Gaming Flashback: WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain
It's inevitable that in each entertainment medium that a long-running series reaches its crux. The apex of quality were returning to the top of the mountain seems nearly impossible. Halo had it's Halo 4, (Come at me) Valve had Left for Dead 2 and the tiny, family-owned company down the block, WWE had Here Comes the Pain.
WWE Smackdown, Here Comes the Pain is without question the pinnacle of wrestling video games. Perhaps in a different World, the roster and game mode variance of WWE No Mercy can lay claim to a well-earned photo finish. However, the latter will always finish in second place. Even with today's advanced graphics and sound quality, when comparing nearly any trait of a modern wrestling video game, Here Comes the Pain does everything better.
The superiority begins at the base level, the fantastic roster. As a wrestling fan, I'm a bit biased as the period when this game was made; The “Ruthless Aggression” era featured what many overlook as the best roster in WWE History. While the “Attitude Era” of years past gets much of the credit, Here Comes the Pain is a time machine of sorts, allowing players to experience some of the greatest wrestlers in WWE History.
A brief view of the roster backs up the claim as the star power contained in this game cannot be denied. Chris Jericho, John Cena, Kane, The NWO, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Batista, Goldust, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Val Venis, Kurt Angel and the Rock are all playable in this game. Along with more than 50 other superstars, it's a virtual lock that you will find your favorite wrestler in this game.
With all of this star power comes an amazing create a wrestler suite. Able to borrow themes and entrances from everyone on the roster, you're given the tools to craft the wrestler of your dreams. While the character and movement options aren't as robust as what is offered in the current generation of games, the ease, and depth that you can delve into a game of this age is remarkable.
Thankfully, the create a wrestler feature is as deep as you want it to be. I have fond memories of spending hours getting my wrestler's features just right. Whether you want to spend all day creating the next Jon Cena or ten minutes creating a 500 pound black prostitute in a clown outfit, there's something here for you.
A complaint of the modern iteration of WWE games is the gameplay. Whether too stiff or too loose, the strikes and grapples of the squared circle are something that the 2K series hasn't been able to quite get right. That is certainly not the case here. Opting for a more arcade style of combat, Here Comes the Pain provides players with a fast paced, hard hitting version of professional wrestling.
Strikes and punches hit with a loud, exaggerated thud. Powerbombs and similar maneuvers crash with embellished force and finishers land with devastating results. Combat is kept relatively simple with strikes assigned to one button and grappling to another. Grapples are performed at differing levels of strength. It's a pretty easy system to master, meaning that any group of friends can pick up the game and quickly be on the same skill level.
Given that stars like Brock Lesnar have reached near God like status, ascetics are always an important part of any modern wrestling game, and even years later, this game still holds up as among the best looking and sounding. Those punches I mentioned earlier? They land with a satisfying, echoing smack and the sound of a body crashing to the canvas is a sound I have yet hear replicated with the quality that exists in this game. While the in combat music will quickly wear out it's welcome, there is one instance you will find yourself in awe of the quality of the audio and visuals.
For a PS2 game of this age, that's pretty damn impressive looking. In reality, that looks like an early Xbox or Ps3 game at worst. If you're a graphics snob, there's little to complain about in the presentation of this game.
Presentation seems to be a strong suit of this game. In it's continued superiority over modern wrestling games, many fan favorite match stipulations are present in Here Comes the Pain. Bra and Panties, Hell in a Cell, Fatal 4 Ways, Tornado matches and many others are all playable, something WWE 2K16 didn't seem to get quite right.
Where many solo players will be spending a majority of their time is Career Mode. In a welcome change, Here Comes the Pain's career mode is neither bloated nor stretched out. You're dropped in the middle of a push post WWE Backlash and are tasked with winning the WWE Championship at next year's Wrestlemania. Simple and to the point.
Decisions are executed through a menu system somewhat similar to the most recent iteration, however they are no where near as archaic. Decisions actually matter and your progress is measured in weeks not years as is the case recently. You're able to experience match run-ins, feuds and all the other craziness of WWE. And if that wasn't enough Raw Roulette is a match type. It's magical.
With WWE 2K15 and 16, players have had a lot to wish for in their wrestling games. Playing these glitchy, unrewarding games seemed more as a chore than actual entertainment. Sure the entrances look amazing, but the fun stops there. For many newer WWE fans, this was as good as it got. However, there was a time when fun took center stage in WWE games, instead of treating the product as one giant commercial.
Here Comes the Pain is just flat out fun. Even for a nonwrestling fan, the quality of gaming here cannot be overstated. Here Comes the Pain is a not only a visual time capsule for the greatest period in professional wrestling, but it is also an example of what dedication to the source material and constant polish of a strong foundation can accomplish.