Back in my earlier days of writing for this site I had the pleasure of reviewing the first WWF RAW game and ripping it apart. Yes, I know the format doesn’t look as clean as it does today (it was one of the first reviews on the site I believe), but I gave that game a 55…lowest score I’ve ever given a game I think. The game had beautiful graphics, but a crappy gameplay engine totally destroyed it along with the minimal match types you had to choose from. This past weekend I went out and rented WWE RAW 2. Has the time been kind to the game or not? The fact that the division of Anchor that created this game were summarily fired after Microsoft QA gave the thumbs up on the game should be a good indication, but let’s just see about that.

Once again this is one of the game’s strong points. Other than the ability for every wrestler’s body to reflect light as if they are all lubed up on skin oil, the graphics are just fantastic. Yes, there are clipping problems here and there, but then again clipping is and will probably always be an issue in wrestling games. Will there ever be a way around it? Who knows.

The wrestlers for the most part look very good as well. Ones they screwed up on in the first game, such as Triple H, now look excellent. Some of the newer wrestlers to the WWE, like Goldberg, do not look as good. I dare say that Wrestlemania XIX‘s depiction of Goldberg is better, but I digress. What is presented here is top notch and the entrances are for the most part perfectly rendered from what they actually do on the television shows.

The moves in this game look far more smooth than they did in the first game, which is a noticeable improvement. The gameplay has been sped up a tad so that the Rock no longer looks like he has a stick up his ass while walking or anything. I still say the gameplay hasn’t sped up enough to my liking. I enjoy the Wrestlemania style of speed over the Smackdown style of speed though, the former sits in the middle of RAW 2 and the latter in the speed category. In a perfect world a game would have the speed of Def Jam Vendetta, which I use as a modern litmus test for wrestling games.

The sound and music are full of highs and lows. Almost every actual wrestler entrance music is in here, although some are devoid of the lyrics that go along with the song. Lucky for us, Anchor has allowed us to put our own music in, so if you want every wrestler to have the right music, go ahead and pop it on your Xbox hard drive and go at it. This is where the strength of the game comes from and helps the score get into the 80s, but there are a bunch of problems in this section too.

First off the story mode (which I will get into later). At every “action point” (GM coming out to explain something, you encountering another wrestler, etc.) you see everyone’s lips move but there is no text (ala most other wrestling games) nor voice. Their lips just move and then you are treated to the finished product via another screen (such as a match setup for the next PPV, your popularity/spirit going up, etc.). Would it have hurt to put some text in there or something? I mean, Smackdown recycles the same text over and over, but it’s a heck of a lot better than no text at all, you know? Half the time a GM comes out and it has nothing to do with my wrestler.

The wrestling sounds are also poor outside of you putting the big hurt on a wrestler. You punch your opponent and the resulting sound is not the sound you hope it would be (like a “SMACK” or something). The best sounds come when you do the major moves that slam your opponent on the mat or you use weapons.

The ability to insert music entrances helps this section immensly, although Anchor should have allowed your own music to be used during matches as well…instead we get boring music over and over and over again.

Instead of totally rebuilding the engine and/or greatly refining the existing engine, Anchor has graced us with pretty much the same clunky control the original game had. The good part in this section is that it is easier to do finishing moves in this game than the original game. However, some of the finishing moves require your opponent to be in certain situations, such as against the ropes(?!?). Nothing destroys a wrestling game more than a clunky control interface, although I will say it plays better than the original.

The biggest problem with the controls is the slow action movements done while trying to grapple. You can literally still grab at air trying to grapple your opponent. Yeah, he was in the right place 2 seconds ago when you pressed the A button to grapple, but now he has moved and you grab air only to have your ass handed to you by the computer. The computer is also very adept at countering moves…much more adept than you may ever be. This is an addition to the game, but I find the ability to counter moves dependant totally on the aligning of the planets.

This is easily the reason the team was fired after Microsoft approved this game. This game would be so much more fun and accessible to your normal game player if it had the engine of Wrestlemania X8 or XIX. It would also work with the Smackdown engine, but that is a more twitchy, quick-action engine. Of course the best modern control is found in Def Jam Vendetta, which just happens to have been done by the same company that made the great older WWF games like No Mercy.

Let me start by saying that this score is higher to a degree because of one mode: Create-a-Wrestler. We’ll get into that down the line though. Let’s go through the other match options we have first.

First one is the Season mode. THQ does a good job of hyping up season modes in their wrestling games. Usually when the game comes out people are totally disgusted by the season mode because it does not fulfill the promise THQ talked about. For some reason they like to give us little nibbles here and there, but nothing along the lines of Wrestlemania 2000 or No Mercy in a season mode. I will give RAW 2 credit and say they come the closest to the overall setup of season mode set by those two games, but the gameplay of the game just destroys whatever fun you could have with it. You (and up to 3 friends) go through a year to reach Wrestlemania. The weeks are set up much like No Mercy. You go through RAW, Smackdown and the PPVs. Problem here is that it has the Smackdown problem of having to manually go through each match instead of just jumping to things you are involved in. Every week you can choose to do actions during matches such as sneak attacking a rival, interfering in a match, calling out a wrestler, etc. It’s all quite cool, although if you fail your spirit and popularity points can go down. Your spirit bar is the most important meter because it is your “health” bar going into a match. If you are low it will take no time for an opponent to lay waste to you.

Be ready for frustration in season mode as well. I found that actually putting on a submission hold helped me more than trying to set up for finishing moves in this mode. The most frustrating thing about season mode (and all modes that use pins as a way of winning) is that the opponent will pin you and then you kick out of it, but do not get up immediately. Instead the opponent will kick you and then pin you again. It will repeat this over and over. Once again it is all in the planets being aligned whether or not they stop doing the kick and pin cycle. It becomes very frustrating because there is no fast way to get up off the mat after a kick out. What I’m trying to say is be ready to lose a lot in Season mode, but hopefully you can win some belts and create some new friends/rivals along the way.

Other modes include such things as Royal Rumble, King of the Ring, Tournaments and the array of Exhibition matches like TLC, Ladder, Hardcore, Cell, Hell in the Cell, etc. Some of the exhibition matches are pretty worthless, cage match in particular. If you choose something outside of 1-on-1, like say a 6 way cage match, chances are that all the opponents will immediately start climbing up the cage when the match starts. Of course you are not Superman and can’t knock down all 5 guys before they get over the cage so you lose quickly. Of course the more people in a match the more difficult it becomes to choose an opponent and attack them with the clunky controls/gameplay. Ah yes, this game is so much fun!

Onto the brightest part of WWE RAW 2 outside of the graphics, the Create-a-Wrestler mode. This has to be the most robust CAW mode I’ve seen yet. I usually do not spend too much time in the CAW mode, I am more interested in having a good game to play. I know a lot of people out there get wrestling games primarily for the CAW mode and this one does not disappoint. You can put in your own music, entrances (including when pyro goes off and the like) and build your own character. You can then take them through season mode or the exhibition modes if you like. It is all very cool, but it does not make up for the lack of strong gameplay in this game.

This game is far too frustrating to warrant a purchase on gameplay alone. Too many AI issues and a far too clunky interface/control setup just ruins the game. However, I give this a higher score for the CAW mode because that seems to be where most people that like this game spend most of their time. I’m not at all interested in creating a wrestler, but I know there are people out there that do.

If you find the Season mode palapable and can find redeeming qualities in the gameplay and control of the game, feel free to pick this game up. I just think there are better wrestling games out there, although if you don’t have a system other than Xbox you’re pretty SOL in the wrestling genre. Be happy knowing that Def Jam Vendetta 2 is coming to the Xbox and it sounds like Smackdown will be going multi-platform after the newest one comes out.