Total Extreme Wrestling (TEW for short) is a sequel to a popular series that started all the way back in the mid 90s as a freeware game called Extreme Warfare. Originally created by Adam Ryland, the game eventually went through a name change to Total Extreme Warfare before eventually settling on the current name it now has. Over the years, Ryland has put more and more work into creating the games, which means it no longer retains its freeware status and is now an officially released commercial game by Grey Dog Software.
I have had a long relationship with the series, and in fact, I still play EWR to this day. I even went as far as to list TEW 2007 as one of my favourite games of all time in a previous article for Gaming Respawn, so I was intrigued when I heard that a new game in the series was scheduled to be released. I must confess that I found the games following TEW 2007 to sometimes be a bit overwhelming with all the additional options. In my personal view, 2007 achieved the sweet spot of giving the player an engrossing experience that felt like it took place in a living game world without swamping them in an ocean of options and screens.
For those not au fait with the series, TEW takes the form of a professional wrestling management simulator, whereby you take the creative reigns of a wrestling company and aim to make the company a success by putting on good events to create stars of your roster of wrestlers. Along the way you will need to maintain the morale of the locker room, keep the owner of the company happy by meeting certain targets and also please the fans by tailoring a product that meets their expectations. It has been compared with the Football Manager series over the years, and I can understand the comparison.
One side effect of releasing a full game for retail is that Ryland had to create a completely original database made up of fictional wrestlers and companies. Known as the “CornellVerse” (after in-game character Tommy Cornell), the original database is filled with copious amounts of wrestling companies from all over the world, with a new addition being that you can now take control of companies in India, should you wish. Each company has its own style of wrestling, and the size of each one ranges from global companies at the top of the ladder all the way down to small companies that operate out of just one region of the globe.
Like in Football Manager, the expectations placed on you by each owner will differ depending on the size of the club/company you work for. If you take the Manchester United or United States Pro Wrestling job, for instance, then you will be held to considerably higher standards, and the punishments will be far more severe than if you take a job at Port Vale or Championship Wrestling from Wigan. For smaller promotions, being able to keep the money trickling in and gradually growing the company’s prestige over time will keep the boss happy, but in the bigger ones, you will be expected to get results and will be punished if you don’t.
Each company has its own particular product and style that you will need to bear in mind when putting together your shows. For example, the company I’ve been playing as for the past week or so is ZEN, which is a small company based out of New Zealand that presents a fun Lucha Libre-inspired product. Due to those parameters, the last thing audiences at events want to see is big brawls where wrestlers bleed and hit each other with a litany of weaponry. Indeed, if you were to put a match like that one at a ZEN show, then the match score would be negatively affected as it would turn the fans off. Instead, the crowds at ZEN shows want to see matches featuring high-flying action with plenty of comedy and storytelling thrown in for good measure.
As a result, the roster is filled with masked luchadores and wacky characters, such as invading “alien” Karrg the Conqueror, who is looking to bring the Earth under his control via winning wrestling contests. It’s a silly gimmick, but it’s the sort of thing the ZEN crowd loves, so putting him in story lines and allowing him to get up to his wacky ways will result in keeping the audience happy, as well as turn your employer. However, also active in the Oceania region is a company called Deep Impact Wrestling, which is a company all about brutal “death matches” where wrestlers clobber one another with chairs and send them plunging through wooden tables that have been set ablaze.
In a company like DIW, a group of wacky masked men doing comedy spots probably isn’t going to get their fans on board, which means you will have to take into account the character and ring style of each wrestler you employ to make sure they fit the overall product you are trying to present. In DIW you will want a lot of hardened brawlers and fighters on your roster who aren’t afraid of absorbing big falls and taking unpleasant punishment, whereas in ZEN you will ideally want to bring in people who know how to wrestle comedy matches and have an ability to deliver exciting, high-flying moves that will wow the crowds that come to ZEN events. It brings a tactical element to the gameplay that will make you weigh up just what sort of company you want to take the reins of at the start of the game.
The company you take control of will have a certain number of events that will be held during a month. Some companies will have one or more regular weekly television events, along with one bigger monthly event to contend with, whilst others will run just one smaller event each month and nothing else. The amount of shows a company runs each month will depend on their size and what kind of schedule they keep, and in some cases, you will need to ration the use of certain wrestlers so that their bodies don’t break down too much. One downside of running a smaller company like ZEN is that, what with them only running one show a month, I spent about 15 minutes between each show looking at a loading screen as I waited for the next show date to come around. This would be something you might want to bear in mind when selecting which promotion to work for.
Each event/TV show will have a set timeframe that you will need to fill and, depending on the promotion you work for, you will need to fill it with relevant matches and angles. A match is exactly what it sounds like, in that it is a wrestling match that you will add to the show. There are a big list of match types for you to choose from, and you will need to select the wrestlers who will take part in the bout along with what the length will be and who is scheduled to win. Ideally, each match will serve a certain purpose on the show, which will again come back to the sort of product you are trying to present.
Angles are non-wrestling segments that take place on the show as well, the most basic example being one wrestler attacking another outside the ring or someone delivering an interview in front of the live crowd. Angles are often done to either further storylines or give a wrestler something to do on the show without having them actually wrestle, which will allow them to further develop their character and entertain the crowd. The game gives you the chance to create your own angles on the fly, along with what attributes you want the game to grade them on. For instance, if you want to have one wrestler debut a new, bigger wrestler as their bodyguard, you could create your own angle where the first wrestler was rated on microphone skills whilst the other was rated on how menacingly they can present themselves.
In most companies the events will require a mixture of matches and angles; otherwise, the crowd will be unhappy and you will be marked down. Using ZEN as an example, their audience required that 80% of the show featured matches whilst the other 20% was angles, so if I ran a 100-minute long show, then I would have to make sure at least 20 of those minutes was made up of angles to keep the crowd happy. You will also have to ensure that certain matches on the show carry out particular objectives. For instance, if the crowd demands violent weapons-filled action, then at least one of the matches on the show will have to be a brutal, bloody brawl to keep them happy, whereas in others you will need to present a match that features a lot of storytelling. You can choose for a match to include certain elements like that when you are in the matchmaking screen.
You will always need to take into account the attention span and stamina of the live crowds at your events as well. If you put on too many fast-paced, frantic bouts in a row, then you can burn them out, which means they won’t react as well to the matches that come later. During the planning of each match, you can give instructions to the wrestlers in how you want the match to be structured and executed. For instance, if you don’t want to burn the crowd out too quickly, then you can request that your wrestlers don’t go overboard with big moves so that matches that come later will still have an engaged and invested crowd to perform in front of. It all comes down to show management and structuring the show as best you can for maximum positive results.
Each wrestler has their own in-ring style that they like to do, along with their own set of skills and attributes. Some will be tall and heavy monsters who are poor in the ring but make up for it due to their impressive looks, whilst some will be much more talented in the ring but will lack marketability due to being too short or having an unimpressive physique. Some wrestlers will be in their 40s, and their bodies will have started to fail them, but they will retain great knowledge from all their years of wrestling that will allow them to still have good matches, whilst younger and fitter wrestlers might have a lot of talent, but their inexperience will count against them. Some wrestlers will be supremely entertaining when it comes to doing skits and angles, whilst others will be terrible at it and will need someone else to do their talking for them.
Ultimately, success comes down to matching up the wrestlers that will work well together whilst also trying to ensure you hide each wrestler’s weak points, should the possibility arise. For instance, there will be an option for you to minimise the involvement of a certain wrestler to just doing basic moves, which will lead to a better match overall but will hamper their own personal development somewhat, because limiting someone’s input minimises their chances to make mistakes but also minimises their chances to learn. As most wrestlers in the game will continue to develop their skills the longer their career goes on, you might sometimes have to accept that they will struggle a bit in the early going until they grow as a performer. In the meantime, you will need to ensure that they are put in the right situations if you want to get the best out of them.
Locker room morale is also supremely important as wrestlers with bad attitudes can go into a strop and upset everyone else. Each wrestler has their own specific personality traits, with some being really positive influences who will cheer everyone in the locker room up with random acts of kindness, whilst others will be grouchy bullies who will talk down to others and possibly even start fights in rare instances. You will need to weigh up whether someone’s bad attitude or personality offsets the benefits they would bring to your product from a wrestling perspective and hire/fire accordingly.
I personally found the game to be incredibly engrossing (almost bordering on addictive) ,and I’d play it long into the night. There was even a moment where I realised I had forgotten to schedule a certain match for an upcoming event and actually made a special trip out of bed back to the computer so that I could save it then and there without running the risk of forgetting it. You know a game is in your head when it quite literally gets you out of bed in the middle of the night. However, that’s a good example of just how invested you can get in the game world. I found myself getting attached to the wrestlers on my roster, even to the point that I’d feel pangs of sadness when they decided to move on to pastures new. TEW 2020 really is a game that you can get lost in.
It certainly helps that every wrestler in the game has their own backstory and facial graphics. I’ve never been someone who has played the CornellVerse that much and have often waited around for fan-made mods featuring real wrestlers before really getting stuck in. However, this time out, I decided to give the CornellVerse some playtime, especially as it’s the default database that comes with the game, and I really had a lot of fun with it. So much work has gone in to creating a game world that truly feels alive. The CornellVerse wrestlers often feel like fully formed characters with their own stories to tell, and it’s great to pick up a wrestler that perhaps isn’t in a prominent position in the game world, only to build them up and make them into the star they always could have been.
What I do like a lot about TEW 2020 is that you can edit your game preferences exactly how you like to get the experience that best works for you. You can play the full game as intended with all the options and world effects in place, or you can play a stripped down, streamlined set up akin to the EWR days of yore. I ended up playing with the settings and managed to find something that worked for me, so I’m sure most other players will be capable of doing the same. I would strongly suggest reading the copious amounts of helpful notes that can be found in the game though, especially as quite a few aspects of the game will not be instinctive to you if you aren’t already a wrestling fan.
The biggest critique I could give for a game like TEW 2020 is that it is probably the sort of game that would confound non-wrestling fans, especially at first. If you think of Football Manager as a somewhat niche game of a popular mainstream sport, TEW is a niche game of an already niche form of entertainment. Even as someone who has watched wrestling for two decades and has experience playing other games in the series, I still needed to sit down and have a good read of the help notes now and then because the game is so gargantuan that it can be tricky to work things out sometimes.
There’s a rich, detailed and thoroughly addictive world to get lost in with TEW 2020, and as the modding fan community continues to come up with new scenarios, there will be plenty of fresh ways in which to enjoy it. In comparison to previous additions of the game there are close to 300 changes and additions that are listed in great detail on the title menu screen, with the attribute system and the fact you can now run developmental leagues for the bigger leagues both being heavily requested over the years. In my opinion, it’s the best version of the game since TEW 2007 and well worth a purchase!
Developer: Grey Dog Software
Publisher: Grey Dog Software
Release Date: 23rd April 2020