WWF Raw is War Preview

We took an in-depth look at Anchor's upcoming wrestling game, a few months ago. We can finally report on it.

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WWF Raw Is War is being developed for the Xbox by Anchor, the group that put together Ultimate Fighting Championship for the Sega Dreamcast. Bringing its experience with UFC to the table, Anchor has undertaken a lofty goal: creating a next-generation wrestling title that will appeal to gamers because of the attractive WWF license and its solid gameplay. In an interview with GameSpot held at this year's Tokyo Game Show, THQ and Anchor's head developers made clear their intentions with Raw Is War for the Xbox. Bells and whistles came in second; the focus on Raw Is War is to create an enjoyable fighting game experience.

Graphically, we've been extremely impressed by what we've seen so far. Character models look ultrarealistic, and the level of facial detail is on par with some of the best work created by CG artists industrywide. The WWF Superstars' visages are re-created masterfully and are each easily recognizable, both in terms of accuracy in structure as well as animation. The Xbox, creating a brilliant array of effects that flood the screen at all times, handles some of the preliminary lighting effects we've witnessed superbly. Many sports games can lay claim to attractive graphics, yet offer meager and unattractive crowds. The crowds in Raw Is War are alive with movement, and they cheer and wave frantically. Further, Anchor currently plans to implement choreographed crowd reactions, like the wave. The crowds will have a more direct influence on the action when fights break out in the audience. The action can take place in the stands as well as backstage, and the crowds will maneuver around the wrestlers accordingly, giving them room to fight while cheering their favorites on and while getting a close-up look at the action. Those fans not directly in the wrestlers' midst can also watch what's going on at all times on the Titantron, which constantly televises the action from a number of angles.

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During the interview, we got a chance to play a very early version of the game and get a look at how the fighting system was shaping up. The number of moves available in the demo build we played was extremely limited--your wrestler was able to only punch, kick, grab and taunt, and each of these moves was mapped to one of the Xbox controller's face buttons. Grapple moves are executed in a manner more akin to WWF No Mercy than to Smackdown 2 in that they are more deliberate, focusing on simulation-type gameplay rather than arcade-style gameplay. While this is true, we also noticed how fast the action zipped along, similar to the frantic action found in Smackdown! 2, and we were informed that the final version will play at a smooth 60fps, even with all the impressive effects going on during the match. While motion capture is responsible for about 10 percent of the total animation--mostly used to render wrestlers' unique taunts and poses--movement animations in general will be slightly exaggerated to increase the amount of fun for players. For example, body-slammed opponents will bounce a little more than they would naturally.

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While Raw Is War currently plays similarly to other wrestling games, Anchor plans to integrate a deeper hold and counterhold system, similar to what was available in UFC. Anchor representatives made the statement that "trying to sell a wrestling game in Japan based on the WWF will not work. In order for people to buy the game, it has to have good gameplay."

Each of the wrestlers will have a custom moves set, and the final version will let you alter their repertoires. Besides their own moves, wrestlers will have tag-team moves, as well as signature team-up attacks if applicable. Along with swapping techniques and visiting new venues, Raw Is War should make use of a detailed create-a-wrestler system, which will let you craft custom wrestlers from a huge number of component parts. Brian Farrell, president and CEO of THQ, addresses the expansion possibilities of Raw Is War when he states that "the [Xbox's] hard drive capabilities alone will open up some very interesting options for us to explore." While the initial reports on the number of selectable wrestlers are currently at a conservative 35, the create-a-wrestler function, combined with the Xbox's hard drive and networking capabilities, may feasibly allow players access to innumerable roster additions, as well as updates that may correspond with the ebb and flow of the current TV broadcast storylines. One of the more interesting features in Raw Is War is the effect that managers and the ladies accompanying the male wrestlers will have on matches--they'll directly influence bouts by distracting and attacking opponents. Some may even be fully playable.

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Despite their attention to technical accuracy and graphical detail, WWF Raw Is War showcases some of the features that make the WWF's TV broadcasts so popular. Wrestlers will have detailed, authentically re-created introduction sequences and ring entrances; Kane, for example, strolls into the ring and unleashes fire and brimstone, while Triple H will haughtily stand at the end of the stage, surrounded by the spray of fireworks and the commensurate spray of bottled water. The digitally re-created pyrotechnics, and lighting particle effects found in these sequences are made even more impressive by always playing out in real time. If the audio effects come close to rivaling the visuals, wrestling gamers will be in for a treat. As of yet, however, licensing issues with the WWF have limited what Anchor can do with the audio features in Raw Is War. Color commentary and wrestler voices have not been confirmed, but in truth, they are a secondary concern to the development team.

We look forward to seeing more of the exciting developments on Raw Is War at E3, so look for our hands-on impressions direct from the show floor.

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