Backyard Wrestling: Don't Try This (PS2) - Daniel James - 2/10

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Backyard Wrestling: Don't Try This At Home [game information] Version Tested: PAL Genre: Sports Publisher: Eidos Developer: Paradox

Backyard Wrestling is apparently one of those American obsessions - there's a whole organisation behind it and everything. It takes the likes of WWE to the extremes, removes the rules (and the ceiling), and features grown men in scary costumes beating seven shades of faeces out of each other...whilst in the open air of someone's backyard. Although the concept may be lost on the likes of Europeans, there's a universal appeal to releasing your pent-up rage by using heavy objects (preferably upon sturdy heads).

Enter Backyard Wrestling then, for the Playstation 2, which takes this 'serious' (cough) 'sport' (cough) and removes yet more rules. Fights take place not in special fighting rings (a la the genuine sport) but in small, poorly-rendered locales - such as Actual Backyard 3, and Gas Station 1.

So, first impressions are not good. The menu screen offers a career-type mode (presented via talkshow-styled TV interviews) where you take on opponents stage-by-stage; a single (exhibition) fight mode against either another player or the CPU; a survival mode and other fighting-based 'minigames'; and some pointless options - including the customary 'create your own fighter', stitched together from - wait for it - fifteen full bodies and twelve costumes. Gamestyle attempted to get stuck in with the main career mode; selecting a character was made needlessly-difficult by a loading message that insisted on displaying the selected fighter in full (and frankly awful) 3D - thus stopping them from being chosen until it had finished. After which the stage introduction followed, with some poorly pre-rendered FMV and a 27-second loading bar before the level started.

The graphics are staggeringly dire; totally uninspired, low-res, blocky 3D models with ripped seams and disjointed animations - and totally aliased (jagged) edges on everything. The environments too are bland, and although featuring a fair amount of dynamic obstacles, the areas are so small (and the collision detection so weak) that both fighters will consistently walk through things; their body parts materialising through supposedly solid objects. Just looking at it is almost as painful as some of the brutal moves depicted within. With no tutorial mode to speak of, beginning a new game is like a punch to the face - literally. The fights are extremely fast, and are primarily based around a system whereby the first person to approach the other fighter (and press either Square or X first) wins. At least it initially feels that way.

Controlling your fighter is simplified and yet still awkward. The analogue stick will swiftly manoeuvre them in any direction within the environment, but a single punch from the opposition will stop you in your tracks. And therein lies the fundamental flaw with this game; the attacks and actions are uninterruptible sequences where you have no choice but to watch in horror. You'll probably regain control over your character for a grand total of some 10% of the time that you are 'playing'. If you're hit, you'll fall to the floor and have to wait until you can move again. Annoyingly, this is also true of any move you perform that sees you on the floor afterwards. If you're dazed by a strong attack (e.g. Punch Drunk), you cannot move. You are then open to more attacks - and grabs, and throws, and dives - until your AI-controlled opponent's 'fairness' routine kicks in, and gives you a second or two to get to your bloodied and bruised feet. At which point the floor is open for the next sack of meat to be chosen - decided (yet again) by the first person to initiate an attack and get the other fighter to the floor.

Of course, being the cowards that we are, Gamestyle decided to run for it. To be honest, seeing our skinny fighter 'MDogg 20' being chased around a barbecue table by the chunky brute 'Rudeboy' was a comical moment indeed - some Benny Hill music would have capped the moment quite nicely. But of course, running away results in objects being thrown at your cranium. Not a difficult action to trigger; the Triangle button will pick up/drop any usable object you happen to be standing over, and the X button will throw it. Here's the catch though - you know that thing that makes games enjoyable? What's it called, fair play? There's none of that distraction here. Because, if you're attempting to escape an incoming projectile, your movement will actually attract it (in mid-air, mind) towards your position! Run away, and it'll simply turn and aim straight for your head anyway - knocking you to the floor and leaving you defenseless against those bone-crunching elbow-diving attacks. Lovely.

And so, knocked to the ground, our face covered in 'blood' (or pixel vomit), we further suffered the indignity of a 17-second loading screen simply to get back to the main menu (no option to immediately retry the stage) - followed by the 'double whammy' of a 27-second loading screen to restart the (same) level. But wait, there's more! The difficulty curve is steep, and the learning process as shallow as they come. What you learn early on is that there's nothing much to learn other than how to lose - repeatedly. You may also learn that the default setting for the game is 'Hard' mode (the one in between 'Normal' and 'Porn Star', naturally), so a quick adjustment here saw Gamestyle less afraid to be back in the (yard); with the rather predictable response of the dumbed-down AI being to stand around for longer periods of time doing nothing. Not that this makes things any easier, of course. Even if you down one foe and make him cry like a little girl, you'll then have to face more in the same stage. If you fail to beat them all, you'll reset back to the main menu again and have to start over. Such a design flaw would be crippling even if there were some rhyme or reason (or consistent strategy) to the fights, but there isn't. It's like being forced into watching the same scene of a bad action movie on DVD over and over again - because you can't find the remote.

Speaking of movies, there are several unlockable clips to discover, showing - yep, you've guessed it - grown men in scary costumes beating seven shades of faeces out of each other. Oh, and talking about how much they 'rock' too, of course. The soundtrack featured also has an angry rock/metal/attitude to it. Generic punk and thrashy songs about 'breaking up' (hoho!) and beating stuff get the idea. Repetitive music is looped over and over during all menu screens and is enough to drive any sane individual to the brink. Production values are low (to say the least), and yet, surprisingly, amongst the Backyard Garbage is a 60Hz mode - meaning you can suffer 17.5% faster than you'd otherwise have to.

The one saving grace of such a disgustingly-vile piece of software is the two player Versus mode. Which is just that, and nothing more. Two characters; one sandbox full of toys; and two equally-terrible control interfaces through which you can vent your rage. Of course, all the earlier problems are shared, including the magical homing attacks upon everything. Even diving from a height (there are one or two ladders) onto a fallen opponent below ignores any sense of distance; you could roll away to the other side of the level and the move would still connect. A shame really, as the game almost - almost - has a Thrill Kill (PSone) feel to it. Only that wasn't as rubbish. But the graphic violence is certainly there (hence the [18] certificate) with cuts and bruises (appearing, as you'd imagine, as red splotches on the drab, untextured surfaces of the characters' exteriors), and limbs and bodies bending in all manner of unnatural ways. This is a game for adults, right? Not likely. It all seems to be pointing at the lowest common denominator, with scantily-clad 'Backyard Chicks' featuring in the menu backgrounds, the bonus videos and even as playable characters in the game itself (the female form has never looked so undesirable).

So, take heed of the warning on the box: Don't Try This At Home, because you're better off not bothering. Try hitting your head against a brick wall for about half an hour instead.

Game Score: 2/10 Reviewed By: Daniel James