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WCW/NWO Thunder (PSOne)
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1-2
Developer: Inland Productions
Publisher: THQ, Inc.

Rating:
**
out of
*****

Those funny people at THQ, Inc. keep cranking out the wrestling games. Since October, they've released three WCW-based games to the unsuspecting public. (WCW Nitro (in N64 & PC versions), WCW/NWO Revenge (N64) and now WCW/NWO Thunder (PlayStation).) Now, I wouldn't have much of a problem with that, except that 2 of the 3 are practically the same game with minor variations. (WCW/NWO Revenge being the exception.)

When I reviewed WCW Nitro for the PC in December, I commented that I found the control frustrating because I couldn't get the game to work with a gamepad. Well, I finally got my chance to play Nitro with a gamepad, because that's what WCW/NWO Thunder for the PlayStation is like.

Although some new ideas have been introduced into the mix -- like being able to switch the wrestler's alliances and the addition of steel cage matches -- the game still looks and plays poorly. (The game was programmed before the NWO Wolfpac took over the NWO, so wrestlers like Konnan and Sting are still in the Wolfpac and Hollywood Hogan still wears the black and white.)

There is a wide selection of wrestlers to choose from, but it doesn't matter who you choose to wrestle as because virtually all of wrestlers have the same moves, with a few exceptions. Getting the wrestlers to execute these moves is an exercise in frustration that reduces playing the game to random button-mashing rather than requiring you to employ any sort of methodical strategy.

Seemingly to compensate for the poor gameplay, THQ has gone to extremes to create an atmosphere similar to the TV show upon which the game is based. Each wrestler's walk to the ring is depicted by a video clip from show, and they all look pretty good. This is an improvement over the PC version of WCW Nitro, which just plopped the wrestlers in the ring with no intro at all.

The commentary from Mike Tenay and Tony Schiavone is limited to calling out each move ("It's the piledriver!") and making the occasional comment on the match ("Sting looks possessed!") Needless to say, it gets old fast. The accompanying music is suitably energetic, but bordering on generic. The crowd gets into the action by cheering with more intensity as the match wears on. (The crowd will pelt the ring with trash if they don't like a particular wrestler, which is kind of a neat touch.)

The wrestlers themselves provide some interesting video rants that you can choose to watch from the "choose a wrestler" menu, but other than a few really humorous ones (Kevin Nash, Roddy Piper and Chris Jericho), they all are standard "I'm the best, pick me" stuff. All of the rants are the same as those found on the PC version of WCW Nitro, by the way.

Once the match begins, you'll find that the polygonal wrestlers look like their real-life counterparts in most cases, but the backgrounds look pretty bad. The crowd resembles a mass of animated 2-D cutouts, each with approximately 2 frames of movement. (The crowd completely disappears during steel cage matches.) Sometimes, the collision detection is a little suspect. For example, my wrestler could be outside the ring, while the computer was attempting to punch him from inside the ring and my wrestler would still act as if he were getting hit, even though he was far enough away to completely avoid being hit.

The biggest difference between WCW/NWO Thunder and WCW Nitro, however, is the addition of a move that makes the game's 1-player game way too easy to beat. The "test of strength," where the opposing wrestlers lock fingers and try to force the each other to their knees, simply allows a human player to mash the buttons wildly and drain the computer-controlled wrestler's strength by almost half while simultaneously increasing his own strength. This move, if executed twice in a match, can completely drain a computer-controlled wrestler's energy and allow for an easy pin. Using this move, I was able to win the 10 match heavyweight championship with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan with little effort. (Which also points out the fact that all of the wrestlers are pretty much equal in ability.)

As a two-player game, WCW/NWO Thunder fairs a bit better, mainly because a human is going to play with a lot more intelligence than the AI that THQ gifted its computer-controlled wrestlers with. However, the game itself still boils down to a button-mashing fest, so the fun doesn't last too much longer even in two-player mode.

I have to give credit to THQ and Inland for trying so hard to make the game as atmospheric as it is, but it just misses the mark in too many other areas to be good enough to recommend.

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