Retro Respawn – WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role

I’ve recently reviewed Wrestling Empire for the Nintendo Switch and also took a trip down wrestling memory lane in the form of WCW Nitro last week, so I decided I might as well stick with games from the grapple genre for a bit longer, so this week I’ll be looking at WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role, and then we’ll take a look at a different wrestling game next week for good measure. I’m not entirely sure which game that will be yet, so keep an eye out and your ear to the ground for when that one goes live.

 

Backstory

Developed by Jukes and Published by THQ, Know Your Role came out a mere 8 months after the initial SmackDown! game in November of 2000, which seems like a pretty quick turnaround. In all honesty though, the WWF’s roster had changed significantly in that time, with lots of newcomers to the company in the form of Tazz, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn and Chris Benoit, whilst other wrestlers, such as The Undertaker, Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, had gone through significant changes in both their characters and general appearances, so getting almost FIFA-like stats and graphical updates with the same popular gameplay was warmly welcomed. Indeed, Know Your Role sold an astonishing 3.2 million copies, which is not only a testament to just how hot the WWF was at the time but also a testament to how much of a hot streak the PlayStation itself was on, even as it entered its waning days of relevance in the console market.

I was certainly hugely excited when I heard Know Your Role was coming out, especially as I’d put so many hours into the original game. I remember a couple of friends of mine actually had a bootleg version of the game, which you could run with an Action Replay disc, and it featured pretty much the full game but wouldn’t let you get past June in the Season Mode. Know Your Role sold so well over here in the UK that it became a platinum release and enjoyed a slew of positive reviews. It even did pretty well from a critical perspective in Japan, where normally most of the plaudits were saved for their own domestic wrestling games.

There were some amendments to the roster prior to the game’s release, with both Big Show and Ken Shamrock getting removed for different reasons. Shamrock’s expungement was down to him leaving the WWF in order to return to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, which is perfectly understandable. He did remain on the roster for WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64 though. Big Show’s removal was a trifle more mean spirited as the WWF removed him from television and sent him down to their developmental league on account of them not being happy with his attitude. They decided to also demand he be removed from both Know Your Role and No Mercy for good measure as it would spitefully mean he wouldn’t get any royalties. Don’t worry though, I’m sure Paul Wight has since made that money back due to his many years of employment from the company, during which he has won multiple World Titles.

 

Gameplay

Know Your Role plays a lot like its elder sibling, with the gameplay being based around quick, frantic arcade-styled action as opposed to a more simulation-based approach that you will find in the Nintendo 64 games from AKI. Circle is your grapple button, with moves being performed by pressing it whilst also holding a direction on the D-pad. As in the first game, if you can stun your opponent, then it will allow you to perform some additional moves that tend to be a bit more damaging. You stun an opponent by knocking them down and then picking them back up again, with them stumbling for a moment depending on how beaten up they are. Know Your Role does add the ability to stun opponents with strikes though, which you couldn’t do in the first game.

Cross is your designated strike button, and by mashing it, you will perform a basic three strike combo, whilst pressing it and holding a directional button will see you perform a different array of attacks. Pressing down and cross will usually lead to you delivering a more powerful attack that will see you knock your opponent down instantly, such as a dropkick or a big clothesline. Pressing circle without a direction will see you perform an Irish Whip, and if you press cross whilst sending an opponent off, you will pull them back into an elbow attack, which will stun them and set them up nicely for another big move.

Triangle will make your wrestler run, with cross seeing you do a running attack, like a jumping back elbow, and circle seeing you perform a running grapple attack, like a neck breaker. Running into the turnbuckle will see your wrestler climb it, at which point you will be able to dive off onto an opponent. Square allows you to block strikes and can also be used to counter grapples, if pressed at the right time. Performing your finisher is very easy and can be done with a simple press of the shoulder button once you’ve filled up your finisher bar. All you have to do is get your opponent in the right position and then press the button, although they will need to be stunned if your finisher is deployed from a standing position.

Know Your Role has pretty instinctive gameplay, and it’s no surprise that it enjoyed such popularity as it’s incredibly easy to pick up and play. Matches don’t tend to last that long either, especially as the default settings see you being able to knock your opponents out if you deliver your finisher once they have been sufficiently weakened. In some regards Know Your Role almost plays a bit more like a fighting game than a standard wrestling sim most of the time, which, again, is probably why the game enjoyed so much popularity with video game enthusiasts outside of the wrestling bubble. I usually found that matches would go on for a few minutes and then usually end in a knock out, and whilst they lasted, they were frantic collisions where wrestlers would take huge moves and pop up like they were invincible.

For instance, one new feature Know Your Role introduces to the series is that there are commentary desks at ringside, and you can actually put opposing wrestlers through them with a piledriver or powerbomb. However, because of the arcade nature of the game, you’ll often find that a wrestler will leap straight back up to their feet following getting drilled through the table, which almost defeats the purpose of using the tables in the first place. In addition to that, weapons in the game have little to no impact, almost to the point that there’s no real point using them. You can blast an opposing wrestler in the face with a steel chair and they’ll react like it had all the effect of an empty paper cup. This does mean that the game can start getting a bit dull during long play sessions as matches quickly become samey battles, especially as giants, like Viscera, climb to the top rope as quickly as nippier, smaller wrestlers, like Essa Rios.

Being able to perform double team manoeuvres in tag matches and the addition of additional special matches, such as casket and Hell in a Cell helps to add some variety to the gameplay experience, and the core gameplay loop itself is solid. However, Know Your Role rarely “feels” like a wrestling game the way games like Fire Pro Wrestling and No Mercy do. It’s certainly a more enjoyable and free flowing grapple-em-up in comparison to games like WCW Nitro and WWF War Zone, but it also feels more like a fighting game with a pro-wrestling flavour to it. I understand that for some this is a selling point as there is a dedicated group of players who would rather a wrestling game focus more on fun head slapping than serious grappling, but I would personally prefer more of a halfway house, kind of like how Shut Your Mouth on the PS2 was.

 

Graphics

Know Your Role certainly shows its age today, with some of the character models looking pretty rough and nothing really like their real life counterparts (Hardcore Holly, in particular, looks more like Bert from Sesame Street than he does the actual Bob Holly). However, there has been a notable upgrade in comparison to the first game in the series, especially in the backstage areas, which are more detailed and feature even more areas for you to explore in hardcore matches. Your main stars, such as The Rock, Stone Cold and Triple H, all look decent for the timeframe, and the fact the wrestler’s faces even move at all blew my mind when I first played the game all those years ago.

You have three arenas to choose from, with the SmackDown and Raw sets both being reasonably well recreated, with the big Raw entrance way looking particularly good. Wrestlers will actually carry title belts down to the ring with them now, and they look pretty ugly for the most part, but it’s still nice that they’ve been included. To a modern eye, Know Your Role looks pretty rough around the edges, and there was a considerable jump in quality when the series moved to the sixth gen, but the game isn’t an eyesore or anything. It’s got a big roster for the time and that no doubt has an effect on the overall graphical quality, which is understandable.

 

Sound

Each wrestler has a snippet of their entrance music, although wrestlers don’t get full entrances and instead walk in front of their entrance video before doing a taunt or two. The menu music is pretty generic stuff, as is the music that plays in the background during matches. Like the first game, Know Your Role’s soundtrack is mostly made up of generic guttural music that plays over the fights, and it does its job. It adds to the grungy feel the game can have sometimes, which is in-line with the WWF’s more provocative “Attitude Era” that was going on at the time. It’s hardly a soundtrack that will make it high on the all-time list of PlayStation games, but it does what it needs to do and isn’t an overall negative.

 

Longevity

The ability to create your own pay per view event returns from the first game, with you being able to put together an 8-match card, which will then be rated by the game depending on how exciting the matches are. Sadly, my twenty-year-old save file appears to have been corrupted as every time I tried to run a pay per view event, the game would crash once the event ended and give me an error message of “!!common->g_Ppv.gameState[!].ref[j] == cppv.cpp 1517”, which was particularly annoying as I had a very good match between Gangrel and Chris Jericho that rated very highly! Should the mode work properly though, then it’s a really enjoyable one that I tended to spend most of my time in back in the day, especially as you can defend and challenge for the assorted collection of WWF belts in all modes.

In a nice touch, the game will actually present a graph following a pay per view event to show you how invested the crowd was during each match, so you can see which wrestlers and match types are the best at holding the virtual crowds’ attention so that you can go back to the drawing board to get an even bigger rating. The game will also keep track of the highest rated events and matches you have held, giving you a fun trip down memory lane if you ever want to reminisce of the great matches of yore that you have held. Unfortunately, you don’t have the option to make any amendments to the arena or match rules in the mode, which is something you could do in other games, such as No Mercy and WWF Attitude. This means you can call a show WrestleMania, but it will still have to take place in the generic SmackDown arena.

The excellent creation suite from the first game returns to Know Your Role¸ with even more ways to tweak your created wrestlers. You can also create your own tag teams and factions, which will then be reflected in the game itself in the form of run-ins and entrances. One downside is that you can’t preview the entrances, so you won’t know what your wrestlers will do until you actually have the team take part in a match. If taking time to create wrestlers in a game like this is your jam, then you should be able to have some fun whilst playing Know Your Role. It’s not something I personally do on wrestling games that much these days, but I remember my friend, Adam, made some decent creations on Know Your Role back in the day, including some solid Rob Van Dam and Sabu CAWs.

Season Mode exists as the main single-player campaign in the game, but there is an option for up to three friends to join in as well if you have the aid of a multi-tap, so if you all fancy playing as D-X or The McMahon-Family, then you can all get involved and have a laugh. Season sees you picking either one of the existing roster members or creating your own and then entering them into the world of the WWF. Your wrestler of choice will battle on episodes of Raw and SmackDown in an effort to gain wins and claim titles, with the occasional storyline or cutscene interrupting things. One really cool thing about the mode is that other stories besides your own will take place, and some of these will mirror the real events of the WWF during the year 2000.

For instance, Stone Cold Steve Austin returning and destroying DX’s bus is recreated in all its glory, along with Mankind becoming Cactus Jack and Shawn Michaels returning to referee a match between The Rock and Triple H. Seeing these real-life angles getting recreated in the game world was a big deal back in the day, and I remember losing my mind when Austin showed up to destroy that bus. Something usually happens on every show too, so it rarely gets boring and you genuinely don’t know what is going to happen on each event. The game will make an effort to include you, regardless of what division your wrestler competes in. For instance, during this recent playthrough I decided to play as Matt Hardy for a bit, who was currently in my European Title division. However, when the game was heading into WrestleMania, it decided to program me into a feud with Stone Cold so that I’d be in a feature match for the biggest show of the year, which I appreciated, especially as Stone Cold was in the WWF Heavyweight division.

Know Your Role’s Season Mode is well imagined, for the most part, but I did find that it could start feeling a bit monotonous on a long play through, especially if your character gets stuck in a rut fighting the same opponents over and over. I spent about two months feuding exclusively with Gangre l, for instance, where we’d wrestle on almost every show and there’s just so many times you can give the same a Twist of Fate in the same type of match before it gets a bit dull. Games like Shut Your Mouth and Here Comes the Pain did a better job of varying the feuds and match types you could take part in, although Know Your Role isn’t a bad attempt for an early game in the series. The fact you aren’t forced to create your own wrestler and can just pick a wrestler you like to play through the Season is a definite tick in the plus column.

Would I Recommend It?

You’re looking at around £6-8 for a copy of Know Your Role on eBay, and I think that’s pretty fair. It’s definitely a game that deserved its huge level of popularity. Sure, it doesn’t quite hold up as well these days as it did back in 2000, but it’s still a good arcade-styled scrapper that you can have a lot of fun with, especially if you have some friends and a multi-tap to play it with. The single-player experience might not be as good as latter games in the series, but it’s still a solid effort and definitely does more right than wrong.

Easy recommendation for me!

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