Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to take a quick look at the final build of THQ and developer Yuke's upcoming wrestling game for the GameCube, WWE Day of Reckoning, at a THQ press event. Shortly thereafter, we got hold of our own final, retail copy of the game, and we have been playing it almost nonstop ever since. Our previous impressions of the game were that it was looking to be a big improvement over last year's good but flawed WrestleMania XIX, and so far, that assessment seems to be holding firm. We have noticed a couple of problems to speak of, but overall, it seems that the third time is the charm for Yuke's on the GameCube, and Day of Reckoning should be a fine choice for any wrestling fan.
If you played WrestleMania XIX, you should be able to pick up Day of Reckoning pretty easily. The basic gameplay employs the weak and strong grapple control mechanic from last year, but it has a more methodical pacing. The game is still fairly quick, but it's now easier to pace out a match. A couple of additions have been made to the action as well: a new momentum shift mechanic and a newly revamped weight-balancing system. The momentum shift is interesting. It effectively gives you the chance to completely turn a match around in an instant. If you've been beaten down consistently throughout a match, and you're on the ropes, just press the A and B buttons at the same time at the right point in the match, and your momentum meter will suddenly shoot up while your opponents' will shoot down, giving you a chance to get the upper hand. This does not guarantee a victory, but it does nicely emulate the kinds of sudden comebacks you'll often see in a typical wrestling match.
The weight-balancing system gives you the opportunity to actually lift the big boys, even if you're a little guy. Essentially, any time you want to try to slam a big wrestler--and by default, you're too small to do so--a meter will appear in the lower corner of the screen. By mashing on the A button, you can try to push that meter up and eventually slam your opponent. Depending on your size and your strength rating, this can be either very easy or very hard. It's a nicely balanced mechanic, and it's a welcome change from the old methodology of having little guys simply unable to lift the big guys at all.
While we like the pacing and mechanics of the gameplay quite a lot, we have noticed a couple of irritations. For one, the hit detection during a match can be a bit spotty. Specifically, some running attacks (especially running attacks to a downed opponent) seem to miss randomly. What this really amounts to is a heavy focus on needing to be accurate with your strikes, since even a slight miscalculation of your positioning can lead to a miss. We're not fully satisfied with the opponent AI either. Single matches and most gimmick matches seem to play just fine, but tag-team matches can be pretty annoying. Specifically, there doesn't seem to be a button with which to call in your partner--the partner of the wrestler being pinned just automatically jumps in every time, and the partner of the one doing the pinning tends to just stay put. This makes trying to pin an opponent extremely frustrating at times and often leads to some lengthy tag matches.
But really, these quibbles are the only real knocks about the game we've noted. If you were wondering about how the story mode turned out, we can safely assuage any fears. Unlike WrestleMania XIX, which had an atrocious story mode, Day of Reckoning features a pretty cool story mode. You begin by creating a superstar of your choice, and you work him up through the WWE developmental league, to the bright lights of WWE superstardom. We've worked our superstar up to the Raw roster so far, and we've already encountered a couple of nifty storyline twists. The dialogue is well written, and there haven't been any moments that have taken us out of the story. It seems as though Yuke's has nailed this year's story.
Day of Reckoning's visuals are impressive as well. The player models are a big step up from WrestleMania XIX, with far more detail in the faces and body builds than ever seen previously. There's also a nice shine effect on the wrestlers, which you'll especially notice during entrances. The animation is, for the most part, very smooth, and each and every move feels extremely impactful, just as it should. We did notice what looked like a couple of glitchy reversal animations (specifically a couple of strike reversals) that primarily just appeared to move too fast, but that's the only issue we noticed with the animation.
From our time spent with Day of Reckoning thus far, we feel pretty confident about the game. We need to spend some more time playing with the create-a-wrestler mode, and we need to go deeper into the story mode before we can be absolutely sure, but unless something goes seriously haywire, we expect that this will be an easy recommendation for GameCube-owning wrestling fans. Stay tuned for our full review of WWE Day of Reckoning early next week.