WWF Raw is War Updated Preview

We go hands-on with this much-anticipated Xbox wrestling game.

THQ recently visited our offices and allowed us to go hands-on with its WWF Xbox game WWF Raw is War, which is being developed by the same team behind last year's highly regarded Ultimate Fighting Championship. We've been teased with screenshots and movie trailers for quite a while, and we were quite enthusiastic to see if the game looked as good in our hands as we'd hoped. While the version we played was early and could most assuredly use some work in some key areas, what we did see was most impressive.

Rikishi comes to life in WWF Raw is War

If Raw is War has a single strongest quality, it would have to be its incredibly lifelike character models. Each character we saw was amazingly well done, with skin textures and muscle tone coming as close to the real thing as we could have hoped for from a next-generation game. Playing with Rikishi, we marveled at how closely the character model resembled the popular Samoan giant. His facial details were phenomenal--his facial hair and skin tone were absolutely dead-on. Many of the wrestlers, like the Big Show and Stone Cold Steve Austin, seemed larger than life, the character modelers apparently skewing their efforts on the side of incredibly muscular over lean body types. The overall look of the wrestlers was reminiscent of the most recent N64 efforts, albeit with a much greater level of quality.

The game's moves and holds are the foundation of what makes Raw is War so impressive. There is a dizzying array of techniques, and each one we attempted had numerous frames of animation, giving the action an incredibly fluid look. The transitional animations from standing to grappling were smooth, as were the stagger and pained expression that the superstars would go through the motions of after a particularly brutal series of slams and strikes. Conversely, the WWF superstars' walking animations struck us as early and on the unnatural end of the spectrum. We've seen what Anchor can do with character model animation in its previous exploits, and we have faith in its ability to better approach realism.

Hear the millions and millions of the Rock's fans, chanting his name.

According to THQ, WWF Raw is War will support six characters in the ring at once, four of which can be human players. We got our hands on the game during a few four-way dances, and they looked very smooth. We can't wait to try out more of what could shape up to be an excellent multiplayer mode. During our matches, the game ran at a steady clip, and even during six-man brawls, it should run at 60 fps.

Anchor has taken a few liberties with what we've come to expect from wrestling games as far as visual style is concerned, giving us something entirely new. WWF Raw is War will feature double-feature instant replay sequences, which--in the same way as the television and pay-per-view broadcasts--will allow players to watch and control the continuing action while also being able to enjoy a particularly impressive move or sequence again. We saw an early version of what these split-screen briefs will look like, and we were pleasantly surprised by how smooth the transition from full screen to split screen was and by the overall effect in general. WWF Raw is War also surprised us with a full-screen blurring effect that served to emphasize a particularly devastating technique, but we weren't absolutely sold on how effective the blurring technique will be in the final version. We noticed that Raw is War will include blood in its matches, although the exact level of bloodiness that the game will reach is as of yet undetermined. We did see that once a superstar's face was bloodied, blood would splatter realistically across the mat as he continued through the match.

Raw is War will try to bring you split-screen replays during the action.

Some of the effects that are going to be included in the final version of Raw is War weren't available in the early version we were able to play. Many of the ring introductions were impressive, but they'll be even more so when full pyrotechnics are included, as well as some of the smaller details, like the water bottle and spraying mist that are Triple H's hallmark. The absolutely huge arenas and multiple lens flares given off by arrays of floodlights did give us a good idea of what should be in store, though. The lighting effects were rather early, however, which made it hard for us to properly check out one of Raw is War's most impressive qualities: its fully polygonal audience. What we were able to glean from our vantage point was that the crowd (which was composed of a great amount of varied models) brought a great sense of realism to the game's atmosphere. Like its PS2 counterpart, WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, WWF Raw is War will let the action spill into the crowd, who will part and make room for your antics in the stands. Also, if you don't want to wait for the match to start before pummeling your opponent, WWF Raw is War allows you to interfere during ring entrances. While this option wasn't available in the version we played, it definitely piqued our interest.

The level of facial detail in Raw is War is unparalleled.

Playing WWF Raw is War was very much like playing WWF No Mercy on the N64. There was a definite deliberate nature to the grappling system that seemed to emphasize control and strategy over the frantic speed and arcade nature of its PS2 counterpart. Setting it apart from other games in the genre's past were a number of gameplay mechanics that are being introduced for the first time. WWF Raw is War makes use of a number of onscreen indicators for such things as stamina and voltage, which is apparently going to be how the wrestlers will "charge" up their special moves. One meter that runs along the bottom of the screen is broken up into equal sections and color-coded for each character. Based on successful techniques and damage received, the colored portions of the bar will shrink or grow, relative to each superstar. While we await the latest word on the ways that this will influence the flow of the game, we're intrigued by how this momentum or crowd-support meter may be used. We'll still have to wait and see what the final game will play like, but all indications are that fans of WWF No Mercy will feel right at home with WWF Raw is War.

We were pleasantly surprised by many facets of WWF Raw is War, especially its outstanding graphics. We'll make sure to keep you posted on how the gameplay progresses and whether or not it'll keep up with the game's impressive graphical power. Take a look at our gameplay footage and our huge batch of exclusive screenshots, and make sure to check back with us in the near future for the latest on WWF Raw is War.

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