Ever since watching the Intercontinental title match between Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III, I have been hooked on pro wrestling. That match, with its action, drama and twists, encapsulated all that is great about pro wrestling. The Smackdown vs RAW games are like that match, in that they capture all the action, drama and fun that is rasslin
’. The WWE Smackdown vs RAW franchise itself has grown from strength to strength over the years, where it is now undoubtedly the best in its genre.
The latest incarnation of the series, WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2011, includes several new features and tweaks; some of which improve the overall game experience, while others unfortunately hinder it. A brilliant addition is the WWE Universe mode, which replaces the Career mode from previous versions. In WWE Universe, you are in the role of match-maker and how you play the game will determine the storylines and affect alliances and rivalries between wrestlers. I enjoyed and appreciated the freedom provided in this mode, as you can either just concentrate on one match or have a hand in every match. You can adjust the match card at any time, but if you want your favourite wrestler to compete in a title match, you won’t be able to just include him or her in a title match, as you’ll need to move them up the rankings before having the opportunity to wrestle for a title.
WWE Universe mode features the flagship television programs – Smackdown, RAW and Superstars, as well as the Pay Per Views like Backlash. By wrestling in certain matches, you can unlock arenas, belts and wrestlers. You’ll even be presented with several cut scenes, ones that even feature Vince McMahon or even have your allies or enemies run in and interfere in matches.
The Road to Wrestlemania mode returns with five different storylines that feature Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Christian, Chris Jericho and the Undertaker. Aside from Christian, the rest of the Superstars have been featured in this mode before. The Undertaker’s storyline is different from the rest, as you don’t actually play as the Dead Man, rather you choose from either your created character, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler or R-Truth, with the goal of halting the Undertaker’s winning streak at Wrestlemania. I really enjoyed this mode, as the storylines of the wrestlers were excellent, capturing all the drama, action, surprise and humour (thanks to Edge and Christian) of a typical WWE storyline.
A new addition (which is actually a returning feature), is the ability to roam the backstage area. The idea sounds promising, unfortunately the execution is lacking and the whole backstage experience comes across as more of a hindrance. The main activity backstage is to either start up a conversation or a fight with a wrestler, and I found that the majority of the wrestlers backstage had no interest in talking. The game tries to implement an RPG element, as points are earned from fights which can then be used to upgrade your wrestler’ stats. But the points earned from a backstage fight were so minimal that it really didn’t make much difference and was little help to the upgrading. Overall, the backstage area was more of an annoyance and distraction as it just took the longer route to your eventual goal.
Another negative was in the lip-syncing department. Mouths moved randomly without any sort of connection to words, much like a badly dubbed movie. Voice-acting was also sub-par (though I did enjoy Santino’s butchering of the English language); it sounded like the wrestlers were just reading off a piece of paper, lacking the intensity and explosiveness of a real promo.
WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2011 does include a new physics system that improves and creates more realistic matches. This is an excellent addition, as it allows for more realistic use of objects as weapons. Tables and ladders can now be stacked in different ways, and will break differently depending on the impact. It was cool to stack tables on top of each other, or leaning a ladder against another ladder and running up it. The new systems allows for more mayhem and the ability to create some of the more crazy moments that happen inside the squared circle.
Annoyingly, THQ and Yuke’s have implemented an online pass system, that’s on offer out of the box for first time at retail, but needs to be repurchased on its own if you buy a second-hand copy. It’s contextually called Online Axxess
, but I doubt the move will be popular with gamers who like to buy second-hand or even just borrow games, but Smackdown vs RAW does offer the customer incentives, as it gifts you some content such as an extra playable character (Chris Masters) and alternative costumes for Kelly Kelly and Rey Mysterio.
The game includes a huge roster of more than 70 wrestlers, but as fans of the WWE know, the talent roster at the WWE is constantly changing, and with the final roster for the game finalised many months ahead of the game’s release, you’ll see many names, such as Batista and Matt Hardy that aren’t with the company anymore, while wrestlers like Wade Barrett and David Otunga of Nexus, who have been the focal point of the latest WWE storyline are missing. Hopefully in the coming months, some of the names that missed out on the initial cut make it onto the game via downloadable content.
WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2011 doesn’t include any major upgrades, rather a few minor changes to an already strong game. The additions and tweaks should be enough to satisfy the fans of this long running series till next year.