items, such as those huge foam hand thingies and a pink, swan tutu (don't ask). Some items like the chairs and tables even bust into pieces when used too much. It's a nice addition considering you can just pick up the pieces and continue to beat your opponent(s) with it.
One of the more disappointing aspects of Raw is the computer A.I. They're not exactly the brightest crayons in the box, if you catch my drift. Please note that I am basing all of this off the default, normal difficulty level, so results may vary depending your settings. The A.I. really falls into two categories ? stupid and just plain cheesy. The stupidity can be overlooked; it usually just leaves you wondering, ?What is that guy doing?? But I found the cheesy parts to be a bit aggravating. For instance, you can dominate the computer the entire round, with multiple finishing moves and all, yet for some reason you can't get the 3 count. Then they'll do one finisher on you, pin you, and win it. As a result you lost about 15 minutes of your life and you have a very sore wrist -- all for nothing.
In the ?I going to smash my controller category?, when the CPU feels like it, they like to knock you down over and over again. This is usually very annoying because they do this towards the end of the match when it takes a very long time for your character to get up, due to exhaustion. As a result, every now and then you'll end up lying on the ground for minutes at a time. So the A.I. in the game has it's fair share of problems, and in the end, the game works much better as a multiplayer experience. This is even truer when you look at the game's short list of gameplay modes.
From the get go we are treated to Exhibition, Title Match, King of the Ring, and Create-A-Player options. Once chosen these modes then branch off into subcategories: the Exhibition and King of the Ring options require you to choose your game type, such as one-on-one, tag team, etc, and the Title Match allows you to win a variety of WWF belts. To be perfectly honest, none of these modes really offer anything amazing and some are even very flawed, like the Title matches. You don't even have to pick a woman character to win the Women's Championship Belt. Actually, it's quite amusing to see The Rock celebrating after winning the Women's title. But yeah, overall the game is lacking in the extras, and about the best match type you're going to get is a Fatal Four-Way Hardcore match.
On the bright side, the Create-A-Player mode is second to none. There is literally hundreds and hundreds of ways to personalize your own unique wrestler. From the appearance all the way down to editing your character's introduction.
The visuals in Raw are without a doubt amazing, but they didn't impress me as much as I had anticipated. Many of the characters, such as The Rock and the Big Show, resemble their real life counterparts to a tee, while others just look downright terrible, such as all the women wrestlers and Triple H. To contest to the sheer amount of detail in the game, you'll notice things like tattoos and missing teeth. For a wrestling title the animations are very good, although, for some reason they never fixed the way the characters walk. Sorry to say this, but they all look like they have something shoved up their asses. Other things like the pyrotechnic effects and the crowd sprites have their fair share of problems, but generally they are pulled off well. In the end, I think it'd be safe to say that Raw is the best looking wrestling title ever made.
While the graphics turned out very nicely, Raw's audio did fail a bit short. Most notably during gameplay, where you'll hear some super lame-o music, impact effects, a few grunts, and the crowd cheering. It's not horrible by any means, but it does leave a lot to be desired. But you're sure to love all of the official music that rocks throughout the game.
Raw is littered with problems that cover a variety of categories, but it still some how turned out to be a quality wrestling title that fits nicely as the Xbox's first. Of course, hardcore wrestling fans can easily overlook a majority of the misgivings and enjoy the game fully, but just to be safe, casual fans might want to give it a rental first. Nevertheless, with excellent gameplay, gorgeous graphics, and a magnificent presentation, WWF Raw is definitely a keeper. Now let's see some WWF Raw 2!