Written By: Mark Armstrong
Series: SmackDown! (It would become SmackDown vs. Raw and WWE in future)
Released: November 21 2000 (US) and December 1 2000 (UK)
Certificate: 15+ (Nowadays 16)
In hindsight, wrestling fans – or more accurately, WWF fans – were spoiled in 2000. Whereas in modern times we’re lucky to get one truly great wrestling videogame in a generation, in the year 2000 we were treated to three. As well as the first SmackDown! title, the autumn/winter treated us to both No Mercy and the subject of this review, SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role. Although a shade inferior to No Mercy, SmackDown! 2 was still one hell of a game, and it was a superb end to the life cycle of wrestling titles on the PSOne. In contrast to the usual annual trend of releases, this came just months after the first SD (making 2000 the only year to have two releases of the flagship series), and it was the first game in the series (but not the last) to have different covers between the UK and US regions, as shown on the right; the UK image sits at the top, with the US image midway through. (Speaking of which, the reverse artwork shows The Undertaker in his Ministry-era attire, but it was his up-to-date American Bad Ass character who featured in the game, despite his Kid Rock theme not being included.)
Since this came in the latter stages of the Attitude Era, the roster consisted of many key players from that unforgettable time. Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane and others featured, but more notable was the incredible number and depth of new faces who hadn’t featured in the first SD title. Kurt Angle, Tazz, The Radicalz, Rikishi, Too Cool, Trish Stratus, Lita and more than a dozen others made their series debuts in Know Your Role, with Shawn Michaels thrown in for good measure. Big Show was a notable absentee, although he was secretly thrown in as an unidentified character during occasional Royal Rumbles. With a roster total of 67 that wouldn’t be matched again in the series until SmackDown vs. Raw 2007, and wouldn’t be topped until two entries later with SvR 2009, this was a great snapshot of the Attitude Era, bettered only by the even larger line-up on the aforementioned No Mercy. By the way, who could have predicted that this would be the last game in the entire series, even at this early stage, to include Chyna?
Another step-up from the previous SmackDown! game concerned the match types on offer. Whilst SD did introduce some cool stipulation bouts, they were dwarved by those on offer in SD 2. This game marked the debut for the following matches: Hell In A Cell, Ladder, Table, TLC, Casket, Iron Man and Slobber Knocker, as well as a gimmick-themed King Of The Ring tournament. Needless to say, those who play out a virtual promotion on wrestling games had loads of options available to them. In particular, the HIAC match allowed players to leave the cage, fight up to the top of the structure and hurl their opponents off it and/or drive their adversary through the roof. Some of these match types would obviously be improved in future games, but nevertheless this was a fantastic number of stipulations, and was one key area where Know Your Role trumped No Mercy. It was also, strangely, the only wrestling game to date that featured a traditional Casket match (besides the one-off, cut-scene based match during Showcase mode in WWE 2K15).
In addition, those who loved taking their scraps backstage were in for a treat. The first SmackDown! introduced backstage fighting to WWF games, but Know Your Role took things to another level by offering around a dozen areas. These included a basic backstage hallway, a boiler room, a restaurant, Vince McMahon’s VIP suite, a car park (where you may even get knocked down by a car, as daft as it sounds) and even WWF New York. That being said, although some rooms offered nice interactive spots and weapons, they are perhaps less fondly remembered than the simple yet effective kitchen area in the first SD (which included a giant watermelon) or such rooms as the bar area in No Mercy, with its cool lighting effects and bone-crunching pool table. Nevertheless, nobody will have been disappointed by the backstage universe on Know Your Role, which was a great homage to the Hardcore division that could see its matches literally end up anywhere.
There were some new create options available, too. Create A Wrestler allowed for up to ten creations and was more in-depth than in the previous game, and you could now create a stable, a move set, a taunt and a manager (the latter option making its only ever appearance in this one). Create A PPV remained, complete with its TV-style rating figures, and you could now hold up to eight matches on a customised card. Speaking of PPVs, there were now ring mats for all 12 annual supershows (which were very updated, since they included logos for cards as recent as Unforgiven 2000), although none of them had an authentic aisleway; only SmackDown! and Raw had their full arenas included. That being said, each aisleway would show the action on their big screens with more colour and definition than ever before.
Most notably, the Season mode was more refined, allowing for weekly shows and monthly PPVs where you would be wrestling, compared to the match- and card-lite version in the previous game. The cut-scenes were more authentic, and they matched actual storylines, such as Shawn Michaels refereeing an Iron Man main event at Judgment Day. You could challenge for any title and end up anywhere on the card, depending who you picked. And the unlockable characters came in their proper form, rather than as a bunch of parts for Create A Wrestler (plus they would be unlocked at logical times based on real events, so for example at Backlash you unlocked Steve Austin, who had made a one-off appearance during an injury lay-off at Backlash 2000). You could also unlock creation parts, match types and backstage areas, too.
The game wasn’t perfect, though. Starting with Season, there were long loading times for basic cut-scenes, some of which were as simple as a wrestler arriving at the arena. In addition, you had to manually skip every match on a Season show that you didn’t want to wrestle in, which is fine, but doing so took nearly half a minute each time. Therefore, each show would take at least 10-15 minutes to play through, so you can imagine how many hours were needed to finish the mode as a whole. In addition, entrances remained basic (a wrestler walking in front of their Titan Tron video, and with the intros lasting mere seconds), the wrestling engine and control scheme hadn’t changed at all (which again was fine, although it made the game feel like an update rather than an evolution to the first SD title, and it meant that some matches like Slobber Knocker were extremely tricky due to the rapid-fire pace of matches), and whilst there were announcers tables at ringside with 2D images of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, and the Spanish announcer’s team, there was no actual commentary on offer. The game-opening video was a longer version of the SmackDown! intro video, and did contain some use of actual wrestler phrases, but they were the only identifiable use of voiceovers in the entire game. Finally, whilst the graphics were fine for the era and were very bright and colourful, they were still a step down from the more blocky, realistic wrestler graphics found in No Mercy.
Overall, though, there was way more to like than to dislike about SD 2. Granted, it would be easily bested by future entries in the series such as SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain and SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006, but by the standards of the time (and remember that prior to the first SD, the best PS1 wrestling games had been the slightly antiquated War Zone, Attitude and WCW Mayhem titles), this was tremendous, and an ideal videogame accompaniment to the on-screen shenanigans of the hugely popular Attitude Era. Had the near-perfect No Mercy not been released around the same time, this would be even more fondly remembered but, even when you take this into account, Know Your Role was great, and still marked one of the high points of WWF/WWE wrestling games. In fact, given its massive sales figures based partly on its excellent gameplay, the success of this game was probably a major reason why the flagship series would remain on future PlayStation consoles and ultimately continue to this very day.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding