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by THQ

3D1-01.jpg (4983 bytes)There has always been something romantic, or at least mythologized, about hand-to-hand combat. In nearly every proto-religion, a correlation was made between the victor and the chosen; to defeat an opponent was to claim the favor of God. While certainly much of this had to do with simple pragmatics-- it is difficult to tell the story of one’s battle if one has been killed-- the impulse to view physical conflict as a means of determining the will of the divine is an important precursor to much of what we consider modern competition. While on-deck, a shortstop makes the sign of the cross, his hands wrapped in red or blue batting-gloves. A sprinter blows a kiss to the heavens as he rounds the track in a tear-filled lap of victory. The gracious athlete, as soon as he or she is interviewed, is quick to give the credit back to the creator.

bck1-01.jpg (4172 bytes)Nowhere is competition more easily recognizable a this kind of medieval crucible than in the squared circle of professional wrestling. What is even more compelling, however, is that the results are fixed. We are aware, most of us, that what happens when the paint and tights are donned is rigged or even choreographed down to the "rock bottom" or "wall of Jericho" that will finally, after much has been in flux, put an end to the match. At the same time however, as is the case in any theatricality, there is a willing suspension of disbelief. This is not to say that one convinces one’s self that a fist really connects with a jaw, or that a drop kick really hurts. While this is indeed part of the magic, the real act of faith has to do with the outcome. In order for it to matter that HHH hangs on to his belt or that one rising superstar or another comes away with inter-continental championship, the viewer must be somehow complicit in the act. It is the fans and spectators, aware of the scam, that continue to vest import in the outcome of what, viewed without this tacit act of faith, would otherwise be nothing more than a long and sometimes bloody dance number.

DpB6-01.jpg (4863 bytes)In days gone past, when Hulk Hogan tore his pre-snipped muscle shirts and Andre the Giant sulked around under the iron fist of Bobby the Brain, lines were crisp and clean; the orchestration, the entire production had obvious intentions of allowing viewers an interaction with the eternal, and usually not carried by pay-per-view, struggle of good vs. evil. Perhaps it is simply a testament to the proliferation of post-modern notions of good and evil but, whatever the cause, the sides of this archetypal battle are in much more chaos as professional wrestling moves into the next millennium. Nonetheless, the battle remains the same and even if it is no longer clear what side we should be rooting for as good Hulkamaniacs, the wrestling industry banks upon a prerequisite interest in the struggle.

When, in this matrix of posturing and showmanship, a viewer is allowed to step into the limelight and hold his or her own against the superstars of this meta-combat, the dynamics really get complicated. What WWF No Mercy retains is this element of faith.

Hallway1-01.jpg (3909 bytes)No video game has been so thorough in its encapsulation of the mythos of professional wrestling. Cheesy (as cheesy as the real business) titanatron montage scenes and laser-light pyrotechnics erupt as each superstar enters. Storylines are available to follow any superstar’s chase for a title-- eight titles are available. These storylines have evolved as wrestling has; the battle is no longer limited to the ring but can erupt in any of ten off-stage areas. In the process, characters speak with a kind of mind-blowing verisimilitude to the real thing-- as such, the speech is fairly poorly written by literary standards and, because "ass" is much more descriptive than anything else, reads like Shakespeare’s bawdy without the pentameter and serious inquiry into the human condition. Nonetheless, all of these factors contribute to the feel of the game and develop a web of cultural detritus that could only belong in one arena. The miracle/curse of professional wrestling is not limited to the game’s appearance; unlike it’s predecessors plagued with clumsy plot-lines and slow reaction speed, most of the fun of No Mercy is actually derived from game play.

JH7-01.jpg (4763 bytes)Because No Mercy allows you to play (initially) over sixty-five wrestlers and, as various story lines progress, adds potential characters from the past to the available stables, one is invited to indulge in and personalize according to one’s tastes, the fantasy that surrounds each and every belt. Not only does this game bring out Cactus Jack, Andre the Giant, and the original Hulkster (among others), the game offers a seemingly infinite catalogue of moves and counter-moves, dropkicks and finishing submission holds. What this all means is that, because the controls are incredibly easy to get the hang of-- though you need to do so with each and every character-- it is possible to truly become (with no more of a leap of faith than it takes to watch the crap in the first place) any available wrestler. As such, the importance of getting the combination in and performing an atomic drop in a crucial moment becomes more legitimate than most fighting games. What drives No Mercy is not the flimsy, translated mumbo-jumbo of Tekken, Mortal Kombat, or other move-based combat games, but a culturally accepted paradigm in which your wrestler is not only fighting for the good of his or her career but also the prestige and honor of doing a title shrouded in history proud.

Ladder1-01.jpg (3065 bytes)All of this sounds hokey. And it is. But the gamers here have not created this sense of over-dramatization. It comes with the subject matter and because of the actual pacing of game-play, it truly does manage to permeate the experience. How you do actually seems to mean something.

lastRide-01.jpg (5042 bytes)This becomes even more important in regards to the games strongest feature-- the create a wrestler mode. Graphically, anything you want to put in the ring (killer tall guys in drag, a short little ball of pudge who flies from the turn-buckle like Fred Astaire on crack-cocaine) is available and becomes every bit as convincing in its performance of various moves as any of the pre-existing characters. Additionally, the created wrestlers don’t suck. You are capable, with some sweat and love, to compete for any of the titles and hold your own against the more accomplished Jobbers of the WWF. Because of the gigantic arsenal, your wrestler really does become YOUR wrestler.

LockerRoom-01.jpg (4347 bytes)And this, to continue the theoretical discussion I started with, becomes the largest complication of the game. Your wrestler speaks like every other wrestler. Yes, regardless of your intent (even when I named my badass Niceguy) your little man (mine was cute with glasses) still uses "ass" every other sentence, still becomes a mouthpiece for serious misogyny, still hires people to hurt other wrestlers, and still takes the fight to the pool hall and locker room. What is at stake here is the postmodern complication of wrestling. Still the archetypal struggle of good and evil, wrestling at this juncture (pre-disposed to the problem because of the inherent element of fakery) has no fixed referents. Good looks like evil looks like good. The only distinction becomes in moment to moment gestures and actions. No matter your intentions as a participant, your wrestler is not capable of walking the high road, or fighting by the rules. The primal struggle for meaning and order, or goodness and righteousness, becomes continually tainted or cheapened by the similarity it presents to characters and actions that never claim to be more noble than old-fashioned bedlam.

PB12-01.jpg (3558 bytes)While it is obvious that you, if you are interested in a game based on beating people up, may be less concerned about this kind of entropy than I am, the game presents a very dangerous kind of relativism. My character revenged a woman who was beaten up immediately after calling another woman a bottom-feeding ho. Any action or word is acceptable because, in this schema, we all know nothing is real anyway. The game becomes about positioning and the struggle the rules were founded upon (back when the Russians stood for the devil) become illustrated in minor, smaller ways instead of the grand and ever-raging campaigns of the past. When the Hulkster called, we knew who was supposed to answer.

SB1-01.jpg (4380 bytes)All of this wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it were simply reducible to show-business or entertainment. While we would still have the problematic questions that surround other violent media, we wouldn’t have to answer questions about what this does to cultural metaphysics concerning good and evil, gender and aggression. It is the initial act of faith that wrestling relies upon that makes of all this necessary. It is a testament to the quality of the game, the reality of its controls and maneuvers, the power of seeing the belt on shoulders you created, that I was able to forget what I know about its reality. My character does get hurt. When his arms are twisted often enough, there are moves I can no longer do. The legs, after a few knee drops, slow me down and take away my biggest assets. In No Mercy, everything but the political, everything but the significance, everything but the carefully considered, is as real as it gets. What this adds up to is a great game that is an even better indicator of how complicated our "entertainment" has become.

Matt Vadnais

Snapshot

Ups: Great graphics; tons of wrestlers; custom wrestler mode; lots of storylines; eight titles to fight for.

Downs: That old, nagging feeling the WWF gives us anymore.

System Reqs:
Nintendo 64

 

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