The companies in the business of making wrestling games recently played a high-stakes game of musical chairs. Longtime WCW collaborator THQ managed to get hold of the WWF license, leaving Acclaim to sit around and talk about its secret plans for a new wrestling game. Electronic Arts stepped in and grabbed the WCW license. The company is taking the same approach to the WCW license as it has taken with most of its sports titles. The development team aimed to be as faithful to the source material as it could. The resulting game, WCW Mayhem, is a great first effort, but it still feels like a first-year title.
Mayhem contains loads of different rings, all based on WCW television and pay-per-view events, ranging from your basic Monday Nitro set all the way up to Souled Out and Bash at the Beach. EA has provided an entire slew of WCW wrestlers to fight in these rings. Most of the popular wrestlers are featured, including Kevin Nash, Sting, and Goldberg. The game also features a slew of midcard wrestlers, like La Parka, Rey Mysterio Jr., and Disco Inferno. As in most other wrestling games, the roster isn't entirely accurate (Chris Jericho and Raven are still in the game, Hogan appears in his old NWO gear, etc.) but this doesn't really get in the way of the game at all.
The main emphasis of the game is the ability it gives you to get out of the ring and fight your way to the backstage area, which is filled with chairs, tables, tasers, and other objects that you can use to bash your opponent's skull in. As a result, the game defaults to no-count out, pin-anywhere matches.
WCW Mayhem's gameplay is much more arcade-like than most of the wrestling games that came before it. There's still plenty of strategy involved, but it's more of the "step out of the way of that drop kick" variety than of the "what move should I do next" type. Reversals are easy to perform, but very tough to master. If your opponent hits a button to execute a move, and you hit the same button shortly after, you'll reverse his attack. But reversals aside, the game really boils down to who can do a move first. There aren't any fancy fighting-game moves here, either. Each of the four main buttons is capable of three moves, depending on which direction you're pressing on the controller at the time. The arcade-style gameplay is a nice change of pace from the other games on the market, but it's not without its flaws. Rather than focus too greatly on health, the game relies on a momentum meter that tells you how well you're doing at any point in the match. The meter moves back and forth, and it will move toward your side when you execute impressive moves or find the time to taunt. If all the wrestlers in the match are fairly inactive, the meter will center. The more momentum you get, the harder it will be for your opponent to stop you. When your momentum meter is full, you can perform your finishing move. This allows for some good back-and-forth swings, but in actual use, it really just makes coming back from a deficit much tougher. Also, the emphasis on momentum rather than health allows for some pretty unrealistic gameplay. For instance, I can't imagine that Stevie Ray would be able to kick out of a pin after receiving eight consecutive Diamond Cutters. Once you and your friends have all gotten good at dodging attacks, it becomes very hard to pull off a string of moves, and the result is a stalemate match that takes forever and ends on a lucky pin after a weak move.