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One of the most anticipated titles arrives on Xbox - was it worth the wait, or should it have stayed in the oven some more?

Finally, WWF Raw has come to the Xbox. Okay, 1 tired, overused wrestling cliché used now sit back because I have a million of them.

If you are a Xbox owner and a Wrestling fan, it is pretty much a given that you have already bought this game. In fact, you probably sat in line with the other wrestling fans standing outside in the cold bitter winter air at 7:00am waiting for your local software store to open so you can be the first to post on message boards that you "HAVE THE GAME, OMG." But for those of you, who have decided to play a wait and see approach and see if WWF Raw is worth your hard earned cash (well your parents hard earned cash), you have probably read all of the reviews on those same message boards the varying degrees of either loathing or love the game has received from fans and critics alike. Your head begin hurting when you started to read some of your friends comments on the message boards when they started talking about how Raw sucked and that it was frustrating and that it was boring. So right now, you're a quivering pile of goo looking for the truth and I am the man to give it to you. I will show you the way, I will shed some light on the murky depths of WWF Raw and why you should or should not buy this game. What are my qualitifications? Because I am a man who truly cares about each and every one of you and to quote the infamous Brother Love, " I luuuuuuuuuuvvvvvvvvvvvvv yeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww." 2 tired and overused wrestling cliches ha ha ha ha (10,000 extra cool points if you can name the reference.)

First I would like to gripe about what is not in the game. That's right; lets get it all out in the open. Lets open the wounds and expose it to the midnight mist. First, you wont find Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Hulk Hogan, The Hurricane, DDP, Lance Storm, Billy Kidman, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Goldberg, Sting, George Bush, Madonna, Dennis Rodman, Bill Clinton, or any of the other alliance/celebrity (well besides Fred Durst but shhhh that's a big secret) The roster for the most part is out of date. Some of the wrestlers have since been let go by the WWF( Eddie Guerrero, K Kwik) and some are recovering from injuries(Rhyno, Steve Blackman, Chris Benoit) so that may be a downer to some people. On the other hand you do have over 50 wrestlers ready to play once you turn the Xbox on. This title, I should remind everyone is only the first game in the WWF Raw series. There is plenty of room for improvement in Raw 2.

Second of all you wont find many of the same match types that you did in Smackdown Just Bring it. You wont find, Table Matches (however the tables are fully interactive and you do other moves to put your opponent through a table), Ladder Matches (ladders are there but you cant climb them) Casket Matches, Hell in the Cell, Royal Rumble (the Battle Royal is in but its more like a fatal four way then a real Battle Royal) Panties on the Pole Match. This too can be disheartening but when you compare it to other first time efforts on a new console it is easy to forgive. Like I mentioned before, WWF Raw is only the first step in the ultimate journey that Anchor is attempting to make. The first step is to work on the animation (which they have done remarkably well), develop a game play system that is intuitive (That still needs a bit more work but hey, go play WCW World Tour and then play WWF No Mercy to see the journey there - it is almost like a different game) and finally put the grounding blocks on which they will build their WWF/Xbox franchise with.

The game play can be frustrating for first time players. I would wager a bet that many of the people who posted that the game sucks really didn't give the game a chance and based their opinion on their initial experience with the game. WWF Raw is more of a simulation then a arcade experience than WWF Smackdown. So if you're trying to play WWF Raw like you would in Smackdown your going to lose and your going to lose badly. The computer AI, even on the easiest setting can be a bastard to overcome and to win consistently. Fans, for years have wanted harder AI, and when THQ gives the fans what they want, they gripe that it's too hard. Now, the AI is not perfect. It does have some peculiar quirks. For example, it likes to roll in and out of the ring for no apparent reason. And if it gets stuck on a table or something like that it will continue walking into that table. Basically stuck there for all intents and purposes.

The wrestlers do sell the moves unlike the recent Smackdown JBI. One of the things that stuck out to me is the submissions. When you lock a submission move, and your opponent finally breaks out of the hold a huge shift of momentum goes to him. I really don't think that is what happens in a real wrestling match. For example, if Jericho locks in the walls of Jericho on the Rock and the Rock finally breaks out. If Jericho up till that point is winning the match he will just reapply the submission.

The stamina bar is also very important to be aware of. If you have a full stamina bar, you will be able to attack and grapple. But if your stamina bar is used up, you're basically winded so it makes it very important to pace your self and to know when to back off a bit. The momentum meter, I am personally torn on this. In some ways, it does make the matches more engaging, especially when you're playing with another human player and in other ways as in the example I gave you it does not accurately help with the pacing of the match as a real match would flow. If this sound complicated, it really is not. I highly recommend for all players to watch the tutorial located in the option mode before you actually start playing the game. I think it will save you some frustration and make the game more enjoyable.

Anchor did a good job with the game play. Sure, it is not perfect but it does give them plenty of legroom to improve and grow upon in future games in the series. If they can continue on adding innovations like the interference in the wrestlers entrances this series definitely has some legs to go the distance.

The only problem that I have with WWF Raw Title challenge mode is this: the lack of the option to save during it. That means, that a player will have to sit and play through the entire 12 match WWF World title set of opponents. Which can be a somewhat lengthy project especially considering that the shortest match I have ever had in this game was over 8 minutes. There are no story lines and it's just a series of matches with the top contenders before you challenge for the belt.

One of the best parts of this game is definitely the option where you can tweak your wrestlers entrance. You can choose from several variations of pyro to the lighting, to the spot light to even the amount of camera flashes that go off during the entrance. I think another cool aspect is that during the course of playing the game you will find and be able to use several different items that you can use with your create-a-wrestler. It's almost like a scavenger hunt and one that never fails to entertain. I had a hootenanny putting all of the different hats and chains and what ever else I could find and try to put it on my created star. While only having 16 faces to tweak with may prove it difficult to build other superstars that were not in the game but those who are more creative than I could do a reasonable job of doing so.

Unfortunately there is not very much incentive to play the game again after you unlock the 5 secret wrestlers. The lack of modes, really hurts the game in the depth department. However, having a large roster of WWF Superstars each with their own unique style and move list does help. The ability to find over 150 weapons also helps somewhat, but after you find all of them the funs pretty much over.

Presentation wise, WWF Raw is very nice. The menu setup is very clean looking and is very easy to get from point A to point B. The game opens up to an absolutely breath taking rendition of the pyro opening that greets wrestling fans every week on TNN. I have been to a Raw live, and the Xbox does a tremendous job of capturing the sheer intensity of all of the pyro going off.

The music has a hard rock flavor to it. It's not bad, and it is certainly better then some of THQ's previous efforts. The grunts and groans are also done pretty well as well. As to be expected with the THQ's games the wrestlers entrances are remarkably done. THQ really spent some time and effort to capture every nuance of the intros. All of your favorite wrestlers theme songs are in the game, from "I am the Game" by Motorhead, to "Here Comes the Money" by Naughty by Nature, its all in the game.

WWF Raw has some of the most realistic graphics yet seen on the Xbox. The wrestlers for the most part all look like their real life counterpart. There are some exceptions, HHH looks like he has a really bad head cold and is all swollen up in the face. The opening movie is a accurate enactment of the fireworks that open up every Monday Night Raw on TV. The camera angles change and the WWF Raw engine does a great job of capturing the intensity of all of the fire works in the wrestlers entrances. Particularly impressive is Triple H entrance and the Dudleys. There will be times, where certain camera angles will make you wonder if your watching a live WWF event rather then playing a video game. If that does not speak volumes on the over all graphical quality of WWF Raw then I don't know what will.

Another cool aspect of the entrances is that for certain wrestlers each time you view their entrance you may witness the same entrance in a different camera angle. The animation for all of the moves is also done very well. It's simply amazing to me how Anchor and THQ captured some of the small details so well. Another nice detail is the way the wrestlers hold their stomach or knee as there selling the beating you just gave them. The only problem I see, with the animation is the way the wrestlers walk. Its almost like they're walking on there haunches and it looks like they have a load in their pants.

Mike Regan
Loves using tired overused wrestling clichés.

WWF Raw: The Scores













The Final Word:  Overall, WWF Raw is the best wrestling game on the Xbox….. Grrr, well that doesn't tell you much being the fact that WWF Raw is the ONLY wrestling game on the Xbox. Okay, WWF Raw is with out a doubt one of the visually impressive games on the Xbox. The lack of modes does hurt it, but considering that this is the first title in the series and that area will obviously be improved on the next game in the series. Gameplay, can frustrate some, but for all that spend the time to learn the nuances and to learn the feel of the game will not be disappointed. The sometimes-questionable AI can also be very tough so players who frustrate easily may want to avoid this game. But for all others who want to play a solid wrestling game look no further.

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