A while ago I posted a list about the best and worst wrestling video games of all time. To my surprise, it became a decent hit with my fellow Bleachers and my most read article.
Well, the time is upon us; the annual Smackdown vs. Raw video game has come out for major video games consoles as it attempts to place itself in the same ranks as other great games like No Mercy for the N64 and WWF Wrestlefest for the arcade.
First off, let me say that I am trying to be as unbiased as I can be with this game even though I have stated many times before the love that I have for this series, going as far to call it “my Madden”. This is my first in-depth game review, so let’s just jump right in and get started.
Let me start by saying that the graphics are leaps and bounds better than last year’s SvR. During my HIAC match of Cena vs. Sheamus, the lighting and flow of movement gave both wrestlers life-like appearances unlike last year where guys like the Miz looked like a cross between a woman and a sleestack from Land of the Lost.
Also, like in the previous game, when the chest is punched or chopped enough times that area of skin begins to redden and looked scrapped. Well, now that includes the back as well, since when I would slam Cena against the cell wall or drag him across it, his back would gradually get redder and appear swollen.
This was my biggest problem with the game. For some reason, THQ decided to alter the control scheme for this outing of SvR. Unlike previous years where you pinned your opponent by flicking down on the right analog stick, you now press B or O. There is no real overhead guide to the controls needed to get up after attacks unlike last year where you knew to press A or X repeatedly to get up.
There are other tweaks to the well known controls that I don’t know why had been made, for the most part the people buying or renting this game know the controls and wouldn’t like them changed. So when starting the game it takes a bit to get used to the new layout that you can’t really change in the option screen, but after a couple hours, you get used to it.
The new addition of the Havok physics engine is a true pleasure when playing this game. Not only do weapons break in a more realistic manner, so do the wrestlers. During a TLC match my CAW was on top of the ladder fighting CM Punk when JoMo pushed the ladder over, sending Punk onto the canvas while my CAW landed groin first on the ropes, bouncing a couple times before sliding off. Throwing guys into the steel steps sends them flying over them while at the same time knocking them free from the ring.
Other things added with this engine included realistic weight and movement of the ladders and being able to do moves onto steel steps, like backdropping DH Smith onto the steps which looked absolutely brutal. This added element of realism just adds to the excitement of playing this wrestling simulation that I have not seen in a while. Yet there were some clunky elements to the new physics, sometimes when holding a chair while running I would end up dropping said chair after running into someone, a small and rare problem sure but a problem still. Also, no longer can you get up on the announce table and do grapple moves unlike in previous years, now you can only do diving moves onto an opponent laying on the table.
The create a finisher mode has added the option to make turnbuckle finishers this year as well as the ability to set the speed increments by single percents rather than large chunks to give your finishers the desired awesomeness. Another new thing this year is the match creator option where you get to decide the type of ring being used (regular, cage, cell, inferno. elimination chamber) as well as the winning stipulations like two out of three fall, first blood, or ironman, etc. Yet please note that not all options are available for each competitor. Create a wrestler is back with more options to make your fighter as original as you can make him, not much more to talk about there.
Also you can still create your own stories like last year with more options and moments. Such things like a rival showing up at the front row with their purchased ticket in order to interfere in matches and attacking opponents while they walk to the ring are just a couple of the possible things that can be chosen for your personal story. The biggest change though is now you are not limited to how much you can use a certain CAW in a story unlike last year. You are limited by how many different CAWs you use but you can use them an infinite amount of times.
ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA
The Road to WM mode is back with all male competitors this time around, thankfully. Sorry, I was just never a fan of the diva seasons. The wrestlers for this year are Cena of course, Christian, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and the Undertaker. Yet you don’t get to be the Deadman for his road but rather one of four men trying to end his fames Streak, these men include Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler, JoMo, or your CAW.
After choosing which road you are going to go down you end up in the backstage area of the arena in what is best described as an RPG style game. You check out different parts of the arena, talk to other wrestlers or officials, get into the occasional fight or get a bonus challenge, and add Superstar points to your character to improve their ability in-ring. This is a nice twist on an old game mode but it’s not without its flaws. The biggest problem is the camera that follows your wrestler. It works fine at times but it can follow too close or focus on a wall which gets rather irritating. Also the XP gained from fights don’t really matter as you can usually win without their help or if you buy the $1 attribute tool, you can max out any fighter’s stats as you see fit. Another thing you need to know about the RTWM is that the mode wants you to believe the kayfabe environment of the WWE. In my Undertaker road I was using my CAW to take down the Deadman. A side quest of this was stealing the iconic urn from Stephanie McMahon’s office and capture blue orbs that represented the souls of defeated wrestlers, no I’m not kidding. Besides that though, RTWM was rather good and had decent writing, even though some of the wrestlers sounded like they phoned in their lines, I’m talking to you Kofi and Swagger, while other wrestlers like Santino, Miz and Jericho really sold their lines making the experience believable.
This year’s online abilities now adds the option of having a Royal Rumble with up to 12 players at a time along with still being able to download created items made by other players. No real problems with this option as it works just as well as last year.
Now the big addition to this year’s game is the WWE Universe mode. This is basically the GM mode without worrying about the financial side of that mode. Here you can either play the card that is created by the computer or you can make your own cards for Raw, Smackdown, Superstars, and the PPVs. Unlike create a story you can’t have a title match anytime you want as those matches are exclusive to PPVs. You also can’t just put your favorite wrestler into a title match, though you can give them a title outright in superstar adjustment, like any booker, you have to build them up by winning matches leading up to a No. 1 contender match for a title.
You can track a star’s progress by looking at title rankings and set up matches with wrestlers in order to give them the proper push. In some instances, if a low ranked wrestler makes a real run for a title there may be a triple threat match instead for a title or in some cases a battle royal. In my case, I had Christian get in feuds with Drew McIntyre and Big Show in order to put him in contention for the IC title. When the Elimination Chamber PPV came around the feud had become so good that it was put into an EC match with three other wrestlers.
Another good thing about Universe mode is it’s like Tivo. When you start out not many changes occur with wrestlers and teams and the moments rarely happen. Yet after a couple hours of playing dozens upon dozens of matches, teams and stables begin to form in according to how wrestlers get along in their matches, feuds are formed by how the matches occur, and your wrestlers can change from heel to face and vice versa. Also, once you start the Universe mode, you can’t restart it, as of right now I’m in year 3 heading into Wrestlemania with almost 15 newly formed tag teams and heel/face turns occurring almost every month, yet you can control the wrestler’s status as face/heel and what show they are on. The only real problem with this play mode is that you have to be dedicated to playing the game in order to make it a unique experience for you, though that isn’t too big of a problem if you’re buying this game.
Other than a few problems with the sound and the occasional physics glitches, there aren’t too many huge problems with this game besides its new control scheme. It offers multiple options for every type of player and the new playmodes are pretty good. This is by far the best Smackdown vs. Raw game in years even though that may not be saying much. If you are a fan of this series I highly recommend that you go out and get this game if you already haven’t.
Overall score: 4 out of 5