It seems as though every release of Smackdown Vs Raw over the last few years has been nothing but a big old list of new or enhanced features, with each revision promising bigger and better content. Shockingly, though, developer Yukes has actually delivered on these promises with most releases, genuinely delivering new content that adds to the whole experience, rather than simply being filler for yet another annual upgrade.
Last year’s SvR was probably one of the most notable, introducing a ton of extra user creation abilities including a story creator, along with a tighter fighting engine, sharper visuals and the usual set of refinements. If you think that was impressive, though, wait until you get your hands on this year’s grapple-fest.
Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is, in equal parts, as much about the little things as it is the big, crowd pleasing features, and Yukes has managed to improve upon the series in almost every way this time out. Here we have new game modes, improved match types, new online functions, enhanced user creativity tools and ratings and much, much more, all wrapped up in some of the most polished and downright impressive presentation you’re likely to see.
Ding, ding, ding
I’ll touch on the basics first, beginning with the all-important combat. 2011 has refined this further than ever before, and although Yukes has decided to alter the control system yet again, it’s not a radical overhaul, and the changes actually improve the experience.
A key element to the new combat is the much touted use of Havok physics. Although nowhere near as impressive as the developers would have us believe, and prone to weird glitches, these physics nonetheless add a whole new depth to matches, mainly when it comes to weapons and objects used in the ring, such as tables, ladders and chairs.
Tables now break apart into multiple chunks, which varies, depending on the impact, and they’ll also buckle if hit on the edges, or if your opponent isn’t worn down enough to put them through a table completely. Likewise, ladders can be manipulated more realistically, and this is all greatly enhanced by the new ability to ‘aim’ your throws and grapples.
So, for example, if you’re dying to chokeslam the Miz through a table, grab him and, while the move is played out, aim the throw to hit the table dead on. Want to Pedigree Jack Swagger’s face first into a chair? Go on, then. This interactivity applies to most throws and grapples, and although it may sound like a bit of extra fluff on paper, in practise it makes a huge difference in tactics and feel.
The actual combat itself feels even tighter this year, and thanks to a more robust reversal and chain grapple system, matches actually flow almost like real bouts (well, as real as real can be in the WWE). Set at higher levels you’ll find your opponents do just as much damage to you as you can dish out in their direction, and the AI will use reversals and retaliations, including weapons, quite impressively.
There’s now a new four hit combo system that can be used to stagger opponents, setting them up for powerful throws and finishers, and each superstar also has a gut kick that opens up foes to some serious hurt.
This staggering is important to get to grips with, as opponents will reverse your attacks far more frequently, and landing finishers is more difficult that previous outings. To ensure you nail your attacks, you need to wear down your foe, making them groggy, for the best chance of doling out the pain.
Generally, the whole thing just feels right this time, although there are still some hangovers from previous outings. Yet again, the auto-focus feature that targets enemies is pretty flaky, and some manoeuvres are a little overcomplicated and unwieldy, especially some throws. Reversals are harder to execute than in 2010, and some will find that they have to drop the difficulty, or at least the CPU’s tendency to reverse your attacks, to make the game a little more approachable.
The AI can still make some very odd decisions at times too, which damages the immersion a little, but on the whole, there’s little to complain about if you’ve played previous versions and are accustomed to the quirks. Newcomers should definitely use the training mode, though, as the controls are very complex. This isn’t really a pick up and play game.
Without a doubt, the most interesting feature included in 2011 has to be the new WWE Universe mode. This mode is always active (unless you turn it off) and is an all-encompassing feature that governs your WWE experience. It tracks matches, results, titles and more. The game uses all of this data to dynamically alter superstar alliances and feuds, rankings and title shots. This is all played out via a well-designed WWE Universe mode that lets you play through randomly generated scenarios following a yearly calendar.
You progress through the WWE year and the game sets up weekly shows of Raw, Superstars and Smackdown, as well as monthly pay per views, complete with match cards and match types. You can play each and every match, choosing the wrestler or wrestlers you want to play as, and all results are noted. If you don’t feel like playing a match, you can simulate it for an instant result.
As you progress, superstars will gain rankings and earn title shots, and each and every wrestler will make or break friendships. So, for example, if Triple H keeps beating down CM Punk, their relationship will turn sour, possibly leading to interference in Triple H’s matches by Punk. If a wrestler fights matches alongside another superstar and racks up the wins, though, alliances will form.
This is all backed up by an improved interference system. This was introduced last year, but wasn’t all that great in practise. It’s still not perfect this year, with some odd events and glitchy interference AI, but when used in conjunction with the WWE Universe mode, it works very well, especially with 100 different random events that can happen at any time, such as enemies running into the arena during a match, Mr McMahon forcing you to fight another bout after an already gruelling match, and so on.
The Universe mode also keeps tabs of things if you play standalone exhibition matches too, meaning that you can keep your own WWE world ticking over at all times. I was a little sceptical about the mode when I heard about it, but I can confirm that this mode alone adds an almost infinite level or replayability and depth, and makes the game feel far more like a real living, breathing WWE.
You can also play around with it, if you like, and if you don’t want certain matchups, want to change the WWE Championship title holder right away, or wish to trade superstars from one show to the next, you can at any time, and the WWE Universe mode will adjust accordingly.
The Road to WrestleMania mode returns again, with five new stories, this time featuring John Cena, Chris Jericho, Christian, The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio. As before, these stories chart each superstar’s journey to the biggest WWE event of the year, WrestleMania, with scripted sequences and multiple choices that affect your outcomes. However, there’s something new added this time, and you’re now able to explore the backstage area of the arena in a free-roam section.
Arriving at the arena, you can wander around the various areas like the locker rooms, green room, interview area etc, and can talk to or start fights with other superstars. You can also spend points you earn during the mode to buff up your stats via the training area.
It sounds great, and the chance to explore backstage and interact with other superstars in a real-time open world is promising. Sadly, though, while still fun, it’s all filler and no killer. There’s little to do while backstage, and superstars have little to say that’s worth hearing. I was hoping for a lot more from this addition, but, as it stands, it’s a cool little gimmick and nothing more.
The story mode is still a blast to play through, though, but there’s no denying that the meat of the game is with the great WWE universe mode, and the online component.
Smackdown Vs Raw has always been popular online, and this year it’s set to get even more attention. This is thanks to a couple of things. Firstly, all match types are now playable online, letting players customise their own matches, and, for the first time, there’s a 12 player online Royal Rumble, a mode that’s surely going to be hugely popular.
Again, online matches are a blast to play with multiple players, and creating your own superstars and taking them online is something that will keep fans happy for a very long time.
In fact, the creation tools have also been beefed up yet again, with over 100 new CAW items to use, a new kind of custom finisher (corner moves) a better rating system that ditches the five star system in favour of a more useful grading setup, and an improved story creator.
This story creator, first seen last year, has even more options, including the ability to create branching stories, and you can also create more at any one time. It’s still a little tricky to use and you’ll need plenty of time and patience, but the results are worth it and add inexhaustible content to an already packed game. Of course, these can all be shared online.
Several of the menus for creation are improved too, making it easier to create finishers, entrances and other content. For example, creating a tag team, a cumbersome job previously, can now be done far more easily. From the team registration page, you can link to the entrance creation, and once done, the team is ready to go. It’s a more fluid process and is much better for it.
Spit and polish
I mentioned that SvR 2011 is also about the little things, and this is certainly true. Visually, the game has received a lot of attention, and SvR has never looked so good. Thanks to a new muscle animation system, each superstar looks very impressive, as their limbs and muscles demonstrate more realism than ever before (just watch Triple H’s entrance to see what I mean), and the arenas also look great.
Yukes has improved the crowd animation and appearance, added more current arenas, such as Bragging Rights, Elimination Chamber and TLC, and superstar minitrons are also featured. It’s about as close to the TV show as you’re going to get without spending years in the gym, eating your weight in protein powder and developing an unhealthy fondness for Lycra.
Let’s not forget the mammoth selection of match types too, something that SvR has always been blessed with. This year is no exception, and as well as last season’s much improved Royal Rumble, this release also features an enhanced Hell in a Cell match, with a larger cell, and the physics make for a big leap forward in table matches, ladder matches and TLC, with each being far more enjoyable, thanks to the greater interaction with the environment. You can also, for the first time, create your very own match types, building them using a selection of ring types, rules and other settings.
The menu systems are also vastly improved, and options like the Superstar management system are integrated into the game far better. In fact, when it comes to presentation, there’s not really anything you can criticise here, apart from the game’s major weakness, the audio.
Whilst the audio is spot on for the most part, with great crowd reactions, all the superstar entrance music and so on, the commentary is still a lame duck. It’s a little more varied, with some character-specific dialog, but despite having real WWE commentators provide the voiceovers, it all sounds a little muted and uninterested. Even when you pull off a mighty finishing move, you get the feeling that the commentators just don’t really care.
Likewise, the vocal performances from superstars aren’t great, especially when wandering the backstage areas, and more emotion and conviction would help a lot. It’s not terrible, but should be so much better.
Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is a triumph, and it’s another offering that does so much more than a yearly update. Sure, there’s all the usual things like an updated roster (this year featuring over 70 superstars, with more on the way), tweaked stats and general polish, but there’s so much more besides. The creation tools are better, the online mode is better, core combat is more enjoyable and flows more realistically, and the addition of the standout WWE Universe feature is superb.
All in all, this is certainly the best SvR title yet, by a long way, and is a game that’ll last a very, very long time. Yukes still has some niggles to iron out, but until next year, you won’t find a better wrestling title than this.
WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.