WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 Review

Lee Abrahams

Smackdown versus Raw? Seriously, are these guys still fighting? You would have thought that one of them would have settled things by now, but I suppose their ongoing ruckus at least gives us an excuse to play the latest update in the long running series. Can the brawlers bring anything new to the table though, or should that be through the table given their propensity for smashing up furniture. Each year has brought a few new tweaks, but not the overwhelming finishing move that would pummel us into submission and leave us begging for mercy. Alas! Enough of the long winded, firework laden walk to the ring... Let’s get it on!

A guy that big managed to sneak up on you, seriously?

THQ have pretty much got the proverbial sleeper hold on the wrestling genre in the video game space, with the only real competition coming from the, not at all similar, UFC series or the seemingly vanished TNA. So without much in the way of competition can we ever expect the sweeping changes to the series that would signify a shift in direction? On this latest evidence, it would appear not, as while there are the usual additions, it all looks and feels very familiar.

As you would expect with a WWE game there are a plethora of options to tickle your fancy right from the get-go. The most overwhelming change this year is the new Universe mode, which is a neat combination of the old exhibition and career options. The game will automatically generate a whole season’s worth of events from the main Smackdown and Raw shows, plus all of the big pay-per-views. You can then hop into any of the matches that take your fancy, or even set up custom fights of your own. Along the way you can fight for titles and take part in a number of storylines which are created depending on the matches you fight... or you can even pretty much do as you please. It is a novel idea, but players will more often than not just want to create their own specific matches as a one off, rather than just pick from what is on offer. While it is obvious that the intention was to immerse the player in the WWE world, what actually plays out is just a string of random matches with the occasional cutscene depending on what you choose. It’s certainly a good idea, but one that could do with some more polishing.

KA-BLOCK! Time for some hurt.

The other main draw this year is the ever popular Road to Wrestlemania mode, which sees you guide one of five superstars through a set storyline, where you can control the flow to some extent along the way. You can choose from John Cena, Christian, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio or even to try and stop the Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak. The big addition here comes in the form of the new backstage areas that you can freely wander around before a match, chatting with other wrestlers or picking fights. While it is nice to have something more than a bare locker room to go back to, these areas really do not add anything to the game at all and often look laughably poor in terms of design. The matches themselves are varied and interesting enough to make light of any smaller issues though.

At least the core gameplay is still as solid as ever, with a great range of strikes, grapples and finishers. Not to mention improved modes, notably the Hell in a Cell matches, that make every match a lovely back and forth affair. Sometimes the AI can be amazingly cheap, especially when you are outnumbered, but on the whole, you should be able to hold your own. Newcomers can also take advantage of the practice arena in order to learn some of the more advanced moves and get a grip with what moves are available in each situation. With a roster of seventy odd wrestlers, and more to come via DLC, there should be a style that suits everyone and the ladies and gentlemen on offer all look and act like their real life counterparts too. Although the lip syncing could have done with a major overhaul, not to mention the rather static arenas; on the whole, the presentation before, during and after each match is just very reminiscent of the real thing which is all every fan can ask for.

You get a lot more than just a can for your dollar.

If you decide that some aspect of the game is not up to snuff, then you can rely on what is, once again, a thoroughly comprehensive creation mode. You can create new wrestlers, finishing moves, match types, belts, events and even entrances, with a massive amount of choice and customisation on offer. You can even share your efforts online, so that the whole world can appreciate your efforts, because everyone loves to show off once in a while, right? The level of choice and variety on offer is second to none, although only the truly hardcore will probably waste vast chunks of their time here.

Nothing hurts the eyes more than a whole string of secret achievements and, while some of them are tied to obvious modes, others will take a lot of trial and error to uncover. Generally though the mixture of achievements is spot on and encourages players to sample everything on offer. The real test will be winning a Royal Rumble online, or taking down the Undertaker on Legendary, but what is life without a challenge? Plus, there are a couple of fun tasks, like getting a pin while using the ropes for leverage (you scamp) so at least you’re not being asked to repeat the same things over and over again. Getting the full one thousand will require some patience though, so do not expect the game to be a gimme like in previous years.

Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 only goes to prove that the WWE series is still a lot of fun to play, and with a control system that’s easy enough to pick up and play, even for total rookies, any self respecting WWE fan has no excuse but to pick it up... regardless of skill level. However, there is nothing really on show here that we’ve not already seen in years gone by and the much touted Universe mode doesn’t really deliver on its initial promise. The Road to Wrestlemania modes are still the main selling point and nothing beats pummelling your friends and family, either locally or online, but the game is crying out for something different. Wrestling fans will no doubt pick this up just for the roster, but they’ll soon find out that they’re playing last year’s game with a lick of paint.

Wrestling fans may lap the commentary up, but it soon gets old quickly and often either repeats itself or is just flat out wrong. The music is typical rock themed fare too... which is nice.

The wrestlers look as smooth as ever, but the backstage areas are bordering on the laughable thanks to their almost cardboard cut-out nature.

Easy to pick up and play, but things can get quite repetitive after a while, though thankfully a Royal Rumble never gets old. Universe mode is a nice spin on the old career, but really doesn’t deliver anything new or original.

Delivered with all the over-the-top razzle-dazzle that you would expect from the real thing, but some of the environments and appalling lip syncing help to spoil the show.

A good spread of achievements between all of the modes and a decent mix between ridiculously easy and slightly challenging. There are a few too many secret achievements though, which is a pain to say the least.

Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 does offer a considerable amount of fun, but it’s the same fun you will have enjoyed for the past few years. There are some new ideas here and there, but nothing really earth shattering and it’s safe to say that the game never really pushes past the previous incarnations. Fans will enjoy themselves, that’s a given, but it’s probably time for something fresh and innovative to spice things up.

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