It may come as no surprise to many reading my blog that I am a huge fan of pro wrestling. And considering the, let’s say, ‘less than real’ nature of the sport, it seems like the perfect thing to mesh into the world of video games. WWE SmackDown: Here Comes The Pain (HCTP) was released in 2003 for the PS2, and for my money, no other wrestling game since has been able to capture both the hard hitting, but at same time arcade-y style of undead bikers beating up bald-headed rednecks.
Perhaps the largest standout of HCTP was it’s extensive single-player career mode, where players could take control of any of the over 60 characters on the in-game roster, and run through unlimited years of the show, taking part in matches, choosing where storylines could go and winning championships. Every character had a default position in the company hierarchy, and various choices, as well as winning or loses matches and titles, would change this, allowing players to take their favourite, no matter their in-world “power level”, so to speak, to whatever heights they wished. Several in-game storylines mirrored real life ones, though the outcomes could change in numerous cases, venturing into ‘what if’ scenarios. Being told you were going to be fighting for the world title at the next event was great… until you realised you had to go up against the Undertaker, or the beast himself, Brock Lesnar (currently tearing shit up in the WWE in real life).
The larger than life moves were performed by players using a four-direction grappling system, followed by another choice of four directional, contextual abilities, granting each character 16 standing attacks. Choosing to grapple an enemy lying down at either the top or bottom end would provide another eight attacks, and attacking from behind another 4. Add in the eight directional strikes, as well as two hard-hitting finishing moves and you can see there was always room for experimentation, and no need for matches to devolve into spamming the same attacks infinitely.
The game looked fantastic, especially considering it was a PS2 game, and the character models still look great to this day, again considering the large number of characters available. Up to six characters could be on screen at any time, including in matches such as the Hell in a Cell or the newly added Elimination Chamber. Props such as tables, ladder or chairs (oh my!) were also modeled well, and the tables breaking always brought a smile to my face.
The best part of the game, career aside, was the hugely padded Create A Wrestler (CAW) mode. After inventing some custom athletes in the previous game, it was a genuine pleasure to create them again in HCTP, and see them perform as higher quality models, with their own theme music and attacks. The addition of a ‘create a taunt’ mode, as well meant I could ensure each of my made-up favourites had their own unique gestures or fighting stances. Each created character could take any move from anyone else in the game, as well as music and different outfits for entrances and the match itself. I filled entire memory cards with my custom wrestlers, and placed them all into the career mode rosters just to see who would come out on top.
Other WWE and other pro wrestling games have been released since, but the removal of key game modes (only to have them added in again years later as “NEW” additions) has meant that Here Comes The Pain has remained my favourite wrestling simulator. I still go back to it now and then, and like to re-read my custom storylines that I had on my computer what must have been a decade ago (I know, I was THAT cool). But aside from just being a good adaption of the wrestling world, Here Comes The Pain was simply a great game, with huge amounts of replay value, and made with genuine love by it’s developers, which is something you just don’t get all the time these days.