WWE: Smackdown VS Raw 2011 (X360) Review
You can usually tell what state wrestling is in by looking at who is on the front cover of the games that are released to the public. As wrestling seemingly becomes more obscured by the spectre of mixed martial arts it is indeed dark times as this latest incarnation see’s Randy Orton on the box, placed between a creaky looking undertaker and bit-part actor turned wrestler "Seamus". It’s a damning indictment of the current roster of talent…
Luckily though, THQ are free from such problems. They have made the wrestling games their own for over a decade and even as they move into MMA territory themselves with the hugely successful UFC titles, they always seem to bring the WWE universe to life in a way that their stars fail to do in the real world. Last year’s Smackdown Vs. Raw was heralded as a glorious return to form for the series and this latest instalment promised more than just a roster overhaul.
That said there is one issue with the controls that doesn’t seem to have been ironed out. The one button reversal system seems to conflict with the way that wrestlers build momentum. Most grapples begin with simple attacks, then when that is completed successfully can move onto some slams and suplexes. However when it’s so easy to reverse moves this natural progression is interrupted and encounters can be reduced to a series of repetitive attacks with the power moves happening less frequently. The end result? It breaks up the momentum and puts the roots of the game more in the fighting genre when really this is, after all, sports entertainment. This however this is only a concern during the two player encounters and while that might rankle a bit in the many, many multiplayer modes – more on those later – the bulk of the game will be played single player. It’s here where the game really shines, especially with the new addition of WWE Universe mode.
Playing in this mode basically makes the game a persistent world where everything has a consequence. Controlling one of over 70 stars or one of our own creations to the stage of earning title shots is something that will take time. Rivalries are forged, belts exchanged and it never ends. It’s the ultimate wrestling sandbox, a never ending career mode that weaves together a perfect narrative excuse for all the carnage.
Even the more linear Road To Wrestlemania mode has a seemingly never-ending series of twists and turns as your fighter is allowed to roam backstage. From here, in an almost RPG-lite style, it’s possible to have fights backstage, listen in on conversations and forge alliances, all of which will have an in-game impact. The most obvious of which is the boosting of superstar stats, something that increases the damage given by certain moves and the resistance of the fighter. There are many ways in which exploring can reap benefits and it’s advisable to do as much as possible to get the most out of the mode. Not that any of this has to be done though and it’s possible to go straight into matches, something that probably renders a large part of the mode completely pointless. It is nice though to have the choice as too often games force us down one route or another.
Overall THQ have actually managed to throw together far better storylines than the current crop of writers working for WWE and it does hark back to a better time. All of these are unlocked so without wanting to spoil too much let’s just say that real wrestling fans are in for a treat and looking at this as a straight fighting game would be to ignore the reason why people want to watch wrestling in the first place – the drama.
The multiplayer modes have all been jacked up like Batista… Many of the modes previously included were the sole preserve of playing with friends in the games room. Now, anything can be played online, including a 12 player Royal Rumble. Again, this shows the intelligence and forethought THQ put into every aspect of their games… The Royal Rumble option only allows six players being active in the ring at any time. While the other player’s wait their turn, they are given mini-games to play and occupy the waiting time.
Same goes for the prestige system. Everything that a player does online contributes towards this ranking system and there are bonuses given for involving more online players in our experience, promoting the social aspect and making gamers go out and hunt for those six way match-ups. Everyone benefits from it and it adds an extra element missing from a lot of online gaming which often just comes down to a ranking based solely on skill for match making purposes.
In terms of wrestler likenesses, they are all pretty much spot on but it’s a shame the same can’t be said for the lip syncing which, without mincing words, is frankly dreadful. Imagine watching a Golden Harvest Kung-Fu film and it’s at about that level of dubbing. It’s not a big deal but it does shatter the illusion somewhat.
Other than that though this is a real looker, more Kelly Kelly than Chyna. There’s a vastly improved level of detail, even right down to being able to edit the signs that the crowd hold up. Combine how it looks with the depth of the game itself and it’s as good as wrestling games have looked in a long while.
Crowd atmosphere is good even if it doesn’t feel entirely realistic but where the game really brings home the atmosphere is in the ring. There every grunt and groan sound like a real match-up and the use of weapons and parts of the ring all resonate with real weight behind them. Of course, there are still limitations to just how much impact the sound can have but it partners the visuals perfectly and underlines the atmosphere.
There are some oversights in the controls but in the long run it’s forgivable, if for no other reason than the sheer depth means that the actual matches are a tiny fraction of the gaming experience. It sucks the player in, makes them part of a persistent game world and allows them to explore and discover things at their own pace.
With a beefed up online mode that rewards involvement over skill, it’s clear that THQ have not surrendered their sensibilities and still want to make games that reward the long term player, rather than just someone who can master a series of controls ahead of others. So, while it’s fair to say it’s not perfect anyone expecting it to be is overlooking that the industry it apes is far from perfect itself. In that sense there has been no better simulation; a game that catches all the high points and flaws and makes the player love them equally.
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