WCW Thunder is a rehash of THQ's previous PlayStation wrestling game, WCW Nitro. The wrestlers, graphics, and modes have changed, but the gameplay is still substandard.
The gameplay in Thunder is different from most wrestling games. Instead of relying on button mashing and complicated tie-up exchanges, Thunder uses a series of button presses to execute moves from both the standing and tie-up positions. Once your opponent gets hold of you, all you can do is pound down on the controller, hoping you can execute the escape move before he can pull off a move. The computer AI is absolutely terrible, and you can take out any computer opponent in around 30 seconds using the new button-mashing move that's been added, where you grab each other's hands and attempt to gain leverage. Using this move can easily drain half of the computer player's life. So, that said, use it twice, kick the poor guy once to knock him down, and pin him. Bang. Occasionally the computer will get a move or two off, but it's just about impossible for it to come back from being that far down. If he manages to regain some power, slap that move on again (press up and circle at the same time) and drain it all away. Human opponents obviously put up more of a fight, but the total lack of strategy involved in the game's various moves and holds really keeps it from being any fun.
The game, like its predecessor, is pretty long on atmosphere. The game has short FMV ring intros and hilarious rant videos (be sure to check out Nash's and Piper's rants - they're classic) that play on the wrestler selection screen. Also, you can flip your wrestler's affiliations around. So you can put Goldberg into NWO White, force Sting to join Raven's flock, and make Hogan a Horseman if you so desire. Some affiliation changes change the character's in-ring appearance, but this is usually limited to painting a red T-shirt onto your guy. The WCW's three main singles competition belts are in the game, and the selection screen reflects who the current belt holders are at any given time. Modes include championship tournaments for all three belts, exhibition matches, tag matches, the 30-man battle royal (though only four wrestlers are in the ring at any given time), and cage matches.
Graphically, Thunder improves on Nitro, bumping up the frame rate and improving the backgrounds a bit. However, the wrestlers still look and move a little strangely. Also, the game has an overly grainy look to it. The backgrounds especially suffer from this, though the multiple screens in the background that simulcast the ring action are a nice touch. There is a bit of commentary in the game, but not nearly enough when compared with the likes of WWF WarZone. It's usually limited to brief comments like "The piledriver!"
While Thunder does a good job of looking like real wrestling, the gameplay just doesn't hold up. While Nitro at least tried to do something different with its gameplay, different doesn't always mean good. Thunder carries on the tradition of bad gameplay a little too closely, but if you're after a wrestling game with lots of recognizable names and lots of non-gameplay-related options, then this is the game for you.