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ups: motion capture looks great, 45 characters to choose from, multiple match types
downs: sluggish controls, poor graphics, overly-balanced gameplay

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WWE Wrestlemania 21
game: WWE Wrestlemania 21
two star
posted by: Eric Bodrero
publisher: THQ
developer: Studio Gigante
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 02:07 PM Sat Aug 20th, 2005
last revision: 02:12 PM Sat Aug 20th, 2005

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Click to read.I\'m just as positive that a new wrestling game (or two) will be made every year as I\'m sure the sun will rise every morning. Yep, Wrestlemania is back, and this time it\'s exclusive to the Xbox. However, that\'s not necessarily an advantage that Microsoft should boast about. The game is a rather poor example of what a wrestler should be like, and seems to have been prematurely pinned to the mat out of the gate.

WWE Wrestlemania 21 plays out like any other wrestler you\'ve gotten your hands on. This time around, you have control over 45 Superstars, including Batista, Big Show and John Cena, and their likenesses are spot on. The game includes a story mode that allows players to create a star and build his or her attributes throughout his or her career, which players should be pretty happy about. Wrestlemania 21 also uses complete motion capture technology, which, I must admit, looks pretty amazing. However, when it comes to controlling your player, frustration sets in quickly.

Each player has a set amount of moves to perform, but no matter what character you are, they animate the same way. Although you may have 45 characters to choose from, you\'re getting pretty much the same thing with each of them, so the repetition is fairly heavy. The game brags about something called the Pro Reversal System, where you can counter virtually any move in the game, but it\'s clunky and slow at best and I find it almost impossible to counter well enough to make it an effective element in the game. Hit detection was also way off in some moves, which ended up looking very awkward and I was left scratching my head and wondering how I was grappled when my opponent was halfway across the arena. The controls are just basically unresponsive and sluggish and lag in a big way. Even standing over an opponent to pin him or her takes a second or two for response, and in a sport where the match could be over in three seconds, that\'s a long time.

A major gripe of mine is in matches featuring a smaller player and a very large player. While playing as Big Show, I was grabbed by a pipsqueak and thrown into the corner from halfway across the ring and stood there groggy for a few seconds while he beat on me. I\'m sorry, but there aren\'t a lot of people that could really do that, and it\'s totally unrealistic, even for wrestling and especially in a wrestling game. Also, how many Superstars can throw Big Show or even the Undertaker over the top of the ropes? Certainly not many, especially the smaller, more agile wrestlers. Consequentially, it seems it doesn\'t matter if you\'re the Undertaker or Stacy Keibler, you can apparently dish out the same kind of punishment.

There are plenty of modes of play to keep it interesting, though. For starters you have your standard exhibition game for those who like jumping into the action quickly, and the single player and career modes, which is ideally where you\'ll spend most of your time. One game type is a woman only match called Bra & Panty, in which your female character tries to tear off the other player\'s articles of clothing, leaving them in their skivvies. I guess this is supposed to be entertaining. I lowered my standards for a few minutes and admittedly tried this mode, and it was really quite boring, and not nearly as spectacular as it sounds. Other modes include Tag, Handicap, Triple Threat, Fatal 4-Way, Last Man Standing, Battle Royal, and of course the mighty Royal Rumble.

Graphics wise, the motion capture does an amazing job, but coupled with the fact that the animations are choppy, it looks particularly bad. The motion capture looks a lot better in the excellent cutscenes (with spot on lip syncing), but then the acting is especially horrible. Sounds like a lose-lose situation.

There are a good choice of arenas, including Raw, Smackdown, and Unforgiven, but once again the crowd is lifeless and boring. The commentators do an okay job, but they get repetitive after about five minutes (just like in real life), then you\'ll probably wish they\'d just shut up (again, just like in real life). The rest of the audio has your standard smacks and grunts, and does nothing particularly stunning. All of the wrestlers intro songs are intact, but they\'re all pretty annoying anyway.

There are some decent Xbox Live features, including the ability to build a championship belt and build prestige by challenging other opponents, and you\'ll also be able to play multiple match types online as well. But for a game in which the controls are this sluggish, unresponsive and frustrating, and the graphics are rather ugly, I doubt you\'ll want to take your online endeavors very far.

The bottom line is that this is yet another unfinished game that could have used a few more months of R&D, but was rushed out the door in the name of profit. With unattractive graphics, the fact that all players are so balanced that they all play virtually the same, bad voice acting, and a frustratingly listless control scheme, I can\'t recommend this game to any but the most die-hard fans of wrestling, and then only as a rental. Don\'t feel too bad, though. I\'m sure another Wrestlemania game is already in the works. Let\'s just hope they get it right next time, because this one has certainly taken a big belly flop off the top turnbuckle.

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