WWE: Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 Review

Disillusioned with the wrestling scene over the last ten years is a bit of an understatement. Since the convergence of ECW, WWE and WCW I felt as though wrestling had lost some of its soul. I remember the times when ECW was considered the most hardcore federation of all time. I remember when WCW would often showboat with Ric Flair about how superior WCW was as an experience and an overall package. Since the merger of the federations even the video games in my opinion took a turn for the worse too. Fortunately TNA are around and they have shook the wrestling field up with many disgruntled ex WWE stars turning to the more organic TNA which offers a wrestling brand more akin to high quality wrestling, decent storylines and void of McMahon’s over reaching arm. This leads me to Smackdown Vs Raw 2011. I have played a couple of Smackdown games since the arrival of the PS3 and 360 and none of the builds I played (2007, 2008) ever took me by the arm and threw me into an Irish whip of immersion, how things have changed. Has 2011 improved from 2010 or 2009? I seriously couldn’t tell you, from researching their certainly seems to be levels of which it has but on the whole some are saying it hasn’t gone on leaps and bounds. However, my review is not for those people that buy the series annually, it’s for those that have been alienated by the wrestling franchises recent efforts that sent them into a tailspin of dreaming about wrestling games back on the N64. However, given that we’ll be dipping into every game mode in meticulous detail in our accompanying video review maybe this review will interest the annual buyers after all.

For me, Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is the most accessible wrestling game for many a year. Legends of Wrestlemania could be argued as giving players that entrance but seriously, that game was rather weak and frustrating. The biggest draw is that the stamina system is no longer intrusive and detrimental to the fun factor play. I found this very game element a real game breaker and whilst the wrestlers do have stamina to deal with, it never gets in the way to ruin the experience. Grapple moves are still on the right analogue stick and face button moves are kept for punch, whips and object interaction. It is a combat system that feels natural to say the least. The grapple system is very intuitive, grapple an opponent next to the ropes and lean your stick towards them and they’ll interact with the environment. You’ll find that brawls that take place in the locker rooms and outside of the ring will work very much the same way. This means that no matter how many times you’ll play the game, there is enough variation for a great crafted match which will be packed full of adrenaline, technicality and extreme moments. Throw more than three people into the same ring and the games cracks start to appear. Unfortunately the auto-switching system still needs much refining, sometimes you’ll blatantly want to target an on-looking opponent but can’t because your character will auto lock to the last person to touch you. Frustrating! The frustration does begin to creep in during high pressure matches such as the TLC match. During the career mode with Rey Mysterio you’ll notice that the hardest part of completing his Road to Wrestlemania is actually trying to overcome your opponents and the flaky mechanics to win the match. Ironically it is also the most satisfying moment too as you beat the flawed mechanics and the crafty opponents to the briefcase contract.

[Videos to appear soon]

On the note of Road to Wrestlemania it is back this year and with more freedom. This time you start each week outside in the car lot and you are able to walk around the backstage area before each match. Here you can interact with other characters and play out the storylines which in some instances will require you to fight outside of the ring to get the upper advantage. Graphically the game struggles here, some of the textures are badly polished and with absolutely no music in these outside areas it feels more like a morgue than the backstage area to steroid inducing wrestlers. Needless to say Road to Wrestlemania for first time players will be an absolute treat. The storylines are well executed and they vary too. You get to play an asshole in Chris Jericho and a fan favourite in Rey Mysterio so each experience feels very different. New to the series this year is the new WWE Universe mode. WWE Universe is a splicing between career mode and exhibition. It will tailor storylines, rivalries and opportunities based around the matches you are playing in exhibition mode. There are a number of matches to play each week which will make you return to the game even when the Road to Wrestlemania mode is complete.

[Videos to appear soon]

Create a wrestler is fantastic. We’re pretty sure that the community is vetted though. We were hoping to download famous wrestlers made by others and build our collection sky high with some of the WWE’s finest, however it does appear that this is somewhat suppressed somehow. Whilst I cannot vouch for the community moderators to purge copyrighted characters, we only managed to find Hulk Hogan and Papa Shango available to download. The create-a -wrestler mode (as you’ll soon see from our extensive rung of videos on this review) is nothing short of impressive. Within five minutes we created Marvels: Silver Surfer and pitted him against Superman! Customisation options are nothing short of astounding, unfortunately there wasn’t a mode where we could take a picture of our face though and stick it on our wrestler, shame! What’s more you can throw these created wrestlers online which makes for a rather hilarious if not slightly laggy Royal Rumble. Not only can you create wrestlers, you can create finishing moves, entrance movies and storylines. The storyline creator pushes Smackdown Vs Raw’s replay value through the roof and into the stratosphere. Pound for pound you are seriously getting one of this years best value for money games.

[Videos to appear soon]

For WWE veterans the big talk is about the online. It has failed year upon year to manage this area well. Lag ridden matches often being the crux of complaints. This year THQ had to up the ante. After all, if you were picking this game up second hand, you’ll have to pay for an online pass for the privilege. Our online testing found that 1 on 1 matches were adequate, some slow down in places but on the whole a do-able experience. Royal Rumble on the other hand still felt it was hampered by the same issues that aggravated people from last year’s effort. Personally this isn’t a game I’ll be using the online game much with apart from the upload/download community. Speaking of uploading, you can upload replays direct to YouTube if you have the PS3 version. Nice! The replay theatre is pretty decent too, it can be quite time consuming putting a decent highlights video together, but when you do it is very satisfying. I’d like THQ to improve this area by giving us a much better copy/paste feature or the ability to change the camera mid-clip and cut the clip up and change angles rather than saving each individual clip and putting them all together. Time is something a lot of us simply do not have.

[Videos to appear soon]

Graphically the game is suffice, the lighting is effective and the entrance of the wrestlers are ultimately satisfying as the glowing neon’s and pyrotechnics smatter around the screen. Unfortunately there is a few texture glitches in areas. Sometimes ladders can get caught on the ropes and continually move around like they are having an epileptic fit as will the sound of them still continue at times when they are perfectly still. Other times you’ll see players fall through steel steps, game breaker? No. However it can detract from the experience at times. Commentary is adequate though the repetition is a tad annoying. Can’t knock the voice acting otherwise! There are an insane amount of match modes to choose from, everything from an Inferno Match to a Hell in the Cell each of which you’ll have to learn different disciplines. You can even play an elimination chamber match too! Too many to list, but you will not get bored!

[Videos to appear soon]

Ultimately Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is the very best wrestling game to date. It offers more gaming protein than a whey milkshake, more OMG moments than Mick Foley’s career and a satisfying notion that you’ve simply got a great deal for your coin. This game has got my zest back for watching wrestling again, enough said. Brilliant game!

93/100

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