Guess who finally has more free time to return to the Wrestling Game Rundown? … Well, me, obviously, and while I wish the “more time” aspect would’ve come for a happier reason than the whole world shutting down, I shall take this opportunity regardless! So War Zone is the start of a four-game series using the same engine, one that I have sort-of fond memories of, but they always fell to the AKI engine N64 games in the long run each year. Still, this game was the first to have a proper Create-a-Wrestler, so there’s that! Let’s take a look then…
The first in-game Stone Cold Stunner! Hooray!
WWF War Zone was released in July 1998 for the PS1 in America, and August that year in Europe for the PS1 version, with the N64 version releasing August in both countries. As typical for games of this era, a Game Boy version that holds no resemblance to the console versions was released that year as well, but I won’t be covering that…
Even though the game was released in mid-98, the roster and arena couldn’t scream “Late 97” any more if it tried. It features the game debuts of Ken Shamrock, The Headbangers Mosh and Thrasher, and most significantly, Kane, Mick Foley (as Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack) and The Rock! It also features Stone Cold Steve Austin (who had appeared as Stunning Steve Austin in a earlier WCW game, but this is his classic WWF/E character debut!), Bret Hart, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, The British Bulldog, Ahmed Johnson, Goldust, and Faarooq (his debut as Faarooq, but like Austin had appeared in earlier WCW games…)
Alongside Dude Love and Cactus Jack, there are some unlockable made up characters, specifically The Trainer from Training Mode, the ring girl and a version of Steve Austin wearing jeans with max stats called “Rattlesnake”. So ignoring older gimmicks, this is the game debut of Austin, Rock, Mankind and Kane, a quartet who will now go on to appear in probably literally 100s of games…
A Royal Rumble from the N64 version. The Rock is on his way “to the ring” if you’re wondering (I put it in quote marks because I mean he’ll teleport to the ringside area in a second…)
This Acclaim engine is, much like the WCW Nitro / Thunder games, based on Mortal Kombat-style direction and button inputs to do moves. So no quarter circle spin like traditional 2D fighters, but the MK style “Press Left, Up and then Triangle to hit a piledriver”. It still feels odd in amongst so many games either side of it (or alongside it!) that use grapples and directions, but it does work… sort of. You also have strikes, running strikes, top rope moves, a block button to stop move and strike attempts, and a grapple (that you can then do different button-input-based moves than when you’re just standing). So there are some variety, and everyone has a different moveset, though obviously they share a fair few moves between them (apart from finishers!).
The health system is at least a bit different. You and your opponent start with a green bar, and every time the bar is drained that person goes into “Stun”, where they’re free to be attacked. Your bar then changes colour, and with each change in colour your stunned for longer, then eventually when your health is in the red your susceptible to being hit by a finisher. If you do several different moves in a row you may get the crowd cheering for you, in which case you do x2 damage, likewise do the same exact move several times in a row and the crowd will boo you, making you take x2 damage, forcing you to stop spamming the same move to win. Breaking out of a submission or kicking out of a pin is your basic button mashing.
Throw in some pick-upable weapons (during hardcore matches only) and that’s your lot, control-wise. It’s different, but I didn’t mind it then, and I don’t mind it now (apart from the animations are stiff and mechanical as hell, and the collision detection is far poorer than I remembered…), but I much prefer a grapple-based system like the AKI games or Fire Pro… hell, even the Smackdown! series has had its moments away from fighting game inputs.
Wooo! Look at those… blurry pixels. Cor blimey?
As for modes on offer, you have WWF Challenge Mode, where you climb a metaphorical ladder to the WWF Title, set up like a stack of TVs on top of each other. You either beat people to progress, move down a slot if you lose, and you often get challenged by people you beat previously, resulting in “Grudge Matches”, which are normally Hardcore matches, but sometimes Cage Matches. In the PS1 version you get an often poorly read-off-a-teleprompter promo from the person challenging you, which is funny. You also get bad CGI scenes of a generic sexy woman teasing you about letting you come into her limo if you win the title. Now that’s attitude era, right there!
Matches on offer are Singles, Tag, Tornado Tag, Hardcore, Cage (which oddly has the ropes removed completely…) and Battle Royal (which really is just a three or four way match), with a Gauntlet match and Royal Rumble mode added for the N64 version only, oddly enough, which is why I ended up rebuying the game for the N64 back in the day… which was stupid because I barely played it as I’d already gotten tired of the PS1 version, but hey-ho. The Rumble match will always be my weakness…
There is also a training mode where you can just practice moves on a generic trainer, some stats and bios, and of course the Create-a-Wrestler, which for the time was pretty great. Size, sex, skin colour, lots of clothes that you can even write letters on, choice of name, nickname, voice, stats and moveset (but not individual moves, one of four preset movesets, or copy one of the existing wrestlers are your only choices). It was great, and I believe set the train rolling so that damn-near every wrestling game released after this had a CAW mode in it.
Graphics and Sound:
Kane picks up a large tube TV a member of the audience has just somehow tossed into the ring…
Being a Gen 5 game and therefore part of the early 3D gaming era, War Zone looks blocky as hell, and the weird robotic and stiff animations don’t help it any. Still, I’ve seen far worse PS1 and far, far worse N64 games in the graphics department.
Sound is actually impressive. Commentary by Vince McMahon and J.R. is a little repetitive, but not as badly written and joined together like a few early Smackdown! games that come after it. Each wrestler has verbal taunts and actually recorded their own grunts and “oofs” and “Argh!s”, which… well, I never liked it really. I was always a bit of a purist, and you can’t normally hear that stuff in the ring, especially not as clearly. The crowd is mostly silent, only erupting with a big move or when they need to chant for someone whose built up a lot of momentum, except sometimes you’ll hear one person shout “Austin 3:16!” really clearly, or “Come on Undertaker!”, or my favourite “Player One Ru-ells!” It makes the silence stick out more, like the crowd is dead and one person is trying to get them going. Very odd.
The entrance music is all here and clear (even on the N64) even though the entrance consist of the same really bad pyro on the stage, the wrestler coming out on the stage and doing a taunt, and then walking down the aisle, vanishing and appearing in the ring off-camera. So overall there is a lot to praise about War Zone in the sound department!
…. Yeah, sorry.
Me and my friends played War Zone to death over the Summer Holidays of 98, creating weird wrestler versions of ourselves and fighting each other. It only stopped, and stopped permanently, when I got WCW/n.W.o Revenge for Christmas that year. Still, got a good few months out of it (plus another week or so out of the N64 version’s Royal Rumble mode…)
The Rock and Austin clash in a no-ropes Cage Match, a match type that even their classic rivalry never reached! (… because it doesn’t exist)
Now? Well, it was more nostalgic than I imagined, to be fair. The controls held up better than I thought as well, and the sound-side of things was worthy of praise. Obviously once you’ve had a bit of a play around and maybe did a run of Challenge Mode, you’re not going to go back to it. Still, more playable than I thought, that gives me hope for WWF Attitude in a few games’ time…