As we all know, Bragging Rights has come and gone, but in its place, we have received the brand new WWE video game, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. Like its predecessors before it, SVR 2011 has an updated roster, movelist, and gameplay mechanics. Did THQ truly deliver in this new installment? Let's take a closer look into each element of the game and see for ourselves.
The newest installment of the popular SVR franchise has one of the most impressive rosters to date, not to mention how the graphics have never looked better. Along with the obvious inclusion of such names as John Cena, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Edge, and Randy Orton, we are treated with a number of newcomers: Sheamus, Zack Ryder, Alicia Fox, Luke Gallows, Yoshi Tatsu, Tyson Kidd, David Hart Smith, and Drew McIntyre, to name of few. In addition, the game includes, like its predecessors before it, a number of WWE Legends: The Rock, Stone Cold, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Jimmy Snuka, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Rob Van Dam, and Bret Hart (though Hart is not initially available except through pre-order). It is worth noting that while RVD is classified as a Legend on the Smackdown vs Raw official website, he is actually a "Free Agent" within the game itself (as is Shelton Benjamin). It's amazing how many of the WWE Superstars/Divas actually made it into the game. Practically everyone who was employed at the time of the apparent roster deadline (April) is in the game. In addition to the numerous Superstars available within the game, there are also a few more to be released as DLC: Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, David Otunga, Layla El, British Bulldog, and Lex Luger. An interesting note: In the back of the game manual is an advertisement for the Nexus, which claims the DLC pack will be "available soon."
Though these are the only DLC Superstars announced thus far, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few more before 2012 comes out.
The controls are very similar to those found in Smackdown vs Raw 2010, though there are a few things to note. In many previous SVR titles, you would press the Right Stick down in order to pin, but this has been replaced by B on the Xbox 360 and O on the Playstation 2/3. You may still grapple using left, right, or down on the right stick, but in order to pick up your opponent, you must press up on the right stick. Not too confusing and it doesn't take too long to get used to, though you may be confused whenever you play a previous title again (assuming you do anyway).
The grapple system has undergone a few minor changes as well. Instead of holding RB or R1 in order to perform a strong grapple, you must hold RB or R1 to perform a quick grapple. Again, it is not too different and it will only take a few matches to get used to.
The major change in the control of the game, and one of my personal favorites about this game, is the Finisher/Signature move system. Instead of being forced to kick your opponent in order to stun them, as in all previous titles, you may now perform your finisher anytime you want, as long as it is available. For example, if you have a Finisher available as the Miz and you are standing behind your opponent, you may use the Skull-Crushing Finale, regardless of whether your opponent is staggered or not, whereas in 2010, you must make sure your opponent is staggered before you can use the Skull-Crushing Finale (note: not called SCF in 2010). This makes matches more exciting, as you can (and should be able to) hit your finisher from out of nowhere.
Road to Wrestlemania
Like 2009 and 2010, the "Story Mode" for this game takes place in Road To Wrestlemania mode, encompassing the months of January, February, and March, showcasing a Superstar's "road to Wrestlemania." As in the previous two games, there is a predetermined set of RTWMs that you may choose from: John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Christian, and vs. Undertaker. It's worth noting that in vs. Undertaker, you may attempt to end the Undertaker's legendary streak as one of five different competitors; Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, or a Created Superstar.
The stories behind each RTWM are pretty entertaining to witness. In Rey Mysterio's, he loses his memory and starts a friendship with Jack Swagger. In vs. Undertaker, Stephanie McMahon (the RAW GM) places you in matches similar to past Undertaker WM matches (such as a two on one handicap match against two giants like Taker's match against A-Train and Big Show). Jericho's RTWM sees him forced to work his way back up the card, after losing unsuccessfully to Triple H in a title match.
The thing that interests me the most about RTWM this year, is that you now have full freedom to roam around backstage, something that you haven't had since Shut Your Mouth (maybe Here Comes the Pain had such a feature), though in SYM you had a first person view and in 2011, there is a third person view. Along the way, you can run into various superstars or venture into the GM's office. There's not much you can really do back here other than provoke a match later on in the evening, get interviewed, start a backstage brawl, or hear often hilarious dialogue between two superstars. Its still nice to have the freedom to roam around as you please.
WWE Universe Mode
In the brand new "WWE Universe Mode", the game watches how you play and develops matches and cinematics based on your actions. The idea itself is a neat one, but the mode can be annoying at times. The mode comes with a schedule for each month: 4 Raws, 4 Superstars, 4 Smackdowns, and finally 1 PPV for that month. Each RAW and Smackdown has 4 matches, each Superstars has 3, and each PPV has about 6 or 7.
One thing that annoys me right off the bat: The game decides No. 1 contenders for you. If you decide to change one of the competitors in the match, it becomes a normal match with nothing on the line. Same goes for championship matches.
The only way to get someone to win the championship is to build them up yourself or else hope the game decides to throw you a bone and put them in a title match on its own. Another thing that is annoying is if you play an Exhibition match, then it takes up one of the reserved spots on that night's show. This isn't too bad, especially if you don't care about WWE Universe mode. Early reports have said that you can turn off Universe mode, however, I cannot figure out how to do so.
One thing that is very fun about Universe Mode is to see how things develop on their own by simulating every match. This can be very exciting, as you no longer have control and its left up to chance it often seems. I've simulated about two years worth of matches and some of the highlights from my time doing so include: Kofi Kingston defeating Edge to become World Champion; Undertaker winning the Royal Rumble and World Title in the same night, then not competing at Wrestlemania; Ezekiel Jackson and John Morrison winning the Money in the Bank match; Edge ending the Undertaker's streak; CM Punk vs Randy Orton feud; a glitch that showed Natalya and Alicia Fox facing each other for the WWE Championship.
This shows that the mode offers a lot of variety and a few bugs, however, it tends to repeat itself as well. I often found the No. 1 contenders matches to constantly be between Jack Swagger and Edge on Smackdown, and CM Punk and Triple H on RAW.
If you are unhappy with your current champions, you can still give the championship to whichever Superstar you want.
Other Interesting Notes
One thing that surprises me is that Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole are the only announcers in the game. No matter what arena you choose, King and Cole are the only voices you will hear.
The MITB match is pretty much impossible in this installment. The mechanics for ladder matches have changed, meaning your opponents can push the ladder over with you on it instantly. Not to mention the fact that you can never get the ladder in the right position, as an opponent will most likely push it away from the center of the ring while they are performing a move.
During Hell in a Cell matches, you are only able to exit the cell by breaking panels of the wall.
Unlike in the previous two games, you are unable to switch the music track playing during the menus. Also interesting is the lack of licensed music in the game. Even more curious is the inclusion of a track from Shut Your Mouth. Maybe THQ needed some kind of music to play, other than superstar tracks.
Story mode designer features many new scenes and situations, including a lot of Undertaker based ones such as "Streak Continues" and "Streak Ends." Also, you can hear Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler reacting to certain situations.
WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is a great game for fans of WWE, wrestling, or even just video games and I recommend it to those that are interested. Its the most realistic game of the bunch, other than some of the supernatural elements in vs. Undertaker. WWE Universe mode isn't the greatest thing in the world, but I see it as just a preliminary version. If it is included in 2012, I'm sure it will be perfected. The roster is perfect, though THQ needs to be a little more active when it comes to DLC, such as including guys like Alberto Del Rio, Kaval, Daniel Bryan, and other members of the Nexus.
I would mention the online play of the game, but I don't play online as my Xbox Live connection is very shoddy right now. It is worth noting that the Royal Rumble makes its debut into the online world and can be played by up to 12 people (who may take on the roles of multiple superstars if they wish).
Overall Score: 8.75/10