WWF War Zone
Every so often I review a game that I was excited about when I was younger, upon its initial release. Games like WCW Superbrawl Wrestling or World Championship Wrestling for the NES..... come to think of it, mostly WCW games.
This, however, is a WWF/E game that i was really hyped about when it first came out. It was one of the very early 3-D wrestling games and was supposed to be far more "realistic" than the previous lot of official WWF games. Let's find out if it lived up to the hype...
BACKGROUND: WWF War Zone was developed by Iguana West, which I personally remember (along with Acclaim) for having a hand in bringing the most classic basketball game of all time, NBA Jam to the SNES. It was published by Acclaim under their Acclaim Sports banner on July 14, 1998 in North America. It was the very first "3-D" WWF wrestling game and looked very different than previous games, even the previous Playstation game by Acclaim, WWF In Your House, which came out about two years before this one. It was also one of the first, if not THE first "Attitude Era" game from the WWF.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: The game opens with a nice intro sequence featuring full motion video clips of WWF Superstars in action. I believe it's sort of a "remix" of the old RAW opening at the time. Even the menu is interesting because it's set up to look like an old elevator where picking the different options moves you up and down floors. Back then there was just something sort of cool about picking the "create a wrestler" option and having the elevator go down to the basement so you can "Frankenstein" together your own personal grappling monster.
All of the music is CD-quality official WWF tracks and real audio and video of wrestlers are featured for the "grudge match" promos. These promos are one of the true highlights of the game. Ahmed Johnson's are hilarious because of the combination of the way he yells and the echo of wherever they recorded these makes you not be able to understand a damn word he says. Bret Hart cuts some of the best promos of the game. Vince McMahon and Jim Ross even provided over an hour's worth of commentary for the matches! I always liked Vince as a commentator even going all the way back to when he worked for his father as one and it's nice to hear him on the mic again without him having to be the "Mr. McMahon" character.
As far as in-ring graphics go....I'm not gonna lie...they look bad. In defense though, all early 3-D games with those huge polygons look bad now. The last time I played Final Fantasy 7, a PS1 classic, the character models looked like terrible geometric shapes. These graphics are actually slightly better than that. The polygons arent so blockly and sharp edged. The wrestlers look pretty good for the most part.
The only real problem is the size of the wrestlers heads and their faces don't match up. The British Bulldog in particular looks like he has a scrunched up little face and big over-sized head. It's pretty amusing, actually (not quite "Ahmed Johnson yelling scary gibberish at you" funny, but close).
My one complaint about the sound is when you're doing a submission move, a 5 second or so loop of audio will play with your opponent grunting and whatnot. Depending on your opponent, this can get annoying. If I ever have to hear Mankind screeching or The Rock yell "Ow! Ow! Damn!" again, it'll be too soon.
GAMEPLAY: To start off with, the roster is great. There are 18 wrestlers, as well as unlockable wrestlers and extra outfits you can get. Even all three of Mick Foley's alter egos can be unlocked. Austin is featured on the cover of the game and the roster has all of the top stars at the time, even one of my favorite teams, The Headbangers. As far as teams and factions go, The Nation, DX, and the Hart Foundation are all featured. Even Ken Shamrock makes an appearance.
There are mutiple match types available (all of the standard ones and a story mode), but the selling point of this game to me were the gimmick matches. You can play a cage match or a hardcore match which was right up my alley back then....hell, now even. The hardcore match was my favorite here and the cage match was okay but a little off. The cage here directly surrounds the ring with no ring ropes or turn buckles sort of in the style of the old Ken Shamrock Lion's Den matches, if you remember those. It makes it easier to throw your opponent into the cage this way but it's innaccurate, so it's a toss up I guess.
The story mode features a top 12 ranking system. You work your way up the ladder little by little and every time you defeat a few opponents in a row, one of them challenges you to a "grudge match", which is where the promos come in. Each wrestler even has a couple of different promos so it doesn't get too repetitive. Winning and completing the story with various wrestlers is how you get some of the unlockable items. As i mentioned earlier, this game has an extensive create a wrestler feature which at the time was new to me even though it had been done before in Japan as far back as the 16 bit era.
This is the first WWF game that used the grappling based control scheme that is more or less standard to even current WWE games. There are only slight differences here. Each wrestler is also able to do their respective finshers but they don't tell you how to do them in the manual because they are "secret" which nowadays pretty much means you just have to google "WWF War Zone finishing moves" and there you go.
VERDICT: This game may just seem average now and even look really bad to newer gamers. But when it came out, it was THE wrestling game to have at the time.
I rented it, as a lot of people did apparently, because it was a number one rental for months after its release. My uncle had the previous game WWF In Your House which was done in the old 16-bit/arcade style graphics and gameplay from the previous generation of consoles and when I first got my hands on War Zone....it blew that game out of the water!
In Your House seemed simple and paled in comparison. This was the beginning of wrestling games changing from the simple 'pick up and play' arcade style to a style with much more depth that you could invest a lot of time in. You could replay the game multiple times with different superstars to try to get all of the unlockables and see the different promos in the story mode.
I'll give this game two scores if that's not too confusing....if I played War Zone now, for the first time ever, I'd give it 2 stars; passable. Rating it on how it was when it first came out in 1998 though, it would get 5 stars.....the best wrestling game on the market at the time.
Until next time.... keep mashing those buttons!