marino's WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (GameCube) review

Excellence in Execution by Yuke's

Last year the GameCube finally got a truly great wrestling title in Day of Reckoning.  WrestleMania XIX laid the ground work, but it took Yuke's a third try to get it right with DoR.  The sequel takes everything that made DoR great, and fine tunes it into what is the best wrestling game since No Mercy on the N64.  Sure, the SmackDown games have been good, but last year's title took a nose-dive and Day of Reckoning has stepped it up a few notches.  Day of Reckoning 2 doesn't really do anything revolutionary.  It just gets everything right.  With an excellent grappling engine, the best character models ever, and the most up-to-date roster in recent memory, WWE Day of Reckoning 2 is must-have for any wrestling fan and/or GameCube owner. 
This game has the best faces and models in any wrestling game ever.  It's almost creepy.  Not only are the faces so realistic, but the animated expressions are good too.  The animations are better than last year as well, which is saying alot.  The collision detection is almost too good as you will sometimes knock down or get knocked down by silly moves that shouldn't have.  You won't see much clipping in this title.  The lighting should also be noted as being excellent.  The entrances are spot on with not only the lighting but the particle effects in the pyro as well.  Even the crowd is better, and appears to be completely 3D (rather than paper cut outs), even if the polygon count is low.  You can clearly see the entire stadium mimicing people like RVD when they taunt.  Quite simply this is the best looking wrestling game to date. 
The game plays almost identical to last year's title with a few exceptions.  It's the closest thing you're going to get to the AKI-developed N64 titles in the grappling engine.  Light grapples, heavy grapples, direction-based moves, etc.  The two major differences in the new game are the submission system and stamina.  Stamina works similarly to FirePro as anything you do, whether it's a powerbomb or just running the ropes, uses stamina.  So you must pace yourself like a real match.  Tire out too quick and you'll be doubled over in exhaustion allowing your opponent to mount a comeback.  The submission system is not too complicated.  Once you apply a hold, a menu pops up with four options (Submit, Rest Hold, Drain, Taunt).  Tilting the C-stick decides which one you choose.  The effect of each choice is fairly obvious, but the catch is the victim gets the same menu.  If the victim guesses what you pick, they will reverse or counter the hold.  It's a simple idea that really affects the outcome of the match.  The game still features alot of A-button mashing (for climbing, getting out of holds, getting up, etc), which I hope they find some other way around.  
This is where the game falters.  The soundtrack is chock full of generic butt rock which plays throughout the game's menus and gameplay.  No wrestling game has ever gotten the commentary right, but DoR doesn't even try.  In fact, there are no voice-overs whatsoever in this title, unlike last year's SmackDown.  That doesn't hurt the title too much though, but once one title introduces something like voice overs, you expect the rest to build upon that idea. 
Replay Value 
The story in the career mode is actually pretty good, although the way it plays out would never happen on TV, which makes it better in a way.  The game assumes you played the original title and on the RAW side of the game.  It picks up almost one year after you defeated Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.  Over the course of the year, he took it back from you at some point.  Now, a few weeks before this year's Mania, Chris Jericho appears to have defeated HHH for the title, but as HHH tapped out, the ref counted Jericho's shoulders on the mat.  So Bischoff holds an 8-man tournament to crown a new champ at WrestleMania.  The finals conveniently end up being a rematch between you and The H.  There's only one problem.  The belt gets stolen from Bischoff's office an hour before the main event, ruining WrestleMania.  Of course, as things progress, all the fingers are pointed at you.  Your best friends and even your girlfriend, Stacy Keibler, start to have their doubts about you.  The story unfolds well and is definitely entertaining.  The only problem is that it is almost completely linear.  The only options you have are the few times you get to pick what type of match you wish to have.  What this means is that once you play through it once, you don't have much reason to do it again.  Wrestling games bank alot of their replay value on multiplayer though, and this one has all the options and match types you could ever want for multiplayer.  The only glaring omission is the Elimination Chamber. 
It's a tough call between this and Here Comes the Pain for the best wrestling game of this generation.  Either way, Day of Reckoning 2 is one of the best grapplers in the past 5 years.  The final score may not signify this, but the sound category shouldn't carry much weight in this case.  It's a good enough multiplayer game for even non-wrestling fans to give it a shot.  This is the closest any wrestling game has ever come to accurately depicting the pace and strategy of a match.  Others have tried and either overdone it or underachieved, but DoR2 gets it right.  If you are even the most casual wrestling fan, WWE Day of Reckoning 2 needs to be in your GameCube.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the game's release. ***
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