Looking Back on… Review: WWE Raw 2 (Microsoft Xbox)

WWE Raw 2
Console: X-Box
Genre: Sports (Wrestling)
Developer: Anchor
Publisher: THQ (We have about one more YHCOR review left before we have to finish up the other content, ugh, which will then bring us into the DHGF content. Lord knows how long that’ll take to get through, but let’s find out.)

Hey, what’s better than wrestling? (These days, lots of stuff.) More wrestling! THQ, the proud parents of the Smackdown franchise of games, have recently released Raw 2, the second in Anchor’s WWE games series for the X-Box. Now, I don’t want to sound negative or anything, but Raw… well… it had some issues, to put it politely, (It fucking sucked, to put it less so.) and Anchor swore they would take great pains to work out the bugs on the second go-round and produce a superior gaming experience in all possible respects.

Did it work? Well, I think so, but to be fair, the game still isn’t as good as it could’ve been. (They fixed everything but the gameplay, basically.)

Graphically, the game is not only leaps and bounds ahead of SD, but is also superior to the first Raw in every way that matters. The characters are pretty, to be sure, and the textures are clean as can be, but what really impressed me is the fact that there’s a substantially reduced amount of clipping in this game when compared to SD. It’s there, but you don’t notice it nearly as often. (Yeah, I still don’t understand how Raw 2 managed to resolve an issue that the Smackdown games had for years, but there you go.) Also, the characters, both licensed and created, look substantially better than their PS2 and Raw 1 counterparts. The animations are also far improved from the original Raw, though I have to say SD’s animations are about on par with Raw’s, honestly. Overall, Raw 2 is incredibly pretty, and is easily the most attractive wrestling available for any console, period. (Outside of the stylistically superior Def Jam games, that’d more or less stay the case for a while, come to think of it, as Wrestlemania on the Xbox ended up being a shitstain in pretty much every way and the Smackdown games, being on the PS2, were at a disadvantage from jump.)

The in-game music is identical to SD’s music, right down to the songs played during matches. (I think I meant menus there, as songs generally don’t play during matches unless you’re New Jack or part of the WWE midcard, and even then it’s not supposed to happen.) Most of your favorite wrestlers have their theme songs, and some licensed tracks made it to the game (IE Chris Benoit). (This was around the time that the WWE got smart and started licensing tracks for an extended period of time or buying them outright; you’re still unlikely to hear Austin’s Disturbed theme in a game, for example, but Kane’s Finger Eleven theme song pops up in WWE 2K15, for example.) But a lot of tracks did not, for some reason I can’t fathom, and even some WWE owned tracks (Kane’s vocalized intro music, for example, or Evolution’s theme) didn’t make it to the game, but were instead replaced by instrumental versions or older themes. (I imagine Kane’s theme at this point either hadn’t been completed in time or finalized, though I have no idea about Evolution, because it’s not like Lemmy didn’t make those songs because HHH was a huge fan and hand them off to him almost entirely.) The actual in-game music is pretty generic, but it gets the job done, I suppose. So, you’re saying, why is Raw’s music score higher than SD’s? Simple: Custom Soundtrack. You can use music on the X-Box hard drive for your wrestler’s intro music, which, for me, justifies owning the game on its own (yeah, I know, I like games for the stupidest reasons, but I’m fair with my reviews, so eat me). You want to come to the ring to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”? Knock yourself out. How about Rammstein’s “Du Hast”? Go for it. It’s good enough for a full point higher score, as far as I’m concerned, and makes a decent game that much better. (These days, honestly, I’d go two points higher on that, because the one thing that I didn’t really realize at the time but do now is that this feature lets you fully recreate your favorite wrestlers as they actually are, down to the entrance, which is a big deal for replay value. It’s kind of crappy to download an almost perfect Shinsuke Nakamura, then see him come out to generic rock bullshit.)

The sound effects are also leaps and bounds above SD’s, though the games trade off in certain areas. I’m not recapping SD’s sounds here, though… go read the review. But to compare… Raw has a ring announcer (The Raw events use Lillian Garcia, SD events use Howard Finkel), and the wrestlers have voices (generic, of course… god forbid the Rock or Stone Cold come in and record some lines), (When that did end up happening, the results weren’t great, so it ended up being a waste of time for everyone involved.) but the fans don’t chant anything specific, (SHAVE YOUR BACK! SHAVE YOUR BACK!) and there’s still no commentary. (Which isn’t the worst thing in the world.) The ring announcements in this game are fairly advanced as compared to other wrestling games, however… the announcers can string together up to four words for your name, which makes the names more distinctive, and they will announce your home town as well (if you choose one). (Yeah, that’s still not a constant option, though WWE 2K15 did at least have a pretty robust selection of names and such.) Overall, I’m impressed with the aural presentation, but it’s a far cry from perfect.

And then we come to control. Bleh. Yes, for the record, Raw 2 is leaps and bounds above Raw 1, but comparing Raw 2 to SD 5 is an insult, bar none. To sum it up: This game also works off of the “one button to do just about anything” principle, but doesn’t execute it nearly as well. Essentially, it’s built like a modified No Mercy control system: One button engages you in the grapple, and a button and direction combo executes the grapple itself. Raw 2 has also changed it’s systems up a bit; there is now a universal block/counter button, as opposed to the previous game, where you had to press the same button as the opponent to counter a move. (Yeah, I can appreciate that idea in theory, but in practice even the two-button solution of modern WWE games is a bit uninspiring, to be honest. One button counters might seem a bit restrained, but given how rough the timing can be on those, it makes a lot more sense.) In addition, the Velocity meter (where you had to kick your opponent’s ass heavily to use a finisher) has been changed to a, again, No Mercy style individual power meter, where performing unique moves, counters, and taunts fills it faster, allowing you to hit your finisher. Also of note, unlike SD, your character is offered a single finisher from different positions (front, back, tied up in the ropes, turnbuckle, etc), though you cannot have two finishers from the same direction, so it ultimately ends up being different, but not better. (No, fuck that; Raw 2 basically let you have a finisher from every position, I don’t care if it was only one of each, that was awesome. I mean, think about it, how many wrestlers have three or four major moves that can end a match? Not just US wrestlers, across the board. Jericho had the Codebreaker, Lionsault and Walls of Jericho, and Nakamura, Muta and DDP could hit their finishers from almost any position, after all. That’s a big deal, and I wish the WWE games would get in on that.)

The inherent problem in Raw 2, however, is that none of it is as good as it could have been, leaving the game itself a mess. First, the game has a very realistic system that allows strikes to interrupt anything. (I mean let’s be real here: if I punch you in the face that’s going to stop what you’re doing, no matter how far into it you are.) Thus, moves can be interrupted at any time, just like on TV. However, this makes for some disjointed gameplay dynamics, like when your opponent jabs you out of a dropkick, or when another opponent interrupts your finisher. (The latter is fine in context but gameplay wise it got annoying in a hurry. The former was just fucking stupid because it’d fuck up the animation.) This makes matches with more than two characters (or matches with the run-in option turned on) into slug-fests, and totally removes the grappling dynamic from the game, which is troublesome. (Eh, it wasn’t that bad but it did get to be a problem.) Also, matches that have odd requirements are painfully hard to win, because said odd requirements are hard to meet at the best of times. For example, table matches are a pain, because you cannot perform a move ON the table without the animation involved carrying you OFF the table (though doing something like a suplex with your back to a table does break it, which is pretty easy in practice). SD has no such problems, because they have moves specifically dedicated to table matches. (Yeah, that was a big hassle, honestly, and made table matches frustrating and unenjoyable no matter what the circumstances were.) Cage matches are a pain in the ass to win until you find out the specific timing involved in climbing out, and then all you need do is punch out your opponent and climb out for the win. (I don’t even remember that but lord knows it’s possible.) And ladder matches are a joke… watch yourself hit an opponent with your finisher, jump from the ladder, grab the belt, and hang there for five minutes. Watch your opponent jump from the ladder, grab the belt AFTER YOU, hang there for thirty seconds, and pull it down, WHILE YOU’RE STILL HANGING THERE. (I feel like there was probably some kind of odd rhythm to that as well, but I always tried to dodge Ladder matches when playing whenever I could.) And unlike SD, where you can knock your opponents from the object, in Raw 2 you have no such option, which makes the matches harder to win by default. And Royal Rumble matches, while they offer moves specifically for throwing opponents out, are slightly tiresome with six men in the ring, especially when ALL of them are beating your ass. (Ah, yes, the stupid-ass player focused AI.)

And since I have nowhere else to comment on it, let’s discuss the computer AI. First off, the computer has a big thing about pinning, and does it constantly. Now, this is fairly intelligent, in the sense that pinning ensures a win. Fine, I get that. But when a pin attempt is made, and you kick out, the computer will often attempt the pin AGAIN, sometimes stomping you once beforehand. When your character is too injured to get up, but too strong to pin, you get situations where the computer continuously pins you for TWO MINUTES before you get up and kick his/her ass. (Yes, this is absolutely true. I had a title match with Big Show where he pinned me for two full minutes, over and over, even though I’d kick out every time, because the AI couldn’t think to do anything else. I don’t remember why he actually won, but I think I gave up after he refused to stop pinning me.) Also, run-in situations are bizarre… when someone who hates you runs in on your match, they ALWAYS attack your opponent, and vice-versa. This not only makes no sense, but is a major pain when you’re trying to, you know, WIN the match, and some asshole keeps interrupting the pin/submission attempt (the computer also has no concept of when to STOP attacking). (Well eventually the AI would force them outside the ring, but they could come back in if they wanted.) It should also be noted that if YOU run-in on a match, you have control of your character for about a minute, then the computer takes over and beats the hell out of whoever it wants. (Well, again, it’d force you out eventually, at which point you could then control yourself.) And finally, the computer has no concept of priority… it constantly targets the main opponent, and ignores any and all outside interference, thus allowing itself to be plowed by about a thousand moves while trying to get to you or whoever. (To be fair, I loved that, even if it was dumb as shit.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking, “So, if the control is shit, the AI is balls, and you can’t play anything other than singles matches, why bother?” Well, when playing against humans, the game is quite a lot of fun, and very enjoyable. Also, most of the match types are interesting enough to get by… the Hell in a Cell is quite cool, and features the option of winning by tossing your opponent from the roof to the floor, which instantly kills your opponent dead (and is hard enough to do that you can’t just use it whenever). (It didn’t actually kill them, obviously, but it was treated as a match-ending bump, for obvious reasons.) And the systems themselves are interesting enough that you just know that a few more months spent tweaking and refining them will produce a SD killer, so I’m feeling slightly charitable. (So of course THQ took the license away and handed it to Studio Gigante, which produced the single worst WWE game in the modern era, if not ever.) And hey, there’s no lag in the timing from button press to action, and the character moves where I want him to, so I’m not too pissed off, truthfully.

In the extras department, well, you’ll be pretty thrilled, I think. Besides having a shitload of matches to choose from (though no Elimination Chamber), (I think that match type was invented too late to add it into the game.) and a shitload of characters to play with, you get Season Mode, which is leaps and bounds above Raw 1’s effort, and more fun in a group than SD’s offering. Basically, you pick a character, and play each event as it is offered. The Brand Split that the WWE is using is not adhered to by any great means in Raw 2, so fans of that might care a little, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, each show is divided up into eight matches (so obviously no one who made this game watches the WWE) on regular shows, and ten on PPV events. During each show, anyone playing WILL have a match, no matter how stupid it might be. In the other seven segments, your character is given the option of performing actions, ranging from encouraging another wrestler, to jumping someone backstage, to challenging someone, to laying the badmouth down on someone, etc. This is surprisingly fun with multiple people, as you can encourage one another and become friends, and then team up and beat the holy hell out of your opponents. (No, really, you have no idea how much fun this was as a group activity. I’d have friends over constantly to advance their character storylines, because it was fucking amazing to play through these goofy stories week after week.) You also have a list of enemies, depending on who you piss off along the way, and that influences actions you perform backstage as well. So, if you’re friends with Kane and enemies with The Rock, when resting, Kane might come and say hi, or The Rock might come and beat your ass. In addition, random story developments occur, like Bischoff or Stephanie might make a match, or you might have a date with an opposite sex wrestler. It’s also nice to see that female wrestlers are given attention in this game… I had to win the World Title off of Lita at one point, need I say more? (Seriously. Basically, after Big Show won the title from me, because I’m a petty asshole, I ran in on his first defense against Lita and beat his fucking ass. We’re talking “Paul Wight should be retired in real life,” grad beating here. Lita then pinned his unconscious body, and I asked her for a title shot; she agreed, and I took my title back, because fuck you, that’s why.) My only complaint here is that Title matches are harder than hell to get, because of the inherent design oddities, but if you challenge someone enough, sooner or later you’ll get a shot. (Yeah, calling someone out didn’t always work, and even when it did it didn’t mean you were definitely getting a title shot.) Also, you have to use the “Steal” option to unlock things in-game, which is time consuming, but not difficult.

Character creation is also a lot of fun, if a little shallow in certain areas. The face and clothing textures are limited slightly, but the created characters end up looking dramatically different in the end, and almost always look better than anything you can produce in SD. In addition, you can completely customize your entrance, from the lighting, to the camera flashes, to the pop you get, to your pyro and theme music. It’s a lot more developed than SD in that department, and I find it fun to build off of specific creation themes, like when I built every member of the website. (I’m trying to get images, FYI) (I still have entrances made for every member of the old YHCOR website, as well as for almost all of my local friends at the time, complete with custom theme songs. These days I can barely be bothered to make a character for myself in these games. Getting old sucks.) The move list, however, is also a little smaller than I’d have liked, and characters often end up getting many of the same moves as a result, so it’s not exactly perfect. But, on the plus side, all of the characters are fairly balanced against one another, so newly created characters are just as good as, say, Brock Lesnar, so anyone can play anyone and have a fun match. (As you played you unlocked more stats for characters, which was handled poorly, as you couldn’t upgrade a character if they were active in Season Mode, meaning you’d have to deactivate them and thus forfeit progress, level them up, then reactivate them. It was weird, shall we say.)

Overall, I liked Raw 2 a lot, big surprise. It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge step forward from Raw 1, and offers a great deal of options SD doesn’t have. In the end, however, it’s not worth buying an X-Box for if you don’t have one already, and the control could turn off some players who have played other games with better control. I still like it, I think it’s fun, and I enjoy playing it, but it’s really a title you should rent first to see how you feel about it. (Well, these days, since it’s backwards compatible for the 360 and costs around $15 according to Amazon, it’s probably worth looking at if you’re a wrestling fan.)

THE GOOD:
1. Beautiful graphics.
2. Custom entrance music, gotta love it. (Considering they still keep leaving that out, yes, I would say this is a thing. I’m waiting to find out that the current gen consoles don’t support this function because they can’t, because once that happens you know people are going to flip shit.)
3. Balanced characters.
4. Season mode is a blast with several people, and still fun by yourself.
5. Lots of options should make everyone happy.

THE BAD:
1. Controls are solid, but are hampered by execution.
2. Some match types are virtually unplayable.
3. Computer AI is iffy at times.
4. Limited moveset and templates in character creation.
5. Having to steal items from wrestlers to unlock items. (I believe this means for creation purposes. That said, yeah, that was a dumb mechanic.)

THE UGLY:
1. So, there’s an option in the Season Mode labeled “Set Trap”, which has a random item drop on an opponent of your choosing. (I fucking love Season Mode.) Normally, you get a cardboard box, which is good for knocking ten Stamina points from your opponent. Occasionally, you get a metal box, which is good for twenty. So S.W.W. (SW Winchester.) is playing as himself, and sets a trap for GAJedi, who he was wrestling that night. And, as we watch, GAJedi gets hit by, of all things, AN ANVIL. Now, normally, a character who gets hit rolls around and holds their head. GAJedi laid there, dead. And his Stamina? It went from 100 to 1 before our eyes. We have yet to replicate this, but it was funny as hell. (I FUCKING LOVE Season Mode.)
2. I won the World Title from Lita (FYI, 5’4″, 180 lbs if she’s lucky) by challenging her and helping her beat The Big Show (FYI, 7’1″, 500lbs if he’s on a diet) in her title match against him. Do I need to say anything else? (I FUCKING LOVE SEASON MODE. Man, fuck Yukes for never ripping this off.)
3. S.W.W., for no reason other than that he could, made a NINE FOOT TALL wrestler with a Mohawk. I don’t know why, either.
4. Being jumped every single time you rest in one show, because you pissed off so many people that you just have it coming. (Yeah, my character was a gigantic dick.)
5. Being disqualified loses you your Title, if you have one. Fair? Absolutely. Realistic? No. Fun? Hey, I like plowing people with a chair, why should I be punished for that? (I understand that on a base level, but it was one of those things, in context, that made no sense, because the rules were spotty. I mean, run-ins didn’t cause a DQ, but weapon usage did, and DQ’s lost you your title, which is generally in opposition to how actual wrestling works. You could figure it out, but man.)

GRAPHICS: 9
MUSIC: 8
SOUNDS: 7
CONTROL: 7
EXTRAS: 9
IMPRESSION: 8

OVERALL: 7.75 (Nah. Controls were probably a 5, but the game probably was around a 7, just because it did so much well that I could forgive the mechanics, which feels weird, but there it is.)

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