The Rock lays the smackdown on Mankind.

Over the over ten-year history of the relationship of the WWF and Acclaim games, they’ve put out some great games. From the early days when you could punk the on-screen ref and then cheat while he was coming to or rubbing his eyes to the last of their 2-D games – WWF In Your House – their games have been fun to play and full of great superstars. With their final game, WWF Attitude, Acclaim turns it up to 11 and delivers their best game of all.

Building on the engine designed for last year’s spectacular WWF Warzone, Attitude delivers over 40 wrestlers and jobbers (and one Head) more moves than I can count comfortably and more customization than I’ve ever seen in an American wrestling game. The basic game engine has been sped up and strengthened with almost no vanishing body parts evident.

My first suggestion – don’t skip past the intro video. Once you get past the very nice FMV clip, there’s a nice screen dedicating the game to Owen Hart. Also, in case you haven’t heard, while Owen is still very much in the game. The Blue Blazer costume is not.

I started out my exploration of the game with a few exhibition matches. Immediately I noticed a lot of improvements. Almost everything has been turned up a notch. LOTS more speech from the wrestlers including a random taunt as the match starts. More moves this time around too and all very smoothly done. Each wrestler has their own signature moves as well as finishers. The game uses the same grapple system as Warzone, so get ready for a lot of armbars. But practice pays off and soon I was slapping all sorts of cool moves on my opponents and vice-versa. I watched Owen slap me silly with an Insiguri, Taka Michinoku nailed me with a Driver, and I was generally beaten around like I owed them all money. But I never had a better time having my ass handed to me.

Next I tried the game’s new Career Mode, allowing you to work your way to the title belt. A certified Snow Flake (or is that Head Head?) I chose my man Al Snow to take to the top. It works nicely – you start out at house shows eventually working your way to Shotgun, Sunday Night Heat and finally headlining on Raw. Characters now feature a full intro sequence now and their own theme music. There are several intros actually depending on whether you’re wrestling at a house show, Shotgun, Heat or RAW. The intro sequences get more impressive with pyro, the Titantron and other little effects. Unfortunately, the player always comes out first so in order to see everybody else’s intros you have to sit through your own up to twenty times. Ugh.

Bored with the current roster? Acclaim is way in the lead with the “create-a-wrestler” mode. Dozens of costumes, clothes and accessories, in an infinite number of color combinations make it easy to create a wrestler of your own or come up with your version of wrestlers from other federations. Add to that the ability to print your own slogans on the clothes, choose all your moves and even select from a library of intro themes and verbal taunts and you’ve got a system that rivals Fire Pro Wrestling when it comes to making your own players.

Adding to the customization in the game is the Pay-Per-View mode. You can set up your own 8-match PPV, name it, design the lighting effects for the arena, the stipulations of each match including a Royal Rumble, Survivor Servies or King of the Ring and if you want, sit back and let the game run all the matches for you. Plus, if you have a Dex Drive, you can save your wrestlers, PPV and almost everything else to your PC and share them with friends via email and the Internet.

A few things took a step back, I am afraid. The color commentary by Jerry Lawler and Shane McMahon is more diverse and they interact a bit more than before, the actual commentary on the game has gotten a bit poorer. Aside from an occasional reference to leaving the ring and hooking up, the comments are very generic, with few if any references to actual moves, and in the heat of action, it lags behind a great deal. Also, considering the complexity of the game, I was surprised to see no training section. A game this complex really needs it – especially considering the instruction book offers almost NO control or move support. The moves are available on the pause screen, but it’s hard to decide a move that quickly in the heat of battle. Several hours of playing, I could never figure out how to tag in a partner. And I rather liked the full-motion video scenes from the last game, taunting you into special matches; I didn’t see any here. Surely there wasn’t THAT little space left on the CD.

 Some of the WWF superstars available in the WWF Attitude game for the Sony Playstation.

All told, this is the finest wrestling sim out for the Playstation in the US. With all the licenses moving around in the next few months, it’s safe to say the bar has been raised and Electronic Arts will have to go a long way to beat this one.

By the way, while this is the last WWF game from Acclaim, this definitely NOT their last wrestling game. Plans are already underway for their next game, though Acclaim is being very tight-lipped about who the game will feature. Their only statement is that people will be “surprised” at the news. The smart money says ECW but regardless, with one of the best game engines out right, it’ll give the competition a run for their money.

(*) Interesting tidbit-Al did a lot of the motion capture for the wrestlers for Warzone but wasn’t in the game. This time he’s in the game, the Hardy Boys did most of the motion capture for Attitude and THEY aren’t in the game. Wonder who’ll do all the work and get none of the credit for WM2000?