WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 Review
Wrestling games have always been somewhat ironic. Everyone knows that the real thing is always scripted and predetermined. Wrestling games have done completely the opposite. They encourage the violence and arguably offer a deeper sense of realism then the actual WWE live show provides. Maybe this is best reflected in the games rating (certificate 15) where as the real world programme has shifted to a PG certificate. Still THQ have a job on their hands to prove that Smackdown vs Raw is still the champion, even against their own competition in UFC.
In the ring it still plays like a Smackdown game, although in terms of gameplay the introduction of the Havok physics engine has given the game a big boost. This function allows the wrestlers react to their surroundings. A great example is in the use of the ring ropes, wrestlers will use them for balance or grab hold of them during submission hold. The Havok physics are vital for improving the presentation of a match and offers a greater depth of realism. Visually, it’s the most impressive to date, with superstars detailed to the point that sweat is dripping off them as a match goes on. It also appears that the majority of moves have now been motion captured. Again a vital addition to improving the realism of the game.
Like the previous installment you’re dropped off into the game in a ‘Training Arena’, which allows newcomers and veterans to get to grip with controls. This time THQ, have removed the strong grapple modify button and replaced it with a ‘chain grapple’. This is designed to ensure that you have to build smaller moves first to build momentum for bigger moves later in the match. This makes it much more lifelike when compared to its counterpart on TV. THQ have also put in the Tree of Woe move giving the ability to place your opponent upside on the turnbuckle, and also to allowing you to sit your rival on top on the turn for an additional set of moves. Also, when you have a finisher, you can perform it at anytime rather when just when your challenger is groggy. This brings a much greater urgency to matches. While this is a great move, veterans will be frustrated with THQs decision to change the button configuration again. Let’s hope they stick to this formula in future titles.
The newly added Havok engine is even more evident in a match with weapons or a TLC (tables, ladders and chairs) match. You can now watch your superstars head bounce off a steel chair, a table buckle or as you put your opponent through a table. This is a great feature added to the game and removes most of the clipping issues from previous games that would see two wrestlers suddenly emerge into each other arms.
The Hell in the Cell is another match type to receive a make over, benefiting from a bigger ring which begs more destruction and mayhem. The cell door, that allowed players to escape in previous games has been removed. Instead in its place ‘cell finisher; have been added enabling players to smash their opponent through the cell wall. With the expansion of the cell the developers have added weapons under the ring and steel steps near the poles to allow some ways to beat one another down. Apart from this, THQ/Yukes have added no extra match options, which is slightly disappointing.
To combat this, is the introduction of ‘Universe’ mode which combines the general manager mode from games past with a career mode. You are greeted with a match card for RAW on your arrival. Here you are in full control of deciding who you want to perform on the match card, design the match type with the new match creator (complete with extensive match rules). Then you can simply sit back, relax and watch relationships form or break down. You can even set up tag teams and rivalries like proper WWE programming. To drive this THQ have included 200 cut scenes. For example, before your big match against John Cena, Triple H may be sat ringside to see the match in person. Or perhaps The Miz may attack you with his Money in the Bank briefcase before your tag team match, allowing him a finisher at the start of the match. This is an incredible addition which is easily the best mode this year, giving hours of playability.
Not every superstar or diva can be interacted with however, and some of where the interaction takes place is in the backstage area where players take control of their Superstar and interacts with the world around him. The backstage also features a wonky camera, banal backdrops and the vapid voice work (by the announcers and wrestlers, here’s looking at you R-Truth and Michael Cole). Hopefully, future iterations can build upon multiple wrestlers and branching storylines but the presentation of the backstage area needs a complete overhaul. Often there seemed to be an endless struggle with the camera while interacting with the environment and other wrestlers. It adds nothing to the overall atmosphere, and at times makes it seem dead.
A few soft-RPG elements trickle into the backstage area, as one can level up attribute points and interact with non playable characters. The backstage area consists of a locker room, a medic room to level up and the ring entrance to start a march. The overall problem here is who buys a Wrestling game to level up? No-one wants to play a wrestling game where you have to race against Hurricane or put out a fire as Rey. It’s all a bit unnecessary. That said noted the storylines themselves are possibly stronger then those seen on TV.
The online mode’s biggest change is the increase of participants in the Royal Rumble to twelve. While there’s a lot of fun to be had in taking part in a massive fight with a bunch of friends in the ring, although connectivity is an issues. Lag can be a real problem – particularly if you’re about to get tossed out. This problem also make their way into other match types and can adversely affect a player’s online ranking. The community mode is very impressive, here other players will upload their created content such as moves, signs, stories or superstars themselves. You can download these, rate them, and this year even edit them when stored on your hard drive.
So is it the Champ? Not quite. New modes and drastic improvements are needed to the Road to Wrestlemania mode, and new match types would be welcomed. Also, voice acting and commentary needs a lot of work. The announcement that THQ are working on DLC could be interesting depending on what they deliver. Owners of Smackdown vs Raw 2010 will be hard pressed to find a reason to spend the money on what is an for all intense and purposes is a marginal update to last year’s game.