Game: WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PS2, Wii, PSP, DS (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
It has been some time since I have thrown myself head first off the top rope into a WWE game, even longer is the time that I have truly been a fan of pro wrestling and the entertainment it has to offer. Whilst the days of staying up to catch the latest pay-per-view action are long gone, my interest in what was previously known as the Smackdown series has lived on just enough to take a passing look at what THQ has to offer year in, year out. Read on for the full review of Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.
GRAPHICS: The visual style of Smackdown games has seen little change in recent times with graphical overhauls seemingly reserved solely for a new console generation. Whilst little has changed, the WWE superstars on show certianly look like their real life counterparts, with top superstars such as John Cena and Randy Orton animated well to give a realistic feel. With a new year comes new arenas and a good job has been done across the board capturing the unique look of each pay-per-view event. The days of a 2D crowd appear to be over, with animated 3D counterparts in place. It all looks rather good, but with only a few hundred fans in place it legitimately fails to project the mammoth crowds the WWE actually pulls in.
Backstage areas make a comeback in 2011, a feature which has not been seen since the PS2 days of the series. It is here where the visuals slide to the lower end of the scale. Seemingly low-res textures and poorly modelled props look out of place next to the glistening superstars and, whilst the variety of arena’s is good, the variety of backstage areas is null. The same generic backstage is over used and unloved.
SOUND: The sound in WWE games generally range from the slap of an oily chest to backstage back-chat and all is present in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 with varying degrees of success. The in-action sounds of flesh on flesh, the bounce of the canvas and vibration of buckles are all captured quite well, whilst the crunch of a table when you slam your opponent face first through it is immensely satisfying.
Things take a turn for the worse when it comes to the voice acting. Michael Cole calls the action from ring side and introduces each event in the Road to Wrestlemania game mode. Cole’s performance is so drab that you can actually picture him in the studio reading from a script. Co-commentator, Jerry “The King” Lawler, redeems Cole’s lacklustre performance to a certain extent with the same vibrant and enthusiastic performance which has made him one of the best commentators in the WWE.
Something that the Smackdown series has nailed since the original PlayStation days is superstar entrance/celebration music and once again it is a highlight. The music is at its best just after a match-up, kicking in at the perfect time to help you celebrate in style.
GAMEPLAY: If you have not delved into a Smackdown game for a while then you may feel a little daunted by the prospect of new game mechanics, but there is really nothing to fear. Little has changed since the series was conceived back in the year 2000 and even less has changed since 2010′s iteration. The major change this year is the removal of the heavy grapple which only simplifies the gameplay further.
The momentum system is once again in place attempting to simulate the ebb and flow of a real WWE match-up and, for the most part, does a good job even if it sometimes falters. Match-ups against the AI can take a predictable flow consisting of early grapples and swipes to soften an opponent. This process is somewhat essential to build the momentum meter towards a signature move and finally a spectacular finisher. This inevitably leads to the 1-2-3 count and with it, victory. Matches can be extremely one sided with the element of skill not always present, it would be nice to see the CPU fight back a little more and ultimately replicate the classic match-ups the WWE has seen over the years.
The Road to Wresltemania mode is in place as the “story mode” and allows players to take hold of a select number of WWE superstars in a total of 5 scripted scenarios which span 3 months of WWE action. The mode re-opens backstage areas, a feature which has not been included since the PlayStation 2 days and, for the most part, we wish it stayed closed. In theory the inclusion of backstage areas is a good idea, but poor visuals and a nauseating camera can make the experience quite unpleasant. The lack of variety and realism found backstage, coupled with the addition of load time brings down the experience of what is otherwise a solid and engaging mode.
The WWE Universe mode makes its debut this year, allowing players to edit event match-ups and create rivalries. The mode has been described as exhibition+, the idea is to create a consistent experience where the players actions have a direct effect on proceedings. Actions have consequences, titles can change hands and rivals will attempt to hinder your progress. It is all very good and certainly a welcome addition which allows players to create their very own WWE experience. To add to that, fans that are feeling evene more creative can delve into the comprehensive Story Designer, which features some noticeable new content and the ability to branch paths for a varied story design.
The online modes have seen some work too, with the introduction of multiple new match types. Previous online match-ups have been limited to a total of 4 players, but this year a total of 12 human players are able to battle it out at one time. This allows players to compete online in more exotic match types such as Championship Scramble, Money in the Bank, Elimination Chamber and the most exciting of all, Royal Rumble. It is all very good in theory, but with too many players in the game at once things can get laggy. You will do well to find a Royal Rumble match-up let alone survive one. Keep it to 4 players or less and things remain stable for the most part, but doing so defeats the purpose of new match types.
LONGEVITY: It is very hard to put a number of hours on Smackdown vs Raw 2011, but it is fair to say WWE fans will get value for money. The Road to Wrestlemania alone can take 20-60 hours if you explore all 5 of the scripted stories. The WWE Universe is an endless mode which can eat away the hours if you let it and that is before we get to the online and Story Design portions of the game.
It is fair to say that there is plenty to do in Smackdown vs Raw 2011, but you cannot help the feeling of repetition doing much of the same over and over, as the various game modes overlap and ultimately submerge to create a repetitive experience. There is a lot on offer, but if you get bored the lack of variation (gameplay wise) can kill the experience early.
VERDICT: There is no doubt that Smackdown vs Raw 2011 offers the most comprehensive WWE experience to date and it is sure to draw the fans in once again for some Lycra clad action. Rather than innovate in the ring, developer Yuke’s has continued to add outside of it, but no matter how much is added the core experience remains the same and is probably well past its sell by date. It would be nice to see some true innovation next year, we feel it is a risk worth taking and hope THQ agree.
If you are not a fan of the WWE or wrestling in general then WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is a tough sell. It is hard to recommend the game on its playability alone, but there has never been a better time to try a WWE game. With its simplified controls and multiple game modes WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 undoubtedly offers a good wrestling experience, one which newcomers to the series and veterans alike should enjoy.