Full Review: Finally, Ken Shamrock beats The Rock at something ? the world's longest sideburns.
With other fighting sports like boxing slowly losing their appeal, the ?real-world? fighting arenas have slowly been occupied with MMA, known as Mixed Martial Arts. Basically, MMA fighting is a combination of punching, kicking, and shoot wrestling submission holds (read: unlike pro wrestling, they actually do them so pain is felt). MMA was made popular in the United States with the Ultimate Fighting Championships, thanks to the uniqueness of the Octagon, and the strength of its star attractions such as Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, and Tank Abbott.
However, this game we're discussing here is not about the UFC ? it's about the Japanese answer to UFC, the Pride Fighting Championships. The rules are basically the same as most MMA events, only the fights now take place in a boxing/wrestling ring, complete with the same flair that a professional wrestling show, which is well represented in THQ and Anchor's rendition of the sport in video game fashion, known as Pride FC. As a whole package, Pride FC is an honest to goodness outstanding representation of the real deal ? only a one missing feature really knocks Pride FC down from the elite PlayStation 2 fighting games. Fans of Pride FC or those curious will definitely find plenty to enjoy, making it worthwhile to spend time with. Also, fans of wrestling and wrestling video games will love this game too ? though it will mostly be due to begging Anchor to use this engine to make the perfect wrestling video game.
Pride FC comes with a huge list of fighters ? 25 to be exact ? while most are no-names to the average Joe, the game does include Royce Gracie, Don Frye, and the most famous fighter in the game ?The World's Most Dangerous Man? Ken Shamrock; who ironically is most known for his 2 year tenure in the WWF in the late ?90's (in which he won a few belts and got his ass kicked by The Rock a lot), working fixed wrestling matches. Also included are Ken Shamrock's sideburns ? they're so evident on his face that it commands it's own barber to keep them trim. Each fighter uses a different style in their matches ? from basic karate or wrestling to Muay Tai or other exotic forms of opening a can of whoop ass. Each fighter feels different thanks to the variances in style.
Of course, if none of the lineup of Pride FC fighters interests you, you could create your own fighter thanks to the deep Creation system. Or you could just create Shamrock without the strange sideburns. The customization is deep, almost confusing when you start assigning moves ? thankfully you can let the game do it for you if you're intimidated. Ironically, the most enjoyable part of the Creation system is creating pro wrestlers & putting them into this fire ? naturally The Rock made an appearance and his old buddy Shamrock beat him to a bloody pulp, 4 years in the making.
The gameplay modes are unfortunately limited to 3 modes of play ? a basic single fight mode against the computer or a friend, the Grand Prix, and the Survival/Gauntlet mode. The Grand Prix is what ends up being the core of the game ? it's a 16 fighter, one night tournament to decide the GP champion of Pride FC. As you fight, you don't fully recover your health, so the later rounds become much more dangerous as you avoid being KO'd or forced to tapout.
The Gauntlet is a test of true endurance ? you must fight all 25 fighters in the game to ?win? the Gauntlet. If you don't though, your name will still be in lights if you did well enough to register the high score.
This is where the big problem of Pride FC comes in ? much like Anchor's other recent game, WWF Raw on the Xbox, there is a sore lack of a Career mode to extend single player replay. Pride would be a whole lot more engaging if you could take a created fighter, work him through the ranks & then get a position in the Grand Prix event. Instead, you just have to replay the GP with all the characters to see how they look with the championship belt.
On the other hand, the GP mode in multiplayer could be twisted into something outstanding. You could logically have 16 people controlling one character en route to the GP title, setting up a hell of a party (or maybe someday, online) game. On the other hand, you could just let the computer fighters battle it out like a real Pride FC Grand Prix ? only like Letterman says, this is just an exhibition ? please, no wagering (Top 10 signs you might have a gambling problem ? number 7: you start betting on video games, number 6: you attend Florida State & play on the football team).
Thankfully, the in-ring action makes up for the lack of options. The fighting engine in Pride FC is similar to a traditional fighting game ? each participant (sucker?) has a life-bar that doesn't recharge, and once it's gone, you're knocked out. Also, if you get caught in a submission hold, even at full health, you'll be tapping out and losing in due time. The fights are also split into 3 rounds if necessary; and while I've never actually seen past the 1st round, it means some fights can turn into knock down drag out slobberknockers in multiplayer.
The only thing that's bothersome about this fighting engine is how fast the matches can end ? but it's probably realistic. It's possible to take down your opponent immediately, apply a submission hold, and win the fight in less than 10 seconds (I've done it, I know). This can be avoided with guarding & smart fighting, but usually if you can surprise the opponent it's all over. I wound up going through the 25 man Gauntlet in less than 25 minutes with this attack process, on the default difficulty level (which isn't exactly a walk in the park). On the flipside, you too can be beaten in short order by the same means, so it evens out in the end.
The fighting itself isn't extraordinarily deep, but it's not really shallow either. Each fighter has a different style as mentioned, and each has a different fighting strategy. Either way, each fighter is set up with a handful of combos and a special move or 2 to really go in for the kill, consisting of a mix of punches, kicks, and takedowns. If you take down a fighter, you can wail away or set up a submission if you're fast, since you have the advantage; but if you're too slow the other fighter will either flip you over and gain leverage, or simply break the hold. The vast amount of strategy despite the limited moves (but hey, it's not like this is pro wrestling with top-rope moves and that stuff, these guys are just pure fighting ass kickers) is well-balanced & somehow manages to avoid too much repetition, but like any fighting games, it does get old after a while.
The controls are tight, if a bit unusual ? instead of assigning one button to do things, some buttons need to be pressed at the same time. For instance, you have to press 2 buttons to do a takedown or a submission hold, depending on which buttons you press together. Pride FC only uses the face buttons, though using the R and L buttons would have been a smart thing to create a slightly more intuitive & natural control scheme. It works though, and after a while you'll be kicking tail like you were a Pride fighter. Only you'd get killed in reality.
The funny thing about playing this game is how much wrestling fans will see the WWE games & beg the question as to why they can't borrow this engine for the next Smackdown game. Simply put, the game engine here is outstanding, and thanks to the fact that it's in a wrestling ring, it would be a perfect way to play a wrestling game now that Smackdown is starting to get old. Just tweak the game around a bit, take out the Pride fighters and put in the WWE stars, and it would be the best wrestling game ever. As Pride FC's engine though, it's still good enough to be one of the more solid fighting engines around.
Another strong point in Pride FC is the sharp visuals. Starting with a dead-on presentation, including the lavish fighter entrances ripped right out of the WWF/E, to the detailed crowd cheering the action, we have one of the better looking PlayStation 2 games, believe it or not. The fighters themselves are exceptionally well designed, looking virtually identical to their real-deal counterparts (right down to The Sideburns). Each character is animated just as sharply, with crisp actions based on the real fighting style, making each move look unique for each fighter. Nice touches like blood on the camera if it's close to you pummeling the opponent (or being pummeled yourself) add a touch of realism to the game too (and yes, this game earns its Mature rating). While there's some of the usual PS2 problems that we all know; on the whole Pride FC looks outstanding.
Accenting the solid visuals is the workman-like sound. While nothing really stands out, it ties in well to the Pride FC experience. Each fighter comes out to their own music, licensed from a bunch of bands I've never heard of before. It quickly becomes part of each fighter's identity, however. There are different announcers in different languages like you'd see in reality ? along with the home-based Japanese announcer, there's a female voice making announcements in English for the non-Japanese folks. The crowd is usually excited, and since there's no ?good guy/bad guy? stuff in Pride FC (at least, not the kind set up by TV writers), every big move is cheered no matter who the fighter is. Unfortunately, there is no announcers calling the action ? but I say unfortunately quite cautiously, since usually commentary in a game like this is total crap anyway.
While limited play modes hurt things a bit and hamper replay, there's no questioning that Pride FC is a sharp, polished fighting game that will appease Pride FC fans around the world. Whatever that was wrong or not included in this version will surely show up in a follow-up, so we have a lot to look forward to in this case. By any means, Pride FC may not be a great solo game, it is a brilliant multiplayer or party game ? imagining 16 people fighting a video game Grand Prix, then watching the real thing on pay-per-view or a DVD conjures up a lot of fun. All told though, Pride Fighting Championships is a darn good fighting game that is at the very least worth a rental.