I admit it. I watch professional wrestling. Too much, probably. I also admit I am an armchair booker, constantly telling the thus far deaf television what I want to see happen, to a predictably uneventful result. The booking urge in my soul was given salve, however, by Adam Ryland’s superlative Extreme Warfare series of games. I played the old Turbo Pascal Extreme Warfare Deluxe for 6 months while I waited what would prove to be my favorite game of all time, Extreme Warfare Revenge. When June 15, 2002 rolled around, I installed a game that would stay on my hard drive, in one form or another, through to the modern day. The day it died, my old computer was still proudly displaying the EWR shortcut on my desktop and my current PC has had one since the second day after I bought it. In short form, I love Extreme Warfare Revenge.
When given the chance to upgrade to this year’s model, Grey Dog Software’s Total Extreme Wrestling, how could I resist? Forty hours of game play later, and I was ready to review it. I was originally going to simply post this as my review:
TEW is greatness. Buy it.
Of course, I realized that Lucard would most likely break my thumbs for this (Lucard’s note: That’s highly optimistic of you), so I guess I better give some exposition.
What Is It?
With any game that defies common genre definitions, I guess it’s best to try to explain what exactly the game in question is. In the case of TEW, it is a wrestling promotion simulation. To be even clearer, TEW is a game in which the player takes the role of wrestling promoter and tries to… well, actually, that’s the thing. TEW is much more free form than most games in the simulation genre, so the player’s goals are much more plastic. If you are a fan of the wrestling as sport concept, then you can use TEW to pursue your dream of an all wrestling, no sports entertainment company, go right ahead. If you are looking to take a tiny company and make it a serious contender, then that is also feasible. Hell, my goal is usually to shape a company into a collection of misfits stuck in a slightly baroque moral play. The real beauty of TEW is that all of this and more is possible.
For those not familiar with the last two games in the sequence (TEW 2004 and Wrestling Spirits), TEW 2005’s default database is loaded with over 1000 workers, but not workers you will recognize, unless you are from a parallel universe or something. TEW takes place in a universe called the Cornellverse, named after the World’s best wrestler, Tommy Cornell. The Cornellverse is not like the world of Fire Pro Wrestling, full of renamed clones and analogs. The Cornellverse is its own thing, full of potential storylines and epic feuds. For me, I prefer the Cornellverse to the real world simply because of Curt Hennig. I was a huge Hennig mark, back in his Mr. Perfect days, and I even suffered through the death throes of the WCW to watch him. Because of this, I was saddened deeply upon his death and troubled over what I would do with him in my ongoing EWR game. With the Cornellverse, I have much less worry when it comes to workers dying or having personal problems. Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer a fictional sandbox, something the Cornellverse provides me with. For those who aren’t fans of the Cornellverse, there is another option: mods.
If you must play with real world wrestlers, the Internet is full of TEW mods. Due to the ability to have multiple databases, TEW makes mods much easier to use. I prefer the Death of the Territories, but there are women’s, puro, and modern American mods out there, too. Check the Grey Dog Forums for more. Rave-X should be out any day now, for you EWR warhorses.
If there is a part of TEW that is difficult to apply a numeric score to, this is it. Story in TEW could be looked at in one of three ways. If you look to the fluff on the Cornellverse site, then TEW is a pretty solid 7.5. If you look at the game’s prewritten storylines and angles, it’s about a 2.0. If you look at the story of your promotion as a whole as the Story, then a 10 is the only possible score. Truth is, to someone coming into the game cold, there is little story to speak of. A few rudimentary storylines and angles to start with and that’s about it. A deeper look reveals something else, though. Storylines and angles can be written by the player or imported from Mods. The Cornellverse site has a constantly growing universe being revealed. Even the worker’s bios in game are rife with possibility and promise.
Of course, if the overall story of a promotion is what you enjoy, then there is the in game record keeping, which remembers every match from every show that you run. Then, there are dynasties. Dynasties are the exposited histories of games in progress. By reading and sharing Dynasties, you can pick up and share strategies as well as map the rise and fall of your career as a promoter. Be careful, though, as Dynasty reading can become quite addictive.
What can I say about the graphics of a game that is basically a database? Seriously, though, the graphics are much improved from previous game and serve their function. Maybe it’s just because I remember the old EWD graphics, but I have to say that this game is positively gorgeous, next to its predecessors.
TEW has a song on the opening screen. Other than that, you get to hear your mouse click sound a whole lot.
Control and Gameplay
Since there is no real time interaction, the control is as good as your ability to use a mouse. Under gameplay, however, I must talk about the Grade system. The Grade system has been a pet peeve of a number of players, me excluded. Instead of giving numeric ratings to the stats of workers, the quality of matches, or the popularity of a promotion or worker in a specific region, a letter grade is given. The pet peeve seems to be that some people want instant access to the number instead of the more general letter grade. The only time this was even an issue for me was when I was trying to increase the size of my promotion and I needed to see the amount of popularity I needed to go up one more letter grade. Four mouse clicks later, I had the data I needed. Not a knock on the game so much as a caveat: if you are anal about instant access to numbers, the grade system might drive you insane.
Control and Gameplay:8.0
Without any mods, I have three more companies I want to play with in the Cornellverse in the short term. In the long term, I would like to try out all of them. With mods, I don’t know if there really is an end to the amount of play that can be achieved. Being able to write your own storylines and angles makes TEW a game with almost limitless gameplay possibilities. I played TEW’s much more limited ancestor for 4 years. I always thought infinite replayability was a myth.
How difficult is TEW? As difficult as you make it. Your own goals, as well as the owner’s goals, determine the game’s difficulty, as does your company of choice and your strategy. My only knock would be the lack of a tutorial. I came in with extensive experience from previous games and still got lost at the beginning.
The game itself is unlike anything else in the wrestling genre and I don’t play simulators for other sports, so it seems pretty iconoclastic to me. Hell, Raw vs. Smackdown 2006 ripped TEW off. I think that says it all.
I played this game for 30 hours in 3 days. I still wanted to play it when I had to quit and go to bed. I think about it when I walk my dog. When I brush my teeth, new booking ideas pop into my head. Addictive? Hells yeah.
I love professional wrestling. I love simulation games. I love TEW. My wife calls it my mistress. My usual drinking buddy Ryan calls it “that game.” I call it a way of life. The tricky question is: does it appeal to other people? I don’t know for sure, but, judging from the overflowing of topics on multiple message boards, I would say yes. It’s less expensive than the huge number of crappy wrestling games out there and is the best wrestling game I’ve ever played in English. Did I mention I love it?
The question I have to posit here is this: Is TEW better than EWR? Yes, by a fair margin. Is TEW $35 better than EWR? Without a doubt, yes it is. TEW has no peers or rivals in its genre and has become more than a game. TEW is a hobby.
Appeal Factor: 9.0
Overall Score: 9.0 (Rad)