Truth or Consequences: It’s All About the Game

Hello, once again, to the only wrestling that dares to break through the glass ceiling – the one, the only, Truth or Consequences.

What a fortnight it’s been, eh wrestling fans? Since my last column we’ve had the awesome ECW Pay-Per-View, a whole bunch of draft picks, a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion, a huge ruckus over the Ring of Honor title and major contract signings at every level of the business. So, where to start?

One Night Stand was, in this reporter’s humble opinion, a fantastic event that served as a fitting reminder of what ECW was all about. It was the first time in ages that I’ve actually sat up and watched a PPV live from start to finish, simply because I just didn’t want to switch off. That might not sound like a huge deal to any readers from across the pond but, thanks to the time difference, PPVs in the UK start at one o’clock in the morning and don’t stop until around four. I was working away in Cardiff and I had to be in work for half past eight that same morning, but as each match, interview and angle led onto the next, I found myself incapable of turning away. I’d said before that it was the first PPV that I’d felt excited over in a long time and I felt that my interest and anticipation were more than justified by what was the best PPV in years.

Once again, my skills as a pundit have been brought into question as only one of my Draft Lottery picks has actually come to pass but I really don’t care. I think that the picks this year have been excellent and look as though they really could shake up the business, far more than last year’s half-hearted effort. Of the seven people drafted so far, one of them is the current WWE Heavyweight Champion, three are former Heavyweight Champions of one sort or another and the other three, whilst having been with the company for less than a year, are positively bursting with potential – particularly Carlito, whom I have liked since day one, but then I was always a bit of a mark for his dad.

Speaking of the championships, though, there is one potential spot on the horizon. According to the SmackDown! spoilers, General Manager Theodore Long is going to resolve the title situation next week with a match to determine the new SmackDown! champion. Whilst I am prepared to hold off judgement until next week, this does worry me a little bit. Are we going to have a third world heavyweight strap added to the company and, if so, what does that mean for the existing champions? Having two belts on Raw is interesting in the short term but there will come a point when one of those belts will have to take precedence over the other and, in that situation, the secondary belt rarely manages to keep its significance. Look at when WCW split from the NWA and started calling the NWA World Heavyweight Title the WCW International Title and the entire lineage got screwed as a result. If you want a more recent example, does anybody really hold the ROH Pure Wrestling Title with the same esteem as the ROH World Heavyweight Title? No, they don’t. After all, the very basis of the promotion is that they are all about ‘pure’ wrestling anyway. The Pure title came about to give the top-level guys in that promotion something to shoot for whilst Samoa Joe was clinging onto the real title and helping to make it the most prestigious belt in North American wrestling as a result.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit and everything will work out fine. Perhaps Cena and Batista will unify the WWE and the World Heavyweight titles at SummerSlam in what is sure to be a marquee level main event. Perhaps Jericho or Christian will win the strap at Vengeance and go on to get drafted in time for next week’s edition of SmackDown! Who knows? All I know is that after a year that saw JBL work so hard to legitimise the WWE title, it would be criminal for it to end up as just another belt. I’ll be watching how this lot develops with great interest.

Mark it in your diaries, folks – Sunday 19th June 2005 – the day that Raven finally reached the top of the mountain and became the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, being the latest in a line of wrestlers that includes some of the greatest legends in the game…Ric Flair, Lou Thesz, Harley Race, Terry Funk and so many more. I’ve always liked Raven and I’d like to congratulate him on his well-deserved victory. Even if he ends up dropping the belt next month, he can always say that he was the NWA heavyweight champion of the world and that is still a great honour.

Of course, things aren’t quite as rosy in the Ring Of Honor garden now, are they, thanks to the tireless work of latest WWE talent, CM Punk. For those of you that don’t know the story, CM Punk had recently announced that he was signing to the WWE, which was a smart move on his part as he gets to showcase his phenomenal talents to a much wider global audience – fair enough. Then, last Saturday (18th June 2005), he was involved in a match with Austin Aries for the ROH World Heavyweight Title, a belt that Aries had held for nearly six months since beating Samoa Joe for it at the end of 2004. Everybody assumed that Punk, having announced his departure from ROH, would put on his usual good show and leave Aries with his sixteenth successful title defence as champion. In a truly outstanding swerve, Aries did the job, making CM Punk the new ROH World Heavyweight Champion in the process and what happened? The ROH fans went berserk, saying that CM Punk didn’t deserve the belt as it was his last match, that he has single-handedly screwed up the lineage of the ROH title, that Punk has just stolen the belt and will no doubt take it to the WWE with him for his debut.

My opinion? Get a f*cking grip, boys. This is the best thing to happen to ROH in a long time. Yes, we all know that ROH has some of the best in ring talent in the business at the moment but we also know that it’s been lacking in big news stories for a while now – as in news stories that would convince a non-ROH fan to buy the DVDs or check out a show or whatever. Why does Punk not deserve the title? He has wrestled for the promotion since, when…September 2002? He has wrestled his arse off in every match that he’s been involved in and has been one of the promotion’s most consistent workers. I think that giving him the belt like this is a sign of gratitude and respect from the bookers, something that ROH fans should be all in favour of.

Personally (and I’m just waiting for the hate-mail off this one), I think that the only reason ROH have reacted so violently against this one is because they’ve been worked so well by the promoter. You watch, on July 8th, when CM Punk defends the title against the opponent of his choosing, he will get more heat than anyone in ROH history (with the possible exception of Shane Douglas), which is exactly how they want you to react. This means that whoever they put the belt on will be immediately perceived as the company’s number one babyface for teaching that awful CM Punk a lesson and so the circle of life continues.

So what else has happened then? Former ROH Champion Samoa Joe has signed for NWA: TNA and made his debut at last Sunday’s Slammiversary and good for him, I say. True, I would sooner see him in the WWE just to see what happens when JBL and Hardcore Holly try their customary tactic of stiffing the crap out of the new kid. Seriously though, I would love to see Samoa Joe take on guys like Benoit or Regal in a series of hard hitting matches, or even see him trade kicks with Tajiri. All that being said, I think that the move to TNA could be good for him. He has dominated ROH for so long that he needs some fresh challenges and, like it or not, as long as he was with ROH everybody assumed that it was only a matter of time before he held the strap again for another lengthy run, which diminished the achievements of the subsequent champion (Samoa Joe only ever got one rematch against Aries, you’ll notice). By all accounts his showing against Sonjay Dutt was impressive and he would certainly look good in a feud alongside any of TNA’s main eventers. Hell, maybe that’s why they gave Raven the strap in the first place, just so Samoa Joe could take it off him and start another year-plus title reign in his new promotion. The thing is, if Samoa Joe were to get his hands on the big title and were to be given an extended run with it, I think it could do wonders for TNA, especially with the forthcoming TV deal. Joe would make a much more legitimate champion than Jarrett ever could, even without the name value that Jarrett brings to the company. Samoa Joe might not be able to boast that he was once in the WWF, but he looks, acts and works like a genuine athlete and, in a business that we all know to be pre-determined, Samoa Joe makes every match look like the real deal.

In other signing news – WWE is launching a ‘Legends’ program, where a bunch of old-timers will be available for promotional work, guest appearances and the WWE equivalent of the various wrestling reunion shows that take place across the country. I think this is an excellent idea. Nostalgia is big business in the wrestling world, so it makes sense for Vince to snap up those guys who made their name with his promotion. Whether you like it or not, Vince McMahon currently owns the entire history of North American wrestling or, at least, those parts of it that actually mean anything. He controls the complete tape libraries of W/WWF/E, WCW, Jim Crocket Promotions, ECW, AWA, Georgia Championship Wrestling and Smokey Mountain Wrestling. I don’t know if there’s anything else in Vince’s tape vault, but even those libraries cover the vast majority of wrestling, as far as most fans are concerned (I should say, for the record, that if Vince ever got his hands on Bill Watts’ Mid-South/UWF catalogue, as well as the WCCW/USWA/CWA footage and Stampede’s stuff, then he would pretty much have it all sewn up). So, it’s good for business; it’s good for the veterans, as they get a far better payday than they might otherwise have had with an independent show; it’s good for the fans who get a chance to see these legends up close and personal, with the added benefit of WWEs higher production levels; it’s good for DVD collectors as we can get some alternative commentaries from the guys and gals who were there at the time. In fact, the only people it’s bad for are the tape traders, who have to rely on the Japanese and Mexican tapes to keep them going and the wannabe wrestling historians, who are forced to put up with the WWEs twisted view of wrestling’s fabled past (see the Monday Night Wars DVD for reasons why this is a bad thing).

And that’s about it, as far as the major news is concerned and there have been no e-mails in my mailbag either (boo…hiss), so I suppose we should just go straight onto the main point of the column.

A few weeks ago, I went and bought WrestleMania 21 for my trusty Xbox, despite the serious level of abuse it had received in the press media and across the Internet (not least of which by InsidePulse’s own Alex Lucard, who gave the game a measly 2.5 out of 10). So, why did I pick up a game that the vast majority of Xbox pundits have decried as being the worst wrestling game on any platform? There are any number of reasons, but it pretty much boils down to the fact that I’m somewhat obsessive when it comes to professional wrestling, coupled with the fact that there hasn’t been a wrestling game of any description on the Xbox since Showdown: Legends of Wrestling so splashing out £29.99 (that’s about $57.00 for any American readers) didn’t seem like a big deal. That was when it hit me – wrestling fans can afford to take a chance on every new wrestling game that hits the shelves.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that wrestling fans are considerably more wealthy than the devotees of any other sport, but the nature of the business means that we have less choice in what we pick up. If you’re a fan of football, for instance (and, by football, I mean the proper British version of the sport – or soccer – rather than the wussy American version), then a new game crops up every couple of months and at some point you are forced to choose between them, which is where accurate reviews come into their own. Do you go for FIFA 2005, FIFA Street, Pro Evolution Soccer 5, Championship Manager, UEFA Champions League 2005, Club Football, England International Football…? You get the idea, right? I don’t know about any of the other major sports, but I imagine that a similar situation exists with American Football, hockey, basketball, baseball and others.

With wrestling, the choices are much more limited and, as a result, it’s less of a stretch to buy every wrestling game that comes out. In any given year the humble Xbox plays host to a new Backyard Wrestling game, a new Legends of Wrestling game and a new WWE game and I buy them all, because £90 over the course of a year is well within my funds and you never know when you’re going to get a pleasant surprise with these games. I know a good number of wrestling fans who have the same attitude as me and this is the reason that design teams like THQ don’t have to work as hard at developing their product, because they know that wrestling fans will buy it anyway.

I’d like to go on record and say that, actually, I enjoyed playing WrestleMania 21. It may not be the best wrestling game ever, or have the most fluid control system, but I think it serves its purpose. Certainly, it improves upon WWEs previous Xbox outings by a factor of ten, both in the storyline and the implementation. I haven’t played it on Xbox Live because, frankly, online multiplayer games are for sad f*ckers, so I can’t comment on that, but as a solo or multiplayer game, it’s fine. It’s no five-star classic, but it’s at least 3 and a half, which is good enough for me.

But you see, neither the lack of effort from the companies, nor my enjoyment of a product that is widely considered to be sub-par is really the issue of this column. The fact remains that there has never been and will never be (at least for the foreseeable future) a video game that accurately depicts professional wrestling. It’s just not going to happen.

But surely, I hear you cry, with the increased power of current and next generation consoles there will come a point where an accurate wrestling simulation is inevitable? No there won’t because what game designers and programmers alike fail to realise is that professional wrestling cannot be simulated.

If you take any other simulation, then you should (hopefully) see a progression in realism from the earliest incarnation of a franchise to its most recent release. Gran Turismo, for instance, is one of the most realistic driving simulations of all time, with the driving system being constantly tweaked and the new cars and tracks being mapped and modelled to absolute perfection; the way the ball behaves in each successive release of Links is an improvement on the last; the AI of the opposing teams in every new version of FIFA becomes ever more realistic as the franchise grows and develops, yet none of these things apply to wrestling games.

The crux of the problem is that developers treat wrestling games as if they were, at best, another combat sports simulation and, at worst, as if they were just any other beat-em-up, but the nature of the sport means that this is an unrealistic representation. In a beat-em-up or a boxing simulation, you can reasonably expect to beat the living crap out of your opponent, knocking them out and thereby winning the match, right? An opponent who has been suitably subdued is easy pickings and you wouldn’t expect them to make any kind of comeback having been ruthlessly outmatched.

One of the great things about wrestling, though, is that such absolutes don’t apply. Witness a match featuring the great Jimmy Snuka, for example (incidentally, one of the unlockable legends in WrestleMania 21) and you will no doubt see him get pummelled from pillar to post for a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Were this a wrestling game, all it would take would be a swift knockdown, followed by a pin to ensure a victory for whichever heel was facing him. However, in the real world, or at least as real as pro-wrestling ever gets, Snuka would eventually make the big babyface comeback, hitting his opponent with a flurry of chops, kicks and headbutts before ascending the top turnbuckle and nailing the Superfly Splash for the win.

Similarly, wrestling games are notoriously unrealistic when it comes to performing the moves. Again, to take an example from real life, consider the simple act of performing a DDT. I guarantee that virtually every wrestling game requires the same set-up. First of all, you and your opponent will circle each other for a bit, you’ll press the grapple button or the equivalent to initiate a tie-up, then you’ll press the appropriate button combination to perform the DDT. Fair enough. However, if you’ve ever seen the master of the DDT, Jake “The Snake” Roberts in action, then you’ll know that he was able to pull the move out of anywhere, much like Randy Orton can with the RKO or Benoit can with the Crippler Crossface. I have yet to see a Jake Roberts match where the set up to the DDT was a collar and elbow -tie-up.

There are other reasons why wrestling does not translate well to the medium of video games. WrestleMania 21 has a fairly comprehensive move list for each wrestler, totalling some 50 individual moves, which is quite good for a wrestling game, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Again, as a simulation, this is barely adequate, whichever end of the spectrum you choose to consider. I would be surprised to learn that Andre the Giant (another unlockable legend from the game) had strung together 50 distinct moves in his entire career, let alone throughout the course of a single match. The flipside, of course, consists of guys like Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho or Eddie Guerrero, for whom a mere 50 moves is a gross understatement of their abilities in the ring.

There are other reasons why wrestling games cannot hope to reflect the real deal – you rarely see close two-counts; you have to build up crowd support or heat or whatever before you can pull off your finisher; you can’t perform a series of two or three finishers in a row, despite the flawless ring psychology that this is the only way to beat your opponent. However, the main one is the simplest rule of wrestling and the largest barrier to producing a truly world class wrestling videogame.

It’s all a work, people.

Because video games rely on some figures and statistics to produce what they consider to be an accurate wrestling model, you have to pay close attention to your health meter and that of your opponent. Try and hook on a submission too early and the other guy will easily break it, yet all the great submission moves – be it the figure-4 leglock, the crossface, the ankle lock, the Tazzmission – are sold on the fact that they are so painful you can hook one on at the start of the match and still get the victory. Kurt Angle doesn’t have to work the leg before slapping on the ankle-lock…it just hurts, regardless. That’s kind of the whole point of the Angle Invitational or, more accurately, the Mastrlock Challenge.

Similarly, a character’s win-loss record is of great importance in any wrestling gme. In Legends of Wrestling II you can’t go for the world title until you have won and successfully defended all 5 regional belts; in Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighbourhood you need to defeat a certain number of backyard wannabes before moving onto the next area and in WrestleMania 21 if you fail to defeat any given opponent, then the computer pretends that nothing has happened and you just keep on having rematch after rematch after rematch until you damn well do be him…and why? Because the design team had already decided that your career storyline would involve building up an undefeated streak.

In the world of wrestling, some of our greatest superstars have suffered monumental defeats that have defined their careers, rather than destroyed them. Let’s try a little quiz, shall we? Think of a high profile Mick Foley feud…now, who won it? Odds are, it wasn’t Big Mick, but nobody cares. Mick Foley is one of those guys who can stay over without winning – he’s the anti-Goldberg, if you like. Does it matter that in his feuds with Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, Triple H, the Rock and Randy Orton he came out in second place? Hell know, but in a computer game the idea that losing can make you more popular is inconceivable.

In effect, when you’re playing a wrestling game and you have to rack up win after win, never losing a match and never dropping a title, you’re no better than Jeff Jarrett or Triple H (ironically, both of whom have had major losses in recent months – spooky). Undefeated streaks get boring and, since we all know it’s not an athletic contest, don’t really mean anything any more, yet every single wrestling game requires you to win in order to get over. If that was the case, then where did all of those Peeps come from? Has Christian been building up a streak of his own somewhere that nobody bothered to clue me in on?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy wrestling games, nor am I saying you shouldn’t enjoy them, but if you buy them expecting a reasonable facsimile of the weekly events on Raw and SmackDown! then you’re going to be disappointed.

Remember – just as professional wrestling isn’t quite a sport, so wrestling video games aren’t quite professional wrestling.

The e-mail link is at the bottom of the page, so feel free to let me know what you think about anything I’ve said.

Until the next time…farewell.