With those immortal words, spoken by the legendary pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after winning the King of the Ring tournament on 23 June 1996, a momentous wrestling career unfolded that would see everyone’s favourite beer-swigging, finger-gesturing anti-hero become not just an industry icon but a mainstream icon as well. Here’s to yah, Steve!
The Date: 14 February 1999 The Venue: Memphis Pyramid; Memphis, Tennessee The Commentary: Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler The Referee: Mike Chioda The Stakes: Main event steel cage match to decide Austin’s WrestleMania fate
The Build-Up: Ask any wrestling fan and they’ll tell you about the ratings war between the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) andone ofthe greatest feuds of the WWF’s “Attitude Era”: the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. After the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” saw Bret “The Hitman” Hart leave the WWF, McMahon’s evil “Mr. McMahon” authority figure frequently clashed with Austin’s rebellious ways. McMahon consolidated his power by ensuring that The Rock captured the WWF Championship and reigned supreme as the “Corporate Champion”, and personally ensured that Austin’s goal of recapturing the belt at WrestleMania XV: The Ragin’ Climax wouldn’t come to fruition by winning the annual Royal Rumble for himself! However, as he was a businessman and figurehead rather than a full-time wrestler, McMahon’s victory was forfeited and Steve Austin was awarded the WrestleMania XV match by default. Enraged, McMahon had only one option left; he goaded Austin into getting what he really wanted, a one-on-one match with the WWF Chairman (inside a steel cage, no less!), if Austin would put his WrestleMania opportunity on the line. Thus, after months of drama, tension, and confrontations between the two, the stage was finally set for Steve Austin and Vince McMahon to face-off for the first time.
The Match: It’s easy to forget these days, in an era where World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) likes to push that crowds have mixed reactions to their top guys, just how absolutely white-hot Steve Austin was back in the day; anticipation would build in arenas to a fever pitch and then the people would literally explode into rapturous applause and non-stop cheering once they heard that familiar glass shattering, and that was more than evident in this match when Austin made his way down to the ring. Interestingly, as unanimous as the crowd’s support for Austin was here, they don’t exactly descend into a chorus of boos for Mr. McMahon’s entrance; instead, there was largely a feeling of apathy, potentially because they were just itching to see the WWF Chairman finally get his ass handed to him despite the fact that he was jacked up to the nines! Something else worth noting here is that this is the old black-bar cage, before the WWE switched to the much safer and more forgiving mesh-style cages, which not only makes it a lot easier for the competitors to climb (Austin perched himself at the top of the cage to beckon McMahon in) but also much more hazardous to their health.
Of course, Austin was practically frothing at the mouth as McMahon approached the cage, desperate for his hated rival to get into the ring, but McMahon purposely made him wait by loitering at ringside and taking his sweet time to enter. Naturally, this whipped the crowd into an uproar and incensed Austin, who chased the chairman around the ringside area before the two get into a bit of a slap fight on the cage wall. After toying with each other for a bit, Austin took a tumble to the floor and seemed to twist his ankle. Delighted, McMahon left the cage to try and capitalise on Austin’s injury, only to walk right into a trap! Austin decked McMahon with a clothesline and pummelled him across the announce table, slamming him into the steel cage, and then choking him out with a piece of extension cord. Firmly in control, Austin dumped McMahon over the barricade and put a beating on him in the crowd, refuelling with a cheeky brewski before running McMahon into the steel stairs. McMahon mounted a comeback, however, with a cheap shot and then lured Austin into the crowd for a brawl. McMahon tried to escape amidst the sea of people, but Austin caught him and dragged him back to ringside, slamming him into the barricade and the cage bars over and over, yanking the boss down from the cage when he tried to climb to safety and stomping right on his crotch. When McMahon tried one more time to climb into the ring and escape Austin’s wrath, Austin followed him and, after a bit of back and forth, knocked Vince from the cage and sent him crashing through the Spanish announce table!
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler prattled on about how shocked and concerned they were at how quickly the match had turned brutal, and the doctors and referees rushed down to ringside to strap Vince onto a stretcher; when Howard Finkel tried to announce Austin as the winner by default (despite the match not having officially started yet), Austin cut him off and demanded that the match continue. Austin commandeered the stretcher and drove the helpless McMahon into the steel cage, pummelling him with the back board, and finally tossing him into the ring so the match can officially begin. The minute the bell rang, Austin wrecked McMahon with a clothesline, ripped off his neck brace, and decimated the defenceless chairman with repeated second-rope elbow drops. Seemingly satisfied, Austin went to leave via the door but McMahon goaded his rival back into the ring by flipping him the bird, receiving Austin’s trademark mudhole stomps in the corner for his troubles. However, McMahon managed to turn things around with a low blow and tried to clamber out of the cage, but Austin recovered fast enough to stop him and fling him back into the ring from the top of the cage wall. The crowd was loving it as Austin rammed McMahon into the cage wall over and over, busting him open and leaving him a bloody mess, but Vince continued to flip Austin off and stop him from leaving the ring. Incensed, Austin returned to the ring and left the chairman a bloody, crumpled heap.
The glorified brawl started to drag a bit as McMahon was completely helpless and fell victim to a big Stone Cold Stunner. However, Austin was so distracted with taunting his bloodied foe that he didn’t notice Paul Wight literally bursting up from under the ring right behind him! The massive giant manhandled Austin, launching him into the cage walls and helping McMahon to his feet so he can taunt his surprised rival. McMahon demanded that Wight throw Austin into the cage wall one more time, desperate for some retribution, but this proved to be his downfall as Wight’s throw was of such force that the cage wall breaks open, which allowed Austin to tumble out to the floor and be declared the winner. Wight was seething and McMahon was absolutely distraught that his grand plan had failed; Austin won the match and secured his WrestleMania championship match after a pretty lacklustre contest. Obviously, I don’t expect too much from Vince McMahon; the guy’s built and clearly know how to take a bump, but his role in his matches is simply to wind up his opponent (and the crowd), take as many cheap shots and shortcuts as possible, and to get the living shit kicked out of him and that’s definitely what happens here but it’s also a whole lot of stalling and mindless brawling. The match really didn’t do too much with the steel cage, and the guys were hardly even in it that much, so the gimmick ends up being a prop for some blood and Austin’s dramatic victory at the end. I think that match might’ve been paced a bit better if we hadn’t had the whole stretcher spot and the longer brawl in the crowd, and this was little more than a drawn out beatdown of a largely defenceless middle-aged man notable primarily for being their first time in the ring together and Paul Wight’s big debut, meaning that you could probably just watch a five minute highlight and see everything this match has to offer.
The Aftermath: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre would end up being the last In Your House event as the WWF changed to permanent pay-per-view names with Backlash the following April, and the In Your House concept wouldn’t be seen again until 2020. Of course, the big story coming out of this match was the addition of Paul Wight to McMahon’s Corporation stable; soon renamed the Big Show, Wight began a tumultuous career flip-flopping between being a good guy and a bad guy depending on the situation and storyline. The Big Show ended up getting into a rivalry with Mankind over which one of them would be the special guest referee for the WWF Championship match at WrestleMania XV, with Mankind winning the match by disqualification and the Big Show seemingly turning against McMahon after being berated for his loss. Austin, of course, went on to have the first of three WrestleMania matches against the Rock, capturing the WWF Championship in the process, and continuing to feud with the Rock, McMahon, and the Corporation in the months that followed. McMahon’s issues with Austin would continue to escalate, leading to the WWF Chairman forging an alliance with the Undertaker to try and get the belt off the Texas Rattlesnake, which ultimately saw McMahon being forced off WWF television for some time as he continued to put more and more on the line in an effort to out Austin. Ultimately, their feud would be abruptly cut off after Austin took time off for neck surgery, but their paths would continually cross as they entered an ill-advised alliance and butted heads continuously even after Austin’s official in-ring retirement.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
What did you think to the contest between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Which of their encounters, matches, and moments is your favourite? What did you think to Paul Wight’s shocking debut? How are you celebrating 3:16 Day this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from Austin’s illustrious career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, share them below or drop a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
The Date: 7 April 2013 The Venue: MetLife Stadium; East Rutherford, New Jersey The Commentary: Michael Cole, John Bradshaw Layfield/JBL, and Jerry “The King” Lawler The Referee: Mike Chioda The Stakes: Singles match with the Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak on the line
The Build-Up: The Undertaker had been a force to be reckoned within the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) ever since his dramatic debut as part of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team on this day at the 1990 Survivor Series. After a year without any televised losses, the Undertaker was named the number one contender to Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship belt and his victory over the Immortal One cemented the Deadman as a main event star for decades. While the WWF changed and rebranded, eventually becoming World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the Undertaker grew as a character and a spectacle; transforming from a largely mute, undead monster into a Satanic overlord, a bad-ass biker, and the conscious of the WWE, the Undertaker’s legendary career came to be synonymous with his uncanny ability to secure wins on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania.
By this, the twenty-ninth WrestleMania, the Undertaker had twenty victories at the Showcase of the Immortals, having put away hated rivals such as Kane, Triple H, and the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels among others. In recent years, his opponents specifically sought a match against him at WrestleMania seeking to snap this winning streak but few were able to make this into such a personal vendetta than CM Punk. After winning the right to face the Undertaker, CM Punk immediately set about disrespecting the memory of William Moody, who had portrayed the Undertaker’s long-time manager Paul Bearer and who had recently passed away. Alongside his own manager, Paul Heyman (who also had a storied history with the Deadman), CM Punk regularly called out the Undertaker, stole the Deadman’s mystical urn, and even dumped its contents over Big Evil in the lead up this match, which was the closest that CM Punk ever got to main eventing a WrestleMania.
The Match: Before the match can even begin, there are two things that need to be gotten out of the way first: the first is another of the WWE’s excellently-produced video packages that not only works as a touching tribute to the late, great Paul Bearer but also does a fantastic job of telling the story of this heated feud up until that point and really painting CM Punk as an absolutely reprehensible dick. Since the Undertaker wasn’t around each week to help build towards the match, CM Punk fell back on his unparalleled mic skills to taunt and mock both the Deadman and Bearer specifically to wind the Undertaker up since a count out or disqualification would still count as a loss and all he was concerned about was getting that win and tarnishing the Undertaker’s winning streak. The second, and biggest thing to get out of the way, are the competitor’s entrances; by this point, the Undertaker’s appearances at WrestleMania had become a spectacle all unto themselves and his entrances often went on as long as some wrestling matches! This year was no different as the Deadman’s entrance ran around five minutes long and saw him slowly, ominously stalk his way to the ring in a shroud of smoke while shadowy figures clutched at his feet in a truly spinetingling visual! However, the Undertaker wasn’t the only one to get a big entrance this year as Living Colour played CM Punk down to the ring with a live performance of “Cult of Personality”, though of course Michael Cole and his cohorts couldn’t be stopped from offering pointless and distracting commentary once the two were in the ring.
As soon as the bell rang, the two went for each other, both with their hands up and looking for an opportunity to land a strike or a grapple. CM Punk, the quicker and smaller of the two, goaded the Undertaker by dodging a strike, slapping him in the face, and slipping out of the ring in order to put a quick beating on the Deadman after a short chase. Although the Undertaker tried to manhandle Punk into the corner, he easily slipped away and continued to taunt the Undertaker, kicking himself free of a Chokeslam attempt and ended up eating a big boot to the face and being unceremoniously dumped to the outside for his troubles. On the outside, the Undertaker beat CM Punk around the barricade before whipping him into it and smashing his face off the announcer’s table. The Undertaker stripped the table down and then rammed CM Punk spine-first into the ring post before rolling him back into the ring to deliver his patented leg drop across the ring apron. Once they were both back between the ropes, the Undertaker pressed his advantage, pounding on CM Punk in the corner and intimidating the referee for chastising him; working over CM Punk’s left arm, the Undertaker went for his “old school” rope walk but CM Punk jerked him off the top rope with an arm drag and, despite the pain in his arm, stomped on the Undertaker while the Deadman was down and hit a walk rope of his own in a blatant show of disrespect before landing a side Russian leg sweep and going for the first pin of the match.
Obviously, the Undertaker kicked out; the match then slowed a bit as CM Punk locked in a ground-based submission so the two could catch their breath (while also giving Paul Heyman a chance to shout encouragement and taunts to both men, respectively) before the Undertaker went back to his game plan of beating CM Punk in the corner. This backfired on the Deadman, though, when he missed a running boot and injured his knee in the process, which allowed CM Punk to kick him out of the ring and land a big diving axehandle from the top rope to the outside. Back in the ring, CM Punk scored a two-count off a neckbreaker but his attempts to work over the Undertaker’s arm got cut off by the Deadman’s trademark strikes. Again, CM Punk scored a two-count off another quick neckbreaker and slapped on a choke hold, all while Paul Heyman shouted encouragement about him being “one second away” from victory. The Undertaker battled his way up to a vertical base and hit a suplex to throw CM Punk off, then crotched his arrogant opponent on the top rope when CM Punk tried to hit another rope walk. A single punch to the jaw sent CM Punk careening to the outside again but Paul Heyman threw himself in the Undertaker’s path to stop the Deadman doing his signature dive to the outside, almost getting Chokeslammed off the apron in the process, which allowed CM Punk to recover and hit a clothesline off the top rope for another two-count. Weary (and possibly a little out of it), the Undertaker left himself wide open in the corner for a running knee and got taken down with a clothesline, which set CM Punk up for his patented Diving Elbow Drop.
Again, the Undertaker kicked out at two, so CM Punk prepared to hit his finishing move, the Go-To-Sleep/GTS; however, the Undertaker slipped off CM Punk’s shoulders, grabbed him by the throat, and hit a massive Chokeslam for his first near-fall of the match! The two then got into a slug fest that quickly went in favour of the Undertaker, who again pummelled Punk in the ring corner with strikes, a running attack, and his signature Snake Eyes manoeuvre but CM Punk weathered the storm and surprised the Deadman with a kick for another two-count. CM Punk then sent the Undertaker to the outside again with a clothesline and went back to the announcer’s table, which he just narrowly avoided being powerbombed through when he slipped out of the Last Ride. With the Undertaker lying prone across the table, CM Punk hopped to the top rope and hit another Diving Elbow Drop…though the table didn’t break on impact. CM Punk was aghast when the Undertaker beat the referee’s count, however, and made it back into the ring before a count of ten; distraught (and hurt following his awkward landing on the table), CM Punk was easily wrapped up in the Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate submission move. Punk, however, used his technical expertise to turn it into a pinning attempt, and then wrapped the Undertaker up in the Anaconda Vice that, for all its drama, mainly served to give the Undertaker a chance to catch his breath again. Soon enough, the Undertaker was on his feet and going for another Chokeslam but CM Punk wriggled free and hit a glancing GTS that the Undertaker completely no-sold and powered through to hit a Tombstone Piledriver out of nowhere! Incredibly, CM Punk kicked out at two, much to the delight of Paul Heyman and the crowd, who began to chant “This is awesome!”
Another slugfest followed; however, when the Undertaker went for the Chokeslam, Mike Chioda was sent sprawling by an errant shot, which allowed CM Punk to smash the Deadman in the back of the head with the urn and avoid the Last Ride once again. CM Punk’s decision to mock the Undertaker with his signature pin cost him almost as much as the referee’s long count, however, as the Undertaker kicked out at two, driving Punk into a frustrated frenzy at his opponent’s refusal to stay down. The two then countered each other’s attempts at hitting their finishing manoeuvres before the Undertaker scooped CM Punk into a second Tombstone Piledriver and secured his incredible WrestleMania winning streak for another year. Showered by the adulation and respect of the crowd, the Undertaker than retrieved his urn and delivered one last tribute to his friend and manager while the announcer’s refused to keep their mouths shut and let the moment speak for itself. Ultimately, while the match was very good, I couldn’t help but feel like it didn’t quite kick into gear; the story was very traditional, with the in-ring action building and escalating to both men’s strengths and their tropes (the conniving little guy against the veteran big man) but it just felt like something was missing. Maybe if CM Punk had used some more underhanded tactics, given the Undertaker a bit of a run-around, or if the Undertaker could have had a couple of big bursts of energy it would have helped but it’s still a perfectly entertaining and acceptable match and I think the crowd probably would have bought Punk winning, though it never really seemed like he was going to as he didn’t get much of a chance to hit any big moves beyond those diving elbows.
The Aftermath: This match put an end to the feud between CM Punk and the Undertaker; the next night on Raw, a distraught CM Punk came out to address how his historic run with the WWE Championship got cut short and he was denied the WrestleMania main event in favour of the Rock and John Cena. He and Paul Heyman eventually had a falling out when Heyman returned to the side of his old client, Brock Lesnar, turning Punk face in the process. On that same episode of Raw, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins (collectively known as “The Shield”) attacked the Undertaker as he tried to pay tribute to Paul Bearer once more. He was saved by his brother, Kane, and Daniel Bryan (known as “Team Hell No”) and the three of them went on lose to the newcomers and the Undertaker’s vaulted WrestleMania winning streak was finally broken at the next year’s WrestleMania in a pretty disappointing match against Brock Lesnar.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
What did you think to the contest between CM Punk and the Undertaker at WrestleMania? How would you rate it against the Undertaker’s other WrestleMania matches? Were you a fan of CM Punk disrespecting Paul Bearer’s memory to get heat for the match? Do you think the match should have been the main event bout of the night? How are you celebrating the Undertaker’s debut this year? What are some of your favourite matches and moments from his long and distinguished career? What dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, sign up to drop a comment below and or let me know what you think about the Undertaker on my social media.
Released: 20 March 2009 Developer: Yuke’s Also Available For: Mobile and PlayStation 3
The Background: On March 31st, 1985, Vince McMahon changed the face of the wrestling landscape forever by bringing together the biggest names in wrestling (alongside a number of celebrity guests) for the very first WrestleMania, a pay-per-view extravaganza that became the hottest event of the calendar year for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The WWE has a long and storied history with videogames that can be traced all the way back to the very first videogame ever produced baring the initials of their previous moniker of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), MicroLeague Wrestling (MicroLeague/Various, 1987). A number of releases made their way to various home consoles and even arcades over the years, with the format slowly evolving to include more and more wrestlers and match types, but the WWE’s foray into digital entertainment largely hit its stride in the late-nineties when Asmik Ace Entertainment, AKI Corporation, and THQ joined forces to produce popular titles for the Nintendo 64 and Yuke’s took their first tentative steps into the SmackDown sub-series (2000 to 2003). Many of the games produced during this time and by these developers are considered to be some of the best wrestling games ever made and, by 2009, the WWE was represented by the multi-platform SmackDown vs. Raw series (Yuke’s, 2004 to 2011), a series which was largely regarded as mostly hit and miss in terms of value for money and year-on-year improvements. Still, the series was profitable enough to convince Yuke’s to attempt a few additional WWE videogames, with Legends of WrestleMania being one of them; pushed intro production to coincide with WrestleMania 25, and focused far more on nostalgia and giving players the chance to relive and redefine some of the company’s biggest moments, Legends of WrestleMania was met with largely lacklustre reviews that took issue with its presentation and control mechanics.
The Plot: Take control of a WWE Legend and relive some of the biggest WrestleMania moments of all time, such as Hulk Hogan’s legendary clash with Andre the Giant and Bret “Hitman” Hart’s bloody showdown with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or rewrite and redefine history by playing these matches, and others that never took place, from the perspective of the loser (or another WWE superstar).
Gameplay: WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a wrestling title that gives players the chance to select from a roster of thirty-eight WWE Legends and pit them against each other in a series of matches, many of which will be immediately familiar to fans of the WWE or anyone who’s played one of Yuke’s WWE videogames before. Unlike many of the SmackDown! videogames, the focus here is much more on fast-paced, arcade-style action rather than simulating a real-life wrestling match, which has both positive and negative impacts on the gameplay. Players can move their Legend using either the left analogue stick or the directional pad (D-pad); having grown up playing the likes of WWF No Mercy (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation, 2000), I generally prefer to use the D-pad for these games (and most fighting games) as it feels more intuitive, but there’s little benefits from favouring one or the other. You can double tap towards or away from your opponent to run, but I had extremely minimal success with this; in most WWE games, running is mapped to one of the shoulder buttons, making it quick and easy to use, but that’s not that case here so the majority of my matches were slower, clunkier affairs as a result.
You can throw a strike at your opponent with X; land a few in quick succession to perform a simple combo or hold X to charge up a powerful strike, with both knocking them to the mat and leaving them prone for a leg or elbow drop or other ground-based offense. Grappling is performed with A; again, you can either tap it for a quick, weak grapple, or hold it for a stronger grapple, and use a directional input in conjunction with A to perform different moves (though your move pool is quite limited). As you attack and mix up your offense, you’ll build up a “Chain Meter”; as it reaches three different levels, you’ll gain access to more powerful grapples, with your finisher being unlocked at Level 3 and performed by pressing X and A together. Successfully landing attacks drains your opponent’s health meter and weakens them for either a pin or submission; submission moves are generally locked in when the opponent’s on the mat and see you mashing buttons to wear your opponent down, or you can pin them with B. If either of these things happen to you, you’ll need to mash buttons or full a circular meter to hit a small target in order to stave of the attack or kick out of the pin attempt.
You’ll need to mix and match your offense in order to build up your Chain Meter (though simply mashing X can work just as well), and you can sacrifice a chunk of it by taunting with B and Y and gaining temporary buffs. This can all be a little clunky but it generally works quite well; what doesn’t work quite as well is the game’s reversal system. Rather than map counters to a shoulder button, WWE Legends of WrestleMania has them performed by pressing away from your opponent and Y or holding Y to block. I found this to be incredibly unreliable, as my Legend would often just step backwards or even run away, and I really don’t understand why this wasn’t just mapped to the Right Bumper. Unlike the majority of other wrestling games, WWE Legends of WrestleMania heavily relies on button mashing, button inputs, and quick-time events (QTES); you can’t even Irish Whip your opponent without a QTE flashing on the screen and many of the event matches in the WrestleMania Tour mode start, or are punctuated by, QTE sequences that see you mashing or hitting buttons in a test of strength, chain grapple, and other similar sequences. This also extends to the finishers; after pressing X and A, you’ll need to hit the QTE prompts to land your finisher sequence and do the maximum amount of damage, which is certainly unique but it comes at the cost of severely limiting the amount of finishers available in create-a-wrestler mode
Contrary to other wrestling videogames; there isn’t really a weight class or detection system in WWE Legends of WrestleMania; playing as King Kong Bundy is largely the same as playing as Shawn Michaels, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, while Mr. Perfect can body slam and lift the likes of Yokozuna without issue, some Legends are noticeably more nimble than others and some superheavyweights struggle with climbing cage walls and are limited in their aerial offense. Some wrestling games like to lump their roster into categories and assign them abilities that play to their strengths, but that isn’t the case here so the majority of the roster’s differences are reflected in their move pool: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka isn’t going to be quite as technically adept as Ric Flair but it’s not as though the Undertaker exhibits any supernatural abilities that other big men, such as the Big Boss Man, have. One major aspect of the game is the presence of managers; the likes of Paul Bearer and “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart can accompany Legends to the ring and can interfere on your behalf at the cost of your current Chain Level, which makes them super useful when they’re in your corner and quite the hindrance when they’re in your opponent’s.
Wrestling matches have all the standard options you might expect; you can set the difficulty level of the CPU in the options, manipulating the computer’s use of strikes and reversals and such, and customise win conditions (such as turning pin falls and disqualifications on or off and changing the amount of time you can spend outside of the ring). There’s also a number of additional match types on offer that will be recognisable to fans of wrestling games, with most featuring a twist in the game’s new engine and mechanics that mostly boil down to button mashing. You’ll need to mash buttons to either escape from, or prevent your opponent from escaping, a cage or break up a pin fall in a tag team match, for example. Similarly, you’ll find finishers disabled in the Royal Rumble match (there aren’t even special Royal Rumble finishers like in other games) and you’ll instead have to mash buttons to try and force your opponent out of the ring or save yourself from elimination. These components are less prominent in Hell in a Cell and ladder matches, however; you can start Hell in a Cell on top of the structure, which is a nice touch, and can throw your opponent through the cage wall or down to the ring using environmental grapples. Ladder matches are actually much more enjoyable than in other wrestling games I’ve played; you pick up a ladder (or any weapon) by double tapping B and a helpful glowing target shows you where to set it up and climbing and retrieving a championship belt is quite simple compared to other wrestling titles. Retrieving a weapon from under the ring can be a little trickier, though, as can utilising the ringside area or battling into the crowd or up the aisleway, as it requires you to hit A in specific areas around the arena, which can be difficult thanks to the janky controls. You’ll also find such staples as Iron Man matches and Last Man Standing matches on offer here, which are fun ways of mixing up the gameplay, but there’s nothing to really set the game’s matches or gameplay apart from other wrestling titles and very few of these appear in WrestleMania Tour.
Speaking of which, you’ll be given three single-player options here: “Relive” (where you recreate specific WrestleMania matches), “Rewrite” (where you tackle other WrestleMania matches from the perspective of the historical loser), and “Redefine” (which features unique “dream matches”). Each of these matches is proceeded by a short hype package that features clips from real-life wrestlers and the matches and feud between the competitors, and you’ll be given a series of optional objectives to fulfil in order to earn points. These range from performing a certain number of attacks, grapples, counters, and finishers, winning the match, performing taunts, winning pre-match sequences, and more specific environmental situations (such as winning Chain Grapple sequences, slamming your opponent through an announce table, or grappling up near the entrance). Earning points fills a meter and, once it fills high enough, you’ll earn a medal that will award you with unlockable match types, attires, and more. There’s nothing to gain from playing WrestleMania Tour on anything other than the easiest difficulty, with the computer’s abilities completely neutered in your favour, beyond personal pride so you may as well manipulate the game’s settings to make things easier for you. This mode is also probably the best part of the game as it lets you recreate some iconic WrestleMania moments and matches, and meeting the objectives can be fun, but things quickly get quite frustrating if you’re trying to earn all the medals and monotony sets in quite fast as there’s not much variety in terms of the match types (there are no multi-man matches in this mode, for example) beyond the odd cage or ladder match and you can completely ignore the objectives if you like since winning is all that really matters.
Graphics and Sound: Wrestling games can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to their graphics, especially with their in-game character models. WWE Legends of WrestleMania favours a slightly exaggerated, action figure-like aesthetic for its Legends, which is typically common when bringing the WWE’s old school superstars to life, and for the most part this actually looks a lot better than in some of the SmackDown! titles. This is primarily because WWE Legends of WrestleMania is largely consistent with its presentation, rather than fluctuating wildly between hyper realistic and massively off-model. Notably, however, you won’t find any female Legends or superstars on offer here, and there’s no on-screen referee either, which is a pretty big step back for me.
The number of arenas on offer isn’t exactly much to shout about either. There’s very little variety on offer as you can only fight in WrestleMania arenas; there is a Royal Rumble arena, however, (and ironically you can only ever fight a Royal Rumble match in this arena) but there’s no Raw, SmackDown!, or other pay-per-view arenas on offer. The crowds are as sub-standard as ever, sporting signs and attire tied to their favourite superstars and parting to allow you to fight over the barricade (though essentially acting as barriers to keep you enclosed), but entrances have been a bit neutered. The game does offer the old-school gondola entrances, which is kind of cool, and recreates the old-school name plates and presentation of the pre- and early-“Attitude Era” of the WWE. Unfortunately, however, the presentation does take a bit of getting used to; the camera is very zoomed in, meaning that your Legends take up a lot of screen space and this can make it a little difficult to be fully aware of your surroundings. The camera is prone to wild swings and odd positioning, which is very annoying, and there’s a noticeable delay between button presses and executing grapples, making for a much more deliberate and slower pace to the game. Though I eventually learned to live with these niggling problems, it did take me a while to adjust to the presentation and gameplay style of the game.
The inclusion of video clips and real-world footage adds to the drama and intrigue of the WrestleMania Tour mode, but these are nothing you haven’t really seen before in a wrestling title. The same goes for the entrance videos and music, which is all pretty much as you’d expect (with a few inconsistencies here and there, such as the Big Boss Man utilising his Attitude Era theme), and this extends to the in-game commentary. Provided by the legendary duo of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, the commentary is basically exactly the same as in the SmackDown! series, though there are some specific new sound clips added in to refer to the game’s roster and the rivalries on offer in WrestleMania Tour. I don’t play these games for in-depth commentary or crowd reactions but even I was astounded by how cheap and lazy these aspects were here. The same can be said of the create-a-wrestler options, which offers clothing, body, and hair options all ripped straight from the SmackDown! games but actually have less to offer in some respects: there’s less naming options available, less moves, less finishers, and even less clothing options as everything is geared towards meeting the old-school aesthetic and altered gameplay mechanics of the title.
Enemies and Bosses: Being a wrestling title, every single in-game Legend is potentially your enemy; however, as mentioned, it’s not really necessary to play as or fight against each of the game’s roster in order to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve played as and against a couple of the Legends, you’ve pretty much experienced all of the variety the game’s conflicts have to offer; your biggest hurdle will be getting the timing of the weird reversal system down, but you can circumnavigate this by just attacking your opponent head-on with strikes and landing strong grapples as and when they unlock. Guys like Bam Bam Bigelow might look big and intimidating, and the Honky Tonk Man might be the ultimate opportunist, but it’s not like you have to worry about character-specific abilities so what works against one will work against all as long as you can hit the QTE prompts when your opponent does get the drop on you.
In the Relive portion of WrestleMania Tour, you’ll have to battle against specific opponents in recreations or classic WrestleMania matches; this means you’re forced into assuming the role of the historical victor, or loser, of specific matches. One of the most recurring playable characters in this mode is, of course, Hulk Hogan, who must take on King Kong Bundy in a steel cage, and Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior in recreations of their iconic matches. As long as you win your matches, you’re fine, but you’ll need to meet a certain amount of objectives to earn your medal; this includes stuff like kicking out of a pin attempt, causing the opponent to bleed, or winning with a specific move. As you play through these matches, the amount and difficulty of the objectives will increase; I first noticed them becoming more complex in the classic clash between Steve Austin and Bret Hart, which requires you to attack Austin’s leg five times, fight into the crowd, utilise a steel chair, and win with the Sharpshooter but the difficulty severely ramps up for Relive’s final match. This is a recreation of Austin’s WrestleMania XV bout against the Rock; to achieve this medal, you need to meet every single objective, which can be extremely laborious as one of your objectives is reversing the Rock Bottom, to say nothing of all of the many environmental grapples you need to hit on the outside of the ring. I definitely recommend turning the game’s difficulty level and sliders all the way down in your favour and making liberal use of the health regeneration taunt to increase your chances in this match.
In Rewrite, you tackle different WrestleMania matches in the role of the historical loser and must fulfil different objectives in order to change history. Since you’re rewriting the outcome of these matches, these objectives are far less demanding and start off as simple stuff like performing and reversing grapples, taunting, and hitting a finisher and don’t really get more complex than landing more attacks, performing more taunts, maybe making the opponent bleed, and performing multiple finishers and reversals. Honestly, these matches were an absolute breeze, with even Bret and Shawn’s infamous WrestleMania XII Iron Man match providing little challenge beyond a ten-minute time limit. This carries over to Redefine, though the matches and competitors at least have a little more variety; here, you can pick which Legends you want to play as and will witness the likes of Andre and Giant and Big John Studd in a Hell in a Cell match and Mr. Perfect and the Big Boss Man in a ladder match. Redefine culminates with a dead simple no disqualification match between the Undertaker and King Kong Bundy that might have a lot of objectives but they’re nothing compared to the Austin/Rock match (boiling down to stuff like hitting five moves in a row at the start, two top rope moves, three reversals and taunts, and two finishers, which is still laborious but nowhere near as frustrating as in that aforementioned match).
Power-Ups and Bonuses: There are a few options available to you during matches to help turn the tide in your favour; you can toss your opponent to the outside of the ring and interact with the steel steps, announce tables, and barricades to deal more damage to your opponent and, when your opponent is positioned correctly, pull weapons out from under the ring to bust them open or beat them down. When near the aisleway, you can clunkily force them up to the entrance way where there are often other environmental grapple points on offer that let you choke your opponent with wires, toss them into the stage dressing, and even make use of a drum kit but there’s no backstage brawling here. As your Chain Meter builds up, you gain access to taunts that can provide you with temporary buffs; these include regenerating your health, upping your speed and durability, and making reversals easier to pull off for a limited time. Managers can also provide many of the same temporary buffs and also attack or distract your opponent to give you the edge in matches, though utilising these will cost you part of your meter so you’re often asked to pick between receiving a temporary buff or earning your finisher.
Additional Features: There are a mere nineteen Achievements on offer in WWE Legends of WrestleMania, which is astoundingly low for a wrestling title. Achievements are primarily tied to obtaining medals in WrestleMania Tour or making and using a created wrestler but you can also earn them by winning matches using only grapples or with other specific moves. Sadly, in a game featuring so many WWE Legends, there aren’t more fun or notable Achievements; for example, you can use Hogan to slam Andre all you like in the WrestleMania III arena but it won’t pop a “Unstoppable Force” Achievement. As you play, however, your win/loss record and other statistics are recorded in the “Hall of Fame”, which is good for the statisticians out there, but there’s no way to compete for championships outside of the WrestleMania Tour mode, no create-a-pay-per-view mode, general manager mode, or even WWE Universe mode so you’re basically limited to exhibition matches and the WrestleMania Tour.
Well, not entirely; there is also the “Legend Killer” mode. Here, you use a created wrestler to take on six tiers, comprised of ten back-to-back singles matches and culminating in a showdown with one of six WrestleMania Legends. You’ll earn experience points (EXP) by winning matches, and even more for mixing and matching your gameplay style as you play, which you can spend upgrading your created wrestler’s attributes and earning more Achievements. The create-a-wrestler mode is basically the same as in the SmackDown! series, including many of the same hair and clothing options as in those games and you can also fully customise their entrance or even create a tag team, though there’s very little incentive without a Universe mode. While there’s no downloadable content on offer here, you can transfer basically the entire male roster of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (Yuke’s, 2008) if you have a save file for that game on your system, which greatly expands the amount of moves and finishers available to you. While this is a cool feature, and something I wish WWE games would implement more often, it doesn’t equate to much more than adding modern superstars to the roster (which really doesn’t mean all that much as you can’t play as them in WrestleMania Tour).
The Summary: I do enjoy a bit of a wrestling title, and quickly and easily nabbing a few Achievements, and as a big wrestling fan I enjoy revisiting some of the classic wrestlers of the past but WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a quite a bare-bones title. You can see everything the game has to offer in an hour or so and plough through the main story campaign in an afternoon; the Legend Killer mode might take a little longer but it’s hardly going to take up all your time and attention like a General Manager or Universe mode. The gameplay is a bit jarring at first thanks to the odd camera perspective and the plodding, clunky, QTE-heavy nature of the mechanics, but pretty easy to master and, before long, you’ll be winning matches in no time at all, meaning the game quickly gets boring. Yes, there’s a few other match types on offer but there’s little incentive to play these as you can’t compete for belts and I can’t imagine it’s that much fun to play against other human opponents, either. The create-a-wrestler is more lacklustre than ever and there’s a strange lack of focus on guys like the Undertaker, and some notable omissions from the roster (neither Kane nor Mankind are available, for example), though the ability to transfer the roster from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a neat touch. Ultimately, it’s not bad if you pick it up cheap but probably not really worth keeping in your collection once you’ve mined all of the Achievements. I appreciate the developers trying something a little different but this clearly isn’t a Triple-A title and is really only for fans of the rock ‘n’ wrestling era of the then-WWF. If you’re really in the mood for an arcade style wrestling game from around this time, you’d potentially be better off playing something like WWE All Stars (THQ San Diego, 2011).
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Are you a fan of WWE Legends of WrestleMania? Did you like that the developers actually tried to do something a little different with this release or did the dumbed down gameplay put you off? Which of WrestleMania Tour’s matches was your favourite and did you ever achieve Legend Killer status? What did you think to the finisher system and the abundance of QTEs? How did you find the create-a-wrestler mode and were you disappointed by the lack of WWE Universe in this title? Were there any classic WWE superstars you felt were missing from the game and which of the available Legends was your go-to character? How are you celebrating WrestleMania’s anniversary this year and what’s your favourite WrestleMania moment? Drop your thoughts below by signing up or leave a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about WWE Legends of WrestleMania and check back for more wrestling content throughout the year.
With those immortal words, spoken by the legendary pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after winning the King of the Ring tournament on 23 June 1996, a momentous wrestling career was about to unfold before our eyes that would see everyone’s favourite beer-swigging, finger-gesturing anti-hero become not just an industry icon but a mainstream icon as well. Here’s to yah, Steve!
The Date: 29 March 1998 The Venue: FleetCenter; Boston, Massachusetts The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler The Referee: Mike Chioda, with “Iron” Mike Tyson as the special enforcer The Stakes: Main event singles match for the WWF Championship
The Build-Up: As any self-respecting wrestling fan will tell you, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was clawing back to prominence in 1999; after being beaten in the weekly ratings by World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro in the weekly television ratings for nearly two years, the WWF’s “Attitude Era” kept fans glued to the product, many of whom were deeply invested in the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. Another crucial factor in getting eyes back on McMahon’s product was the outrageous antics of D-Generation X, a group of wrestlers led by then-current champion, the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, who wielded incredible backstage influence and whose members were often involved in some of the WWF’s most controversial storylines.
After the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” saw Bret “The Hitman” Hart part ways with the WWF, McMahon appeared on television more frequently as the evil “Mr. McMahon” and frequently clashed with Austin’s rebellious ways. Hot off a feud with The Rock over the Intercontinental Championship, and despite McMahon’s efforts, Austin won a shot at the big belt, and a slot in the main event of WrestleMania XIV (also billed as WrestleMania X-raided) by winning the Royal Rumble event. He further raised the ire of the chairman when he publicly insulted legendary boxer Mike Tyson on an episode of Raw Is War, though the deck appeared to be stacked against Austin as Tyson revealed himself to be in league with D-Generation X. There was also a great deal of behind the scenes drama surrounding this match as, at the time, Shawn had a bit of a reputation for being unprofessional and, despite nursing a legitimate back injury that would scupper his career for some time, there was some doubt as to whether he would actually lay down for Austin as planned, to the point where the Undertakerwas prepared to take matters into his own hands if necessary.
The Match: Fans today would probably hate the promo package for this match as the majority of it was focused entirely on “The Baddest Man on the Planet” and his status as the special enforcer for the match. No doubt, Mike Tyson was a massive get back in the day and really helped to put more eyes on the product; for me, this is the kind of mainstream star you want involved in wrestling, not fly-by-night pop/rap stars, but then again what the hell for I know? Anyway, yeah, the package emphasises not only that Tyson is an absolute bad-ass but that he is D-X through-and-through and Austin barely features at all in it which, considering he was white-hot at this time, I can only assume is all part of the larger story of McMahon not wanting to put any spotlight on Austin and his rebellious ways.
Tyson, garbed in a D-X shirt, is the first to enter the ring and clearly seems to be enjoying his involvement with the product, which is always good to see. The crowd is, however, largely apathetic towards Tyson, especially once they catch a glimpse of Austin prowling around backstage, to say nothing of when his iconic glass shatters and he makes his way to the ring. After performing his signature rope taunt, Austin immediately gets all up in Tyson’s face, establishing right away that he isn’t afraid of or intimidated by Iron Mike. Shawn Michaels, “the greatest champion of all time” according to J.R., then makes a grandiose entrance; accompanied by some chump named Triple H (who was the WWF European Champion at the time) and Chyna and played to the ring by the Chris Warren D-X band, he expertly played the role of the cocky, arrogant heel by dancing about and wearing the smuggest grin on his face. And why not? Not only did he have the muscle in his corner, Tyson was also in his pocket so he had every advantage in the world except for the unanimous crowd support that Austin received. Tyson makes his presence known from the moment the bell rings by nonchalantly swiping at Austin’s ankles as he (as in Austin) is pacing the ring; when HBK hops about and taunts Austin, Austin gives him the traditional two-finger salute but HBK’s game plan, early on, is to wind Austin up into a frenzy by ducking and jiving away from him. Austin, however, puts a stop to that by throwing some punches in the corner, yanking down Shawn’s tights to expose his ass (much to the delight of the crowd), and finally tossing him out of the ring and into his D-X buddies.
When Austin follows to press his attack, he is assaulted by Triple H and tossed into the metal barricade. For his efforts, referee Mike Chioda has Shawn’s running buddies ejected from ringside. All of this was still enough for HBK to gain the advantage and a ringside brawl ensues that sees Shawn slam Austin with the band’s equipment and toss him into a dumpster but, the moment they get back into the ring, Austin regains control by countering HBK’s driving axe-handle and whipping the WWF Champion into a corner for Shawn’s signature flip spot. Austin starts to work on Shawn’s arm with a series of stomps; he shuts down Shawn’s speedy offense by dumping him into the ropes but, though he takes a dive to the outside and onto the table, HBK is still wily enough to avoid being hit with the Stone Cold Stunner. Austin presses his advantage, putting a beating on Shawn and going for a series of pins before wearing Shawn down with a headlock. Seems a bit early into the match for a rest hold but, considering Shawn’s injury and the bumps he’s already taken, it’s perhaps not surprising. HBK counters out of the hold and is finally able to gain some momentum by enduring a beating and walloping Austin in the face with the ring bell, which the referee conveniently misses.
Back in the ring, HBK starts working over Austin’s head despite clearing struggling with the pain of his back injury; more uninspired and slow-paced holds and moves follow before Austin springs back to life, tackles HBK, and tosses him outside again! HBK recovers and starts smacking Austin’s left leg and knee off the ring post and the steel steps, as though the match needs to slow down any more, and continues the assault when he gets back in the ring to put Austin’s leg through the wringer for a bit. Austin surprises HBK with a kick up the ass and a roll-up but this isn’t modern-day WWE so Shawn easily kicks out and continues to wear down Austin’s leg using stomps and the ring ropes. When Austin rolls to the outside for a reprieve, Shawn hits him with a baseball slide and Tyson hefts Austin back into the ring so that HBK can lock in the Figure Four Leglock. Despite HBK grabbing the ropes for additional leverage, Austin refuses to tap out and successfully reverses the hold and buy himself some breathing time. Austin almost catches HBK with a pin off a catapult into the corner and then Shawn transitions into a sleeper hold; in his desperation to get out of the hold, Mike Chioda gets squashed in the corner and taken out of the match.
The match’s pace finally picks up a bit as Austin hammers on HBK, does his Mudhole Stomp in the corner, and fires back with a flurry of offense. Shawn desperately knocks Austin down with his flying forearm/kip up spot and then clambers up to the top rope for his big elbow drop. After landing the move, Shawn begins tuning up the band for the knockout shot but, when he flies in with Sweet Chin Music, Austin ducks it, and goes for the Stunner! Shawn counters out of it, goes for the Superkick again but Austin catches his foot, spins him around, and hits the Stunner! Tyson then slides into the ring and counts a quick three count to give Austin the WWF Championship in a very sudden end to a fairly lacklustre match. Afterwards, Tyson reveals that he was an Austin 3:16 fan all along, a point he emphasises by laying HBK out with a big right hand and then leaving the ring with the new champion.
The Aftermath: WrestleMania XIV was a monumental night in WWF history; not only was this the first of six WWF Championship runs for Austin, it was also the night that the WWF “scratch logo” became the new logo of the company; the “winged eagle” world championship belt was also replaced with a new design the following night, and Shawn Michaels took a four-year hiatus to recover from his injuries and get his shit together (which, in turn, saw Triple H succeed him as the leader of D-Generation X and truly begin his own ascent to the main event scene).
Of course, the most prominent thing to come out of this event was Austin/McMahon feud; for the next five months or so, McMahon did everything he could to try and get the belt off Austin by either screwing him out of it or throwing challengers and obstacles his way. This led to the creation of the Corporation stable, Mankind’s transformation into Dude Love, the debut of Kane, and a series of successful title defences on Austin’s behalf before he was finally forced to vacate the belt when he was pinned by both the Undertaker and Kane. Austin and McMahon also got into a series of verbal and physical altercations, including a steel cage match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the war between the two helped the WWF to overtake the competition and establish themselves as the hottest game in town. Sadly, Austin’s white-hot run came to a premature end when he was written off television to get neck surgery and, while he did reappear in the company some time later, it was clear that his career was winding down thanks to fatigue and mounting injuries.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What did you think to the contest between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV? How would you rate it compared to their other bouts and which of their feuds, matches, and moments is your favourite? Were you a fan of HBK, D-X, and Tyson? How are you celebrating 3:16 Day this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from Austin’s illustrious career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and let me know what you think about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
The Date: 29 March 1998 The Venue: FleetCenter; Boston, Massachusetts The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler The Referee: Jack Doan The Stakes: Semi-main event, personal rivalry between siblings
The Build-Up: In the entire history of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and perhaps all of wrestling, there is, arguably, no greater and more tumultuous story than the history between Kane and the Undertaker. The Deadman had embarked on a reign of terror ever since his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series event, seemingly under the control or influence of a mysterious urn wielded by his revolting manager, Paul Bearer. However, the Undertaker’s relationship with Bearer soured after Bearer turned his back on the Deadman in favour of Mankind. In retribution, the Undertaker used his supernatural powers to blast Bearer in the face with a fireball at In Your House 14: Revenge of the ‘Taker but was tormented by Bearer’s subsequent claims that the Undertaker’s younger brother, Kane, had actually survived the fire that claimed the lives of their parents and was looking for revenge.
These claims turned out to be all-too-true when, right as the Undertaker was about to defeat his long-time rival in the first-ever Hell in a Cell match on October 5th, 1997 (the day after my twelfth birthday, which sadly clashes with Global James Bond Day) at Badd Blood: In Your House, the lights went out, ominous organ music played, and a gigantic man garbed in red and black stormed the ring, literally tearing the cell’s door off, ignited the ring posts, and planted the stunned Undertaker with his own finishing manoeuvre, the Tombstone Piledriver as Kane made his shocking debut. Mute, superhumanly strong, and seemingly impervious to pain, Kane immediately embarked on a path of destruction in a bid to goad his brother into a match; the Undertaker, however, constantly refused to fight his brother but was finally pushed too far after Kane and Bearer attacked him at the 1998 Royal Rumble event. The two placed him inside a casket and setting it ablaze, seemingly killing the Undertaker, but the Deadman made another of his trademark dramatic returns and, now, was begrudgingly ready to face his brother, one-on-one, at WrestleMania XIV.
The Match: As you might expect, given the dramatic and destructive conflict between the Undertaker and Kane and the convoluted backstory between the two, the match is preceded by another of the WWF’s fantastic video packages highlighting Bearer’s claims that “Kane is alive!” and Kane’s breathtaking debut at Badd Blood .The emphasis of the hype package is primarily on Bearer’s obsession with using Kane to extract revenge against the Undertaker and the Deadman’s refusal to fight his own flesh and blood; one thing that’s actually very interesting about this feud, even here in its early days, is that both men are kind of portrayed as tweeners. Neither man is really a face or a heel as ‘Taker is clearly being targeted, so the fans are reluctant to boo him even though he inadvertently killed his parents, and Kane was just too bad-ass, too alluring, and too impressive for people to truly boo him. Instead, it seems tensions were palpable for their inevitable conflict and everyone totally bought into the ridiculous story, suspending disbelief to simply enjoy the supernatural elements of their story and watch two massive guys go at each other after weeks and weeks of build-up.
Nowhere is this unusual face/dichotomy more evident than during Kane’s entrance, where he famously stalked to the ring surrounded by flames and red lighting and delivered a Tombstone to Pete Rose, who had spent a couple of minutes insulting the crowd, their city, state, and baseball team. This, seemingly, signalled that Kane was actually a babyface despite everything that he had done leading up to this match, but then he switches right back into being more of a heel in his assault of the Undertaker. Like I say, Kane and the Undertaker was basically beyond the usual clichés of “good” and “evil”; they simply were and did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to, to whomever they felt like and people cheered regardless because it was always entertaining to see what these two big, beefy, semi-supernatural men would get up to next.
Of course, the Undertaker made a suitable dramatic and ominous entrance; flanked by several torch-carrying druids, the Deadman slowly stalked to the ring following a bolt of lightning and garbed in a gothic, almost vampire-like caped outfit and sporting a temporary black teardrop tattoo on his face. Kane, however, showed no signs of intimidation (or any emotion at all, considering his face was entirely obscured by his iconic mask, but you can feel his boiling, brewing anger thanks to Jacobs’ fantastic body language and subtle gestures) leading to an iconic face-to-face stare down between the two before the Undertaker broke the tension with a big right hand and a furious assault in the ring corner. However, a common theme throughout the match, especially in the early going, is Kane’s indomitable power and ability to answer, and counter, the Undertaker’s offense at every turn; he manhandles the Undertaker on numerous occasions, overpowering him, reversing his attempts to whip Kane into the ropes and the corners, and quickly takes control of the early stages of the match by brutalising the Undertaker with his superior physical power. Kane even showed off his impressive agility by springboarding off the ring ropes to knock the Undertaker to the outside at one point, though the Undertaker was no slouch in this department either as he uncharacteristically hopped up onto Kane’s shoulders form an awkward-looking Facebuster-type move and, later, dove right over the top rope and crashing through the Spanish announce table in what looked like one hell of a crash landing!
All throughout the match, Paul Bearer is a constant presence; standing at ringside, he continuously shouts encouragement and directions to Kane and taunts to the Undertaker. As the fight inevitably tumbled to the ringside area, Bearer distracted the referee so that Kane could bring the steel steps crashing down across the Undertaker’s spine. This, and similar assaults, allowed the Undertaker to truly take control of the match as he slowly, methodically, beat the Undertaker into submission, with Bearer getting a few shots in on the Deadman at every opportunity. Kane, however, allowed hubris and his emotion and obsession with hurting the Undertaker potentially keep him from winning the match as he pulled the Undertaker up from a potential three count following a Chokeslam. Kane, however, presses his advantage after ‘Taker crashes through the announce table and was prepared to finish his brother off with his patented Diving Clothesline but was enraged when the Deadman kicked out of the pin and the two ended up trading punches before Kane overpowered the Undertaker and reversed his Tombstone attempt into a Tombstone of his own! ‘Taker, however, kicked out to a surprisingly mild reaction from the crowd (the silence that followed suggests a degree of shock at this event since Tombstone kickouts weren’t as overplayed and highly anticipated as they would become in later years). Undertaker got his second wind following this and, with Kane finally showing signs of fatigue, was able to plant his brother with a Chokeslam and then returned the favour with a Tombstone…only for Kane to kick out!
Despite being on the defensive for the majority of the match, J.R. constantly points out that the Deadman is making every effort to cover up from Kane’s punches and suggests that he may be playing a long game and banking on Kane tiring himself out with his furious and relentless assault. While this means that he has to endure what J.R. claims is the most brutal and physically dominating attack than he has ever experienced, this turns out to be the case and the result is a fantastic showcase for Glenn Jacobs’ popular masked character as Kane looks like an instant superstar thanks to all of the offense he gets in and the dominating position he is in throughout the entirety of the match. Nowhere is Kane’s tenacity emphasised more than in the closing minutes of the match; having kicked out of the first Tombstone, Kane continued to sit up, to get to his feet, and to stalk his brother and, despite eating another Tombstone, simply would not stay down until ‘Taker hit a third and final Tombstone to finally put his brother away. However, Kane and Paul Bearer ended up standing tall as Bearer put the boots to ‘Taker after the bell rang and Kane delivered a massive Tombstone Piledriver to his brother onto a steel chair to emphatically send the message that the Undertaker may have won the battle…but the war was far from over!
The Aftermath: The feud between the Undertaker and Kane was far from over following this match; the two would clash again the very next month at Unforgiven: In Your House in the first-ever Inferno Match, which Kane, again, would lose. The two would eventually go their separate ways and even formed a tentative alliance that saw the Undertaker help Kane to defeat Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF Championship at the 1998 King of the Ring event and become embroiled in Vince McMahon’s ongoing feud with Austin over the championship throughout the summer.
The two continually crossed paths as both reluctant allies and bitter rivals throughout 1998, with Kane slowly turning babyface and Undertaker turning heel in the process thanks to numerous twists and turns in their storied relationship. Such drama would follow both men throughout their subsequent careers as they continually switched allegiances and alternated between being one of the most dominant duos in the entire industry and being two of the bitterest rivals but, no matter what form their appearance or relationship took, you could always be assured of an absolute spectacle whenever Kane and the Undertaker share the ring together.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
What did you think to the contest between Kane and the Undertaker at WrestleMania XIV? How would you rate it compared to their other bouts and which of their feuds, matches, and moments is your favourite? Were you a fan of Kane’s when he debuted and were you hyped for his first match against his brother? Which of the two were you rooting for, given the tumultuous nature of the storyline? How are you celebrating Kane’s debut this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from Kane’s long and complex career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and let me know what you think about Kane.
With those immortal words, spoken by the legendary pro wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after winning the King of the Ring tournament on 23 June 1996, a momentous wrestling career was about to unfold before our eyes that would see everyone’s favourite beer-swigging, finger-gesturing anti-hero become not just an industry icon but a mainstream icon as well. Here’s to yah, Steve!
The Date: 1 April 2001 The Venue: Reliant Astrodome; Houston, Texas The Commentary: Jim “J.R.” Ross and Paul Heyman The Referee: Earl Hebner The Stakes: Main event, no disqualification match for the WWF Championship
The Build-Up: Man, I tell you what, if you were a wrestling fan between 1998 and 2001 you were living the high life! After losing to World Championship Wrestling’s (WCW) Monday Nitro in the weekly television ratings for nearly two years, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) finally began to turn a corner by ushering their “Attitude Era”, a central focus of which was the rivalry between the loud-mouthed, anti-authority “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and WWF Chairman Vince McMahon. One key aspect of this feud also involved Austin’s various run-ins with the Rock; the two had previously clashed over the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XV: The Ragin’ Climax, where the Rock (then endorsed as McMahon’s “Corporate Champion”) dropped the belt to Austin but the two had plenty of history prior to that as they had feuded over the Intercontinental Championship some years prior. After Austin won the Royal Rumble and the Rock recaptured the belt from Kurt Angle at No Way Out just a few months prior, tensions began to boil between the two now-friendly rivals; Austin’s wife Debra was forced to be Rock’s manager for a while, the two frequently brawled or left each other at the mercy of other wrestlers, and Austin, still on his big comeback from a career-threatening neck injury, famously warned the Rock: “I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything you could ever imagine”.
The Match: Of course, it’s hard to talk about this match without mentioning the excellent video package that told the story of the tumultuous build-up towards it by charting Austin’s big comeback, Rock’s WWF Championship win, and the rising tensions between the two following Austin’s Royal Rumble win. Originally set to Limp Bizkit’s “My Way”, even without this music this is one of the best hype packages the WWE has ever put together and really sold the intensity of this confrontation. Emotions were high going into this match thanks not just to the clearly partisan crowd but also J.R.’s rousing commentary and personal investment in the match; J.R. was widely recognised as Austin’s best friend and, as such, he spends the majority of the match selling the story of Austin’s big comeback and that this match is this the culmination of Austin’s journey through spinal surgeries, injuries, and adversity. Accordingly, he was outraged by the unexplained, last-second announcement that the match had been made a no disqualification contest, believing that there is some kind of conspiracy behind that decision despite the fact that both he and Heyman mention more than once that a no disqualification stipulation actually gives Austin, known for his wild brawling, the advantage.
Austin came to the ring first to a raucous reception; this was during the time when Austin was coming out to Disturbed’s “Glass Shatters”, a rockin’ version of his iconic theme, though the massive ovation he received largely crowned out any music and even the commentary at times. Given that Austin was the home state hero, and that audiences were still high on rediscovering their love for him after all of his time out with injuries, this isn’t all that surprising and meant that the Rock, arguably the most popular wrestler in the WWF at that time, received a showering of boos not only during his entrance but also throughout the match. Honestly, this match was loud and boisterous right from the word “Go!” thanks to the crowd, who are a sea of cheers, reluctant boos towards the Rock, and a cacophony of emotion all throughout. You could feel the tension and anticipation in the air from the moment the match begins and it stayed at a constant level throughout, rising to a crescendo whenever Austin is on the attack. Accordingly, there was no standing on ceremony here and the match began with a full-on slugfest between the two. Austin even went for a belt shot in the early going, which might seem surprising but, watching the match in hindsight, you can see how Austin is pulling out all kinds of heel tactics throughout (shots with the ring bell, using his knee braces to attack the Rock’s forehead, undoing the corner turnbuckle pad, choking Rock with the ropes, among other notable moments). Though J.R. largely glossed over a lot of these elements, Heyman sold it well to remind audiences that Austin is driven, obsessed, with becoming the WWF Champion and willing to do anything and everything to emerge the victor.
Austin dominated the match in the early going thanks to hitting a Lou Thesz Press, escaping the Rock Bottom, and taking the fight to the outside after Rock avoided being hit with a Stone Cold Stunner. The two brawled by the announce table for a bit before heading over the barricade and into the crowd; this wouldn’t be the first time the action spilled to the outside and, if anything, that tactic is a little over-used in this match but it plays to Austin’s strengths since he was largely a brawler by this point and his matches were more about high intensity, a series of punches, stomps, and recognisable spots, and, of course, the Stunner. The emotion of the contest wasn’t lost on the Rock, either, though, and this cost him during their ringside scrap as he allowed himself to get distracted by Hebner, giving Austin the chance to bash him in the head with the ring bell and bust him open. Hebner, easily my favourite referee and, arguably, the WWF’s most recognisable official, could always be counted on to be a big part of every match he was in but in a way that remained professional and subtle. Here, he spends the majority of the match appealing to each man’s reason; it was no disqualification but he still admonished the two for fighting at ringside, using weapons, and forced them to break submission holds when their opponent was in the ropes. However, because of how high the stakes and the personal animosity between the two rivals were, he often found himself being accosted or threatened by both men.
As Heyman was fond of saying during this time, Austin was “like a shark that smells blood” the moment the blood began flowing and began to relentlessly target the Rock’s lacerated forehead with a barrage of fists, shutting down a potential comeback with a Neckbreaker, and stomping away on the Rock in the corner of the ring. It was only when Austin found himself distracted by Hebner’s interference that the Rock was able to finally make a proper comeback by launching Austin into the exposed turnbuckle and gaining a little retribution by bashing Austin in the head with the ring bell, busting him open before Austin was able to regain control of the match with a wicked catapult into the ring post. Rock sold the hell out of that move, snapping his head back at the very last second to really sell the idea that he had collided with the post in a sickening way, which more than made up for the announce table simply collapsing under his weight and, potentially, ruining a planned table spot. Austin continued his assault by bashing Rock in the head with a monitor but Rock managed to finally turn the tide by locking Austin into the Sharpshooter; the crowd was thrust into a tumultuous sea of conflict as Austin screamed in agony, refused to quit, and desperately reached for the ropes but Rock shifted him back to the middle of the ring! Austin, though, was able to reach the ropes and then put the Rock into a Sharpshooter, with the crowd being far less divided about this and even less impressed when the Rock powered out of the move. Annoyed, and growing increasingly frustrated, Austin followed up with the Million Dollar Dream!
J.R. was as surprised as anyone else about Austin dusting off this long-forgotten piece of his arsenal but it was enough to drive the Rock to his knees and set up for the old “three arm” spot. The Rock, of course, kept his arm up at the last second (has this spot ever gone any other way?) and uniquely kicked himself off the corner of the ring to first counter into close two count and then hit a Stunner out of nowhere! Unfortunately, the Rock was too fatigued and hurt to cover quickly enough so Austin kicked out at two and it was at this point that Vince McMahon wandered down to ringside, much to the anger of both J.R. and the crowd. In the ring, Rock and Austin went back to exchanging blows and trading their signature Spinebusters; Rock, of course, followed his Spinebuster up with the People’s Elbow but McMahon broke up the pin. Incensed, the Rock chased McMahon around the ring and ran right into a Rock Bottom from Austin, though he managed to kick out at two for a dramatic near fall.
After the Rock countered out of a Stunner attempt, Hebner got knocked out of the ring and, in the carnage, Austin ordered McMahon to bring a steel chair into the ring. In a sickening moment, Austin held the Rock in place so that McMahon could deliver a vicious chair shot right to his head. It still wasn’t enough to keep the Rock down, though, and Austin was so infuriated that he got caught with a Rock Bottom. Luckily for Austin, though, McMahon distracted Hebner, and the Rock, long enough for Austin to recover and hit the Rock with a massive Stunner (which, of course, the Rock sold with a theatrical panache). Driven to the limit by the Rock’s tenacity, Austin began assaulting him with McMahon’s steel chair; he then delivered another sick shot to the head before driving it into the Rock’s chest and bashing him over the spine with it over and over and over, beating him to a pulp, and finally scoring the three count! The crowd erupted into thunderous applause but they, and J.R,, soon reacted in shock and anger as Austin and McMahon shook hands and shared a beer over the Rock’s bloodied and prone body. When the Rock stumbled to his feet, Austin put him down with one last belt shot to emphasise his sudden and unexpected change of character. J.R. was disgusted, appalled, and betrayed by the alliance between Austin and McMahon but Heyman, though shocked, believed that this was totally in character since Austin had promised to do anything to win and was always fond of the mantra: “DTA – Don’t Trust Anybody!”
The Aftermath: The very next night on Raw is War, Austin and the Rock faced off in a rematch inside of a steel cage. It was during this match that Triple H forged an alliance with his much-hated rival and he and Austin came to be known as the “Two-Man Power Trip”. The Rock was subsequently assaulted by the two and suspended by McMahon to allow him the time off required to film The Scorpion King (Russell, 2002). After Triple H won the Intercontinental Championship, the Two-Man Power Trip went on a…well, a power trip, dominating the WWF and coming into contact with the only team big, mean, and powerful enough to oppose them: the WWF Tag Team Champions, Kane and the Undertaker, the Brothers of Destruction. Austin and Triple H were able to best the Brothers, though, but their reign of terror was cut short when Triple H suffered a horrific quadriceps tear. Austin continued on as a heel regardless, however, changing his music and becoming a more paranoid, unpredictable, and cowardly bad guy who turned his back on both the fans and his friends (resulting in a vicious beat down of J.R.). Although he briefly seemed to be returning back to the “old Stone Cold” in the face of the invasion from WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), Austin ultimately joined forces with the WCW/ECW alliance and became this erratic, overbearing, narcissistic heel obsessed with the belt and being treated like the star of the show. Eventually, after the collapse of the WCW/ECW alliance, Austin would return to his roots as a babyface and begin the final stage of his career. Mounting injuries began to take their toll and Austin began to lose his passion for the sport, culminating in one last match against the Rock at WrestleMania XIX but that is a story for another day.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
What did you think to the contest between the Rock and Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven? How would you rate it compared to their other bouts and which of their feuds, matches, and moments is your favourite? Were you a fan of Austin’s unexpected heel turn or do you think he should have called an audible and remained as a tweener? How are you celebrating 3:16 Day this year, what are some of your favourite matches and moments from Austin’s illustrious career, and what dream match would you have liked to see him involved in? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and let me know what you think about “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
As may already be evident, I have a long-standing preference for the WCW and WWF videogames released by AKI/THQ back in my youth; however, another WWF videogame series I have been particularly fond of and spent many hours and days of my childhood playing has been the WWF SmackDown! series released by THQ and Yuke’s on Sony’s PlayStation in 2000. Eventually, this series evolved into the WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw franchise, which was released on multiple consoles between 2004 and 2010. I believe I came into this series with WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 Featuring ECW (Yuke’s/Amaze Entertainment/THQ, 2007) and bowed out with WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2011 (Yuke’s/THQ, 2010) as, by this point, it was pretty clear to me that I was simply purchasing the same videogame every year with additional wrestlers, some new match types, and minor improvements to the graphics and gameplay. As a result, I decided to buy a new title every two years or so and, after enjoying WWE ’13 (ibid, 2012) and deciding that WWE 2K15 (Yuke’s/Visual Concepts/2K Sports, 2014) was far too stripped back on features to justify the price tag, I settled on getting WWE 2K14 (ibid, 2013) and biding my time.
As a result, I have not bought or played a new videogame in 2K Sports’ WWE 2K series for about four years now, and with good reason; as the series made the jump to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, reviews and feedback ranged from resoundingly negative to mediocre displeasure as 2K Sports apparently removed many expected gameplay mechanics and features in what was nothing less than a blatant attempt to sell features seen in previous PlayStation 3-era titles as being “new”. Despite the additions of never-before-seen superstars such as Sting, AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe, I decided to wait it out until the release of WWE 2K18 (ibid, 2017) to give the series a chance to iron out these kinks and to create an ironic sense of symmetry given that the last title I played was WWE 2K14. As such, it took me a little while to become accustomed to WWE 2K18’s control scheme; previously, these titles allowed you the option of controlling your wrestler with the directional-pad (or “D-pad”) and taunting with the analogue stick, which is my preferred control scheme given how it mirrors that of the AKI/THQ titles.
However, WWE 2K18 does not allow you to change the control scheme, meaning that I was forced to control my wrestler with the left analogue stick and taunt using the D-pad which, for an old school player like myself who dislikes change, took some getting used to. One of the other main reasons I prefer D-pad control is that I find it easier to direct and aim my opponent during running attacks or Irish whips; I find the analogue stick makes such aiming harder as the stick is more sensitive. WWE 2K18 also features some new mini games which replace the ones I had grown accustomed to in WWE 2K14; when being pinned, for example, you now have to press X on a little wheel rather than stopping a little bar that bounces back and forth. This is actually a lot trickier than it sounds as it seems the videogame is set up to make kicking out of pins harder than before to, I guess, allow for more “realistic” matches. Additionally, there is no longer the “Breaking Point” submission system; instead, there’s either a tricky mini game involving the analogue stick or you must mash one of the four action buttons when they appear onscreen. I went with the button mashing option but have found that winning a match by submission is not as easy as it used to be, potentially because you can no longer select a match to be either quicker, normal, or epic; this, and the improved attribute system, means that you are forced to work for your submission victory.
Other gameplay changes can be seen in multi-man match; now, when you or another player receives enough damage, they automatically roll out of the ring and you must mash buttons to fill up a bar and re-enter the match. It sounds good on paper and, again, appears to be tooled towards making matches more “realistic” but I found it more annoying than anything else as you could end up stuck on the outside and lose the match. This mechanic carries over into ladder/TLC matches as well, making them considerably more frustrating than usual as you incur far more damage much faster in these matches so you’ll spend a lot of time mashing buttons to get back into the matches. Also, in ladder/TLC matches, you no longer pull down the belt of briefcase using the right analogue stick; instead, you have to play a little mini game where you must fill up segments of a circle by rotating a ball into a small hole using the right analogue stick. It’s fun but quite distracting; I found myself concentrating more on the mini game than the match and, if you get interrupted with only a couple (or, even worse, one) segments left to fill, you are almost guaranteed to lose the match as the next wrestler to play the mini game will probably complete the circle while you’re busy mashing buttons to get back into the match.
The Royal Rumble match is also noticeably different and, technically, more difficult; rather than hitting buttons in a quick-time event as in WWE 2K14, you now have to mash a button when trying to eliminate an opponent. Honestly, I’ve played a couple of these matches and never once eliminated anyone using the button-mashing mini game no matter what their health and stamina. I found the best way to eliminate wrestlers was the tried-and-true Royal Rumble finisher, clotheslining them out of the ring or countering a run attack, or by exploiting a glitch where, if you whip the opponent onto the apron and quickly punch them repeatedly, they simply fall from the ring.
As I always found ladder, TLC, and Royal Rumble matches tedious any way, these gameplay changes don’t bother me that much; you are not forced to play these matches and, on the whole, I would just avoid them. Some good changes have been made to tables matches, though; every time you hit your opponent with or into a table, it fills up a break meter and, once it’s full, you can smash the opponent through it using some new and expanded options. 2K Sports have also introduced a carry system, similar to the one from WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007 (Yuke’s/THQ, 2006), which allows you to smash your opponent off the ropes, turnbuckles, apron, and other objects. They’ve also brought back in-crowd fighting, to a degree, allowing you to smash your opponent through (or hit them over) the barricade at ringside or toss them from the stage area to fight in little areas near the crowd.
Although create-a-story and create-a-finisher are no longer options, WWE 2K18 is still full to the brim with creation options. I honestly spent maybe five days or so setting everything up the way I wanted it and creating wrestlers, entrances, victories, shows, and teams in the expanded Universe mode. As before, Universe mode allows you to create a show, place wrestlers and championships on the show, and then create monthly pay-per-view events for that show. I like to recreate the product as closely as possible so I created a Raw, SmackDown! Live, and NXT brand (with 205 Live and Main Event as minor shows) and, for all the Legends and duplicate wrestlers, a WCW Monday Nitro brand (with some crossover between them all). You can create more than one Universe at a time but I prefer to have it all in one place rather than jumping backwards and forwards all the time; I then moved every pay-per-view event to their correct calendar month and also created some additional pay-per-vews for my NXT and Nitro brands; this is extremely in-depth, allowing you to choose from a whole bunch of preset or created arenas (with scene transitions, an array of screen filters, a bunch of different referees, and more).
You can still create your own championship belts as well, if that’s your thing; given how many old school belts are in the videogame, I don’t tend to do much with this, though. Instead, my focus was on the massively deep create-a-wrestler mode; created wrestlers look more realistic than ever before and you can choose from a whole bunch of options, from wrinkles to scars, facial and body hair, eye colour, veins, muscle definition, and even how much body oil your created wrestler has! There are also a whole load of attire options, including blank attires that you can customise as you desire and also pre-set attires worn by the featured roster; you can change not only the colour of these attires but also the material type, which allows shirts and jeans and the like to be leather, take on a metallic hue, or even glow in the dark! Finally, there are far more options for names for your created wrestler this year and the in-game commentary team will refer to your created wrestler by these throughout their matches.
Although there are many WWE and superstar-related images available to you in this mode, there are noticeably less options for body tattoos this years, unfortunately. This is where the Community Creations option will come into play; you are able to upload images to the 2K Sports website and transfer them into the videogame, meaning you can search in the WWE 2K18 for a whole bunch of professionally-designed images, logos, and tattoos to apply to your created wrestler. You can also download created wrestlers created by others to account for those wrestlers omitted from this years roster, though you are limited to twenty downloads a day and cannot download created wrestlers that feature aspects from wrestlers you’ve yet to unlock or purchase. Speaking of which, WWE 2K18 features an in-ring store mode, as is the norm for this series now. As you play matches, you are awarded virtual currency based on how many stars your match scored; the more stars you get through move variety, countering, and such, the more currency you earn. You can then spend this in the store to unlock Legends, and additional arenas and championships and, make no mistake, this is the only way to unlock this extra content. Previously, in WWE 2K14 at least, you could unlock new wrestlers by playing the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode but, here, you can only do this by purchasing them.
You can do this by playing any match in any mode and, also, through the MyPlayer mode, which is the career mode of the videogame. You have to create a wrestler, using far more limited tools and options, and work your way through training and wrestling on NXT before being called up to the main roster. You can make some limited decisions to decide whether you are a Company Man (a heel) or a Fan Favourite (a face). In my playthrough, I was initially called up to Raw and forced to lose a bunch of matches, so I jumped to SmackDown! Live, where I won the United States Championship, Money in the Bank ladder match, and Royal Rumble match and am currently feuding with Triple H and the Authority on the path towards the WWE Championship. Along the way, you can partake in side quests to earn rewards (new moves, attire, and currency), make a signature t-shirt to earn some extra cash, and perform in-ring promos and run-ins.
Overall, this mode is quite enjoyable but, honestly, it’s a poor substitute for a Road to WrestleMania-type of mode. There are a lot of load times and some noticeable frame drops; you are also forced to walk/run from the garage to the producer and back every single week, which begs the question why they bothered putting in the free-roaming backstage area at all rather than just have a set-up similar to the PlayStation 3-era titles where you had a locker room with a phone and just did everything through text. There are some inconsistencies; I was regularly teaming with Sami Zayn then, randomly and with no explanation, my partner suddenly became Fandango. I was also once asked by Tius O’Neil to attack Primo Colón one week but, when I couldn’t find him, ended up attacking Kassius Ohno. There are also a lot of times when you do more promos than matches, when the match objectives aren’t completely clear (the Money in the Bank match springs to mind), and when your matches end due to interference more often than not but, these issues aside, it’s a pretty decent mode, though I found it more enjoyable and profitable to play Universe mode more than anything.
It’s interesting that the load times for the MyPlayer mode are so atrocious as, normally, they’re not that bad; matches in Universe mode load much faster than in WWE 2K14. I learned from some of my mistakes in WWE 2K14 and don’t have nearly as many custom arenas or created wrestlers, which may help with this, and also towards limiting crashes. WWE 2K14 would crash all the time, usually after a match but sometimes before one, and it was very frustrating. I have had a few crashes in WWE 2K18 but, as the matches and the videogame loads up a lot faster, it’s not as annoying. One bug that is annoying is, when downloading a created wrestler, attached logos and images will sometimes not download, meaning you’re left having to either find them separately or with an incomplete created wrestler/attire.
I haven’t played WWE 2K18 online yet, mainly because I don’t have Xbox Gold or whatever you need to do that but also because online players are trolling, move-spamming sons of bitches; also, the learning curve for timing reversals and having competitive but enjoyable matches that I actually won was quite steep. Sometimes, you’ll have a match and be in complete control and all the opponent has to do is a couple of moves and you can’t recover, then you get hit with one finisher and its over. A good feature, though, is that miss-matched opponents (like Braun Strowman against Kalisto) often trigger a squash match, where you gain full momentum and a finisher after your first hit and win the match in seconds for a decent payday.
The roster in WWE 2K18 is as deep as you could want; there are some noticeable omissions from NXT but, otherwise, everyone you could want and more is in the videogame alongside some decent and surprising Legends. Hulk Hogan and Yokozuna are gone but Vader and the Big Boss Man are back; there are some crazy instances of numerous duplicates, such as five (five!) versions of Sting and separating Finn Balor and his Demon King attire (though the Demon King does still act as an alternative attire to regular Balor) but, mostly, there’s some good inclusions this year. The soundtrack, apparently “curated” by the Rock, is mostly miss rather than hit, with the only decent track being a radio edit version of Disturbed’s Down With the Sickness, though a similarly-edited version of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ is used as the entrance theme for Undertaker ’00 despite this particular version of Undertaker’s biker gimmick actually being more associated with You’re Gonna Pay. The in-game commentary is all-new, at least for me anyway, including the three-man team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton; mostly, it is far better than what I experienced in WWE 2K14 but there still times when they refer to women as “guys”, talk inanely about things not even relevant to the match in progress, or ask each other questions that are never answered.
Overall, WWE 2K18 is a challenging and enjoyable affair; Universe mode is bigger and more expansive than ever, with shorter load times and significantly less crashes and glitches (so far), and the star rating system does make it feel as though each match is important and worth something. MyPlayer suffers a bit (though admittedly this may also be because I don’t want to waste my virtual currency upgrading the MyPlayer character unless I absolutely have to as I want to unlock the Legends) but is, otherwise, fun enough for what it is. I would have also liked to have seen, at least, Showcase matches similar to previous titles or themed around a wrestler (this year’s pre-order bonus, Kurt Angle, for example, or Shawn Michaels, or even the cover star, Seth Rollins) to assist with the unlocking of extra content. Creation options are deep and versatile; you can waste hours and even days crafting the perfect created wrestler (I know I did!) or downloading extra attires and wrestlers to fill out the already impressive roster. I am glad that I waited for 2K Sports to add in many of the features they previously omitted and refine their current-generation gameplay engine as it seems to have paid off; matches are far more realistic and challenging than in WWE 2K14, where I could win with a minimum of effort, which is good once you’re used to the control scheme and what is expected of you, if admittedly somewhat detrimental to those who just want to pick it up and play a quick match without any obligation to simulating a real-life WWE match. Based on my experience with this title, I will probably wait until WWE 2K20 for my next entry into the series as I would never recommend anyone buys these titles on a yearly basis but, if like me, you’ve been away from the series for a while, I would definitely recommend picking this one up.
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