Total Extreme Warfare 2004 Review

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Publisher: .400 Software Studios
Developer: .400 Software Studios

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 50 MB HD space, Windows 95 or more recent operating system

Total Extreme Warfare offers a break from the standard console interpretation of wrestling as fighting and, instead, offers a wrestling game that focuses on wrestling as what it really is – an entertaining drama, delivered in serial episodes. Rather than controlling a wrestler and trying to win an individual match, you'll have to manage an entire wrestling promotion, designing storylines and furthering plot development. To this end, you'll need to create conflicts, form alliances and rivalries, and manage the different personalities in the locker room to make the best use of each wrestler's talent.

Solomon Dirigible

.400 Software Studios has developed a knack for blending the statistics and number crunching inherent in sports into games that are fun and offer a good deal of replayability. By allowing gamers to control leagues and teams both on the field and off, the experience of playing a title such as Total Pro Football or Tournament Dreams: College Basketball is invariably unique to each player and distinct from other sports games available. The question, then, is whether or not they can accomplish the same feat when turning from the realm of sports to that of sports entertainment – the phrase coined by professional wrestling during the 1990s ratings battle between Vince McMahon's WWE and Ted Turner's WCW, when it was revealed (unsurprisingly) that wrestling contests, while far from fake, per se, do offer pre-determined results. The answer is that, in Total Extreme Warfare, .400 Software Studios has managed to create the first game that captures the entire scope of the professional wrestling world, rather than simply recreating the experience of guiding a wrestler through a series of contests. Of course, other wrestling games have recently tried to incorporate a story mode, most notably THQ's Smackdown! series for the PlayStation 2. None, however, has managed to so immerse the player in the testosterone-infused soap opera into which professional wrestling has evolved as has Total Extreme Warfare (TEW).

When you first start up TEW, rather than immediately jumping into a new game, it's a good idea to examine the myriad options available under the "Editor" selection. This contains all of the information governing the game, such as the number of wrestlers, their identities, vital statistics and abilities, what promotions exist and where they are, what titles are held in each promotion and by whom, in addition to such minute details as descriptions of wrestling moves and gimmicks. From here, you'll be able to edit wrestler's names and likenesses, even adding new wrestlers if you choose. As anyone who watches professional wrestling knows, most wrestlers need to either be a face (good guy, who the fans can rally behind) or a heel (bad guy, who the fans can rally against), though a few can bridge the gap, alternatively being either loved or loathed. You'll be able to determine each wrestler's persona from here. Faces will win through skill, talent, and heart, while heels will win through eye gouges, chokes, outside interference, and, of course, the dreaded foreign objects. You will also be able to choose the wrestlers' fighting style – a high-flying Luchadore, a brawler, heavyweight, lightweight, etc. Accurately recognizing that the wrestler's ability in the ring is almost secondary to his ability to promote himself and his matches outside the ring (as anyone who has witnessed Hulk Hogan's seldom athletic performances inside the ring can attest), the developers provide an option to edit the wrestlers' out-of-ring abilities. Here you can edit attributes such as business sense, morality, and respect, among others. The options are so detailed that you are even able to edit individual wrestlers' relationships with each other. You'll note the obvious connection between Lobster Warrior and The Calamari Kid, who make up The Underwater Union, and team Wiley Coyote, consisting of Wiley Steinway and Coyote Dynamite, in a nod, perhaps, to one of WCW's mid-90's tag team champions, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorf and Pretty Paul Roma, who were, as the name of their team spelled out, Pretty Wonderful, indeed. Further options include the ability to adjust events, TV shows and magazine coverage, who holds the titles in each promotion, and which sponsors are available to underwrite different promotions. The point is merely to illustrate the almost overwhelming number of adjustable settings and options available to the gamer, so that the game can be a unique experience for everyone.

The Lay of the Land

Having decided which options you want to govern your games, its time to start on your quest to dominate the wrestling landscape. When you start the game, you'll have a few settings to select, such as how many regions you want to operate in your game, choosing from Japan, Mexico, Australasia, the United Kingdom, and North America. If you have a reasonably good PC (with at least 512MB RAM) you can run the game across all the regions without too much slow down... if, though, you're using an older PC, you may want to disable a couple of regions. You can also determine the economy of each region that you do select – effectively giving an edge to those promotions in areas that are better off economically. You can also select which rules will be in effect to start the game: a "normal" mode, in which everyone starts up in a predetermined promotion and the game begins with fully formed stables of wrestlers; a "scramble" mode, in which no one is employed, and the game begins with "all workers (including owners and player characters) and staff begin as unemployed, starting a mad scramble to hire people," and a "chaos" mode, which adopts the rules of "scramble" mode and adds randomization of the sizes of different promotions, creating an understandably chaotic wrestling universe.

The next thing to do is select the promotion in which you wish to start out your career. Promotions range from DAVE (Danger and Violence Extreme), which offers a hardcore style presumably based on the Philadelphia-based ECW of the latter 1990s; to CGC (Canadian Golden Combat), which offers a franchise based on storylines; and the soap opera elements present in today's WWE. You can also elect to play as the owner as well as the head booker of the promotion with which you start, giving you more control and responsibility over the business. It is worth noting that you are made the head booker by default, giving you control over many of the decisions to be made, but allowing more of a challenge, as you may then work your way up until you can own your own promotion. A useful icon marked "TEW Handbook" outlines many of the basics for playing the game – think of it as a FAQ, and it's likely the first place you want to look for tips on how the game is played. There are further options to customize, within your individual game, such as whether you want to play with the sound on or off, and what promotions you wish to view results of in your news reports. The first task before you, though, will be to schedule an event.

Managing Events

Scheduling events will cost you money, as you will pay to hype it. You'll be able to choose a house show or a television show, if your promotion has TV access, and, as you gain popularity, you'll even be able to use pay-per-views to generate revenue. Once you've established a schedule, and planned events, it's time to determine the script for a given event – that is, who will wrestle whom, what the results of each match will be, the manner of the match's end, and non-competitive segments, such as interviews or backstage ambushes. Depending on the length of your show, you'll have different amounts of time to fill with matches, interviews, and backstage activities. Working to achieve a proper balance is key here, as a show consisting entirely of matches without any breaks for promotion will likely bore an audience. Additionally, you'll have to make sure that the matches are interesting. If you match two faces against one another, the crowd will miss having a heel to root against. Similarly, if you pair two heels against each other, the crowd will miss having a face to root for. You'll also have to keep in mind the popularities of your wrestlers (referred to as "overness," from the term "getting over," which refers to a wrestler's becoming a popular fixture with a solid gimmick) when making matches. If you try to have a relatively new kid defeat an established veteran, that's likely to make the veteran less than pleased. Also, some matches are inherently more risky than others, so some wrestlers may be unhappy if you ask them to perform in a first blood or table match, for example. Managing the storylines and developing matches that keep your audience interested while keeping your wrestlers happy is the key to running a successful promotion.

Once you've outlined what's going to happen in a given show, you can start it and keep an eye on how various segments are received by the audience. A running commentary describes each segment, and lets you know how interested the audience was. As the show progresses, you can take notes to remind yourself of what worked, what didn't, and why. If someone gets a poor reaction from the crowd, you can make a note of it, and then change his or her gimmick or adjust the storyline to better suit that individual wrestler. The menus are easy to navigate, so it's easy to follow the action and make notes. After the show, you'll be able to see what the overall reaction was, and to make adjustments accordingly. You may have an email or two from wrestlers who are unhappy with the way their gimmick or storyline is going, or you may have an email telling you that a rival promotion is trying to sign away one of your starts. At its heart, TEW is a game of management, and a very good one, at that.

As the game progresses, you'll continue to make adjustments, tweaking the plotlines to best appeal to your target audience, signing wrestlers, and maybe breaking away from your starting promotion to form your own promotion. In addition to the expansive single-player mode, there is a multiplayer option, which will allow you to compete with your friends and try to outdo one another's promotions. When you consider that in addition to the depth offered within the game, you can create any number of your own unique wrestlers and have the game run virtually any way you would like, TEW is easily one of the more open-ended, player-friendly games out there, wrestling-oriented or otherwise. While its target audience may be small – since to really appreciate the game, an in-depth appreciation of professional wrestling is requisite – that audience has likely been waiting for a game just like this.

The one and only complaint about this game is that it's hard to keep in mind what the attributes of the default wrestlers are. So when you're making the matches, you have to go back and forth, double-checking which wrestlers are heels and which wrestlers are faces, so that you can make sure the match-up you select is going to work. A notation next to each wrestler's name on this screen, indicating his personality, would greatly help. However, you are able to quickly maneuver back and forth between the list of talent (which does indicate the wrestlers' personalities) and the screen in which you make the matches. And, of course, as you play through the game, you get to know the wrestlers better and become more familiar with the storylines you want to manage.

Ultimately, Total Extreme Warfare perfectly captures the world of professional wrestling, and does a fantastic job of drawing the gamer into it. The ability to completely customize a promotion, plan storylines and develop plots has never been executed even remotely as well in a wrestling game, and those gamers who are even casual wrestling fans would do well to pick up this title – NOW!

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on May 9, 2004 5:00 PM.

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