Total Extreme Warfare 2004 Review (PC)
Total Extreme Warfare, from .400 Software Studios, and creator Adam Ryland, is the latest attempt to simulate the day-to-day life of the owners and "bookers" of the wrestling world. You deal with many of the things that a real owner might encounter, such as contract negotiations, wrestler egos, television deals, merchandising, pay per views, and much, much more. The question that I'll try to answer in this review is whether "TEW" is worth your 35 dollars or you are better off sticking with the free text simulators that are on the net.
Text sport games have had a decent following in the PC sport gaming circles. Games like Out of the Park Baseball and Front Office Football have strong followings due to their authenticity in replicating the sports very well. They usually do so due to not having to worry about the graphics, but instead concentrate on duplicating the happenings of what you see on television in a text only form. .400 Software Studios has been one of the bigger players in the text market having a game to represent all the major sports. John Griffin is normally our resident text gaming expert here at Operation Sports, but he decided to pass on this review and give it to the wrestling fans you see before you. "Total Extreme Warfare 2004" (TEW) is the first .400 Software Studios release I have played. I was intrigued by the title, as it is a wrestling simulation. I was extremely curious to see what this was going to offer and what kind of replay ability it would offer. Now where I am unfamiliar with the series as a whole, Matthew Coe (JohnDoe8865) is not. So the two of us are going to chime in on our pros and cons from two different perspectives. Hopefully we can both answer the question of, can a wrestling game be successful in the text gaming genre.
I have played almost every text based wrestling simulator ever released on the web, so I know what I like and what I don't in this area. The interface is a little "busy" for my tastes. The color choices and font are fine, but it takes a while to get used to where everything is at, and in turn, what all of your options are. After a few days you should get accustomed to the layout and menu options available, but it is a little overwhelming at first. Once you do have the hang of it, you notice that there is a great deal of depth to these menus. The buttons that are clicked take you to other parts of the game world quickly and offer up plenty of information in a very presentable fashion.
When I first started playing TEW I struggled immensely trying to figure out where I was going and what I was trying to accomplish. To just pick up and play without investigating is not an option here. After a while though I started getting used to the interface and was maneuvering rather easily. The only problem here is that, as you will find out later, the setting up and keeping track of whom your wrestlers are and what they actually do can be extremely cumbersome. So cumbersome that some users may start getting turned off before they even dive into the game.
There is some background music as you go about your day-to-day activities. There is a main theme you hear upon starting a new game, and it changes from AM to PM. It is fairly non-descript which is a good thing, as it didn't really distract me. While I definitely wasn't a fan of the choices included, what is noteworthy here is that you can replace these and add your own music. This is a really nice feature. You'll also hear beeps and various bits of sounds as you navigate through the game, but no grunts or sounds related to the wrestling itself.
Audio is still the most objectionable category in any game, as it is all about personal preference. The one thing I really dislike about doing reviews is judging the audio. Nice thing is that this being a text sim there really isn’t much in the way of audio that is needed to be worried about. Most of the time text sims are here to pass quiet, thinking time and out of place sounds really are uninvited. When I first started the game I got this awful hip-hop type music beat that I reached for the volume button immediately to shut it off. Once I succeeded in turning it off I was ok. If you know how to maneuver around your directories you could change your music choice, but it probably is just as quick to pop up a media player versus going through the work of changing one file worth of music. Outside of the music ditty, there is not much else in the way of sounds. Little beeps and bonks from menu buttons that are pressed are here and some short music for the two different segments of the game, but nothing related to wrestling. Seems a little lacking since a lot of the baseball text sims give you at least the crack of the bat, but as I said a few sentences ago, quiet play is normally what the text gamer is after and that is what they will get the vast majority of the time here.
This review was written using version 1.04 of the game. It was the third patch released in roughly a week. I have to give kudos to creator Adam Ryland for addressing the bugs that came up in an extremely timely manner. Total Extreme Warfare is a text-based game, so gameplay needs to be a strong point obviously. First thing you may notice is that this game carries no license whatsoever. This means you will start out with a fictional companies, fictional wrestlers, staff, TV shows, etc. So you won't have the Jeff Jarrett and Triple H's of the wrestling world on hand. On the other side of that is the fact that there is quite a dedicated following in the wrestling sim community and mods are the norm. So there is a good chance that if you are reading this, there is already a rosters set, picture pack, logo set, etc available to satisfy your real world needs.
The game, much like it's free predecessor, Extreme Warfare Revenge, is very mod friendly. For the purposes of this review, I used the default game world. You are given 9 save slots, so hypothetically you could be running 9 different games at the same time. The game has 3 different ways it can begin. Normal is the default mode. Scramble starts the game with every worker a free agent and challenges you to hire anyone and everyone as fast as you can, and beat the competition. It's parallel to a fantasy draft, except with contract demands. The third way is Chaos. This mode uses the scramble mode, but also randomizes the size and budget of each company. So for example in chaos mode, the WWE could be a "backyard" fed and NWA TNA could be a global force. You also have the option to set the economic climate in each region as well as the wrestling industry's popularity in each region or you can let the game randomize it. The game world is divided into 6 regions: USA, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Japan, and Australasia. All totaled there are 7 world regions involved and 109 real world locations.
After you have customized your game world, then the game continues with you choosing to become head booker, owner, or both of any of the game's promotions. You can also make yourself a "worker" or wrestler in the game as well. Each promotion has stats such as when they were founded, what country they are native to, how much money they have, and what style of wrestling they offer. Each one also has a short back-story. Promotion styles range from cutting edge, to traditional, to sports entertainment and many more with descriptions accompanying each one. Each style appeals to a specific type of audience. So booking a pure sports entertainment show in a town that loves hardcore wrestling like Philadelphia, isn't going to draw very well for example. Now that you've taken control, it's your world. You have access to all of your promotion's titles, announcers, tag teams, stables, storylines and more. You can edit all of these very easily as well. You can now go and attempt to hire and fire wrestlers, managers, valets, and staff. You can call a meeting with your advisors to discuss plans for the company. Want to book the most over worker you have to lose to a newcomer in a Ladder match in a 15-minute segment with a run in from the backstage area? You can do it, just make sure they don't have a pesky creative control clause in their contract or they will stifle your plans. It's that kind of complexity that will either turn gamers on or off. The depth to this game is staggering and took me nearly a week to find all of my different options.
The booking part of the game, which is the core of the game, is very well done. The days are split up into AM and PM. AM is the time to get all of the business done. The worker signings, the meetings, reading your email, etc. On the topic, the email feature is extremely well done. You will receive emails from workers who want to talk with you, from workers you have offered contracts to, and get results from your opposition's shows. Keeping the wrestlers morale up is a very important part of your job and adds another level of immersion, so the wise will read and respond to those emails asking for a meeting. You also have a handy diary that keeps track of contracts expiring, when your next big event is, and any other news you might choose to receive. You can also setup future Pay Per View shows here and negotiate television deals.
The PM section is where you book the shows that the audience will see. Within this seemingly simple task of lining up matches and reading the results, is a very complex system at work. The booking section is a very lengthy process in itself. If you have a TV show or PPV event to book for example, it breaks down like this. You have a set time that your show will run. This can be from 30 minutes up to 4 hours plus. One of your jobs here is to fill all of the time minus commercial breaks, with interviews, angles, hype videos, matches, brawls, battle royals, etc. You have to schedule each segment with an allotted amount of time to run. This is not as easy as it sounds. If you make an interview too long, the worker may end up rambling and hurt their "over ness" with the crowd. Likewise if you book a match with two poor in ring wrestlers and give it a lot of time, it will fail miserably as the workers flounder to work the entire allotment, while cutting short a match that is going great is going to anger the crowd as well. Careful planning is required in every single step of the booking process.
Each "worker" is rated in 29 different categories from power, to technical skill to ring psychology. In order to most successfully book a match you need to have two workers who can both wrestle in a similar manner and have a good grasp on wrestling basics. If you have a very young wrestler he may be full of charisma, but lack the in ring skills necessary to work a good match. If you have an older worker, he may have a world of experience, but declining mobility will limit his in ring performance. There are so many variables to consider, that at times it boggles the mind. The kind of show you run is very important too. If you are running a traditional wrestling show for example, you are not going to do very well if you set up a bunch of angles and interviews and don't have good in ring workers, and vice versa. You must also take into account a worker's contract. They may have a "creative control" clause, which gives them the power to override your decisions about who they wrestle, what kind of match they wrestle, and who wins or loses. Ego plays a key role, as wrestlers with large egos will complain every step of the way when you book them to lose a match or put them in a match they consider too risky. Matches are rated according to a risk level when booking.
There are 60 plus matches in the database to begin with, but you are free to add your own with special stipulations and everything. Wrestling fans will recognize the standard fare here. Ladder matches, Cage matches, Table matches, Hardcore matches, I Quit matches and so on are available for both singles matches and tag teams matches. Also Tag Team, 3 Way Dance, 4 Corners, 6 man tag, 8 man Survivor Series showdowns and battle royals with as many as few as 10 and as many as 30 participants are allowed. There are also a huge number of options when it comes to booking angles such as a backstage attack, a locker room brawl, a car running down a worker in the parking lot, and so much more. You get the idea, and Ryland is adding more angles in each patch that he releases! Back to the in ring part, the more dangerous the match is, the more it will draw fan interest. It will also put the wrestlers health in jeopardy every time they participate in such a match. All things you must consider. You pick an announcing team, a referee and the combatants and you book the match, time allowed and the finish of the match. After you are done filling your time, you sit back and see a commentary wrap-up of your match accompanied with a description of how the fans reacted to each match. Then you are assigned a rating for your show both in a percentage of popularity and in attendance. You repeat this process all over the world in different cities, dreaming up storylines that the wrestlers will follow, setting up angles that will enrage or excite the crowd, and generally doing the things you might see on your favorite wrestling shows.
There are a few more little details I could go into but I think by now you get the idea that this game is massive in it's scale. On the more immersive side of things, wrestlers will get injured during the course of time, they will have personal problems that require they get rehabilitation, and they will be stubborn and unruly backstage just to name a few problems you'll encounter. This further puts a more life like feeling into what could other wise be a mundane point and click affair. The level of communication between you and your employees is really welcomed and works well in this context.
This is where TEW must shine. The only true point of a text game is it must engulf the user. If it doesn’t then the lasting power is going to be very minimal. There are a couple different ways to play the game, solo or multiplayer. Multiplayer will be addressed later, but solo is the main way to go. Once you have decided on how many people are going to be you then decide how to customize the way the game starts. Matt covered most of the in depth details of the limitations. No real wrestlers or federations are here. Everything you see here is completely fictitious. That is not to say that you cannot have real wrestlers and federations, it just takes work to get to this point. The forums over at .400 Software Studios will help you get the items you need to bring real wrestlers and federations into the mix. I found that the number of save slots that were available to be a very good thing, as I for the first couple of days I would open or create a wrestling universe and tests things out for a while. Once I found something I liked to work with then I would start again with my new changes. You can also import items into your universe as you go, so if you find that a user has created a very good replica of the WWE then you can go ahead and import to the game and use it along with everything else you see.
When I saw the amount of items I had that were pre set up I was impressed. There are 850 plus wrestlers already created in the game, 29 different federations, and all the little in intricacies that will go with your quest for a successful federation. If you want to play with fictitious wrestlers only then I found that the Scramble and Chaos modes were the best to start of with. These two modes basically have you starting with wrestlers who are unassigned to federations. Basically all 850+ people are fair game for every federation in the game (you are only controlling one of these federations at once, the rest are being handled by the sim.) The addition with Chaos is all the defaults for the federations are changed and are now completely randomized, plus you still have to go out and hire talent. I enjoyed starting my own federation and try to build my way up to stellar status to be one of the best ways to not only learn the game but also learn all the little details about the game.
As I said in the interface portion of the review getting around the menus is very cumbersome and will cause a lot of frustration for a while. This is especially evident when you get into the booking part of the game. There are two stages that can be performed on each game date. The first is doing the day-to-day operations, also called the AM stage. Here you can discuss details of your federation with your staff, sign new people to your roster, or do other things like negotiating with the television stations that carry your program, or discuss sponsorship changes with a major company. Once all those little details are taken care of then if you have a show date for the date coming up you then go to the PM stage of the game. Here you take your current show and detail how it’s going to look the public who plans on tuning in to watch or are going to show up at the arena. Booking is a task to perform. You have a set amount of time to fill, and then you are judged on how it appealed to the wrestling fans.
To make things interesting you need to know your workers that you are booking, as well as know their appeal to the fans. If you match-up two heel wrestlers against one another the crowd gets confused since they do not know whom they are suppose to boo. Same thing goes for a match with faces only. On top of that if the wrestler has some creative power they may not like the outcome you are coming up with, which will affect their attitude towards you and the federation. Star power wrestlers even have more control with that if they are a champion you might have a heck of a time trying to get them to agree to lose their title (ala Triple H). After all your matches are setup you can also add videos segments, or interviews, or even the obligatory run in after a match. Another thing to watch is the type of wrestling your federation features. If you are listed as a ‘pure’ federation and you try and do a lot of gimmicks your fan base is going to be severely disappointed. Same thing goes for being listed as ‘sports entertainment’ like the WWE. If you try and do just strictly wrestling matches with normal wrestlers you will not get much support at all.
Even once you get the entire show approved by your wrestlers and other workers, you may still encounter problems with the network you are airing your show on. If they think the match you are running is too risky for the time slot they will let you know. Trust me, it isn’t good for your federation when your television contract gets yanked. My federation spiraled downhill when I ran a couple of shows that pushed the television stations limit. They must not have liked all the phone calls from the FCC eh?
Once all your allotted time has been filled its time to watch your show and see the results. This is done rather quickly segment by segment. As each segment is ran you will see notes for the wrestlers involved, ranging from how their gimmick is going over to being told the crowd thinks they are wasted talent. On the other side of the screen you have the match play by play to see for your viewing pleasure. This shows exactly how the match went down; showing all the major blows, as well as anything you had set up during the booking stage. At the end of each show you are given a satisfaction rating then taken back to your home screen where you can see how the show actually did. Once all this is done, you then keep repeating the cycle.
Multiplayer ability is another feature touted by .400 Software Studios and Adam Ryland. It isn't a "true" peer-to-peer multi-player per say. It is a process in which you both use the same data in your games. You start a promotion like you would a single player game, and at the end of your turn you zip up your save file and send it to your buddy. He takes his turn, and sends it back to you, and so goes that. I find this to be a real hassle and not really worth the time it takes to zip the save file, send it, receive it back, unzip it, and so forth.
Matt has this very well covered here. I could see more fun playing multiplayer in the same living room versus the way it is portrayed here. Having to zip everything up after each turn is a royal pain in the ass and completely unnecessary. It would have been nice to have had an interface that would do this for you by having a file created that could be sent versus an entire universe.
I can honestly only recommend this game to the most hardcore of wrestling fans. For those, the high price tag won't be a significant problem considering the amount of depth that one can immerse themselves in. I'm not sure many casual wrestling fans will have the patience for, nor would get the value out of this game. This is the first foray for .400 Software Studios into the world of professional wrestling and I'd say it is largely a success. With Adam Ryland, creator of the most popular free wrestling sims available on board for Total Extreme Warfare, things can only get better. My biggest gripes are the 35-dollar price tag, which I feel is steep for a text game, no matter how good, and an interface with a lengthy learning curve. Aside from those, this is a solid effort and builds a foundation for bigger and better things in the future.
While the challenge of the game is strong and the replay is huge, the ability to draw in a non-wrestling gamer is not here. This game is only for the hardcore wrestling fans. Casual fans of the sport will not get past the first couple of stages before they throw in the towel and for a $35 price tag that will not work. One very encouraging thing here is that Adam Ryland is very active on the .400 Software Studios forums. They have been releasing updates very consistently since the release date less then two weeks ago, being on the sixth update, so the support is there and capable of increasing the value of the game. The thing is unless you are a hardcore text gamer you wont be patient enough to wait, and in all honesty for $35 why should you?