Retro Respawn – WCW Mayhem

WCW Mayhem isn’t that bad of a game. If I were to give it a score out of 10 it would end up with either a 6 or a 7, depending on how generous I was feeling at the given time. It’s hardly awful, and in some ways it’s quite good, but it isn’t an especially great game either. Not unlike the real WCW at the time of its release, you feel that there’s something worthwhile with WCW Mayhem, but it just doesn’t quite come to pass.

Released by Electronic Arts in 1999, WCW Mayhem represented a huge leap forward from the terrible THQ WCW outings that had previously come to the PlayStation in the form of WCW Nitro and WCW Thunder. Whilst both of those games had been close to unplayable, WCW Mayhem actually has gameplay that doesn’t make you want to throw yourself off a three-tier cage, thus making it an instant improvement.

Players on the N64 who had enjoyed the thrills of WCW/nWo World Tour and Revenge on that console would have probably found WCW Mayhem to be a poor relation, but as a wrestling sim, it was still a step up over the likes of WWF Warzone and Attitude from Acclaim. Graphically, the game doesn’t look too bad either, with big sprites for the wrestlers and some decent animation for the time.

Not wishing to steal from Joe Gagne, but his assertion that the wrestlers stand like a dog awaiting a treat is so wonderfully spot on that I simply can’t think of a better analogy. It really is kind of disconcerting when you hear it put that way as you then find it impossible not to see it. I’m guessing it’s the game designers’ attempt to have the wrestlers look like they’re ready to shoot for a take down or something, but that’s not exactly how it comes across.

Despite the weird fighting stance that the wrestlers have, overall they don’t look too bad, and there’s a healthy amount of them to choose from. Indeed, WCW’s roster was so hefty during this time that not only do the usual main event crew like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Goldberg feature in the game, but so do lower card enhancement talent like Bobby Blaze and Bobby Eaton. Eaton was a pushed commodity in the ’80s and the early part of the ’90s, but by 1999 he was mostly being used to make up and coming stars look good on WCW’s syndicated television shows. However, due to helping out with the motion capture, he actually got a slot on the game here, which gave a lot of long time wrestling fans the opportunity to play as one half of the much beloved Midnight Express tag team.

Due to its late 1999 release date, WCW Mayhem hit the shelves prior to the great talent exodus to the WWF of early 2000, so Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit are all playable characters in the game, along with Chris Jericho, who had only just left the company a few weeks before the game was released. This means the game has a very strong and varied roster of guys to choose from, and most of the wrestlers in the game have their move sets faithfully recreated.

Pressing the square button on the PlayStation controller will cause your wrestler to “lock up” with his opponent, at which point you can press one of the four face buttons and a direction in order to perform a move. Every wrestler has a momentum bar next to their name that will fill up as they successfully perform punishing moves, vicious strikes or merciless submission holds. Once the bar has been filled, it will start to flash and a Mortal Kombat-like “Finish Him” declaration will appear across the screen. At this stage if you lock up with your opponent, you need only to press the square button, at which point you will deliver your finishing manoeuvre to your hapless foe.

It’s nice that performing finishing moves is so easy to do, especially as the two previous WCW games on the PlayStation had required fighting game-like inputs in order to pull them off. Indeed, WCW Mayhem is a lot more user friendly and easy to play than those prior WCW releases, with a control scheme that makes performing moves and getting around the ring less difficult than Nitro or Thunder.

That doesn’t mean the controls are perfect though. For instance, the hit detection can be more than a bit off sometimes, with some top rope moves not registering even if you make contact with your opponent. The game can also be quite buggy, with the referee sometimes counting up to 2 when you have an opponent pinned, only to then count 2 again, meaning that the match continues even though the wrestler has been pinned long enough for a three count. Controls can also be fiddly sometimes as well, such as the grapple button also being the button you use to climb the turnbuckles and exit the ring. This can mean that if you send an opponent outside, you will have to wait whilst your wrestler tries to grapple the ropes for a few moments until he finally manages to exit the ring and continue the fight.

And in WCW Mayhem, you’ll certainly want to head outside as not only can you brawl around ringside, but you can also fight through the entrance way to the backstage area. This is nothing new in the 2K WWE games, but back in 1999, the idea that you could fight into the car park or ticket office was something that had never really been seen in a wrestling game before. The backstage areas weren’t especially large, but it was a neat novelty, and the wrestling games that followed WCW Mayhem used this gimmick as well, notably WWF SmackDown on the PlayStation and WWF No Mercy on the N64.

Unfortunately, EA were so happy with the positive reception to being able to fight outside the ring that they decided to do away with the ring entirely for the sequel to WCW Mayhem with the game that would eventually come to be known as WCW Backstage Assault. Backstage Assault was an absolute disaster that sold poorly and received mostly negative reviews, and it probably wouldn’t have come about without WCW Mayhem starting off the backstage brawling craze in wrestling video games.

One area the game excels in is the sound effects and music, with a decent number of the roster having their actual entrance music and some fun commentary from Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan. “Mean” Gene Okerlund provides his voice for the ring announcing and is even a playable character in the game as well, which leads to the humorous outcome of him announcing himself to the ring with a “And now on the way to the ring…Me!”

One area in which the game lacks is that it doesn’t really have much in the form of a single-player campaign outside of “Quest for the Best”, which is essentially just a long-winded ladder mode where you defeat opponents to win one of the WCW Titles and then defend it a few times before moving on to the next one. The mode has no storylines or cutscenes like the single-player campaigns of No Mercy and SmackDown did on the N64 and PlayStation, respectively, and after a while it just starts to drag. Your wrestler doesn’t even wear the belts they win on their way to the ring, although they do briefly celebrate with a belt in the ring when they win the title for the first time.

WCW Mayhem does have the mandatory Create a Wrestler Mode, but it’s a pretty limited creation suite that doesn’t even allow you to put a space in your character’s name, meaning  that if you try and create versions of wrestlers who didn’t make the game because they came to WCW after it came out, such as Jeff Jarrett, you’ll have to just call them JEFFJARRETT or just JEFF. You also can’t create your own move sets for your wrestlers, with the only option being to select a pre-existing move set from one of the wrestlers already in the game.

WCW Mayhem is not a bad game in the least, but it’s also little more than slightly above average either. It’s playable and has a good roster to select from, but the single-player mode is pretty dull, and the creation suite leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a bit choppy at times gameplay-wise, but it can be fun to play, and it was a big step up for PlayStation-owning WCW fans who had suffered through the two awful THQ games for the same system. N64 fans could find much better wrestling games on their system, and indeed the PlayStation would get WWF SmackDown not soon after Mayhem hit the shelves, which not only was a better game than Mayhem but also featured the much more popular WWF license.

If you own a PlayStation, then you can pick WCW Mayhem up for veritable buttons, so I’d certainly recommend it if you’re a fan of WCW and have never played it. If you’re more of a casual admirer of the grapple game or just play the wrestling games for the gameplay and don’t really care about wrestling itself, then I’d recommend hunting down either WWF SmackDown or WWF SmackDown 2: Know Your Role. They are both better games from a gameplay perspective and also provide a lot more longevity due to a greater number of match types and a more interesting single-player mode.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll hopefully see you all next week for more retro ramblings!

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