|I wanted WCW Mayhem to be
good; those commercials make it look like so much fun. But the mayhem ensuing on the TV
ads was a far cry from the forty-minute-long, ultra-agonizing matches that played out when
I brought WCW Mayhem home. Ok, let me preface this: I am not and never was a real
wrestling fan, and maybe this is the reason WCW Mayhem left me cold. Back when I was in
third grade Hulk Hogan was all the rage and Wrestle-mania was king but I was too busy
snickering over my Garfield comics to notice. By the end of the eighties, Americans had
given up on "hair" bands, roller skating, and professional wrestling; in their
place we had grunge rock, roller blading, and American Gladiators. Wrestling seemed down
for the count, so to speak. But in the mid-nineties, from out of nowhere (at least that's
how it seemed to me) wrestling was back on top. Maybe be it had something to do with
"Macho Man" Randy Savage's Slim Jim commercials, or perhaps Jesse "The
Body" Ventura's burgeoning political career, or maybe it was all Ted Turner and his
new WCW. It took me a while to notice (this time I was too busy busting heads in Mortal
Kombat III and Tekken III), though right now it's pretty hard to ignore. As a fighting
game fan, I was wooed by all the new wresting titles, and WCW Mayhem seemed like the
perfect way to reintroduce myself to the world of professional wrestling.
The last wrestling game I can remember playing was Wrestling on the NES; those memories are blurry but I can remember my favorite wrestler, "Amazon" chewing on the heads of his opponents. WCW Mayhem has come a long way from its 8 bit heritage. It offers over 50 playable wrestlers (around 60 including hidden, unlockable, and special characters) and a create-a-wrestler mode. All of the TV and pay-per-view venues and 12 backstage areas give the illusion of some diversity. There are also three different play modes and six match types. With a multi-tap there's even a tag team option. WCW Mayhem has a password mode that is super cool; the idea is that you can collect passwords from WCW TV events, the WCW webpage, or the WCW Mayhem webpage and input them to access special characters and the like. So what I'm saying is, the game comes fully loaded.
When I first looked at the controls they seemed more complicated than Killer Instinct, but upon playing I realized that button mashing could get me quite a way. After a few matches my mashing got more refined, but still was less than perfect. I never could get my block button to do a damned thing and running always seemed like a waste of time. The moves were pretty cool and quite a bit like the real thing. I found that the best way to learn moves was to simply play the characters and try the different button combos, then maybe take a peek at the instruction manual. After I got the hang of the controls and was doing moves on purpose, all of the flaws in the control scheme became apparent. Accidentally doing a submission hold was a chronic problem, and while this may not seem like a big deal, it is. A bad submission hold means losing precious momentum and wasting a lot of my time. Things also got hairy whenever the action got too close to the ropes; I can't tell you how many times I climbed out of the ring when I really meant to step on my opponent's head. All the moves take too long to execute and it is too easy to get turned around or off to the side. When my friend and I played a Sting versus Goldberg match we were shocked that they played almost identically. I guess when you have over 50 characters you've got to copy some moves, but for pete's sake, don't make your two most popular characters the same. The controls are complicated and ambitious, but not refined.
I feel almost the same way about the graphics as I do the control -- ambitious but not refined. The characters look great as they enter the ring to their theme music before the match, all swagger and strut. But as soon as the action starts their coolness fades. The clipping is horrible and the collision detection worse. While characters look great when they're standing still, they are far from poetry in motion. After winning the Heavy Weight Championship, Goldberg, standing up in the middle of the ring, pulls the belt right out of his chest. As he revels in his victory, he proceeds to put the belt in and pull it back out of his chest. Great parlor trick, or terrible clipping? You be the judge. As for the venues, they all look the same to me, with the same lame-o audience texture applied to the stands and different words posted up over the entry ways. But WCW Mayhem's real selling point is the intense, "Out of the Ring Action." It's true you can fight out of the ring -- into the bathroom, the parking lot, hallway, or at least nine other places. I didn't find any of these backstage areas exciting, and without the ropes or turnbuckles half of everyone's moves are void. Besides, who wants to whack each other with folding chairs when there are moves like the "ball buster" and the "sledge hammer."
I have to admit that I was really disappointed the first time I loaded up WCW Mayhem. It wasn't at all what I wanted it to be. Its almost an anti-fighting game. It is slow moving, the loading times are ridiculous, the matches can last forever, and the matches are decided by momentum rather than damage. The momentum system works more like a real wresting match (except the winner isn't decided before the match). The momentum meter measures how well the wrestler is doing in relation to the crowd response, the damage level of the moves preformed, and number of moves performed in a row. So this means that taunting your opponent is as important as body slamming them. It also means that you've got to get in there and keep slamming, punching, and taunting non-stop. Once your momentum meter is fully charged you can try to pin or get a submission out of your opponent, but a full meter doesnt always guarantee success.
After my first four matches I was ready to give up -- my first match took over a half hour and the next three I gave up on after more than forty minutes. I knew I needed help so I got Matt Blackburn to come lend a hand. Matt's the only guy I know who will fess up to being a WCW fan. Within a few hours of steady playing he became the Heavyweight champ. Matt seemed to like the game a whole lot more than I did, and he seemed to do a whole lot better at it, too. He knew all the characters and their factions, and even most of their moves. But even Matt, the fan, had plenty of gripes with the game. Poor graphics, cheesy control and long long load times plague an otherwise playable game. Other things just don't work out, like the create-a-wrestler. You pick a move set identical to that of an existing character and then play dress up with different hairdos and tattoos. After beating the Quest for the Best, Matt was just bored with the game, and I was even more bored from watching it.
Overall, this game is best left to the true fans. Even for part-time fans this might only warrant a rental for a special match (like the upcoming Halloween Havoc). Fighting game fans will be put off by the momentum meter and no one will be happy with the load times. This was NOT the way for me to get reintroduced to the pro wrestling world, though I did watch my first wrestling match the other night and thanks to WCW Mayhem I knew everyone's name. I had more fun watching real wrestling than playing it on my PlayStation.