Thursday, 26 September 2019

GAME REVIEW: WCW Mayhem - PlayStation (1999)

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Game Cover
Released: August 1999

Maybe you needed to be there. Maybe there's no other way to realy appreciate what a big deal the WCW Mayhem game was back in 1999 than to have lived through it.

For while the first World Championship Wrestling game to be developed by Electronic Arts may not seem like anything special, back then it was the biggest thing to hit the niche market of pro wrestling video games since...well...forever.

At least, it was if you believed WCW.

For months, the company invested all their stock in promoting the hell out of this game.

Week in, week out, Mayhem advertising featured prominently on both Nitro and Thunder.

As if that wasn't enough, the company even got rid of their annual World War III PPV in October and replaced it with a new event called -you guessed it- WCW Mayhem.

Meanwhile, gaming critics heralded this as a game of firsts.

It was the first WCW game to feature all twelve PPV settings as well as Nitro, Thunder, and Saturday Night. It was also the first US-based wrestling game in which the characters could fight backstage.

Further praise came for the commentary (more of which later) and the excellent job done in motion capturing hundreds of different pro-wrestling moves.






So yes, back in 1999, WCW Mayhem for the PlayStation was a pretty big deal.

But how does it stand up twenty years later?

Let's turn on the PS and find out.

First Impressions 

There's a lot to like about this game right from the start. 

The introduction puts us in a WCW Control Room type environment were serious-looking dudes in identical uniforms and matching hats set about loading up everything you'd need for the perfect wrestling event.


They load the arena, fill it with a crowd, and even fire our announce team, Tony Schiavone and Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan, for a night of WCW action.

Not content to leave it there, our guys even create their own prototype pro wrestler in their laboratory, but when they crank his aggression levels up to 95%, the perfect prototype transforms into an angry Goldberg, who smashes his way out of the lab and into Slamboree 1999.

Honestly, as intros to pro wrestling video games go, this is probably one of the coolest ever made, at least for the time period.

Combined with an aggressive heavy metal riff, it gets you pumped up and ready to smash some heads in.

So far, a 10/10 score for WCW Mayhem, and we haven't even selected our characters yet.

Roster 

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation 1 Review - Roster selection Sting
The game boasts that it features no less than 50 World Championship Wrestling athletes, though not all of them are available when you first play the game.

While there is a good selection, if you want to unlock all fifty characters then you'll need to go through the Beat the Quest mode multiple times and unlock them all.

In terms of the starting characters, the roster is split up until multiple factions. 

You have your main WCW stars, the nWo Wolfpac and Black and White job squad, and the Four Horsemen, as well as cruiserweight and hardcore division

WCW Roster

For WCW, cover star Goldberg, as well as Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, Randy Savage, and Bret 'The Hitman' Hart are all accounted for, as are Booker T, Buff Bagwell, Konnan, Curt Hennig and an assorted cast of undercard characters like Kenny Kaos and Bobby Duncam Jr. 

Weirdly, Kaos is a starting character but his High Voltage tag team partner Robbie Rage doesn't even feature in the game

nWo Roster

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Eddie vs. Juvi vs. Psycosis
If you want your main eventers, Hulk Hogan, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash and Lex Luger are all Wolfpac 4 life here, while Horace, Scott Norton and Stevie Ray are on job squad duty.

Four Horsemen

The game starts with the last itineration of the Four Horsemen, with Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Steve McMichael all appearing as starting characters despite Mongo leaving the company in February of that year.

No guesses as to who the unlockable characters are in this group. 

Cruiserweights

There's a fun selection of cruiserweights here, with staples like Rey Mysterio Jr., Kidman, Eddie Guerrero, Juventud Guerrera and Psycosis all appearing alongside interesting choices such as Lizmark Jr. 

Hardcore 

Raven, Saturn, and Kanyon all represent the hardcore division, with a whole bunch of characters to be unlocked. 

Everyone else, from major stars like Ric Flair to curious additions like former Smoky Mountain Wrestling star Bobby Blaze and Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker all appear as unlockable characters.

WCW Mayhem Create-a-Wrestler Mode 

If you don't like any of the roster choices the game gives you, you can always create your own wrestler.

This is a pretty standard feature in wrestling games today, but the concept was very much in its infancy back in the 1990s and it certainly shows here. 

Maybe I've been spoiled by playing games like Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain as of late, but Mayhem's Create-a-Wrestler mode is as frustrating as it is disappointing.

Naming your character 

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - El GiganteFirst things first you have to give your wrestler a name. This is fine, except for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to put a space between words. I spent far too long on this before eventually giving up, convinced that if you wanted to name your character Cactus Jack for example, you'd have to settle for calling him just 'Cactus' or 'Jack' instead.

To be fair, you can add to your character by giving a pre-set nickname. 

Some of these are interesting to say the least.

Of all the genuine WCW names to include, El Gigante is an option, and if you want to go extreme, you can always go by the name War Machine. 

You could also choose to be Kid Lightning, though apparently not Lightning Kid since Sean Waltman had been back in the WWF for a year by the stage.

Appearance

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Create-a-Wrestler
Things get even more interesting and frustrating when it comes to choosing how your wrestler looks.

There are only three body types to choose from:
  • Small
  • Large
  • Powerful
Powerful is exactly the same as large, albeit with a more defined physique. 

From there, you can select from a bunch of pre-defined character templates which are great if you want your wrestler to look like a Human Wasp Man or a zombie, but not so much otherwise.

On the plus side, one of the templates is hilariously called 'Invisible' and, as you might suspect, it makes your character completely invisible.

That's pretty funny.

What's even funnier is that you can choose to apply the 'Invisible' template to only select parts of your wrestler. So, for example, you could make your head invisible and create The Headless Horseman (to replace Mongo, probably). or you could decide to have a character with no body if that's the kind of thing that gets you giggling.

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Kane outfit
When it comes to dressing your wrestler ready for action, the choices are pretty limited.

If you're used to having an almost infinite number of tights, shorts, and other assorted garments as you do in other games, you'll be disappointed.

You'll also be pretty bummed if you're familiar with WWF/WWE games which have a habit of sneaking in attire you recognize as belonging to wrestlers not included in the game.

Whereas it's usually been possible to put together a pretty decent looking Jushin Liger and other characters in the WWF games, that's not really a thing in this game.

There is, of course, one exception.

For some reason, the game includes what is pretty obviously Kane's ring gear from that time period. Though I couldn't find his actual mask, if you ever wanted to see The Big Red Machine waging war on WCW Saturday Night, this game is as close as you're ever going to get to making that happen.

Otherwise, this whole part of the game is pretty lackluster.

Match Types 



Selecting the 'Main Event' option from the main menu allows you to wrestle a variety of matches at any WCW event.

Along with the standard singles and tag options, you can also have a triangle or four-way match.

Alternatively, you could opt for either Raven's Rules, No Disqualification, both of which are pretty much the same thing, or a Weapon's Match, which is the same thing again albeit with weapons already in the ring.

Honestly, I wouldn't get too excited about these. Even in the standard matches, you can brawl outside of the ring, head backstage and blast each other with weapons and not get disqualified or counted out, so I'm not sure what difference -if any- it makes if you choose No DQ.

I would have liked to have seen War Games, or even just a ladder or a cage match, but honestly, it's not a big deal. 

As we'll get to in a moment, you can have enough fun just playing the actual game that you don't really need fancy gimmick matches to enjoy WCW Mayhem.

Game Play 


For the most part, actually playing WCW Mayhem is a lot of fun.

Unlike some games which seem to take a bit of getting used, you can get the hang of things and start winning matches pretty quickly here.

At first, the controls felt a bit counter-intuitive for me, especially for some characters. With Bret Hart, for example, hitting down and triangle lifts your opponent up for a suplex, but hitting up and triangle drives your opponent down for a piledriver.

It's a bit off-putting at first, but you soon get used to it.

For the most part, the moves look crisp, sharp, and well-executed. 

All that praise for the game's motion capturing is certain well-warranted. Suplexes are smooth, powerbombs look devastating, and most submission moves are very well done.

Shortly before I played this game, I also played WWF War Zone which was released the year before Mayhem and wasn't nearly as smooth or engaging in terms of actual gameplay. 

However, as with most things in life, playing WCW Mayhem isn't exactly perfect. 

Some moves just don't seem as if they've been mapped out very well.

For example, if you go to the top rope for an ariel move, the game pays no attention to where your opponent is and just has you diving recklessly in the middle of the ring.

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Cruiserweight action
On many occasions, I had my rival knocked out on the mat and climbed to the top, ready to crush him with a sweet splash. Yet because he was too close to the corner or not properly positioned, I just ended up flying over him and hitting the canvas.

It's at this point that Tony Schiavone would make fun of me, claiming that if I spent a little less time showboating, I would have hit that move.

No, Tony, if the game developers had thought things through a little better, I would have hit that move. 

There were other times too when I'd have my opponent in perfect position and yet a move would just completely miss for no reason. 

Still, as much as I gripe about this, it wasn't enough to put me off playing. On the whole I enjoyed the experience of playing WCW Mayhem, even if it was completely unrealistic. 

See Hulk Hogan's Fabulous Flying Dropkick 

When reading up about this game, I saw people who are more into gaming than wrestling talk about how each wrestler has his own unique move set, signature taunts and entrance.

This isn't entirely accurate. 

It looks as though Electronic Arts devised about five or six different entrances and five or six different taunts and then just divvied them up at random, almost as if they drew them out of a hat.

Ok and the next wrestler is...Rey Mysterio Jr. and his signature taunt is...

*picks out of a hat*

Hulk Hogan's hand-to-the-ear thing. 

Then you have Bret Hart hulking up and flashing his muscles, and Wrath doing bodybuilding poses that I don't think I ever saw him do once his entire career.

Sure, some guys have their trademark mannerisms.

In making their entrance, Rick Steiner gets on all fours and barks like a dog (naturally), and Scott Hall has his famous strut, but some make no sense at all.

Juvi, Perry Saturn and a bunch of others all come out and adjust their tights in the exact same way, while just about everbody else does some weird Lex Luger flexing before marching to the ring.

Then there's the moves.

If you were expecting an experience that closely replicates what you'd see on TV, you might be disappointed. 

Again, most trademark moves are present and correct. 

Goldberg will drop you with a gorilla press slam, most of the cruiserweights will flip, flop and fly, and Bret Hart does his signature side russian leg sweep, but then when you go to follow it up -as Bret often did- with a driving forearm from the corner, The Hitman instead decides that he's going to leap off with a flying splash.

Not surprisingly, he misses 90% of the time and lands in the ring to be chastised by Tony Schiavone.

Then there's Hulk Hogan, who will think nothing of hitting you with a standing dropkick or taking you to the top rope for a superplex, you know, just like he did all the time in real life?

Again, it's like the developers got a bunch of moves in one hat, a bunch of wrestlers in another, and paired them all up at random.

Story Mode: Quest for the Best 



On your first play-through, there appears to be a lot to like about Quest for the Best, which is WCW Mayhem's answer to the typical Career Mode.

Starting at the bottom, you start by defeating the top five contenders to the TV title before winning that belt and then defending it against five contenders.

You then repeat the same process for the United States Championship, and then again for the world title.

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - US title winner
At first, this is a lot of fun, and throws up random quirks like Bobby Duncam Jr. being the number one contender to Goldberg's world title while Hollywood Hogan is only the fifth-ranked contender.

As you work your way up to the TV title, you even unlock a few bonus characters.

I beat Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker and Bobby Blaze and unlocked both of those, then beat Ernest Miller to unlock his manager, Sonny Onoo.

So far, so good, but after a while it gets a little repetitive.

There are no cut-scenes, no 'tween-match drama or random side quests, just keep beating dudes one after another. 

It actually gets worse once you win the world title. 

WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - World title winnerInstead of just having five challengers, the list of dudes coming after your gold never seems to end, so you simply find yourself squashing one after the other with no real finish line in sight.

While the gameplay is pretty fun, it's simply not enough to keep you invested in the game for any real length of time when all you're doing is winning one match after the next after the next.

Still, if you've got the patience for it (which I really haven't), then it's worth going through this process just to unlock all the extra characters.

Graphics and Appearance 

As I've said before, I approach these game reviews from the perspective of a wrestling fan, so I'm perhaps not as qualified to comment technical details as much as a serious gamer might be. 
WCW Mayhem - PlayStation1 Review - Halloween Havoc set

That being said, WCW Mayhem really is a great looking game, at least for a PS 1 release. 

The menu and loading screens are bright, vibrant and attractive and the characters themselves are very well done for the time.

As for the arenas, while the TV set-ups are nothing spectacular, some of the PPV shows look amazing in a way that my crappy screenshots simply don't do justice.

Sure, WCW Mayhem may not be perfect, but it sure does look the part.

Sound and Commentary 

Again, I read somewhere that all of the wrestlers in this game have their own entrance themes. This isn't true. 

Most of the major stars do, while those belonging to either the Wolfpac or nWo Black & White have their stable's theme. Yet many wrestlers are assigned a theme that doesn't actually belong to them.

The majority of the cruiserweights, for example, come out to Eddie Guerrero's awesome Latino World Order theme, while anyone from WCW that isn't a main eventer gets the generic Nitro music. 

That's not a big deal though, as most of the themes that you'd actually want to here are all present and correct.

Where this game really shines, however, is on the commentary.

Remember how dreadful it was to have Michael Cole and Taz doing the worst commentary in history on WWF Smackdown - Just Bring It?

There's none of that here. 

Schiavone and Heenan provide some of the most realistic commentary you'd ever heard on a video game up to this point. In fact, I'd say it's even better than on some of the games that came long after Mayhem was released.

Sure, the longer you play, the more likely you are to hear repeated phrases, but for the most part, the commentary is very refreshing.

At one point, I was brawling backstage and the duo began bickering for a good couple of minutes, much like they'd do on Nitro.

It's a nice touch, and certainly one of the best things in the game.

Final Impressions 

So, is WCW Mayhem for the PlayStation 1 really as good as it was made out to be back in 1999?

Not exactly.

Yes, for the most part, it's a great game. It looks great, it sounds great, and if you can get over your character diving into the middle of the ring like an idiot, it plays great too.

But there's not much too it and I don't think you get the same kind of longevity out of Mayhem that you do with other games.







Thanks for reading. For more reviews of retro pro wrestling games, shows, and more, follow RPW on Twitter or like the Facebook page here.

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