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"Wrestling is an art form. I don't worry
about those who don't get it;
I worry about satisfying those who do."
- Paul Heyman
As admirable as Wrestling
MPire was, it's easy to forget that it was the first 3D
wrestling simulator that I ever made. It was the Federation Online
of the 3D era, and as such suffered from countless novice flaws. Thousands
of wrestling fans were forgiving enough to see through to the
revolutionary concept underneath, but thousands more were lost to apathy.
Almost 2 years later, having honed my skills on the
Tour Of Duty,
I'm better qualified than ever to do the franchise justice. As the series returns to the stage for a Wrestling Encore,
it's to deliver the most entertaining interpretation of the sport that you
could hope to play...
The Name Game
As the rather ominous title
suggests, this project seems intent on drawing a line under something. Whether
it's the wrestling genre or my entire career remains to be seen, but one of us
is returning to the spotlight for the final time! The good thing about such bold
ultimatums (in any walk of life) is that it brings out your best work, and this
project is no exception. The very thought that this could be my last chance to
realize my vision has inspired me to leave no stone unturned. From the concept
and gameplay through to the graphics and presentation, every inch of this
project has been meticulously crafted as if my life depends on it. We're
fighting for the World title this time - and as you'll see over the following
paragraphs, we've come prepared to win...
Lord Of The Rings
The most striking thing
about this new instalment is that it has enjoyed a graphical overhaul. From the
characters to the world itself, almost every inch of the game has been rebuilt
from scratch to look better than ever before. Naturally, the revolution started
in the ring - which is not only 10% bigger, but also features improved modelling
and texturing on the corner posts, buckles, and ropes. The latter even benefit
from improved animations that cause them to bend exactly where contact was made!
Even though it would have been easy to import the originals, the aprons,
canvases, and floor mats also use new and improved textures to complete the
Hall Of Fame
The revolution even extends
to the arenas themselves, which have been similarly restructured and painted
with more detailed textures. Most noticeably in the railing and seating areas -
which are now a staple part of the venue regardless of whether an audience is
there or not! In the old game, the crowd was an inexplicable mass of humanity -
but here we have solid seating structures that help to keep things separate.
Although the crowd is always going to be a sore point for any game (after all,
you can't display thousands of individuals!), the effect is as good as I can
muster - with layers of cardboard cut-outs jiggling in the corner of your eye.
The most important development for this game, however, is that these larger
stadiums are mixed in with much smaller halls - which literally have walls that
close in around the ring! It's a satisfying contrast that keeps the venues
looking good even on the lower end of the scale...
Behind The Scenes
Even the lesser seen
backstage areas are looking better than ever. The attention to detail from
Popcorn's film sets has seeped into this game - with convincing doorways
adorning the walls, complete with signs and decorative pictures. The locker room
area even boasts a small TV monitor looking out of the corner, which animates as
surely as the main video screen! However, the most significant change is that
the backstage area is indeed one huge area (rather than the separate rooms of
last time). I felt it would be much easier to navigate one large space (for both
the camera and the wrestlers) - which, at the end of the day, makes it a more
satisfying place to be...
View To A Kill
What makes these new
locations look and feel even better is the new and improved camera system, which
owes more to Wrecked than the previous wrestling games. It uses the same
pinpoint precision that ensures the camera smoothly glides to its target
location. It even takes things one step further with a variable point of focus -
which basically means it gradually follows a wrestler's current location instead
of rigidly jerking from one place to another. The system is also accompanied by
a new and improved selection of camera angles - including the best "Bird's Eye"
view yet, a vomit-inducingly realistic "First-Person" perspective, and a sublime
"Spontaneous" setting for those comfortable with the controls! Even the rather
commonplace "Head Shot" used for promos benefits from always trying to face the
My notoriously bad sound
effects have even been stepped up to compliment this improved presentation! From
the crowd to the impacts, practically every single effect has been re-mastered
to sound sharper and more grandiose - and where possible, provided at a decent
quality to keep those improvements intact. Perfectionists will still find a lot
to criticize, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. The re-mastered
files are even filtered through a new "3D sound" system that emits them at
different volumes depending on their whereabouts. As in real life, those
movements that are close to the camera do indeed sound close - while those
occurring far away are barely audible! It's a godsend for busy matches, because
you no longer have to hear the antics of wrestlers that are on the other side of
Enter The Sandman
The improved sound even
extends to the music. The old game only had a handful of quality tracks, but
this one has over 20 of them (with a further 20 lesser ones padding out the
selection). Most are simply old tunes provided at a better quality, but some are
brand new - not least the theme songs from the Tour Of Duty games!
Although it's not advised, there's even the possibility to add your own with the
same file counting system that the costumes enjoy. Not only are these themes
provided at a better quality, but they've also been subjected to an atmospheric
effect that makes them sound as if they're reverberating around a real hall.
It's a subtle change, but it does suit the occasion! Speaking of entrances, you
can also enjoy a slightly improved lighting system (and a vastly extended
selection) - which now gradually blends from one colour to the other rather than
jumping around instantly...
New Year's Resolution
The never-ending catalogue
of presentation improvements culminates with some great news about resolution.
Along with Wrecked, this game is one of the first to be designed to
employ the chosen resolution at all times. The menu screens have been carefully
created to accommodate any setting, so they no longer have to revert after each
match! In fact, it's actively encouraged that you push the game to its limit and
load it up in the best resolution you can. The default 800x600 setting is simply
a safety net. A sharper resolution will show every single image at its best -
not least the labels that float above a character's head and help you make sense
of the action. They too have been redrawn from scratch to look better. There's
even a new one in the form of a "1-2-3" count that gives you a visual reference
to accompany the referee's voice. These labels even work better too - with a new
system that makes them face the camera at all times...
Of course, all these
aesthetic improvements would mean nothing if they didn't contribute to the
gameplay - and that's exactly what they do! Not only does the ring look better,
but it works better too. Climbing in and out of the ring now involves stepping
onto the apron first - where you're free to continue exploring and attacking as
usual. There are even dedicated grappling moves for dragging an opponent in or
out of the ring based on their apron status! If your opponent is down on the
outside, you can even use the apron as a makeshift platform for launching flying
attacks. And with particularly agile characters, it's even possible to launch a
running topé from the inside over to the outside! Naturally, this new apron
gameplay also affects ring-out's - which can often result in a tumble out to the
apron rather than falling all the way down to the floor. It certainly makes
Battle Royals less predictable!
The level of interaction
attributed to the ring also applies to the turnbuckles now as well. The improved
apron access allows you to climb them from either side - as well diagonally from
the inside as before. It makes the process much more practical, and therefore
more common. However, the most significant development is that you can now whip
opponents into the buckles and have them slump in the corner. A nice little
detail is that you can even unfasten the buckles to expose the steel underneath,
and make those impacts even more painful! But of course, what good would corner
slumps be if you couldn't run over there and take advantage a grappling move?
Under this new "anything goes" regime, that's exactly what you can do - and
there are at least half a dozen options at a wrestler's disposal. As in real
life, these range from attacking combinations to full-blown moves like the "Superplex"
- and they're all welcome additions to the action...
The Way You Move
Speaking of moves, that's
another aspect of this game that's looking and working better than ever before.
My animation skills have improved over the years as much as anything else, and
they're up on screen to see in dozens of new and improved move sequences. Not
only have the old favourites returned, but there are also many brand new
additions - both standing and on the ground. Too many to mention, in fact! Even
the old ones benefit from improved programming, which sees them return to feet
more often than not. The previous games milked the idea of staying down after a
move (no matter how inappropriate it was), but it's now reserved for a few
suplexes that do indeed land flat on the back. Not only does this game boast new
moves, but it also boasts new styles of move too! The submissions that were
previously reserved for the ground are finally possible in a standing position
too - ranging from the humble "Sleeper Hold" to an excruciating "Bear Hug". And
above all else, there's a fantastic new reversal system that reverses from any
move to any move. On paper it's a cheap effect that simply rewinds one move and
then re-launches another in favour of the victim, but in terms of gameplay it's
a welcome alternative to moves simply messing up...
Fortunately, the impact
attacks have improved as much as the moves - so the fighting gameplay is firing
on all cylinders! By now, it goes without saying that the animation has improved
to deliver more satisfying impacts. However, there are also plenty of
programming breakthroughs that take things even further. For a start, the depth
system from Wrecked has returned to make sure that opponents reel back
according to how closely they were hit. The system also dictates that the victim
staggers in the direction of the blow (which wasn't always the case last time).
And brand new to this game is a system whereby attacks connect as soon the limb
reaches its target - whether that happens to be late or early. A "Dropkick" at
close range, for instance, will register an impact when the legs are still
slightly bent rather than outstretched. It's hard to explain, but you should be
able to feel the difference in your matches...
As far as humans are
concerned, launching the above attacks is a simple matter of pressing buttons -
but for CPU players, it's an intricate network of artificial intelligence. And
I'm pleased to say that it's better than ever in this instalment! We've seen a
million tiny improvements that make all the difference in the ring. For a start,
they explore the arena and fight their matches more sensibly - seldom doing
anything that would frustrate a human opponent, while doing whatever it takes to
survive or succeed. And when it comes to "frustrating" a human opponent on
purpose, they're equally adept at that - scouting your attacks and countering
with the best option at their disposal. They're even more confident with aerial
attacks, and will happily launch those whenever possible! They run more often
too, and will often use momentum to liven up their fighting style. Of course,
this is mostly true of the harder difficulty settings - which you are strongly
advised to aspire to...
From Dust To Dust
Another major development for
this instalment is the use of convincing particle effects. By rubbing two sticks
together, Wrecked invented realistic fire - and now it's spread to the
world of wrestling! Where the previous game used laughable flame textures, this
version uses actual flickers of fire and smoke to enflame everything from small
weapons to large items. Even the ropes aren't safe from the inferno! Naturally,
a similar effect is used for equally improved explosions - whether it's an
actual TNT blast or the spray of a fire extinguisher (which really extinguishes
fire by the way!). The system was so successful that I even integrated particles
into some of the attacks - such as The Great Muta's infamous "Green Mist" spit
and a toss of dust to the eyes. A nice little touch is that it's even possible
to spit water and beer into your opponent's face by making use of the bottles
lying around! These are all extremes examples though. You're more likely to see
particle effects on the smaller end of the scale - when accompanying impacts and
item interactions, etc.. Even then, they look just as satisfying and are a
welcome addition to the action. The one and only problem is that they're more
demanding than any previous system, and may cause slowdown in excess...
If the use of fire in
matches isn't extreme enough for you, there are plenty of other gimmicks to
liven up the action. You can see lots of those improved explosions by setting a
time for the arena to be automatically peppered with bombs, and an "Inferno"
option requests that ropes be enflamed at all times! As before, there are also
electrified ropes and barbed wire variations to make things even more deadly.
However, the most spectacular of them all is the steel cage - which once again
comes in many variations, ranging from different coloured bars to wire mesh.
Whatever form it takes, you'll be pleased to know that it's more interactive
than ever. Not only does it shake more convincingly with 4 individual walls, but
it's now possible to climb up and over the sides as well! In fact, that's how
you make your entrance into such a match - and if the stipulations state so,
that's how you can win too...
Table For Two
Outside of a gimmick match,
there are plenty of interactive items for you to create your own dangers!
Although the selection has been cropped since the last game (losing many of
The MDickie Show's non-wrestling furniture), what little there is has been
rebuilt and polished up to look better than ever. It's more satisfying to
interact with them too, thanks to better carrying and dropping code - and
slightly improved breaking animations when used offensively. Not least because
the improved move programming allows them to hit twice now - once high if the
item is standing, and a second time low once the move hits the ground properly.
The handheld weapons are as good as ever too, and can once again be used with
any attack or move for adding impact. They too look significantly better - with
the more metallic ones even boasting a slight shine! They feel better too, due
to different weights and better flight physics when dropped or thrown. Those
that like to create their own weapon-filled conditions will also be pleased to
hear than the layout options have been modified. The layout of items and weapons
are now distinct, so you can select a different setting for each one. That
generally means you can scatter the smaller weapons all over the place while
keeping the larger items in their correct place...
If you go overboard with
the weapons, it'll soon be reflected on the bodies of the wrestlers! The goriest
wrestling simulator of all time gets even gorier in this instalment, with
dedicated scar sequences for each body part - be it head, body, arms, or legs.
That generally means they're more detailed and are applied more suitably. The
severed limb gimmick returns to this game better than ever too - and now that
there are individual fingers on each wrestler's hand, there are more of them to
lose! That's especially significant in the career game, because your injuries
stay with you until you choose to pay for reconstructive surgery. Speaking of
severed limbs, even that process has dedicated new textures - which paint an
ugly gash on the remaining body part. Whether you're losing limbs or tearing
flesh, all of this carnage is once again accompanied by pools of blood. They're
better than ever this time though - using many smaller splashes of blood to
create an irregular mess...
The Measure Of A Man
Assuming a wrestler's body
does remain intact, you should be quite pleased with what you see. This game
builds on the revolutionary new model that we saw in Popcorn, which
boasted more detailed, proportionate body parts - not least the debut of
individual fingers! Those skeletons resurface in this game - complete with even
more muscular variations for the world of wrestling. From the biggest to
smallest, they all look better than ever before - not least because of a wider
range of improved textures for each body part. The characters move better too -
making use of those individual fingers for more inventive taunts, and calling on
my improved animation skills for much better stances and movements...
Dawn Of Creation
The borrowing of
Popcorn's models didn't require many adjustments to the editor... but I made
them anyway! Week by week, this game's editing facility knocked out breakthrough
after breakthrough. Most noticeably, the left and right arms are now designed to
be dressed separately. This obviously means you can irregular armband and glove
combinations, which is often the trend in wrestling and helps to make the
characters look a little more natural. The effect couldn't be easier either. You
simply edit the left arm as normal and the right one will follow - leaving you
to proceed to make that one different if you so desire. A similarly empowering
breakthrough is that some textures are now designed to have specific areas of
their colour changed! All previous editors have asked that you change the colour
of the whole area, but this revolutionary system focuses the colour change on
one part of the body - be it hips, feet, hands, or upper arms. The result is
that you can have shorts and gloves of any colour, t-shirts and long sleeve tops
of any colour, and trousers that can be painted without staining the shoes! A
great new headband option is also vying for attention. This wraps nicely around
the head, fits snugly under hair, and once again can be painted any colour - so
it's a great alternative to the caps. It may seem old news now, but it's also
possible to pursue these changes in a "Plastic Surgery" gimmick when playing a
career! Although it's appeared in every game since, that feature wasn't
available in the original wrestling series...
Tale Of The Tape
The image is largely
irrelevant compared to the cocktail of statistics that truly drives a wrestler.
Fans of the previous series will recognize it as hybrid of recent games.
"Popularity" is once again the gold dust that charts a wrestler's success,
"Strength" is their ability to inflict damage, "Skill" is their ability to
execute moves successfully, "Agility" governs their movement speed, "Stamina"
determines how quickly their health is restored, "Toughness" indicates how
likely they are to be injured, "Attitude" reflects how they conduct themselves
backstage, and "Happiness" displays how much satisfaction that lifestyle has
brought. These attributes fluctuate from week to week and match to match, slowly
sculpting a wrestler's potential. Beyond these numerical statistics, there are
also other details such as their "Allegiance" - which falls in either the camp
of the good guys or the bad guys (note the smiley face). Not only does that
indicate how the fans will respond to them, but it also determines which side of
the roster they are likely to face in competition...
War Of The Worlds
There are over 200 such
characters scattered around Wrestling Encore's universe, which is
unashamedly identical to that of the original series. Not out of laziness but
satisfaction! It's not easy coming up with 6 fictitious major promotions - each
with their own unmistakable style - so I've always been very proud of that
setup. There are some notable changes to the rosters, but other than that it's
same old familiar organizations. "Federation Online" is the small-time newcomer
that thrives on controversy. "All American Wrestling" is the Western giant, full
of the biggest stars that are earning the highest wages. "United Kingdom Of
Wrestling" is a low-key British outfit that shuns the limelight to focus on
non-nonsense wrestling. "Rising Sun Puroresu" is the well-respected Japanese
promotion that boasts the most talented wrestlers in the world. "Maple Leaf
Grappling" is a shoot-fighting organization that favours one-on-one bouts to the
KO. And "Super Lucha Libre" is the energetic Mexican outfit that features
colourful high-flyers. The remaining 3 are somewhat novelty pools - such the
"Wrestling School" where unemployed talent bides its time, "Hollywood" where
retired wrestlers and non-wrestling personalities live a life of luxury, and the
"Deceased" roster which is a morgue for dead characters...
On The Road
Upon creating your own
trainee wrestler, your career will begin at wrestling school and you'll be
pursuing a career at one of those 6 major promotions. Wherever you wrestle, you
should find the same basic format of working 3 small shows per month - building
up to a bigger pay-per-view event at the end. Week after week, you're assigned a
never-ending schedule of opponents and match types. The logic for which is
better than ever in this instalment. Opponents are carefully chosen based on
your status, performance, and relationships - ensuring that you gradually work
your way into the upper echelons of the show. The match possibilities are
noticeably better too. Previously, gimmicks such as "Hardcore" and "Steel Cage"
were preset match types that occurred every so often. Now they're the bonus
stipulations that they were meant to be, and can be mixed and matched with any
given contest! The result is that the possibilities are quite literally endless,
as the dozens of match types are cross-referenced with all manner of
stipulations. And that's to say nothing of the storylines - 80 of which are
waiting to unfold based on your actions in the ring...
It's not only your career that
drives the game either. With each passing week, all the major events in the
lives of other wrestlers (and other companies) are reported in a series of mock
newspaper articles. That seem like old news after Popscene and co, but
the previous series had no such gimmick and had to settle for an awkward office
setup! Now this game is taking things further than ever with a whole other
publication dedicated to analysing each match. The "Wrestling Review" column
neatly summarizes the details of your match, before displaying and explaining
any key status changes - and tops the whole thing off with a genuine photo from
the match! Beyond that, there's even a mock financial report, which summarizes
your earnings and expenses before updating your balance. It's a highly enjoyable
way of presenting a lot of information that's anything but, and ensures that
your career is perfectly easy to follow...
No Pain, No Gain
Although your skills fluctuate
after each performance, the only way to deliberately hone them is in the gym!
You've got the option to spend your weeks working on any specific area (or all
of them to a diluted extent), and you can then expect progress based on how
"intensely" you choose to train. Unlike the original game which linked training
to gym costs, this version links it almost entirely to your health. As in real
life, training hard gets results but leaves you with little energy to enjoy
those results. Week after week, you must decide how much health your willing to
invest in your progress (if anything at all). There's no shame in taking a rest,
because constant exercise can sometimes result in injury - and that obviously
does more harm than good! If the idea of repetitive exercise doesn't appeal to
you, you can also pursue improvements in a "Sparring Session" - which is
essentially a practice match that can yield the physical benefits of any other
Once you've honed your body to
become the hottest thing in wrestling, you'll soon be courting offers from the
major promotions. This negotiation process is almost a game in itself, as you
try to get the best deal possible from a booker with the opposite agenda! The
deal in question is a simple combination of a weekly wage and how long that wage
applies for - complete with a juicy advance should you dare to ask for one. In
fact, new to this game is a more sophisticated process whereby you can actually
lower your salary in a bid to receive the money as one huge lump sum. It takes a
lot of financial wizardry to come out of it for the better, but the option is
there for those that like money in their pocket. However you negotiate your
payment, you must also be sure to read the "small print". Below this main
agreement, there are 3 tiny clauses that can have a serious impact on your
career. The first is the right to your "image", and determines whether or not
your employer will have control of your character. The second is a "performance"
clause, which states how much you get paid (if anything) upon losing or missing
a match. And the third is a "health policy", which establishes whether or not
you'll be entitled to any compensation when injured in the ring. As you'd expect, the
bookers are reluctant to give you a single
one of those privileges!
When you're not talking about
contracts, there are plenty of other discussions to have. Most are with your
employer and regard the direction of your career. Although these tend to be
positive or negative answers to a suggestion, there's also the possibility of
being set a "mission" to improve your prospects! These have been a staple of
every game since, but they were barely a part of the original Wrestling MPire.
Now, however, there are dozens of them to be subjected to - ranging from
improving a specific skill to proving you have what it takes to succeed.
Fortunately, more trivial exchanges can be found in the locker room - where it's
your fellow wrestlers that would like to talk to you. Although these can often
help to form relationships with prospective friends, things can also turn nasty
as disagreements spawn bitter feuds that spill over into the ring!
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