GameCube owners finally got a decent WWE game last year in the form of Yuke's and THQ's WWE Day of Reckoning. It took the developer three tries to finally make a product that followed in the tradition of quality of the old, AKI-developed Nintendo 64-era wrestling games, but hey, be it one try, three tries, or a hundred tries, a winner's a winner. WWE Day of Reckoning 2, the follow-up to that great title, is effectively more of the same. Maybe Yuke's was worried about messing with a good thing, so rather than make any drastic shifts to the gameplay or roster of modes, it has simply gone through the game, fixing a few artificial intelligence issues here, adding a few more wrestlers there, and raising the overall quality of the graphics and presentation. Undeniably, Day of Reckoning 2 is a better game than its predecessor, but some may find it to be a touch too familiar for comfort.
Just to get all the basics out of the way, Day of Reckoning 2 features all the major Pay-per-view and TV show arenas, more authentic entrance sequences, pretty much every match type you'd expect from a wrestling game (with perhaps the sole exception of something like the elimination chamber, which has been in the last couple of SmackDown! games), and a few more wrestlers than the last title, totaling 45 in all. A few new faces, like Kenzo Suzuki, Eugene, and Paul London make their way into the roster, replacing no one of consequence. You'll also get a few unlockable legends, like Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, and The Rock to play around with. The legends thing was a cute idea for a while, but now you can't help but feel like they're starting to cut into the real-life roster. At least superstars like Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin have made some recent appearances on TV, so it's not like they're completely irrelevant.
The gameplay engine that was so great last year is just as great this year--largely because it hasn't changed much and there isn't exactly much competition out there from other wrestling games. You'll still use the same system of weak and strong strikes and grapples, controlled by either tapping or pressing the respective attack buttons. Special attacks, Irish whips, top rope maneuvers, and taunts are all handled just about the same. Reversals still require you to press the right and left triggers to correspond with strikes or grapples respectively, and the timing is still quite fast. The single-player opponents are even more adept at reversing your attacks this year, so you won't be able to fumble your way through matches, tossing out random attacks that look pretty. The artificial intelligence still gets hung up in spots, occasionally pausing at irrational intervals while standing over your downed wrestler just waiting for you to get up and kick them in the face; but compared with the last game, this happens far less often.
Both of the unique gameplay components from last year's game are back yet again, namely the momentum shifts and changed weight-balancing system. Joining them is a pair of new gameplay mechanics: a new submission system and a stamina system. The submission system isn't especially complex. Essentially, once you put an opponent into a submission hold that could conceivably be a match-winning move, you're presented with a little menu that lets you choose the options of submit, drain, rest hold, and taunt. Each choice is assigned to a direction on the C stick, and once you make your choice, your opponent (working without the knowledge of what you've chosen) chooses one of the four options too. If he or she guesses which of the four you've picked, they'll break out of the hold and do some damage to you in the process. If they guess wrong, you get to put some pain on them.
The interesting thing about the system is that there is some palpable difference between some of the choices in how they function. For instance, the rest hold option plays into the new stamina meter. Every wrestler has one, and pulling off especially tough maneuvers, really working to get an opponent to submit to a hold, or any strenuous activity at all really, drains your stamina. Just like the real thing, rest holds help you regain stamina, as does just kind of standing around from time to time. If you let your meter get all the way down, it'll take a good while to get you back to a point where you can function without doubling over in exhaustion. It's basically the same system the Fire Pro and King of Colosseum games from Japan employed and it's used to great effect here. Of the two new features, the stamina system is probably the most important. It definitely adds an important layer of strategy to the game that simply wasn't there before, and it does it without completely wrecking the pacing of a match. The submission system is neat too, though it would be better if some of the other options actually gave some visibly different feedback. There's not much difference between picking a rest hold, a taunt, or a pure submission, animation-wise; but this is just a minor dent on an otherwise good mechanic.
The rest of the changes Yuke's made to the gameplay are basically clean-up work. Hit detection is way, way better in Day of Reckoning 2. Pretty much every single hit registers just as it should, and though rare, blatant misses still do occur, it isn't like the first game, where running attacks and ground attacks would frequently be ignored. Tag and other multiwrestler gimmick matches have been improved too, specifically in the realm of AI. It's much more difficult to win a tag match now without making at least one or two tags during the course of the bout. This is because Yuke's fixed the issue with partners or other opponents simply not bothering to run into the ring. You can still walk over, knock an opponent off the apron, hit a special move on the legal man and then pin him, but getting to that point takes much more effort, as partners will run in to break up not just pins and submissions, but also special moves, even before you've actually hit the move.
It's smart thinking on the AI's part, but at times, it can be way overzealous. Take fatal four-way matches, for example. Once a match has been going for a while, if you try to hit a particularly strong move on an opponent, another will run over and break up the move on a near-constant basis. This makes some of the multiwrestler singles matches a real pain, since you'll constantly be challenged just to pull off a move, let alone pin or make a guy submit. You haven't seen rage-inducing frustration until you've tried to win a fatal four-way cage match with this kind of AI. By no means do these frustrations wreck the gameplay--it's just too bad that the AI wasn't a bit more fine-tuned.
One of the cooler things about Day of Reckoning 2 is its season mode--it literally picks up where Day of Reckoning's season mode left off. Unfortunately, the game doesn't let you import any of your created wrestlers from the first game (which is somewhat understandable, since the create-a-wrestler mode in DOR 2 isn't just a carbon copy of the original game's), but you're more than welcome to recreate your favorite grappler of old for the purposes of this mode. The story itself starts out not long before Wrestlemania. The champ, Triple H, has recently had his title vacated due to a draw decision in a match against Chris Jericho. We join our hero (your wrestler) just after this has taken place. With Stacy Kiebler on your arm, you hop at the opportunity to participate in a short, multishow title tournament, with the finals set to take place during Wrestlemania's main event. After winning the required matches, you're all set to wrestle during the big show--but then, disaster! The world heavyweight title belt goes missing from general manager Eric Bischoff's office, and without a belt, there can be no main event. Crestfallen, you are forced to sit by as Wrestlemania's main event is canceled for the first time in history.
What ensues is a whodunit of Hardy Boys (the teenage detectives, not the tag team) proportions. Believe it or not, the whole thing is actually pretty well written, as wrestling storylines go. It might be hard for you to accept that the Raw brand wouldn't just buy a new title belt, rather than go for months and months without a decided champion; but apart from this logic leap, the story presents you with plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained throughout the roughly five- to six-hour mode. Incidentally, Yuke's also went to the trouble of adding a few story choices for you this time around. They mostly just focus on you deciding which opponents or titles you want to go after--you still have to win every match, and they don't drastically change the storyline--but even so, it's a nice touch.
The only stumbling point with the story is that it's still presented entirely with dialogue text menus, rather than any recorded dialogue. With the last iteration of the SmackDown! games and even the patently lousy Wrestlemania 21 providing voice work from the real-life superstars, the complete lack of voice work in Day of Reckoning 2 (presumably due to technical limitations of the GameCube's media format) is disappointing. It's also perhaps a bit dubious that you're forced to use a created wrestler yet again, since the storyline itself seems like it could work just as well with any wrestler on the roster. Certainly some scripting changes would have to be accounted for, but it seems like it would have been doable. All told though, the season mode is enjoyable despite its limitations, and the developers absolutely deserve credit for not hashing out yet another rookie-to-riches story.
Other than the season mode and basic exhibition matches, there really isn't an awful lot to the package beyond the create-a-wrestler functionality. Of course, it'll likely take you quite a chunk of time creating your own grapplers, as the mode is respectably deep. Admittedly, most of the changes made to the CAW mode are simply in the realm of adding more options to existing features. The mask editor is a little deeper this time around, and there are a few more base-level wrestler templates to work with; but otherwise, it's just more logos, designs, and clothing types. There aren't really all that many more moves to choose from; the entrance-creation system is slightly easier to navigate, but otherwise the same; and no create-a-belt, create-an-animation, or create-anything-else functions--the sort of things that have appeared in other WWE games--have been added here. GameCube-owning grapplers will undoubtedly get plenty of enjoyment out of the single-player season, multiplayer exhibition matches, and deep CAW mode, but a few more fringe benefits would have been great.
The most development effort in Day of Reckoning 2 clearly went into the game's graphics. This is easily the best-looking wrestler ever put onto the GameCube, and it easily rivals the stellar work Yuke's has done on the PlayStation 2 in the SmackDown! games. The wrestler models no longer have that goofy "plastic" look to them; their skin textures and facial designs are vastly improved, looking almost creepily realistic. They don't always animate realistically--the game is still animated by hand, rather than via motion capture, which leads to more fluid, but sometimes overexaggerated animations--but even so, the different moves and attacks all look excellent. More unique camera angles have been included to give you up-close-and-personal looks at some of the more brutal slams and smacks, and the frame rate rarely hitches, except for in very specific instances. It's also worth noting that there's still a noticeable level of disparity between the texture quality on a WWE superstar and that of a created superstar. Because the game refuses to let you copy existing facial maps or any appearance components of real-life superstars directly, you have no way of creating a superstar that looks as good as the real McCoy.
The audio experience in Day of Reckoning 2 is about on par of that of Day of Reckoning. Sound effects are great, but everything else is a little lacking. THQ has scaled back quite a bit since the licensed-song binge of last year, with just a couple of notably licensed tracks appearing in the game. The rest is typical instrumental metal, with distorted guitars and lots of double bass. Most of it's inoffensive, if not remarkable. Again, no voice acting of any kind exists in the game, be it dialogue or commentary. In one neat twist, the announcers for a given show will actually appear at ringside during certain events--though again, they say nothing throughout the match.
While it's quite difficult to really fault a sequel that clearly made a concerted effort to correct specific flaws in the first game, pure bug-fixing and minor tweaking do not always make for a great sequel. Thankfully, in the case of Day of Reckoning 2, the couple of gameplay upgrades that have been made were significant enough to make things feel fresh--if not overly so--and the new story mode is quite enjoyable. More focus on adding additional modes would have been nice, but considering how well this package handles and looks, you can't call it anything but an enjoyable follow-up. Though some people may be disappointed by the fact that it isn't a huge leap past what Day of Reckoning put forth, fans of the first game are certain to have a great time with the sequel.