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What made this game so Legendary? Retrospective review of SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain

Vignesh is a pop-culture geek, an history fascinator and a creative learner from India

PROLOGUE TO THE GAME

After the success of SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth, the game that took great advantage of 3D animations of gaming consoles, video game publisher THQ gained anticipation for their next instalment. SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth was so good because of many things-the elaborative ‘Season’ mode (and its free-roam feature), utilizing the then-newly made brand extension of Raw and Smackdown, realistic entrance animations, to say a few. The game left almost no stone unturned and set the stage for what many consider to be the greatest wrestling game of all time…

DVD Cover of SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain featuring Brock Lesnar in the front along Rey Mysterio, Matt Hardy, Undertaker, John Cena and Torrie Wilson

DVD Cover of SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain featuring Brock Lesnar in the front along Rey Mysterio, Matt Hardy, Undertaker, John Cena and Torrie Wilson

DEVELOPMENT

THQ began preparing the next instalment in the SmackDown! series and in April 2003 THQ announced ‘Smackdown 5’ was coming later that year to the PlayStation 2. Rumors began to circulate about the contents of the game specifically on the name. People eventually started to believe it would be “Here Comes the Pain” (HCTP for our reference!) and IGN confirmed it from THQ. Hype for the game was quite low until July when THQ revealed a lot of info regarding the game. Animations were finally going to be updated after a couple of years but the one thing that fans themselves were hyped about the most was the inclusion of blood mechanics.

INTO THE GAME

Graphics: The graphics were the most realistic rendition of any WWE game on the PlayStation. The submission system provided an actual challenge as opposed to previous years. The wrestler you select will affect your performance as their overall rating-from Strength, Submission, Technical, Endurance and Speed-comes into play. One of the most important topics in the review was that of the animation. HCTP seemed a little bit different to the final product, in a good way. In trailer, the game looked like SmackDown! Shut your Mouth graphically. However, the final product was so polished for the arcade game style.

Gameplay: To say the least, HCTP sailed on the path which the previous SmackDown! titles laid extensive groundwork on. From the first impression, you can notice how fast-paced action it is. Shut your Mouth and all those games seem so quick but that's nothing compared to Here Comes the Pain! When the opponent is running at you, you have to decide what to do quick, as every move is important. Your reflexes has to be at spider-sense especially if you're facing the game’s OP wrestlers like Goldberg or Brock Lesnar at SmackDown! difficulty. The action is much smoother than Shut Your Mouth and the animations are way better as well. The game does not have a commentary and is replaced with a generic soundtrack…which actually is a good thing down the line. The wrong commentary calls on the match would be rather frustrating than enjoyable!

Shut your Mouth and all those games seem so quick but that's nothing compared to Here Comes the Pain!

Brock Lesnar as WWE Champion

Brock Lesnar as WWE Champion

Realism among chaos: Fighting part is like Shut Your Mouth where you straight-up beat your opponent but with a twist. Players can notice where you hurt them and an idea of when the match will end by the HUD. The HUD features the wrestlers’ limb health and the meter that on filling it grants Smackdown! finishers. They removed the unnecessary Irish Whip into the front-facelock thing and the grappling is much better. In fact, that area is a bit deeper. The overall rating system can determine how hard your opponents will be. Rope breaks (if turned on…) in submission moves will cut to a realistic visual of using ropes by wrestlers for defense and sometimes for offence. The weight detection system adds a sense of realism in the otherwise slobber knocker arcade game. For example, cruiserweights like Rey Mysterio cannot lift heavyweights like Big Show or Kane with ease and will feel pain (no pun intended!)

Controls: The controls were pretty much straight-forward.

  • Triangle () for running
  • Square () for enter/exit the ring and picking up weapons
  • Circle (O) for grappling positions
  • X for striking

The grappling mechanics gets a great makeover by adding 4 different grapple attacks using each direction, making 16 different grapple moves for a single wrestler! Apart from the basics, HCTP is also one of the earliest games from WWE that features stealing your opponent’s special that adds insult to the injury to the opponent. The game’s reversal system is completely based on timing by pressing L2 and R2. The game took great use of PS2 DualStick controller with Left one can double-up for moving and Right stick for Taunting. R1 is helpful in changing targets manually on the fly.

  • L1 will perform SmackDown! special move on the timing and situation(a SmackDown! HCTP logo pops, if done successfully)
  • L2+L1 to steal opponents special move(a SmackDown! HCTP logo pops in Red, if done successfully)
  • L2 for strike reversal
  • R2 for grapple reversing
  • L2+R2 for SmackDown! reversal


The grappling mechanics gets a great makeover by adding 4 different grapple attacks using each direction, making 16 different grapple moves for a single wrestler!

The loading screen displaying grappling system

The loading screen displaying grappling system

The Submission system is heavily worked out. Players can have an idea of how far the victory is. For example, if opponent’s legs are yellow you'll continue to work on them until you get the victory by button-mashing the controller on submission moves. It makes it easier to play with a submission wrestler like Kurt Angle and Ric Flair. HCTP feels more challenging than previous games because of all these elements and it is the best in SmackDown! series up to this point.

Ric Flair locking Christian in his signature Figure Four Leglock

Ric Flair locking Christian in his signature Figure Four Leglock

Scroll to Continue

Roster: HCTP roster includes over 60 active WWE Superstars at the time of game’s release including first WWE game appearance of future spearheads like John Cena, Batista and Rey Mysterio. The roster wasn’t as vast as Shut Your Mouth but the creation suite holds its nerve for it. The entrances were well crafted to resemble the TV product at the time. The roster, though with confusing overall system, reflected the time period pretty well. The inclusion of "Legends" became a staple feature for WWE games going forward. WWE Legends, who were retired wrestlers like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and The Undertaker from his 90s “Deadman” gimmick made it to the game's roster.I had a blast playing with Brock Lesnar, Rob Van Dam and created wrestlers!

The roster, though with confusing overall system, reflected the time period pretty well. The inclusion of "Legends" became a staple feature for WWE games going forward.

It also marks the final time that the Attitude Era stalwarts-The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin-would appear in a WWE game as non-legends. Though heavily marketed, HCTP did not added Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior due to legal disputes with WWE. The game boasts alternate attires for selected superstars which are cool additions to diversify the roster. Highlight of the inclusion is the unmasked Kane, who appears first time in a WWE game.

Removed superstars include Jeff Hardy, Scotty 2 Hotty, Hulk Hogan, Billy Gunn, Tazz

Removed superstars include Jeff Hardy, Scotty 2 Hotty, Hulk Hogan, Billy Gunn, Tazz

Match Types: The game is rich with match options and the players have a lot of choices to play with. With over 70+ match types under the games Exhibition tab, it was a good step forward for the wrestling game as a whole. 3 new HCTP additions includes the self-explanatory Bra and Panties match, the infamous Elimination Chamber match and the First Blood match owing to the inclusion of blood in the game mechanics. As a kid, the Bra and Panties match was prohibited to play in our gaming parlor! Royal Rumble match in this game has to be the fastest jam-packed Rumble match you can get in a WWE game with up to 6 Superstars at the ring, in the same time. A fan favorite match called Special Referee is limited but fun.

Is the variety too much? Yes, but it gives the sense of choice that next-gen games could not get! My personal favorite matches are Hell in a Cell for it goofy and hilarious moments that can be made on top of the cell, Hardcore match where it is littered with innovative weapons and backstage areas to toy with (you can ride a bike, jump from Times Square, hover over a news helicopter!!!) and Ladder matches involving multiplayers.

Is the variety too much? Yes, but it gives the sense of choice that next-gen games could not get!

Season Mode: As previously mentioned, HCTP bettered many corners from its previous games and an important one is the Season mode. THQ claimed it as an exclusive story mode with original storylines developed by WWE Staff Writers. To their credit, the storylines are interesting and creative. It felt like actual storylines that would happen in WWE at the time. The player can choose to play a calendar year in Raw or SmackDown from the game’s roster or from a Create-A-Superstar creation. It determines where you will begin the season starting from night after WrestleMania. For example, if we choose a CAS it is pretty much guarantee to start from the bottom as a jobber. Interacting backstage with other Superstars can boost your Superstar Points and Smackdown $$$. The former is helpful in getting title shots from GMs and the latter is needed to unlock stuffs from WWE ShopZone. As we progress through the shows and monthly PPVs, (forgot to mention the glorious arenas that have character on their own!) the player climbs the way up to the top of the WWE.

The player can choose to play a calendar year in Raw or SmackDown from the game’s roster or from a Create-A-Superstar creation. It determines where you will begin the season starting from night after WrestleMania.

Season Mode backstage interaction with Eddie Guerrero and Stephanie McMahon

Season Mode backstage interaction with Eddie Guerrero and Stephanie McMahon

Every match you fight will gain XP points to upgrade facets of the wrestler reflecting in his overall (yes, the season mode was unfortunately restricted for female wrestlers!). The cut-scenes also have unique prospects like attacking your opponent after match or respecting them. It kind of gets repetitive with the branching of storylines but the game manages to hook you up with great stories and moments. Faction Wars involving with Chairman Vince McMahon and Royal Rumble storylines are my favorites in the season run.

Creation Suite: As every wrestling game, chunk of its fun comes from the Creation Modes. HCTP creation interface is simple yet incredibly well-woven. Preview loading time is quicker; thread components are a big collection; Creating-a-Moveset is so on-point. The game’s creation suite is a benchmark to the WWE gaming franchise, which spawns to a whole new dynamics to the future WWE games. Facial parts like eyes, nose, mouth even teeth can manipulate and resemble a wrestler in a precise way. Body Figures are now proportioned more realistically and the body morphing techniques sculpt the player model more realistically than previous years.

The game’s creation suite is a benchmark to the WWE gaming franchise, which spawns to a whole new dynamics to the future WWE games.

Create-a-Superstar interface

Create-a-Superstar interface

THE UNDERWHELMING ASPECTS

  • Lack of roster depth owing to legal issues and released superstars being omitted
  • Bland soundtrack that goes on loop. Could have least used the entrance music of the roster instead
  • Online play may not have worked on 2003 but would definitely been a welcoming testing feature
  • Season Mode gets repetitive and rinse-and-repeat style after 3 or 4 plays
  • The infamous spear glitch which freezes the receiver was nuisance and frustrating at the least
  • Absence of Championship matches in Exhibition matches
Triple H as World Heavyweight Champion

Triple H as World Heavyweight Champion

FINAL THOUGHTS

SmackDown! HCTP was released on October 27,2003 and went on to sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide just releasing on PS2 platform alone. These numbers don’t lie for the fanfare and the rave reviews it got 19 years ago.


This game is a package deal done right! The gameplay is much better. The grappling is much more interesting. The action feels fluid and realistic at surprising times, as it flows by. It has much better attire selection than Shut Your Mouth the attires. The backstage areas were very fun to play and the roster is stacked. Some matches are very frustrating like the Last Man Standing match. These are just basically me nit-picking for the sake of it. The positives by far outweigh the negatives in every area possible!

This game is a package deal done right! The gameplay is much better. The grappling is much more interesting. The action feels fluid and realistic at surprising times, as it flows by.

My point is, HCTP is not a perfect game but at the same time the remarks mentioned was not felt by all the players. The win is resounding for SmackDown! HCTP. Without a doubt, one among the best PS2 games of the PlayStation library. Nostalgia certainly plays a big part but there is no denying that it holds up today (and still will be for the foreseeable future) just as it did in 2003. It remains as an incredible entertaining game as any other wrestling game since 2003.


SmackDown! HCTP Creation Mode and Season Mode are the sandboxes that made the game aged so gracefully. The presence of versions and mods with updated Superstars in internet stands as evidences! To finish off the retrospective, this game was revolutionary in 2003 and is legendary in 2022 due to its complete package of positives – graphics, controls, storylines and playability – it’s all there.


SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is available to play on PlayStation 2.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Vignesh K

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