Game Review: WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke’s
Genre: Wrestling
Series: SmackDown! (It would become SmackDown vs. Raw and WWE in future)
Released: October 31 2002 (US) and November 15 2002 (UK)
Certificate: 15+ (Nowadays 16)
Consoles: PS2

After three SmackDown! games which had plenty of positives but also a fair number of negatives, the fourth title in the series was the first to bring everything together. Every area that had been lacking was addressed, whilst the elements which had been lauded by fans remained in place, resulting in one hell of a wrestling game. It was also the first SmackDown! game since the WWF changed its name to WWE, and once again a SD game had two different covers between the UK and US versions, as you can see here.

Shut Your Mouth benefitted from the huge influx of former WCW and ECW talent in the preceding twelve months. Whilst the Invasion came too late for the previous game Just Bring It to include the key players, this was not an issue for SYM, which saw series debuts for Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Diamond Dallas Page, Billy Kidman, The Hurricane and legends such as Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Kevin Nash, as well as newcomers like Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton. When you combine that with all of the usual big names, you end up with a roster that is stacked with star power. Granted, Scott Hall’s firing meant that he missed out, and some even complained that Steve Austin remained in the game after his June 2002 walkout, even though an eventual return was inevitable (fools). However, the 60-strong line-up not only easily bested the previous year’s roster, but was an all-time great selection of talent during a memorable time in WWE history.

Match-wise, the Lumberjack bout was a new if somewhat hidden addition, and there were variants on existing stipulations such as Captain Fall Tag and 6-Man Tag Table. That being said, you could no longer have eight characters on-screen, and bizarrely this has never returned to a WWE game since. The gameplay and controls hadn’t changed, but there were new weapon moves particularly with steel chairs: a basic chairshot had more impact than in past games, and the Van Daminator was amongst the chair-based moves on offer. Foam hands were unlockable weapons, and wearing them while posing as the relevant superstar (such as Hogan) made for some amusing visuals.

The ring entrances were the most authentic yet, such as Kurt Angle being greeted with chants of “You Suck!” (some wrestlers had multiple themes, and certain tracks lasted longer than the usual minute, although a couple were inaccurate presumably for licensing reasons). You could also now attack your opponent after the match with certain button combinations (although your adversary would occasionally repel your assault in a cool twist), and for the first time all PPV arenas were included in full, along with the UK PPVs, updated Raw and SmackDown! venues and Heat too. You could even climb the stages in some of the areas, such as the giant throne at King Of The Ring, which allowed for some great aerial attacks. Incidentally, this was the first SD game to have the Royal Rumble arena, and so this began the tradition of only being able to play Rumble matches from an actual Rumble arena, a limitation which amazingly continues to this day.

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The backstage universe had been altered and was arguably the best yet. The rooms weren’t as big as the frankly huge areas seen in Just Bring It, but it was cool to roam around the entire inside lobby of the arena, loosely based on Madison Square Garden. Rooms such as the boiler room and the parking lot had new interactive props like smoke pipes and mini-dumpsters. Once you left the arena, the fun continued with several areas such as a train station (one of my favourite backstage areas ever, if only due to the cool transition of carrying on a brawl on the train as it transports you to the next place) and Times Square/The World (formerly WWF New York). Add to that the unique weapons in certain rooms and some winter versions of outdoor places that allowed you to have snowball fights, and you would have to be the dullest of wrestling purists not to have tremendous fun with this aspect of the game alone.

Perhaps the best part of the game was Season mode. After several attempts where the main story mode was either too limited, too slow due to unnecessary loading or too short, the team finally got it right in Shut Your Mouth. After a customisable Draft between SmackDown! and Raw (the first game to feature such an option), you took your character into various storylines, feuds and matches, with the ability to interfere in other people’s bouts if you wished. You could walk around the entire backstage universe between matches (there were neat door-opening and door-closing transitions between areas), and there would usually be at least one wrestler who you could chat to, from a friendly chat to a mini-confrontation. It often ended up being Reverend D-Von babbling on about his funding, unfortunately, but there were other examples to be found, and some even provided minor voiceovers to deliver their catch phrases. You could also end up on Heat if you kept losing, and you were given the opportunity to compete on UK-only PPVs too. There were loads of unlockables, and you had a monthly selection of items to choose from, enduring replayability as it would take years to unlock them all. Add to that how you could challenge for any titles, commentary explaining some storylines, and the use of real-life moments (ranging from the nWo invasion to minor things like Stone Cold pretending to join SmackDown! as an April Fools joke on Vince McMahon, right down to Vince’s blue clipboard), and it’s easy to see why one could have a ton of excitement and entertainment with this. It was one of the best single-player story modes ever in a WWE game.

In addition, Create A Wrestler was more in-depth than ever and you could now design up to 32 characters, with template designs ready for John Cena, Jamie Noble and Christopher Nowinski. You could view the actual wrestlers when modifying their repertoires in Create A Move Set (no broken sample move sets this time, thankfully). Theatre was back with highlight reels, one of which was based on Rob Van Dam (there was also a Credits video again, which had some deliberately amusing clips where the development team had clearly tinkered with the characters a bit). There were clips of various performers on the main menus. There were special camera angles available during finishing moves. The graphics were amazing for the time, although they have obviously been topped since then. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were now the announcers and were a big improvement upon Michael Cole and Tazz in Just Bring It, even if their announcing consisted more of soundbites than actual play-by-play. And the official SmackDown! intro opened the game; there are few ways to get players ready to use a wrestling game than with loads of rapid-fire clips backed up by Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People. Seriously, watch that intro again and tell me if I’m wrong.

It speaks volumes that there is almost nothing negative I can say about this game. By the standards of the time, certainly, it was exceptional, and definitely the best SmackDown! game to date at that point. And yet it’s often overlooked due to the game which would follow it – Here Comes The Pain – since that would improve upon almost everything in Shut Your Mouth whilst adding a lot more. Nevertheless, SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth was one hell of a wrestling game, and one that I would recommend to any longtime WWE fan.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding