Mega Powers Running Wild!

The legendary 'Macho man' Randy Savage teams up with 'The Immortal' Hulk Hogan to take on Ted Dibiase and Andre The Giant in the first ever WWF Summerslam!

Shawn Micahels vs. Mankind

The Heartbreak Kid defends the WWF Championship against Mankind in a thrilling main event at WWF In Your House: Mind Games.

The Birth of the nWo

From Hulk Hogan's shocking turn at WCW Bash at the Beach 1996 to the addition of Ted Dibiase, THe Giant Syxx and more, relive the very beginning of the New World Order.

Austin 3:16 Says I Just Kicked Your Ass

It's one of the most famous promos of all time; Stone Cold Steve Austin wins the 1996 King of The Ring and serves notice on all the WWF superstars. Check it out in our complete review

Wrestlemania 12 Review

The boyhood dream comes true as Shawn Michaels battles champion Bret 'The Hitman' Hart in a classic 1-hour iron man match. Plus, Diesel vs. Undertaker and more.

WCW Fall Brawl 1996 Review

Was Sting in cahoots with the New World Order? Would Lex Luger be able to get along with the Four Horsemen as they faced the nWo in War Games? Find out in this review

Thursday, 13 June 2019

PPV REVIEW: WCW Great American Bash 1999

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Event poster
June 13th, 1999
Baltimore Arena, Baltimore, Maryland.

There's no doubting the legendary status of Macho Man Randy Savage. Undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time, Macho's intensity, ring-work, charisma and flamboyance helped make him a household name who was every bit deserving of any main event spot he happened to find himself in.

Unfortunately, this was World Championship Wrestling in 1999, so when Savage did find himself in a main event spot (possibly the last real one of his career), it involved terrible booking, horrible angles and a whole lot of literal crap.

Since returning to the company as the referee of the main event at Spring Stampede 1999, Savage and his new harem of women (Madusa, Gorgeous George and future Molly Holly, Miss Madness) had transitioned from a bizarre feud with referee Charles 'Little Naitch' Robinson and Ric Flair into a main event title match that was set to go down tonight.

Yet while a Randy Savage main event may have still been a draw at the tail end of the millennium, the build-up to it left it feeling like little more than a mid-card comedy bout.

No idea what I'm talking about?

Let me take you back to Baltimore, Maryland in the summer of 1999 where everything will be explained.

Curt Hennig is Bowdy Bowdy

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Curt Hennig confronts Master P and the No Limit Soldiers
Our show began with Master P arriving at the arena in a limousine, flanked by his No Limit Soldiers.

Before the rap artist could make it very far into the building, he was welcomed by Curt Hennig, who claimed that he was not only the biggest Master P fan in the world but that he was also bowdy bowdy.

20 years later and I still never learned what that means.

Bowled over by Hennig's fandom, Master P signed a copy of his album for him which Curt, being the dastardly heel that he was, proceeded to destroy.

This heinous act prompted the No Limit Soldiers to chase after Hennig, squawking like birds as they did so.

Hennig was, as ever, an absolute riot here.

Savage and Nash Will Fight Tonight

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Tony Schiavone, Mike Tenay and Bobby Heenan
Remember me saying that the build-up to tonight's main event was terrible?

It was basically weeks of Savage and Kevin Nash pouring sludge on each other and destroying each other's cars.

While I'm sure there were some people who were into it, the video package that we got next made it look like a bad comedy job that was only missing a cameo from Henry Godwin.

After that, we got our usual intro from Tony Schiavone, Iron Mike Tenay and Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan.

The trio led us into a second video package, this one detailing the rest of tonight's card.

To be honest with you, just watching this video, I can't help but feel like I'm in for a long and terrible time in writing this review.

Still, I'll try not to judge anything before I see it, so let's get on to our first match, shall we?

Kendo Stick Match
Brian Knobs (w/ Jimmy Hart) vs. Hardcore Hak (w/ Chastity)

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Brian Knobs (w/ Jimmy Hart) faced Hardcore Hak
Prior to the bell, we were shown a quick video package which told us that Brian Knobs had joined Jimmy Hart's reformed First Family of Wrestling and was feuding with Hak over who was more hardcore.

Making his way to the ring Nasty Knobs then took to the mic to tell us that, since it was Mrs Nasty's birthday, he was dedicating the match to her and wanted to duke it out with Hak using only fists and no "sissie" weapons.

This, of course, was a rouse.

As Hak asked the crowd whether or not he should surrender his kendo stick, Knobbs picked up a trash can and wallopped the former ECW star with it.

From that point on, we got your typical late-90s hardcore match which basically meant a succession of weapon shots leading to the finish.

Speaking of the finish, it came when Hak levied Knobs with a kendo stick, which was literally the one and only the weapon was used in what was dubbed a 'kendo stick match.'

Not that I'm complaining.

Though WCW hardcore matches were pretty formulaic, they were at least entertaining. Indeed, it was pretty fun to see Knobbs and Hak just smash each other with garbage cans and ladders for a few minutes.
Your Winner: Hardcore Hak

Post-match, Knobs' First Family teammate Hugh Morrus came down and helped the Nasty one to avenge his loss. The two hit a spiked piledriver on Hak before dumping a ladder onto him which Morrus' then moonsaulted onto.

Buff Thanks Roddy

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Buff Bagwell and Roddy Piper catch up backstage
Out in the back, Buff Bagwell caught up with Rowdy Roddy Piper, thanking the WCW Commissioner for giving him a match against Disco Inferno later on tonight.

To repay the kindness, Buff volunteered to watch Piper's back in his match against Flair later but Hot Rod, naturally, said he didn't need any help.

Though short, this goofy little segment was actually pretty fun to watch.

Mikey Whipwreck vs. Van Hammer

When you think about all the star power and all the talented workers that WCW had on its roster at the time, you have to wonder why this is the match they decided to go with on a major PPV.

Still, it could have been worse.

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Van Hammer takes on Mikey Whipwreck
Van Hammer had ditched the tye-dye-wearing hippy gimmick and was now embarking on something of a push, clocking up wins left and right as WCW tried to replicate their 'push the big guy with an undefeated streak' system that had worked so well with Goldberg.

They'd already tried it with Wrath, but then that got derailed by Kevin Nash, so it looked like Hammer was next in line.

He even wore the same kind of singlet as Wrath as he went toe-to-toe with jobber Mikey Whipreck in a match which, while not terrible, had no place on a Pay Per View.

The sole highlight came when Hammer delivered a delayed vertical suplex from the second rope. That was also just about the only time that the crowd didn't chant about how boring the match was.

After a whole bunch of tedium, Van Hammer predictably picked up the win, marching onwards with a push that would ultimately go nowhere.
Your Winner: Van Hammer

Moving on

Disco Inferno vs. Buff Bagwell

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Buff Bagwell faced Disco InfernoThough hardly a catch-as-catch-can classic, you've got to give Disco Inferno and Buff credit for playing to their strengths in order to deliver a pretty entertaining match.

Disco was flawless in his role as the cowardly heel and served as the perfect foil for the super popular Bagwell.

Buff himself was no slouch and played his part of the beloved fan favourite all the way to the inevitable victory.

Watching this, you could easily envision Bagwell getting a solid main event run if things had turned out differently for World Championship Wrestling.

All in all, a fun match and a good effort from both men.
Your Winner: Disco Inferno

Up next, we took a look back at the rivalry between the West Texas Rednecks and the Filthy Animals, even though I'm not entirely sure either group were actually using those names at the time.

If you recall, this came about because Curt Hennig and Bobby Duncam Jr. thought that rap was crap but Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr. didn't.

Curt Hennig & Bobby Duncam Jr. vs. Konnan & Rey Mysterio Jr.

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Konnan and Rey Mystery Jr of the Filthy Animals
For reasons that were never explained, Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr. came out wearing gas masks. It was an odd sight that this out-of-touch old-timer can only assume had something to do with hip-hop.

The two then shook hands with Master P and his posse (who were sat in the front row) before locking up with Hennig and Duncum Jr. in what was the best match on the card so far.

There are times in plenty of tag team matches when the whole 'babyface in peril' routine gets really tiresome. Thankfully, Hennig and Duncum were entertaining enough and Mysterio (the face in peril) talented enough to ensure that never happened here.

That whole section of the match was marvellous fun to watch, while everything before and after it had the crowd fully fired up.

After a very enjoyable contest, Barry Windham came out from the crowd to help the West Texas Rednecks. That prompted Master P's bodyguard SWOL to jump the rail and blast Duncam Jr., allowing the good guys to get the win.
Your Winners: Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr.

Afterwards, security escorted SWOL, Master P. and his whole entourage backstage while Curt, Barry, and Bobby beat up on the victors.

Ernest 'The Cat' Miller (w/ Sonny Onoo) vs. Horace Hogan

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Ernest 'The Cat' Miller w/ Sonny Onoo
Up next, we got more PPV-calibre wrestling as Ernest 'The Cat' Miller strutted to ringside with Sonny Onoo by his side.

If you only do yourself one favour today, make it this one:

Go to the WWE Network and check out the ridiculous music they replaced The Cat's original theme with. Honestly, it sounds like a bad demo of a kid's song about happy clowns and birthday cake.

With that theme making his whole entrance look really silly, Miller came out expecting to fight Scott Norton.

Instead, Horace Hogan turned up and announced that he was going to fight Miller instead, giving us no explanation as to why.

The match itself is better than you probably expected, but only if you expected it to be the worst thing ever.

In other words, some parts of it were actually pretty entertaining but, you know, it was still The Cat vs. Horace Hogan so nobody really cared.

Eventually, Sonny Onoo helped The Cat put on a loaded slipper which he used to kick Hogan in the face with and win the match.
Your Winner: Ernest Miller

Post-match, The Cat bust a move until Hogan chased him off.

This was followed by a look back at the ongoing battle between Ric Flair and Roddy Piper for control of WCW.

That match was next.

Match to Determine the Presidency of WCW
Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Nature Boy Ric Flair (w/ Arn Anderson & Aysa)

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Ric Flair
Back at Slamboree 1999, Rowdy Roddy Piper had defeated Ric Flair, taking Flair's WCW presidency from him in the process.

Immediately after the match, Piper fired Flair.

Just one month later, not only was Flair still competing, but he was also still the WCW President, with Piper now in a Commissioner role.

Tonight, the two would go head-to-head to hopefully settle the matter of WCW presidency once and for all.

There's no doubt this match will have its critics. It was basically two ageing grapplers working a bunch of safe spots, but for this old-school fan, that's precisely why it was so good.

In full-on heel mode Flair was true to form as The Dirtiest Player in the Game, using all manner of underhand tactics (and interference from Arn Anderson) to counter babyface Piper's no-nonsense brawling style.

It was a very effective approach, one that produced as good a match as you were going to get from two skilled veterans at this stage of their career.

Towards the finish, Anderson got involved but Buff Bagwell -true to his word- ran in to help Piper.

Bagwell's interference caused the referee to ring for the bell. Frustrated at the DQ, Hot Rod promptly decked his rescuer then ran to get a leather belt while Flair and Anderson held Bagwell in place.

From there, Piper teamed up with the two men he'd been battling for the last fifteen minutes in order to beat the hell out of Bagwell.

Yet there was to be no real alliance. At least not yet.

Flair was declared the winner, then simply walked off with Anderson and Aysa, leaving Piper in the ring.
Your Winner via Disqualification: Ric Flair

Up next, we were shown a video package for the upcoming bout between Rick Steiner and Sting.

Falls Count Anywhere Match
WCW World Television Champion Rick Steiner vs. Sting

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Rick Steiner vs. Sting
As far as I know, Steiner's TV championship wasn't on the line here. Not that it would have made much of a difference.

This whole thing started off fairly well as a decent, albeit mostly uneventful match. The two battled back and forth in the ring for so long that you started to wonder if they'd forgotten the whole 'Falls Count Anywhere' thing.

Alas, they hadn't.

Though to be honest, it might have been better if they had.

Eventually, Steiner and Sting left the ring and brawled up the ilse to the back, where Tank Abbott was waiting to choke Sting out. At this point, the camera shook a little and the whole show very clearly cut to a pre-recorded segment in which The Steiners set some angry dogs on Sting.

The camera shook some more, mostly to hide the fact that the dogs weren't doing much more than jumping up at Sting for cuddles in the same way that my dog does after I return home from a long day.

It looked stupid.

Like really, really stupid.

The continuity was terrible. The thousand and one camera cuts both made you dizzy and made no sense, while at one point Sting, who had been wrestling for ten minutes, had a fresh coat of face paint despite the fact that half of it had just been sweated off in the match.

If there were was ever an award for the most ridiculous finish to a match ever, this one would probably take it because, yes, that was the finish.

Rick and Scott Steiner walked back out to the ring where Scotty announced that Rick had won by pinfall but that the whole thing was too graphic for WCW to show on TV.

Referee Scott Dickinson reluctantly raised Steiner's arm, and that was that.
Your Winner: Rick Steiner

Expect it wasn't, because The Steiners then spent several minutes bragging about how good they were and calling Baltimore 'the shittiest town in the US.'

To be fair, the actual promo was far better than anything that happened in the actual match.

World Championship Wrestling World Tag Team Champions
WCW World Tag Team Champion Chris Benoit & Perry Saturn vs. Diamond Dallas Page & Chris Kanyon (w/ Bam Bam Bigelow)

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Chris Kanyon celebrates a WCW tag team title victory for the Jersey Triad
Prior to this one kicking off, we were shown a video package which outlined the somewhat complicated story of how the match came together.

It was too longwinded to go into here, but basically involved Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn forming a makeshift team that Thursday on WCW Thunder and beating Bam Bam Bigelow and Diamond Dallas Page for the titles, after which Kanyon turned on Saturn to form The Jersey Triad with Bigelow and DDP.

The story wasn't the only thing that was long.

This was by far the longest match on the card, but all four men used their time well to create a solid, dramatic contest that was just about the best thing on the show.

After a very good effort, Dean Malenko came down to help a fallen Perry Saturn but honestly looked like he was holding him back, preventing him from getting in the ring. Meanwhile, Page hit Benoit with the Diamond Cutter, and that was all she wrote.
Your Winners and New Tag Team Champions: DDP and Kanyon

Post-match, The Jersey Triad beat up on Malenko and celebrated with their new titles.

Finally, after one last video package recapping the Savage/Nash rivalry, it was back to our main event.

World Championship Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship
WCW World Heavyweight Champion Kevin Nash vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (w/ Madusa, Miss Madness and Gorgeous George)

WCW Great American Bash 1999 - Sid Vicious returned to WCW and laid out Kevin NashThis main event was complete trash.

The legendary Macho Man Randy Savage was a shell of his former self, and champion Kevin Nash could barely move.

For the duration of this seven-minute abomination, the only real signs of life came from Madusa, Miss Madness and Gorgeous George who continually ran interference.

Finally, this whole terrible thing came to an end when Sid Vicious made his return to WCW and attacked Kevin Nash, probably looking to get revenge for his loss to Diesel back at In Your House 2 four years earlier.
Your Winner via Disqualification and Still WCW Champion: Kevin Nash

Afterwards, Sid powerbombed Nash then helped Savage to the back as the show came to an end.

On the whole, I feel bad for Savage. Though I know he had appearances in TNA, this was basically his last big run and it sucked. Thankfully, when we think about the man himself, we tend to overlook this time in his career and focus on all the top quality performances he did give us.

As for The Great American Bash 1999? Well, some of the matches were better than I expected, but between the awful main event, the sheer ridiculousness of the Steiner/Sting debacle and a whole bunch of what was essentially filler, the show mostly failed to deliver.

Maybe track down the tag team title match if you have a spare twenty minutes to kill, but otherwise avoid this one.

1999 events reviewed so far
Other WCW Great American Bash reviews: 

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Thursday, 6 June 2019

GAME REVIEW: WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Game Cover
October/November 2003 

I can't deny it. WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain for the PlayStation 2 is the most fun I've ever had playing a game.

I say that as someone who approaches these game reviews more as a wrestling fan than as a gamer, but that still doesn't take away from the fact that Here Comes the Pain (HCTP) is an incredibly enjoyable outing from Yuke's and THQ that this fan, in particular, found he could get lost in for hours and hours and never get bored.

Indeed, most of the time when I do these pro wrestling video game reviews, I tend to play the game for just long enough to get familiar with it, write up my thoughts, and never play it again.

With HTCP, that simply hasn't been the case.

I originally intended to write this review like six months ago, but I've been so engrossed in playing it that I've never actually found the time to just sit down and write about it.

Until now.

With that said, let's dive into WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, released in North America in October 2003 and here in Europe in November of that year.

First impressions

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Start Screen
This is the first pro wrestling game to feature Vince McMahon's sports entertainment empire branded as a WWE game. The last PlayStation 2 outing, WWF Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth was released when the company was still known as the World Wrestling Federation.

Here, we find them in the wake of a crushing defeat in the law courts at the hands of the panda people at a time when they were still known as World Wrestling Entertainment, and not just WWE.

It's ironic, I suppose, that in the early days of their rebranding, the company emphasised the entertainment aspect of their product despite featuring some of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers and some of the best technical pro wrestling matches in their entire history.

I was thinking of this as the impressive intro video played featuring stars like Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr. and Brock Lesnar, stars who would later prove to be as much fun to play as in the game as they are/were fun to watch on the screen. The video mixes the black and white motif that would play a big part in the season mode of this game (more of which later) with some impressive visuals that really gets you excited for what's ahead.


WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Tag team match
Along with the aforementioned Superstars, HCTP is notable for being the first WWE game appearance of headliners John Cena, Bill Goldberg, and Batista, as well as Shelton Benjamin and Chavo Guerrero Jr. Sable makes her debut in a Smackdown game here, though she had previously appeared in WWF Attitude.

It's also worth mentioning that The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin make their final appearances as regular characters. After this, the two would only appear as legends and unlockable characters.

Elsewhere, there's a huge selection of wrestlers to choose from main eventers like Triple H, American Bad Ass Undertaker and Scott Steiner (making his only Smackdown series appearance) to undercarders like Ultimo Dragon (his only WWE game appearance), The World's Greatest Tag Team, Sean O Haire and many more.

If you're so inclined, you can also play as legends such as George The Animal Steele and Hillbilly Jim, though others (Ted Dibiase, Jimmy Snuka, The Road Warriors and Sgt. Slaughter) have to be unlocked using cash you acquire via playing the season mode.

Create a Wrestler (CAW)

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Create a Wrestler
For the most part, the CAW mode seems relatively unchanged from the one we saw in Shut Your Mouth, though with some minor tweaks that make it even easier to really create an impressive looking character.

Once again, I dove into creating 'The Ragin' Angel CJ Scholes' and though he doesn't look *too* different from the version I created in Shut Your Mouth, I'm sure you'll notice a marked improvement.

As with other versions, there are some treats in store in the CAW mode, though they're not quite as easy to find as in previous versions.

Look far enough, however, and you'll find attire for a whole host of past stars like X-Pac, The Acolytes, Owen Hart, Bad Ass Billy Gunn, The Hurricane and even Jushin 'Thunder' Lyger. Interestingly, you'll also find the attire for 'Slapnuts' era Jeff Jarrett, even though he was out running TNA wrestling around this time.

A lot of the generic designs are pretty cool too, though again you have to really dig down to find the very good ones.

Season mode

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Stephanie McMahon
Having created your own wrestler, you can take them (or any Superstar on the game roster) through season mode, which is so far the best one to be featured in a wrestling game up to this point.

You choose whether you want to be on Smackdown or Raw, and can even juggle the rosters about. So, for example, you might decide that you want to be on Smackdown but also want the opportunity to mix it up with Raw Superstar Bill Goldberg, so you bring him across and then head on into the game.

Things start after Wrestlemania with a really cool black and white video in which your character is seen pacing about an empty ring in an empty arena, talking about how their passion for pro wrestling keeps them coming back to fight, night after night. It really adds a sense of drama to things and sets the scene nicely for what's to come.

After this, you find yourself on your chosen show with either Stephanie McMahon (Smackdown) or Eric Bischoff (Raw) welcoming you to your show.

From there, you go off throughout a full year of game-play, competing on both your brand's TV show and monthly PPVs, getting involved in multiple storylines along the way.

At one point, you get to hire a manager. The game doesn't let you pick who it is but selects one for you. In my case, it was Sable. Despite the opportunity to make some crude jokes about your female manager's 'pie' the two of you take your professional relationship into a personal one, though after that particular storyline, she's neither seen nor heard from again until right at the very end, when she pops up to congratulate you after competing at Wrestlemania.

That's the one bad point about this whole thing. Though season mode is a lot of fun, there's no consistency between storylines and certain things don't make much sense.

Despite having Sable as a manager/girlfriend, you later find yourself in a storyline where you get to build your own stable, known in the game as a faction. Your number two guy in said stable not only becomes the group's mouthpiece but also decides that the group should have a manager and brings in somebody else, in this case, 2019 Hall of Famer, Torrie Wilson.

That's all well and good, but what happened to Sable?

Evolution Express

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Evolution Express
I will say, however, that the 'faction war' storyline is just about my favourite in the whole game. The group is basically you, your number two and your manager, with a younger rookie asking to join the fold. You can then pick a name for your storyline from a pre-selected list which includes actual pro wrestling names like D-Generation-X, the nWo, The New Age Outlaws and Evolution, along with a group of made-up names which, quite frankly, aren't as good.

I picked Evolution, then watched on as my group arrived at the arena in a huge bus known as the Evolution Express.

For unknown reasons, Vince McMahon decides that he doesn't like your new group and sics a bunch of his top stars on you. In the latest version I played, McMahon rounded up Undertaker, Guerrero, Angle and Lita and declared them to be The Corporation. This evil group not only face you in matches and not only gang-attack you afterwards but also carry out the heinous act of blowing up the Evolution Express!

Sure, that meant my own group's bus had blown up but man, it looked so cool that I couldn't help but enjoy it.

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Faction Action
Every now and again, you won't have any storylines going on, so you can go into the General Manager's office and either ask for a title shot or ask to be transferred to the opposite brand. Brand transfers won't work if you have any titles.

This makes sense but is still frustrating. At one point, all I had was the Cruiserweight title and I had to go out and purposefully lose a match so that I could jump to Raw.

With regards to titles, I'd like future versions of the game to either drop this or at least create a scenario where you can forfeit your title in order to brand hop.

I'd also like to see the titles that you hold feature in current storylines to create a better sense of realism.

In the Evolution storyline, for example, I was the world champion and also held the tag titles with Lesnar. Yet whenever I teamed with Lesnar as part of the storyline, we never defended the titles, nor did I ever put the world title on the line when I battled The Corporation's main man, The Undertaker at No Mercy.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter, but it would make the game more realistic if you were a champion in a storyline with The Undertaker and you put the title on the line.

Still, that's a small complaint and, despite that, there's actually a lot to like about Here Comes the Pain's lengthy season mode.

In particular, I like that whenever you reach a PPV, you get another black and white video that emulates the kind of cool pre-match video packages you see on real PPVs.


As you go through season mode and win more matches, you not only gain points which can be used to improve your stats, but you get Smackdown dollars which can be used to buy a bunch of cool, unlockable stuff.

As I mentioned earlier, characters like The Million Dollar Man and The Legion of Doom can be purchased, as can old-school, Dead Man Undertaker. You can also unlock some cool, alternative attire and other goodies which don't necessarily make a huge difference to the game but look pretty good all the same.


WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Stone Cold Steve Austin
As I've already said, playing HCTP is the most fun I've ever had playing a video game, and the in-ring action is a big part of the reason why.

The controls are more or less the same as they have been throughout the Smackdown series with a few minor tweaks. One tweak is that there are now different ways to block and reverse moves. One should button reverses grapples and the other reverses strike.

Though I get the logic behind this, the novice gamer in me often forgot which button did which and would simply end up mashing both, hoping for the best.

Meanwhile, the grapple system has been upgraded so that you can grab your opponent in a multitude of different ways depending on which direction you press along with the O button. Once you've got hold of him, you can then choose from a number of different moves, again depending on which buttons you press.

It does add a greater depth and variety to the game, and once you figure out which combo pulls off which move you can make your matches look pretty impressive.

Not that they don't already. The gameplay is so smooth and the moves all so well designed that it's like watching a quality PPV match, albeit one that you have some control over. In fact, there were times when I'd be getting my ass kicked but be so impressed with how good it looked that I didn't even care.

I also like the added realism that comes when you pit wrestlers of different sizes against one another. If you're a smaller wrestler, then you can't pick up bigger guys like 'Taker, Big Show or Brock, and will hurt your back trying to do so. Though that's a little frustrating when you forget and try to powerbomb Big Show, it does make the game much more realistic compared to other games where you'll have Rey Mysterio hitting all kinds of power moves on a super heavyweight.

That feature isn't necessarily perfect. For example, my CAW wrestler can't pick up Undertaker from a grapple, but if I knock him on his ass first, then I can pick him up from the mat and drill him with some rolling belly-to-bellies.

Still, it's a nice touch and one I greatly appreciate.

Sound and music

The most notable thing here is that there's no commentary whatsoever. On the whole, that's a good thing.

Not all games feature commentary that is quite as terrible as the job Michael Cole and Tazz did on WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It, but it's rare to find a game that really gets the commentary stuff spot on, so it's often best just to leave it out altogether.

Instead of soundbites from Cole and Tazz (or King and Lawler), we instead get a decent soundtrack playing over the matches and all the usual selection of wrestler entrance themes.

Much of the custom themes for your CAWs are the same as in Shut Your Mouth, meaning I once again got to pick that Slipknot-like track for my own Ragin' Angel character.

Other notable points

WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Backstage Chaos
By now, I've told you most of the things I love about HCTP, as well as the few, relatively minor criticisms I have about the game.

Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention some of the other notable features that distinguish this game from others in the series.

First of all, there's the addition of the Elimination Chamber match which, though mostly fun to play, can get a little cluttered up when you have all six men in the ring at the same time. This is the main reasons why I don't like playing Royal Rumbles and other multi-man matches in games like this. It just gets too hard -for this amateur gamer at least- to keep track of things.

I should also mention the backstage brawls which are a fun little diversion to the main season mode.

At each show, you can use a menu to navigate through certain backstage areas. Most of the time, this only allows you to pop into the GM's office to request a title shot or show transfer, but every now and again you can walk into the locker room or parking lot and talk to various wrestlers. Sometimes all that happens is that you exchange words. Other times, you end up challenging the other wrestler to a fight.

These fights typically end up taking place in the backstage area, where along with the usual assortment of weapons that you'd expect to find in a game like this, you can also run each other with motorbikes and forklift trucks.

It is, like almost everything in this game, an awful lot of fun.

Last Impressions

I don't know enough about games to say that this is the best wrestling game ever, but I will say that it's the best wrestling game I've ever played up to this point. It's so good that I find it completely engrossing and, even though I've finally written this review, I'm not quite ready to finish playing it yet.

I'll be posting this, switching the PS2 back on and looking for revenge against The Undertaker for blowing up my damn Evolution Express.

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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.