Thursday, 28 May 2020

GAME REVIEW: WCW Backstage Assault (2000)

Released in the last few years of World Championship Wrestling's existence, WCW Backstage Assault has often been called the worst pro wrestling games ever, if not one of the worst games period.

While the game certainly has an abundance of faults (and we'll get into all of them soon enough), this review could easily be titled In Defence of WCW Backstage Assault because yes, it sucks, but it's also quite fun.

Besides, one of the biggest criticisms levied against the title -that it's a pro wrestling game without an actual pro wrestling ring- seems kind of harsh.

Guys, come on, the game is called Backstage Assault. The whole premise is that WCW's biggest superstars would settle their scores backstage.

Complaining that there's no wrestling ring in a game that's all about what goes on Backstage is like complaining that there are no options to drive a car in Super Awesome Motorcycles 4. That's not what the game is about.

Ah, you say, but that's not the same at all. This is a game about wrestlers wrestling for a wrestling company, it should be a reflect of what an actual wrestling show is/was like at the time.






To that argument, I say that actually, it's a great reflection of what wrestling was like back at the turn of the millenium.

A Reflection of the State of Pro Wrestling 

Seriously, go back and watch WCW programming from the last 18 months of their existence. The company, indeed, wrestling as a whole, did feature a lot of backstage stuff, wild brawls and weapons-based hardcore matches. 

To that end, WCW Backstage Assault was an attempt to showcase that side of the wild and weird world of professional wrestling that we were all seeing on our TV screens a lot more back at the time, and though it didn't quite work, having a game that focused on lockerroom brawls and the like wasn't exactly the crime a lot of critics made it out to be.

Still, even having said all that, there's no escaping the fact that many aspects of this game left a lot to be desired.

Let's dive into it, shall we?

First Impressions



Though the opening video may not be the greatest of all time, it's certainly nothing to scoff at. In place of the usual fast-paced clips of huricanranas, powerbomb and other in-ring offence, this one featured more on hardcore matches and other backstage brawls because, and I feel this is worth repeating, this was a game about FIGHTING BACKSTAGE.

In between all that, we got clips of the terrible hardcore junkyard invitational from Bash at the Beach 1999, as well as clips featuring the likes of Ms. Hancock (Stacy Keibler) and Major Gunns, because, again, this was a fairly good reflection of the sexed-up product that WCW was putting out on television at the time.

From there, things quickly start to go awry as the menu screens look like they were designed by a five year-old on paint, but hey, more of that later.

Roster


This is usually the point where we'd just run through who is in the game, but there's no way we can go any further without talking about how horribly organised the whole roster menu is.

You know on most wrestling games the playable characters are either featured in a straight list that you scroll down (such as in the Smackdown games) or a grid-like formation such as with past WCW games. Here, the folks responsible for designing Backstage Assault decided to try and reinvent the wheel only to come up with a triangle.

I mean, this thing is terrible. Wrestlers are organised into several groups, so you have to scroll left-to-right to choose a group, then scroll up and down to chose wrestlers within that group. 

If that's not frustrating enough, it gets worse by the fact that the groups aren't even organised into any logical sense. Rather than having say, one group for main eventers, another for nWo-affiliated stars and another for cruiserweight, wrestlers seem to have been thrown together at random.

For example, when you first start the game without unlocking any characters, the group 'WCW 1' features Jeff Jarrett and Torrie Wilson, plus a bunch of players you need to unlock. Group 2 features Booker T and Corporal Cajun, so I suppose you could argue a Misfits in Action connection there, but there's also David Flair in this group. 

As for the cast of available characters, there's an interesting mix of starting players.

Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, Hulk Hogan, DDP, Sting and Goldberg are all present and accounted for, as are WCW mainstays like Disco Inferno, Konnan, Madusa, Stevie Ray, Jimmy Hart, and Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker. 

Yet there's also some very curious choices as to who is, and isn't featured in the starting line-up. 

WCW regulars from around this time like Billy Kidman, Buff Bagwell, Chris Kanyon and Vamprio are all featured in the game, but only as unlockable characters. The same goes for stars like Bret Hat and Scott Hall.

Yet, oddly enough, if you'd always dreamed of playing a video game as Doug Dellinger, here was your opportunity. WCW's head of security is a starting character, but Rey Mysterio Jr. isn't.

The most curious addition of all in this starting line-up is Mona, who was already competing in the WWF as Molly Holly by the time this game was released.

Honestly, it's almost as if they picked the starting roster out of a hat.

Create-a-Wrestler 

Once again, this seems like a case of the game developers unnecessarily trying to reinvent the wheel and coming up short. 

Rather than starting from scratch, Backstage Assault gives you several template characters (Punker, Warlock, Biker grrrl and others) that you can tweak and fine-tune to your own liking. To be fair, these pre-set characters do look better than anything this hamfisted writer usually comes up with on his own, but customising them is such a laborious process that I ended up giving up on this section altogether.

Sure, there's a good array of costumes, including alternative attire for the likes of Sting (if you always wanted to be Wolfpac sting, here's your chance), Kevin Nash, and Bret Hart.

There's also some things that are clearly taken from the WWF, such as a mask called 'Hardcore' with is obviously to help you create Mankind character and -just as in WCW Mayhem- an outfit that is exactly the kind of thing Kane would wear.

So far, so cool, but there's no way to change up the position of your created character or the camera angle you view him at so that you can get a better look at how the customised features actually appear.

It's so cumbersome that unless you're really eager to give a punk rock character a Hollywood Hogan beard, you might as well not bother.

Match Types

With this game, you can have any match type you want as long as it's a hardcore brawl in the backstage area. In other words, forget ladder matches, cages, or even tag team matches, this is straight-up one-on-one weaponfests from start to finish.

Not that this in itself is necessarily a bad thing. As we'll get to in a little while, the fights themselves are entertaining enough to make up for the lack of diversity.

Hardcore Gauntlet and Hardcore Challenge 


While this game won't be praised for its variety (or for much of anything else for that point), it does at least throw you a bone by giving you two different challenges to take on.

Hardcore Gauntlet is exactly what it sounds like - it's a gauntlet style match pitting you against seven other competitors with no breathing room in between.

Meanwhile, the Hardcore Challenge is the game's main story/career mode and, for the most part, it's a lot of fun.

OK, so there isn't a lot of variety in terms of what you actually do, and it's basically just having one fight after another, unlocking a variety of hidden wrestlers, moves, venues, and attire to use in the Create-a-Wrestler mode, but things are kept interesting by giving you a whole lot of stuff to unlock and serving up unique challenges in order to unlock it all.

For example, you need to set your opponent on fire (yes, on fire), in order to lock Vampiro, while jumping off a truck in one match will unlock something else and using different weapons in different fights will also unlock specific things.

The only problem is that there's so much to unlock that you'll find yourself playing the game forever if you want to uncover all of the game's hidden treasures. Still, it's enjoyable enough to play that if you really had nothing better to do, you could easily waste a day getting through it all.

Game Play


Other reviewers have criticized Backstage Assault for its lack of intuitive controls (three different strike buttons and one grapple button that you can use for a limited number of other moves), the lag that often occurs between pressing a button and the resulting move actually being performed on the screen, and the wild camera angles that suddenly change without warning or logic. 

You know what? I agree with all of those complaints. From a purely technical point, the gameplay sucks.

But...here's the thing...

Once you get used to how everything works, working through the game, particularly in Hardcore Gauntlet mode, actually proves to be pretty entertaining.

Though this could easily just turn into "pick up a weapon and bludgeon your opponent with it until you win," the game encourages and rewards creativity. 

For example, you get more points the more different moves you try, and those points result in more unlockables, and positive things tend to happen when you rip phones and kitchen sinks off the walls and waffle your opponents with them. 

OK, so it's not particualrly difficult to beat your opponent even on hard mode, but again, there's enough stuff to play around with to ensure that the whole game is way moe enjoayble than it might first appear.

Speaking of appearances...

Graphics 


Make no mistake about it, this game looks like somebody's arse.

As much as this game is an absolute guilty pleasure for me, even I can't defend how utterly horrible it looks.

I know it's 20 years old, but even compared to other games that were out around this time, the whole thing is a mess. The backgrounds and menu screens are muddy and fuzzy and the wrestlers are a crime against design.

If it wasn't for the attire they were wearing, you'd often have no idea who was who. Sid, Chris Candido, and Ric Flair, for example, are just three carbon-copy blonde dudes who look almost identical. The only way to tell them apart is that Sid is slightly bigger than the other two and Flair wears green trunks.

Meanwhile, Scott Steiner looks like an old man, and the woman are, quite frankly, an abomination, and whoever is responsible for them should be forever ashamed.

Visually, the only time this game shines is with its entrance videos. Before each match, the competitors' entrance music (or a stock theme) plays over clips of them performing or generally larking about.

It's a pretty cool touch, but even that doesn't make up for how horrendous the graphics are on this thing.

Music and Commentary 

Last but not least, the one area where this game does come into its own is the audio. 

As in Mayhem, commentary is provided by Tony Schiavone and Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan and is generally very well done.

OK, so if you play the game for a long time you start to hear certain soundbites repeated, but for the most part, the commentary remains relevant, clever, and timely.

Meanwhile, most of the stars have their actual entrance music, or at least a Jimmy Hart Version of it (which is ironic since most WCW themes were JHVs of other songs to begin with). 

Final Impressions 

I'll be honest with you: 

I bought a copy of this game off eBay for the sole purpose of reviewing it for this blog, expecting to hate it just as much as everybody said I would.

Yet while I admit that it looks like ass and can be frustrating in parts, I actually found the whole process of going round setting people on fire, and hitting them with trashcans to be a lot of fun.

WCW Backstage Assault may be just about the worst professional wrestling game of all time, but for this plan, it's a pure guilty pleasure.



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