WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It Preview
We've been playing the latest Smackdown! game quite a bit. Our preview tells all.
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We got a chance to play the latest build of Smackdown! Just Bring It, which is arguably the most widely anticipated video game sequel to be released this year. Running through the menus, we checked out the huge assortment of match types available, including Hell in a Cell matches, TLC matches, three Stages of Hell matches, and Slobberknockers. You have a great amount of control over how each match is set up: You can set up four-way dances, six-man tags, and so on, and you can add managers as well. Included also are the create-a-wrestler and create-a-taunt features that showcase the customizability that, along with the kitschy story mode, are the hallmarks of the Smackdown! franchise.
The first thing we noticed while playing this relatively early build of Smackdown! Just Bring It is how similar it looked to Smackdown! 2 for the PlayStation. The character models are relatively unchanged from their previous incarnations, although some now feature smoother textures that bring some of the small details to life. Tattoos are readily recognizable, including Lita's shoulder art and the Undertaker's dedication to his wife, Sara, on his neck. The textures used for the superstars' clothing and long hair are flat, however, and these parts of the character models were rendered using far too few polygons, creating a very cardboardlike, stiff appearance. The Undertaker's motorcycle rolls out impressively during his ring entrance, until you notice how it seems to glide across the stage without spinning its wheels. While most sports games make use of flat, inanimate bitmaps for their crowds, those in Smackdown! Just Bring It! are animated, waving signs and flags emphatically as they cheer for their favorite superstar. If so compelled, you can even take the action into the audience's domain, and the security guards in yellow shirts usher the fans aside as you pummel your foe in the stands. While not the most impressive of crowds as we've seen in other games (like NHL Hitz' fully polygonal audience), it's still an impressive effect. The limitations of the graphics engine, however, won't hamper your ability to suspend disbelief and enjoy the very cinematic presentation.
Unlike the character models, the superstar animations were as impressive as we've seen in any modern wrestling game. Taunt animations, like Lita's top-rope pointing crowd-appeasement or The Rock's hands-on-the-waist stare-down have been included and are a pleasure to behold. But as fun as it was taunting our opponents, it was much more enjoyable to get the actual matches going. The sheer number of different move techniques that we were able to pull off was astounding. Using the defensive button--used much like the counters in the Dead or Alive series--nearly any strike or grapple technique can be reversed and capitalized upon, both to avoid taking damage and for improved positioning. Holds and counterholds flow seamlessly together and duplicate what we'd expect from these athletes during a real match. Superstars will put each other in arm bars, execute standing switches, and block then counterpunch in that way that only pro wrestlers can pull off believably. The fighting is still based on timing and proper judgment of range, but at present it is not as fast paced as Smackdown! 2, which is probably because of the early nature of the current version.
We've always been impressed with the Smackdown! series' attempt to bring the drama and storyline of the televised broadcasts to life during matches, and Smackdown! Just Bring It surpasses any previous attempt at wrestling realism. Wrestler ring entrances will be more of a flashy, drawn-out affair than ever before, complete with Titantron overlay, authentic theme music, and well-done renditions of the superstars' actual gestures and mannerisms. The Rock climbs the ring posts before a match and brings the crowd to an uproar with his raised fist and signature eyebrow. The entrance sequences are still a bit early in their development, though, and are not as polished as we're sure the final versions will be. Pyrotechnics and the Titantron display haven't been implemented yet, although the inclusion of a number of well-done stage backdrops and television broadcast overlays help create a legitimate and believable atmosphere.
Aside from the graphical nuances, Yuke's has made some incredible feature changes that will no doubt change the experience that Smackdown! games can produce. There's a referee in the ring, and the way that the ref's presence takes a role in the action adds immeasurably to the genuine feel of the matches. In one match, when a run-in brought Matt Hardy out to our player-controlled Lita's defense, we watched in awe as after a timely dropkick, the ref walked Matt to the corner and began to argue with him and tell him to exit the ring. Matt then pointed, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured believably, which the ref answered with the frequently used fist-slapping-palm articulation of an illegal move. The ref then pointed outside of the ring and continued to shout at Matt, who seemed to belligerently refuse to leave, challenging the ref's authority. Fed up, the ref then reared back and socked Matt a good one across the mouth, causing Matt to spin around into the corner. The ref then continued to officiate the match. Very neat stuff.
Managers are available in Smackdown! 2, but in this version they now serve a purpose other than as a silent tag-team partner who sneaks in techniques. We were also able to see Trish Stratus, managing ringside for Albert, climb onto the ring apron and distract the ref's attention with her enormous comments. The ref, suitably distracted, was unable to notice the extremely long pin attempt that Kane was executing on Albert in futility. Using the ref as a tool for victory not only follows the traditional televised antics but also is a lot of fun in execution.
We had a lot of fun with this early build but were also quick to note that many of the features we were really looking forward to checking out haven't been properly implemented. The commentary by Michael Cole and Tazz was very sketchy; some of the blow-by-blow commentary was right on the money, though there were just as many repetitious and downright incorrect calls. Being annoyed by the announcers can be gratifying, however, as at any time you can rush the announcer's table and slap a DDT on Michael Cole for his troubles. We're hoping that more of the nonspecific color commentary will be added, as this is one of the most promising features to look forward to.
We're extremely excited to see how Smackdown! Just Bring It shapes up. The story mode is supposedly going to be deeper and more immersive than ever, while the in-ring action is as fun as its fast-paced predecessors. We're hoping to bring you the latest, as soon as we're able to dive into the story mode, multiplayer, and create-a-wrestler functions that haven't yet been fully implemented. Check out our huge array of screens and movies, and stay tuned for more in the weeks to come.
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