Bringing The Smackdown
Sweaty, muscular men in Speedos rolling around on the floor and getting way too close to each other’s groins are one of the main reasons why I stopped watching wrestling during my adolescent years, and consequently stopped playing the games too. Yet somehow, call it fate or curiosity, I find myself bear hugging Undertaker and man handling Chris Jericho in the ring once again.
From my experience, the annually released WWE Smackdown video games have always managed to excel in certain areas but lack significantly in others, preventing the games from becoming truly outstanding. Repeated mechanics have always supplied an adequate experience, one that the loyal fans have become familiar with. It is a formula that has consistently proved to be a profitable business model for THQ, one that supports the maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Of course, changes beyond updating the year’s batch of wrestlers are needed to justify a yearly release. Being an absent player from the series for a number of years, I am in a position to judge the evolution of the series from the original WWF Smackdown! up to the latest release, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Prepare the ring and cue my entrance music.
Beyond The Ring
Upon starting the game up, I noticed an immediate improvement in the form of a tutorial before you even reach the main menu. With so many different moves, a tutorial is essential for a game like WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, and putting it in an obvious place is a very good decision. My enjoyment of the game multiplied after I knew how to execute all of the blows, grapples and devastating finishers that my wrestler knows. It was not long before I was slamming opponents through announcer tables, pulling chairs from under the ring and performing circus stunts off the ropes.
What has always made the Smackdown series stand out from the competition is the huge amount of options it offers to its players. This ranges across an extensive moves list for each wrestler, the ability to create and customize your own character, and a huge choice of different match options. The game is very open in this sense, and I was actually so overwhelmed with all of the choices in this new title that I was not sure where to start. Gaining my bearings, I discovered the usual story careers, which are at times quite bizarre but always fairly entertaining. My only complaint regarding the story modes is that the backstage area looks tacky and requires you to spend a lot of time running around to enter conversations that are badly animated and scripted. This really has not been improved from past games, with the only good thing to come out of it being the seamless backstage fights you can enter if desired. But on the whole, the five story modes available suffice for what they are, despite the lackluster over-glorified options menu that is the backstage area.
The newest and probably best aspect added to this update in the series is the WWE Universe. This feature counts all of your matches and then calculates matches that cater to how you play. It decides wrestler relationships, title ladders and in-game events. This suited me as I was not aware of the current wrestling world, so by allowing me into my own custom-made universe, I was enticed into the dramatics of it once again. Although it does prescribe matches for each event such as Monday Night Raw or Wrestlemania, you can swap every match and wrestler around to what you want to play, or you can just go with the flow. There is also the benefit of being able to take your custom made wrestler through a career path you have customized so they have a chance at a title. Essentially, with this mode you can make your own game; something that has always been associated with the series but has now been realized even further. The game feels tighter and more together, now that all of the random exhibition-type matches you play are actually counted towards something this time around. If this does not suit you there is always the option to turn the Universe mode off so you can play without consequence.
A Little Bit Of TLC
One thing I was impressed with was how the controls have improved and how your commands are projected to your wrestler in the ring. They were greatly improved from the last title I played in the series with the counter-attack feature being a significant step up (it really stands out in the more difficult matches). I still have a few issues with a number of things in the combat though, the most outstanding of which is that once a grapple animation has started that it cannot be stopped, granting invincibility to the grappler. It takes away from the whole experience for me and shows a tie to an old system that needs improving. There are other similar small flaws that have been in the series since the original release back in 2000. Ultimately, these are issues that can be worked around and once you have grasped how to work within the game’s limits there is no reason to complain about the overall fighting mechanics.
One thing that THQ is pushing with this particular entry into the series is the improved object physics. The verdict: excellent fun. Although at first I was not sure what had been improved, with a little experimentation and a suplex off a ladder through a table later, I realized what had been done. Each object can be interacted with and placed where you like, meaning you can set up some really neat sequences that will leave your opponent sprawled unconscious while the crowd (which offers a few of its own objects as well) go wild.
Hugely customizable game and outstanding dedication made towards the community. Game is brought together much better and is very flexible to your play style. You can essentially make your own wrestling game!
Slight problems in fighting physics and huge problems in certain areas of animation. Several interruptive server and lag issues during online play. The series needs to drop its old-gen engine in order to excel.