I've never been much of a wrestling fan in the past, so when I got assigned to this game during my brief stint as a game tester I wasn't too thrilled at first. Thing is the wrestling team was filled with guys who just love this stuff, people who knew the whole history of wrestling inside and out. Interacting with these guys and watching this game evolve through the development process has given me a new understanding of what wrestling is all about, it's about the show. Day of Reckoning 2 does a good job of capturing this essence and also focuses more on an arcade style of gameplay which a good wrestling title needs. The action is fast, with more emphasis on precise combos and tag team strategies rather than crowd pleasing and specials.
The controls are pretty spot on, and you'll need it as the action gets pretty intense. L and R buttons are used for blocking/dodging strikes and reversing grapples while the C-stick is used for actually executing them. The D-pad is used to call in your tag team mate to do various things, like knock you out of a pin, attack the enemy tag team guy, execute tag team moves, etc. Through it all you have to keep an eye on your stamina meter to keep from wearing out as well as your special meter which when full lets you execute your wrestler's signature move. And of course use of various foreign objects that the referee never seems to see (chairs, tables, etc.) comes off pretty natural.
Where this game really shines of course is in multiplayer tag team matches. Biggest difference between this series and it's PS2 equivalent Smackdown vs. Raw is that this one seems to be more realistic - holds, throws, and specials can be broken through outside interference. Unlike in SvR where your team mate cannot interrupt a grapple, here it's a vital part of the strategy. You can interrupt anything - a special move, corner drop/grapple, running attack, Irish whip, anything. To compensate for this your character is able to execute his special move as many times as possible while the special meter is flashing. This ads a lot of strategy in multiplayer that just isn't present in SvR - here you not only have to worry about your immediate opponent but also what the other guy is doing at the same time. This can lead to overly long matches at times especially with maxed out custom characters, however the payoff from actually having to whittle down your opponent with skill vs. relying on automatic grapples and specials seems more worth it.
Speaking of custom characters the interface for the custom character thing could use a little tightening up. Characters are created by taking a bank template and changing around various attributes, increasing height, making arms or legs thicker or longer, adding different clothes, masks, headwear, wigs, etc. This is handled by adding or subtracting points to various meters. While this works rather well it's just painfully slow, a faster more precise system is needed. However the ability to attach various 3D objects to create items for your characters as well as the ability to make draw custom textures (which is not present in SvR) adds a lot to flexibility. You can make basically anything you could imagine. You're also able to supply any of the various moves that all the other wrestlers have (and some they don't have.) In fact this goes a little too far as you can give your custom a somewhat generic move for a special, like a low punch or dodging tackle that has a small windup time and reset delay. For example one guy made his custom with this low groin punch that he could do over and over and over again and completely cheeseball you to death, totally cheap.
There is a bit of weirdness going on though, for instance some of the add-on items miss a vital component to let you make a full character. For example you can get a dinosaur tail but no dinosaur mask, you can attach a cape or wig but then won't have enough points to complete your costume, etc. This was done to make it difficult for you to make your own versions of copyrighted characters from Marvel or DC for example, although it doesn't really work (one guy in the office had a royal rumble going with customs that were all made up to look like Marvel comics characters, Spiderman, the Kingpin, Captain America, etc.) Thing is this isn't because of hardware limitations but was put there deliberately for this reason, which for all intents and purposes is pretty lame. But that's what happens when you live in our lawsuit happy culture I suppose.
Story mode... meh. It's alright I suppose. It's got the WWE drama, which usually revolves around somebody either wanting the championship belt or else getting revenge on someone else for cheating them/betraying them/kicking their ass/etc. There is only one Story mode for any character you choose (with alternate matches for characters who just happen to appear as NPCs in story mode.) Cinemas are handled via FMAs (Full Motion Animations) utilizing the in game graphics. High res models of the wrestlers are used and they look pretty good, face and skin textures are pretty natural looking, etc. There isn't as much of the shining, plastic, covered in sweat look as in DOR 1. Characters that wear lots of clothing tend to look a little rubbery at the joints, as in there isn't any type of natural folds in the cloth (such as Triple H in his three piece suit) but it isn't anything too distracting. Hair looks really good, especially on the divas. Dialog is presented by subtitles without any voice over.
Overall I find the DOR series to be a more fulfilling experience than it's SvR counterpart, the main thing that hamstrings this game is the lack of any type of online play. It would have been really cool to be able to play other people online with your custom character here or be able to download new items, skins, costumes, etc. I guess that's something for the next gen consoles though. What multiplayer is here is handled very well, just so much wasted potential..
A superior title that wrestling fans will love, and even non-wrestling fans can get into the character creation aspects.
Graphics: Very clean looking high-res models of the various WWE superstars, with realistic skin and hair textures. The graphics for the custom characters leave a bit to be desired however.
Sound/Music: Good sound effects of bodies hitting the mat, punches, kicks, etc. Music is epic sounding heavy metal fare, which while decent can get a bit repetitive. The various themes of the Superstars are well represented.
Gameplay: Excellent arcade style controls and fast matches gives some pretty intense gameplay, however the ability to make any particular common move a special leads to some cheapness here and there. Lack of any type of online play totally hamstrings the title however.