WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It Updated Preview

We have new impressions of the final build of the latest SmackDown game.

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We've spent a lot of time with the latest build of WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It for the PlayStation 2 as we've brought you our previews and Wrestler of the Day coverage, and we'd like to take the opportunity to fill you in on the latest details and features as the game approaches its release this November. The sequel to SmackDown! 2 brings a number of improvements to the series and has undergone many recent changes.

SmackDown! JBI allows you to explore the venues from a first-person perspective.
SmackDown! JBI allows you to explore the venues from a first-person perspective.

Unlike wrestling games of old, where the focus was on creating a fighting game loosely based on wrestling by adding men in tights as characters, the efforts of Just Bring It's developer, Yuke's, have clearly been focused on adding all the production values and showmanship that make sports entertainment the spectacle that it is. The ring entrances are nearly perfectly re-created based on the actual entrances used in the WWF shows and programs, and they include streaming TitanTron videos, signature music, and accurate pyrotechnic effects. The flashbulb effect as it washes over a showboating wrestler is impressive to watch, and the attention to detail put into animating the wrestlers accordingly is amazing.

The WWF's onstage antics are somewhat accurately represented.
The WWF's onstage antics are somewhat accurately represented.

However, the change players will be able to appreciate most is the revamped story mode that will be the meat and potatoes of most players' experience with SmackDown! Just Bring It. Fans of wrestling should be pleasantly surprised by the amount of smack talk and backstage drama that goes on. Wrestlers can opt to instill fear in their opponents instead of challenging their enemies physically, which will lead to subsequent scenes where you may get a title shot from Vince McMahon or create an alliance with another wrestler. Instead of simply rushing the stage and attacking, a typical episode of Raw is War may open with a player-controlled Triple H making an entrance to exchange words with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is on the microphone. After this scene, the player can go backstage and explain his or her motives to Michael Cole by selecting from different text options. The player may then have to race to the parking lot and meet up with Vince to plead for a match, which can either be rejected or denied. If the match is granted, more trash talking on the mic will ensue before the actual wrestling takes place.

The innovative transitions between your superstar's wrestling, promo cutting, and backstage antics are interesting indeed. The player perspective will be switched into the first-person, and the relatively large arena and surrounding areas can be explored firsthand. While a timer is enabled to place an emphasis on finding the next scenario location, whether it's the commissioner's office nearby or the WWF New York restaurant located across the street, the game's intent is clearly to instill in players the feeling that they're truly in control of their wrestler's actions. Several wrestlers may be standing around, by pay phones or in their dressing rooms, and on occasion, you will need to find one to select as a tag team partner or as an ally in a backstage assault against a common enemy. This new method of branching the storylines seems far more realistic and involving than anything previously attempted in a wrestling game.

In a departure from previous SmackDown! games, any matches on the card for each particular event that the player is not involved in are completely eliminated from the player's perspective. There is no longer any simulation of other bouts, or even an exchange of title belts, if the player is not directly involved. Much of the negative feedback THQ received about SmackDown! 2 must have been directly related to the slow progression between player character sequences, and now, the focus is entirely on your selected superstar or created wrestler.

The action can get pretty hectic.
The action can get pretty hectic.

A number of very popular hidden characters can be unlocked in the story mode using a card system similar to the Madden cards popularized by EA. After each successful episode, you can earn a number of these cards, which will unlock new create-a-wrestler parts, new match types and venues, and hidden characters. Sadly, the latest revelations in the WWF storyline couldn't have been implemented in time, such as the WCW/ECW alliance, but other recent storyline events do occur in the game, and appearances by some very high-profile characters are made. And for those fans of customization, the create-a-wrestler portion of the game has been beefed up by a create-a-taunt mode that allows for precise manipulation of taunt animations, frame by frame.

Other changes have been made to better re-create the televised experience that SmackDown! Just Bring It attempts to emulate. When another wrestler tries to interfere in a match by running in, he or she will first stand on stage, in his or her signature way, and appear in a picture-in-picture window that will notify the player of the arrival of the transgressor or ally. This use of camera tricks is also noticeable in the many dramatic camera angles that are used during move executions.

The wrestlers in SmackDown! JBI have more moves than ever before.
The wrestlers in SmackDown! JBI have more moves than ever before.

We've also been keeping a close eye on the commentary, which has been improving slightly with each new version of the game we've played. Michael Cole still seems to miss calls, such as screaming "Ankle lock!" when the Olympic Hero clearly pulled off a fireman's carry, and the dialogue can get repetitive, but it is definitely a progression for wrestling games at large. For some strange reason, Tazz's calls don't seem to make as many errors. One notable change that has been made is that Michael Cole and Tazz no longer sit at the ringside announcer tables, and thus can no longer be attacked during matches.

While the game engine hasn't undergone any major work, those who are interested predominantly in the signature fast-paced gameplay should note that there are a new set of standing grapple moves added to each wrestler's repertoire. In addition to the regular standing grapples, each wrestler has a set of unique moves for when his or her opponent is groggy from a strike or counter and a set of moves for when he or she is lifted off the ground into a clinch. In addition, fans of the various factions will be pleased to see triple-team moves, and the ability to auto-select members of your stable in the character-selection screen. It's also easier to select your opponents during battle royals and tag-team matches; each fighter is now assigned a color to match up with the facing indicator, which makes it simpler to know who you're attacking at any given time.

We have a final version of WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, and we've posted a number of new movies and screenshots to tide you over until our review, which will be posted as the release date approaches. WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It is scheduled for release on November 19.

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