Review by Ryan Harrison
"...and Shut Your Mouth!"
Coming less than a year after the release of the original WWF SmackDown! (actually within the same calendar year), WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role was released for the PlayStation in time for the 2000 holiday season, and for many fans of the series, myself included, showed great improvements all round. Being well hyped and promoted within World Wrestling Federation TV programming and within the usual gaming media (magazines, web sites, etc.), the end result was a tremendous one, with just a few very minor issues and areas that could have done with a slight bit of polishing to make the perfect PS wrestling game.
Getting my copy when it was still relatively new for Christmas in 2000, this was at a time when the WWE (at that time still under its prior WWF name) was enjoying what is disputably its best period, the 'Attitude Era' with a roster of memorable and entertaining characters whether they were curtain-raisers, mid-carders or established main-eventers, an edgy and still "believable" in-ring product, great work-rate and plenty of innovative gimmick matches such as the Hardcore, Iron Man, Hell in a Cell, TLC (Tables, Ladders & Chairs) and Casket matches, I was most looking forward to seeing a lot of these special-stipulation matches make their way into this game and a more fleshed-out Season mode.
As it turned out, a lot of the new features and additions I expected were there, and at the time I was very pleased with the end product. While there were plenty of good points that made the sequel a more replayable, entertaining and longer-lasting experience than the original SmackDown! game, I did experience a few minor annoyances. Several long loading times, a Season mode that starts out promisingly but starts to tail off by the middle of the second year and bunch of repeated (and often pointless) cut-scenes are the three standout issues for what is otherwise the best game in the WWF series that was released on the original PlayStation console.
There isn't really an actual solid storyline or plot to this game – as you'd probably expect, this game is more or less just a simulation of WWF programming of its time with angles, feuds and matches developing between the various characters of the WWF roster. When playing in the main Season mode, each month plays out with a series of weekly televised RAW is WAR and SmackDown! (the two primary TV shows) events, and various Pay-Per-View extravaganza cards including the likes of SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, Backlash, Fully Loaded and WrestleMania at the end of the month. There is a basic set of story cut-scenes you do get to see during the Season mode, however, which are taken from WWF angles that actually occurred, such as the Special Guest Referee match in The Rock and Triple H's main event match at Backlash, the three-way tag team supremacy feud between the Dudleys, the Hardys and Edge and Christian that culminated in the classic SummerSlam TLC match, the return of Cactus Jack, and the last-minute inclusion of Mick Foley in the WrestleMania main event.
I definitely reckon that the season mode of WWF SmackDown! 2 is an improvement over that of the original game, which had very few – and mostly irrelevant – storylines in its Season mode, with cards and matches seemingly thrown together at random. Its 'Ranking' feature did kind of ensure that wrestlers were often competing with opponents of a similar standing on the card so you didn't end up with Paul Bearer challenging for the WWF Championship, or The Rock resorting to any means to get one over Gangrel, for example! With an overhaul to the ranking system in SmackDown! 2 and wrestlers competing against each other in the same 'division' represented by the major championships of the promotion, it's kind of the same deal here. However, the game doesn't really do so well in building feuds and having big blow-off matches in the PPV card at the end of the month. You may find yourself fighting a series of matches against Intercontinental Champ Eddie Guerrero, only to find yourself competing in an Iron Man match against Edge at the marquee event, getting your title shot several weeks later.
The majority of the cut-scenes in the early months of the Season usually result in competing against a hidden wrestler, whom you unlock after a certain point in the Season, as well as unlocking new special match types, and new moves you can assign to created wrestlers. This is what gives you incentive to continue playing on through the Season mode and keeps it somewhat interesting. However, the big problem is that to fully finish the Season mode, you must complete a full five years, and the vast majority of the unlockable stuff is obtained within the first year-and-a-half. After this, you just occasionally fight a random wrestler in order to unlock new moves and not much else, so the exciting unlockables should really have been spaced out throughout the entire Season mode instead, as soon you just find yourself watching the same old cut-scenes over and over again and it does get pretty repetitive.
To elaborate on these "same old cut-scenes", I can't say how many times I've had to put up with watching The Rock marching into an arena to some stock background music with the caption "The Rock is here, tonight!". Well, I'm playing as Triple H and I'm facing Kurt Angle tonight, so why would this be of any importance to me? Or having to endure a 15-second loading time in the middle of the card to watch Road Dogg being interviewed by Michael Cole, asking who his special opponent is tonight. He walks off and Cole shrugs at the camera. Again, why the need to see any kind of vignette for any character other than the one I am currently playing through the Season with? To be honest, I just found these to act as filler, and to have to see the same standard cut-scenes over and over again was slightly annoying.
Now let's talk graphics; not the absolute best you'll find on the PlayStation but these do definitely rate as some of the better-looking visuals in a wrestling game. Some occasional jagged character models and limbs passing through other body parts is still noticeable from time to time, yet otherwise the designs of arenas, the ring itself, apron and mat logos and backstage scenery is done very well. The flow of the game is slightly quicker and smoother than that of the first game, I found, and I only encountered some mild frame rate issues in matches that involved several wrestlers competing at a time, such as the Royal Rumble and Tornado Tag matches. It's not too big a problem most times, and the quick pace and being able to win most matches within a few minutes is ideal, as other games with stubborn CPU players that draw matches out past the 10-minute mark is definitely both tiring and off-putting.
Character models look quite well done and detailed, resembling a very good likeness to their real-life counterparts; Stone Cold, bald head and goatee; The Rock with his Brahma Bull tattoo and raised eyebrow; The Undertaker in his 'American Badass' phase with denim jacket and jeans and tattoo sleeves; or Kurt Angle in his patriotic red-white-and-blue wrestling gear. Some wrestlers' facial models look a bit 'off', though (the aforementioned Kurt looking like you could park a bus between his eyes and the goofiest painted-on smile you ever saw).
Other than some grainy background textures on close inspection and occasional character model clipping, the graphics of the game do a very good job of capturing the essence of the WWF product of the day. Some of the story sequences are animated rather well, in particular the one-off scenes such as when you first get to see Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels or the Dudleys putting the Hardys through tables. Ring entrances and victory celebrations likewise look great, and the onlooking crowd is more simple in terms of its animation, yet you can pick out signs they hold up in support for whichever wrestlers are currently in the ring, which I thought was a decent little extra touch introduced in this game.
Finally, a returning feature are the full-screen, FMV Titantron entrance videos for each wrestler/team/stable that makes their way to the ring at the beginning of a match. Each wrestler's entrance is accompanied by an actual clip of their real-life entrance video that they used at the time, which lasts for a few seconds, and these all look terrific. There are some that are a little outdated (e.g. Albert using his old 'Prince Albert' Tron video and music, or Taka Michinoku using his Tron video and theme from his days pre-Kaientai). However, the quantity of new and/or updated entrance videos is still very welcome.
While you don't get to see the wrestlers make their way down the ramp and enter into the ring itself, they still do their trademark entrance routines in front of these Tron videos, like The Rock raising his arm and making a 'smelling' action, The Undertaker riding in on a motorcycle, or for two-wrestler entrances, you could see Eddie presenting Chyna with a bouquet of flowers, for example, or Edge and Christian posing to the fans 'for the benefit of those with flash photography', which I also thought was a great touch. Even the wrestler name card graphics change depending on what type of programming you're competing on. These little touches don't do much to actually enhance the gameplay, but presentation-wise, I loved them.
Moving on, while the Titantron videos contain the licensed WWF music and play it perfectly, note-for-note, the remaining background music for the actual matches is this heavy rock-sounding stuff, while cut-scenes contain various stock sounding background music that sounds okay, yet before long may well soon start to become somewhat overbearing. The music in the menu and creation parts of the game sound a little easier on the ears, but also equally repetitive after a short while. I don't really consider the music to be badly composed, yet on longer playthroughs you could well start to tire of hearing the same themes over and perhaps an extra background track or two for the actual matches would have been welcome, nevertheless you still have the option to reduce the BGM volume, or mute it altogether from matches if you'd prefer your wrestling action accompanied by the ambience of the cheering crowd.
The sound effects are pretty decent, as you'll get to hear some heavy-hitting sounds of punches and kicks connecting, the excruciating torque of a headlock, and that pleasant sound of the canvas when you drop a guy down with a suplex, slam or takedown. There are, notably, a few rare instances of voice acting used in this game but this only happens a handful of times within the Season mode. The voice of Jim 'J.R.' Ross welcomes you into the game upon starting and the game's intro video also uses voice clips from established WWF personalities of the day that include The Rock, Triple H, and commentators Michael Cole and Jerry 'The King' Lawler. Every once in a while, cut-scenes may feature the likes of Stone Cold's "and that's the bottom line", or The Rock's "if you smell" catchphrases, which sound decent enough, yet it would have been nice to have heard some other wrestlers also use their own unique catchphrases in audio form. Perhaps DX's "Two words for ya", The Undertaker's "Rest in peace", or Mankind's "Have a nice day!" – the rest of these are merely limited to on-screen captions and other wrestlers are given more generic lines.
The remaining sound effects like the timekeeper's bell, the referee's count, the ropes creaking as you run into them and the crowd cheering or booing respectively during the action and in promos is done rather well, making SmackDown! 2 an overall very well-presented game that captures the essence of one of the greatest eras in its history almost perfectly. The only notable absence here, like in the previous game, is any form of play-by-play commentary.
Control-wise, SmackDown! 2 features a somewhat simple and intuitive control scheme; unlike in earlier games in which you were required to enter combinations of directions and buttons to perform moves, this game retains the same control scheme of the original SmackDown! game in which one of the main action buttons on the PS controller is used for various actions in the ring; Circle for whips and grappling manoeuvres in conjunctions with the D-Pad; Cross for striking moves; Triangle to run in the direction held on the D-Pad and to climb turnbuckles or other surfaces; Square to reverse or counter an opponent's offensive moves. The shoulder buttons are used for finishers, taunts, and to change your attention to another competitor, if there are 3 or more competitors in the same match.
Making your wrestler move in the direction you want, build offence and win matches is easy enough to learn after a short amount of time practising, and even with the new match types introduced, it's still easy to learn how to do things like climb ladders and grab the title belt suspended above the ring to win a Ladder match, to break the side panels of a Hell in a Cell and climb your way to the roof of the cell and resume the action up there, or stuffing your opponent into a casket to win the Casket match don't feature any more complicated controls or moves to learn. All in all, the control of the game is easy to learn and should feel comfortable with after a few minutes of playing.
The game features an overhauled and updated roster that is almost double the size of that of the previous game. With the headliners of the day like The Rock, The Undertaker, Stone Cold, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Kane, to the undercard talent like Eddie Guerrero, Billy Gunn, Tazz and Val Venis, and various tag teams such as Edge & Christian, the Hardys, the Dudleys, Too Cool, T&A and even the 'stooges' Pat Patterson and Jerry Brisco, this is a very large and fleshed-out roster that the game divides up into various rankings. The light heavyweights like Dean Malenko, Essa Rios, Scotty 2 Hotty and Taka Michinoku will spend most of their time competing against each other to earn a shot at the Light Heavyweight Title; while Eddie Guerrero, Chyna, Val Venis, Tazz and Rikishi are among the talent competing in the Intercontinental Championship division, for example.
One major improvement in this game is that there are now several more characters in the Women's division for anyone interested in playing through the game in control of one of the divas. The previous game only featured three female characters and so the title belt would only change hands to one of two other characters unless you created any more. Now there are more female characters to compete against when aiming to climb your way to the top of the division, or fend off all competitors who challenge you for the belt. Overall, not EVERY single member of the WWF roster of the time makes it into the game, but with over 60 wrestlers to choose from, plus the ability to create your own, there's plenty of fun and playing time in playing your way through the Season mode and switch between characters to keep things interesting, or for a quick one-off exhibition match to make any two (or more) wrestlers of your choosing square off.
Another overhauled and vastly-improved area in this game over its predecessor are the creation and customisation modes. The Create-A-Superstar mode now gives you more features you can tweak, ranging from your model's hairstyle, skin shade and attire colour to many others, rather than having to select from a small range of templates. When selecting your created superstar's move sets, you may also preview what a certain move looks like now, and are no longer restricted to what moves you can perform by your skill points (yet you can still assign them to certain areas like power, speed or technical ability, and the higher these are, the more damage you do when performing moves of a certain type).
The new Create-A-Stable feature can also let you team several wrestlers together and make up your own faction, or if you'd like, create one of the past. For example, you have Triple H, X-Pac and Road Dogg together in the DX 2000 stable, but if you like, why not throw the latter two out and replace them with Shawn Michaels and Chyna to recreate DX Mark 1? You're free to change and modify stables and teams as you please, as well as assign managers to wrestlers, who can accompany them to the ring during their entrance, or even interfere in a match on their behalf.
A new Create-A-Taunt now gives you the ability to...well, make your own trademark taunt. It's a bit complex and I've never really found much need in using it myself, yet it's there if you want to make as bizarre or intimidating a taunt for your created wrestler up as you'd like. Finally, the familiar Create-A-PPV mode lets you set up your own show, whether it be a televised weekly episode of RAW or SmackDown!, or a marquee event, with as many as 8 matches, which makes a fun way of playing against other players if you're keen on having some sort of a themed competition and try your hand out with various wrestlers. You could pick their names out of a hat at random, or why not have a 'Night of Champions' themed card, where every champion puts their belt on the line against the number one contender? It's fun, easy to set up and worth a go when playing with others. Overall the new creation modes are very interesting, and there is a huge improvement in creating your own wrestler, as you can now fine-tune everything down to much smaller detail than before.
Now let's talk about the match types available. There are the traditional singles and tag team matches, and returning special stipulations like Hardcore matches in which you can pick up and use weapons and falls count anywhere; Cage matches, where the ring is surrounded by a tall cage that you have to climb out of in order to win; Triple Threat and Fatal 4-Way matches that involve three or four wrestlers in the ring at the same time and the first to score a pin or submission wins. The Hardcore and Falls Count Anywhere matches are also quite fun as they let you explore throughout backstage areas like a catering room, parking lot, boiler room or even the WWF New York fan area zone! There are also classic Royal Rumble match, featuring 30 wrestlers making their way to the ring, one at a time, and the winner is the one who outlasts all the others – eliminating them by throwing them over the top rope and onto the floor; or an 8-man knockout tournament known as the King of the Ring.
Also returning are the "I Quit" match, won by forcing your opponent to submit by placing the microphone on their face after you've dealt enough punishment; Special Referee matches where you can take control of a superstar who acts as the referee and administer the count, being as fair or as biased as you like! The new Special stipulation matches you get here are great; you can now compete in Ladder matches, where you have to climb a ladder to retrieve a title belt suspended above the ring in order to win. However, you may also use the ladder as a weapon, or even jump off it to perform a high-risk move! Table matches involve having to slam an opponent through a table, but you'll need to wear them down enough, otherwise they'll counter and throw you off the table if you try too early enough. The Hell in a Cell match was one I looked forward to and somewhat liked; it is merely a standard singles match with a roofed cage surrounding the ring, however it is not the same shape as that of the real-life HiaC structure which also surrounds the ringside area. Still, you can break out of the side panels and even smash your opponent through the central panel on the roof of the cell to see them come crashing back down to the canvas, Mick Foley style!
Some other interesting match types include the likes of the 'Iron Man' match, on which you try to outscore your opponent in falls. You get a point for each pinfall, submission, knockout or countout you score, and the wrestler with most points after 20 minutes wins. Also, only seen in the exhibition mode is the 'Slobber Knocker' match, where you take control of one guy and face the entire WWF roster. A new wrestler comes out after you beat your last opponent, and the aim is to see how many guys you can go through before you're pinned yourself. Overall, there's a lot of challenge in this mode, and with all the different modes, match types and long-lasting Season mode, there's several hours' worth of playing time involved in this game.
Overall, WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role still remains very enjoyable to this day and is a terrific sequel to what was already a great – yet limited – WWF game on the original PlayStation console. Still worth revisiting to this day for any old-school wrestling fans that improved on just about everything including roster size and depth, match types, graphical quality and modes, this will make a recommended addition to your PS1 library if you're a fan of wrestling games. It makes for great fun both solo and against others for a few one-off matches. There could have been some slight improvements in the Season mode and more interesting angles to keep things fresh, otherwise this is as good as it gets for wrestling games on the PS1 console.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role (EU, 01/01/01)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.