by Alex Knapp
Late in The Monday Night Wars, the wrestling video game community witnessed an event that signaled a major changing in the wind. After a relationship lasting over a decade, the once-again dominant WWF had dumped Acclaim for THQ, the publisher whose new game engine developed by AKI and Asmik Ace signified the future of the wrestling game genre. And thus, Acclaim turned to another promotion for wrestling games: The underdog number three American wrestling organization, Extreme Championship Wrestling.
For years, ECW had been revolutionizing the entire wrestling business outside of the mainstream. Led by Paul Heyman, the small, Philadelphia-based group ushered in a whole new creative approach to booking, bringing pro wrestling into the culture of the 1990s far ahead of either the WWF or WCW. And yet, despite the revolutionary nature of their product, they lacked the resources to keep up with their bigger competitors, which, combined with their controversial, ultra violent product, held them back from growing into the mainstream. But bit by bit, ECW seemed to be growing. They aired their first pay-per-view in 1997, and in 1999, they scored their first national TV deal on TNN (which you know now as Spike). And now, the little wrestling promotion that could finally had its first opportunity at a video game!
Initially, it really seemed like ECW was finally arriving. Yes, a lot of their biggest main eventers had left for WCW and the WWF. Yes, their roster was growing anemic and there were constant concerns about the company’s financial state. But they were also growing to more exposure than ever before, and getting noticed by the mainstream. On the surface, things seemed to be looking up for ECW.
Unfortunately, just like their TV deal and growing exposure, the surface success which came along with ECW’s video game belied a tragic web of failure and disappointment.
As soon as you turn it on, something strikes you about ECW Hardcore Revolution. Sure, the music sounds like ECW. And yeah, there’s Rob Van Dam on the main menu. But the way he’s placed on the screen seems familiar, somehow.
Oh well, let’s move on to match types. There’s quite a variety here. You can create pay-per-views, embark on a Career Mode, and have exhibition fights such as singles, tag and…
Huh, I just felt that deja vu yet again. Can’t quite put my finger on it.
Well, anyway, let’s begin a match. You watch the entrances. You see how the matches start with each wrestler giving a voiceover. You play the game. It’s familiar. It reminds me of something. It…
It’s WWF Attitude.
Holy shit. This game is WWF Attitude.
No, I don’t mean that this game merely bears a few striking similarities to its most recent Acclaim predecessor.
I mean that this game is a complete, total, blatant copy-and-paste job.
It has different skins, different arenas and music, and different voiceovers. But the animations are exactly the same, and I can count the number of new moves on one hand. Shit, even the title screen is unoriginal; RVD’s position on the title screen is familiar because it’s almost exactly the same as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s on the title screen of Attitude. THIS GAME IS WWF ATTITUDE.
Well. Since this game made history by being the first wrestling game to receive an “M” rating by the ESRB, let me respond in kind with an M-rated question: what the actual fuck, Acclaim!!!????
Seriously, what the hell is up with this lazy showing!? We’ve seen that Acclaim, for all their faults, are capable of improving on previous outings: Just take a look at the massive jump in quality between WWF War Zone and WWF Attitude. And yet, they seem to have such little respect for ECW that they put in maybe one day’s effort to think of how to improve on their previous game. It’s like they’re still heartbroken over their breakup with the WWF, and are treating ECW like a rebound relationship! “Oh, ECW, WWF used to treat me so sweet, but things just got so bad toward the end. You’re such a great listener! You actually kind of remind me of WWF, kind of…*sob* Oh, Vince, why!!!???? Hold me, ECW! ”
I’d talk about the gameplay and game modes, but why bother? I might as well copy and paste my WWF Attitude review, and switch some words around. Hell, that’s pretty much what Acclaim did, and it was good enough for them, wasn’t it? There is a grand total of ONE new match type addition: The inclusion of barbed wire matches, where the ring ropes are replaced by barbed wire. To be fair, it is a fairly unique insertion, as this type of match wouldn’t be featured in any games outside the Fire Pro Wrestling series. But it comes across as little more than a token, “We’re making an ECW game, honest!” addition.
All other match types are exactly the same. And yes, it could be argued that that’s not so bad. After all, WWF Attitude was extremely impressive when it came out, since there had never before been such a wide variety of match options. But that’s just it: Attitude had an impressive match selection in 1999. If this sounds harsh, keep in mind one thing: The year 2000 saw the biggest output of wrestling video games out of any calendar year in history, since it was during such a huge boom period for the business. Because of this, new games were coming out all the time, and the envelope was being pushed faster than ever. Shortly after Hardcore Revolution came out, WWF No Mercy made the scene, and the first two SmackDown games also debuted. Each of them had more options than ever before, all the while with better playability than anything the Acclaim games had offered. By contrast, simply grafting the ECW brand onto the old Attitude engine and calling it a day doesn’t cut the mustard; the advantages which Attitude had over other games are already becoming obsolete, leaving Hardcore Revolution with little to show for.
And this brings up one of the game’s major general problems: it has all of the same flaws as Attitude, and in many ways, they’ve gotten worse. Wrestler animations still look awkward, and entrances are undermined by their lumbering movements. Voiceovers sound even more gratuitous and forced. The game includes solo commentary by Joey Styles, but unlike the commentary in the previous WWF games, which actually flowed pretty well, this commentary sounds incredibly repetitive and unnatural. Maybe it’s just because the solo commentary doesn’t work as well in this medium, but whatever the case, it detracts from the experience rather than adds to it. The crowd recordings sound really weird, going from being dead quiet one minute to being pumped up the next. But all the while, your ears nevertheless get no respite from, just like in War Zone and Attitude, having to hear obnoxious fans bellow out half-assed pseudo-catchphrases. And nothing can change the fact that it’s the year 2000 and I’m still doing button combos in a wrestling game. No excuses anymore, Acclaim: The ’90s are officially over now. Get with the program.
Despite the fact that ECW’s roster had been depleting for a while, the game has a fairly nice roster of major names, including Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Sabu, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Mike Awesome, Justin Credible and others. Taz is even unlockable in this game, even though he had left for the WWF when the game came out. However, most of the time, their movesets are hashed together from animations directly ripped from Attitude, with perhaps a few finishers or signature moves signifying any effort to animate new content.
And then there’s a big presentation snag that the game runs into: Music. While the WWF benefited from having a good soundtrack of in-house theme music which could freely be used in Attitude, ECW was known for having licensed entrance music for its wrestlers. Unfortunately, those songs obviously can’t be included in this game, since the company was in absolutely no shape to pay for them. So instead of hearing Raven approach the ring to “Come Out and Play” or have Dreamer be accompanied by “Man in the Box,” we’re given generic, crappy covers which kind of, sort of sound like their real-life counterparts. Extremely underwhelming.
Similarly, the game does nothing to adjust its presentation and gameplay style to capture the spirit of ECW. For an example of a game company’s transition between wrestling promotions done right, look at AKI and THQ: They made a highly accurate WCW game, WCW/NWO Revenge, with its diverse roster, exciting international and technical wrestling movesets, and featuring of legendary names. Two years later, they made a highly accurate WWF game, WWF No Mercy, with its options for hardcore brawling and exciting ladder matches, potential for shenanigans in guest referee matches and a campaign mode filled with soap opera-like storylines and backstage vignettes.
And yet, there is nothing outside of the roster and voiceovers to make ECW Hardcore Revolution feel like a game that captures its distinctive product. For God’s sake, this game’s regular matches still have a 10 count for ring-outs. I repeat: there are countouts in an ECW game.
What a cruel fate for Extreme Championship Wrestling, which bitterly mirrors the company’s misfortunes in real life. How ironic that their game would come across as a half-assed clone of a game called “WWF Attitude.” For years, ECW had been changing the game in professional wrestling; while the WWF was stuck putting on cartoonish characters and boring programs, and WCW was struggling for direction between it’s Southern rasslin’ roots and trying to copy the WWF, ECW was innovating at every turn. They brought in fantastic international talent. They perfected the hardcore, ultra violent, anything-goes “extreme” style. They pushed the boundaries with adult-oriented storylines, edgy characters and sexual content.
But most casual fans were unaware of this, and when they became enthralled that the WWF was changing its presentation and becoming more daring, they didn’t appreciate the immense influence which ECW had on the WWF’s new Attitude. It was ECW who Vince McMahon was borrowing these concepts from, ECW from whom he got the idea to pump up the WWF with hardcore matches, over-the-top characters and sex.
And yet, for the casual wrestling audience, the WWF’s Attitude Era was the first time they’d seen such an invigorating and controversial product. And when ECW finally got a national TV deal, if the audience happened to tune into their show (a tall order, given how poorly TNN promoted them), a lot of them didn’t see an influential, revolutionary product; from their point of view, they saw what looked like a low-budget, second-rate version of the WWF, with no big names. So it was with this game; it fails, precisely because it comes across as a poorly promoted, low budget clone of a WWF product.
And how bitter that this failure in ECW’s growth resulted from a media partnership with a company that didn’t respect them or take them seriously. It’s like an inverse of the TNN network deal; TNN held ECW in low regard, did absolutely nothing to promote them and only were using them to lure the WWF to their network. Acclaim, meanwhile, did absolutely nothing to try to make a good game for ECW, and treated them interchangeably with the WWF, from which I can only conclude that they, too, held ECW in contempt.
I want to like ECW Hardcore Revolution so bad. It’s the very first ECW licensed game, for crying out loud! But at the end of the day, I am just angry and disappointed by the sheer lack of effort or improvement that is apparent with it. Shame on Acclaim. What a terrible insult to the name of ECW and what a tragic, infuriating chapter in the ECW story that this whole game signifies.
Rating: 2 stars
Photo 1: en.wikipedia.org
Photo 2: SLAM! Wrestling
Photo 3: psxextreme.com
Categories: Wrestling Reviews