Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 Review

   04/11/2010 at 08:23       Tom       7 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, Wrestling, Lycra, Royal Rumble, Choreographed

As a gamer you get used to the fact that in certain circumstances you have to keep quiet about your hobby. A lot of people still view gaming as a childish waste of time and will happily tell you to do sometime worthwhile instead of playing silly games; no hint of irony as they're just as likely to spend an equal amount of time sat vegetating in front of the TV. It's easy to look down on our hobby even as it works it's way further into the mainstream.

I write this as I am someone who receives much the same reaction from gamers themselves. I am a wrestling fan. Or sports entertainment as they seem to want to call it these days. Generally I'll get one, or both, of the following reactions:

LOLS It's fake you know! (Errr yeah, I'm not a 10 year old or the "it's still real to me dammit" guy.)
LOLS wrestling is gay! Sweaty men in trunks! (Are you a 10 year old?)

And while I am old and wise enough to ignore all this I do feel a little sad. Not because my feelings get hurt but because I know a lot of gamers ignore wrestling games because of how they view the "sport". Those in the know are likely to name one of the AKI developed N64 games as the best available. Or maybe the Fire Pro series, but they are generally not available in Europe. Still, it's the Smackdown Vs Raw series that sells these days and for the most part they are a lot of fun, especially with friends in local multiplayer. I do have one major problem with them which is still present in this year's release:

It's the same (buggy) game as previous years with some new features and tweaks.

I will get around to talking about the good parts soon of course but for people who have played the series since the first iteration on the PSOne will know that despite the fact the code will have been heavily changed to the point where it is almost unrecognisable it still is the same engine at the very core.

Awesome?

But let's start focusing on the good. The graphics and animation are improved again this year. Yukes have added such polish by now that it all just looks right. The superstars move convincingly around the ring, they get sweaty as the match goes on, and welts appear on their chests as slaps connect. The menus have been improved as well. All the options are right where you need them and are clear as to their function, the level of polish certainly is clear. Sadly regardless of improvements the animation still isn't up to the standard you may expect from a modern game. So although the incidental animations go a long way towards making each character look like their real-life counterpart just walking or running still feels like in control of a marionette puppet. Likewise many of the canned fight animations are carried over from previous years and lack the impact required for such an over-the-top "sport".

The sound seems barely improved, as it remains much the same as previous years, functional but otherwise uninspiring. Commentary has improved somewhat with superstars being referenced by name so you get quips like "Santino is out cold" rather than "His opponent" or similar. It still doesn't flow quite right though and you're often left with awkward silences instead of some proper banter. Compare it with the superior commentary in THQ's other grappling title, UFC Undisputed, and you'll find it lacking in character.

The real meat of the change this year though comes from the new WWE Universe mode. It's reminiscent of the old "General Manager" modes, only nowhere near as rigid or boring. Universe takes you through the entire WWE year, automatically booking 3 shows a week and a PPV at the end of the month. It sets 5 matches per show which you can just play through as is, with the choice of skipping the match and just generating the result. There is also the option of completely changing the matches to whatever you want, adding gimmicks and tweaking the rules. Don't fancy having a main event of John Cena vs Randy Orton for the thousandth time? Well how about Yoshi Tatsu vs Chavo in a submissions only Hell In The Cell match? Not a problem.

Universe tracks the rivalries and friendships caused by each match. A heated rivalry is likely to cause run-ins as the enemies try to interfere in each other's matches. On the flip side of this a successful, if otherwise random, tag-team pairing can produce the option to make a "full-time" team. A problem that arises from this is that run-ins occur FAR to often, and can be the case where several matches in a row can have multiple bouts of interference.

I came to play

Online has also been beefed up with up to 6 players per match, and as far as I can tell all the match customisation options available offline make their way across to multiplayer. Also new this year is the option for a 30-man Royal Rumble, which is actually just for up to 12 players. In the lobby you choose the superstar you want, then are given an entry number up to 12. In a very nice touch as you wait for your turn to enter the match you get asked who will enter or be eliminated next. Correct answers earn extra XP for the ranking system. If you are eliminated you go to the back of the queue and get assigned a random superstar. Played with friends I can see this being a lot of fun, as even the matches I've played with randoms have been full of good natured banter - an absolute rarity for Xbox Live.

Sadly although Yukes claim to have improved the net code all the matches still suffer with lag that causes stuttering game play and makes spamming certain moves a near guaranteed win since countering becomes so difficult. Generally though if you get in a game with players in the same region as you it runs a lot better which is vastly superior to prior instalments that were an absolute unplayable joke. More good news you can now take all created wrestlers online and share your 'roided freaks, custom logos and custom storylines with the rest of the world. There are already pretty awesome user versions of old WWF brawlers, TNA stars and members of the WWE roster that didn't make it into the game.

Thankfully the "create a" features seem to have taken a decent step forward from the past crippled versions. The 2009 wrestler creation on 360 was a low point for me with options removed from previous years seemingly to fit within the confines of the Wii and PS2. Now there's a decent amount of varied looks possible thanks to the simple but effective character building; and if you use custom logos and patterns you can still take that creation online whereas that wasn't possible in earlier games.

Combine that with the ability to create finishers, storylines, teams and rivalries and then take them in to WWE Universe it is actually possible to run your own fantasy universe where Chuck Norris beats up David Cameron after a back stage confrontation about spending cuts.

But while features like this and the improved havoc physics prove to be a decent step forward for the series it is still hamstrung by the obviously creaking engine that makes it feel like you're still playing one of the first two games on the PSOne only with nice shiny graphics.

So if, like me, you've skipped a year or two Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 may be just fresh and changed enough to be worth it. However for those of you buying year after year there may not be enough to warrant a purchase.

Stars
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