By "Y2J" James Wiles
Ah, SmackDown. How we love thee. Over the last 4 years, THQ has delivered some of its best work under its banner, and this year's model continues (or shall we say restarts) that tradition of excellence, elevating the series to almost the same pedestal that the Madden series rests on for fans of that game with the weird pointy ball and sweaty men in tight pants.
As happens every year, the rosters, settings, etc. in SYM have been updated to reflect the most recent developments in the WWF… er, E. The Create-A-Wrestler mode has been expanded to even sillier levels, and the graphics have made yet another leap forward, even if the rather nasty clipping from previous games remains. The wrestler models are more detailed than ever, and the animation continues to be top-shelf. If a performer does it in the ring, chances are pretty darn good that they can do it in the game, which lends an amazing amount of personality to their in-ring performances.
Fortunately, the arenas themselves have received a welcome graphical overhaul, as well. The horrific cardboard-cutout crowds which marred the scenery in Just Bring It (and every SmackDown before it, come to think of it) have been replaced with polygonal (albeit low quality) models, which really makes the game a touch easier on the eyes. Also, every Pay-Per-View arena is present in a far more accurate form than previous games. Granted, it's a minor cosmetic addition that only die-hard fans will really notice, but more detail is never a bad thing. Also, the control scheme has been updated slightly, adding a new command specifically for reversing grapple maneuvers. This makes the game a bit less friendly to the masher of buttons and demands a touch more technique, which pays at least a bit of lip service to the one of the largest complaints players have about the SmackDown series.
And then there's the Season mode. Ah, that glorious Season mode…. Sigh…. Pardon me while I wipe a tear of joy from my eye.
Taking the best elements of previous games' Season modes, SYM's Season had very few flaws. Based around a "Star Point" system ala SmackDown 1, you journey up the WWE ladder as one of your favorite WWE superstars or one of your own creations, chasing titles and pursuing vendettas with other wrestlers along the way. The player begins each show at the front of the arena, and is free to wander about the halls and surrounding area in a first-person view similar to that found in JBI, but without the annoying time limit. In the course of their wanderings, the player can converse with other wrestlers, visit their boss's office to request title shots, browse the ShopZone booth to see what items are available for unlocking at pay-per-view events (of which there are plenty), and of course… wrestle. Each show consists of three matches, set up in much the same manner as in SmackDown 2, but without the nasty load times. As the two years worth of shenanigans unfold (season is once again a limited affair, which fortunately still provides enough variation to make replaying it enjoyable), WWE fans will have the opportunity to live out variations of the storyline happenings from the past year, from the landmark roster split to the invasion of the NWO (who, much as they did in real life, seem to vanish into the background all too quickly).
While the new Season is far better tuned than previous models, there are a few notable flaws that mar the experience a bit. While it was promised that members of stables would be able to interact with each other during shows to plan assaults, watch each other's backs and the like, none of that appears to be present. In fact, stable-mates seldom do anything together at all. Stables are even irrelevant for the purposes of tag teams, as entering into contention for the tag belts results in your roster's GM assigning you a random partner! At best, members of stables will run in on the player's matches, but even that occurrence is so rare that it can hardly be counted on. Bleah. Also, while the backstage interaction between wrestlers is interesting at first, all it ever really leads to is either a random match with whomever you spoke with or a gout of nonsensical (and often disturbingly homoerotic) ramblings from them. And as entertaining as being asked to carpool with the Hurricane or hear RVD ramble about the importance of proper stretching may sound….
Much like any sports game (yes, I said "sports game." Leave me be.) worth its salt, I could spend pages upon pages hashing over the little changes and tweaks to this year's model versus previous games. But in the end, suffice it to say that Shut Your Mouth is most definitely the people's wrestling game. It still sports one of the most fluid and fun to use wrestling engines around, the number of options is nothing short of amazing, multiplayer is endless amounts of fun, and the Season is as polished as it may ever be, goofy dialogue and all. Non-sports entertainment fans will likely not be swayed, but my advice to WWE faithful: Just get it.
James' Score: 4 (out of 5)