The last time I had played a WWE wrestling game was way back in 2007. Triple H was on the cover looking more menacing than usual and I had played the game for a few solid months. But to be honest, I was burnt out and frustrated with the grappling system and spent the last few years messing with older wrestling titles and Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the Playstation 2. Fast forward to late 2009 and I suddenly find myself excited for a WWE wrestling game once again. Hopefully clever marketing wasn’t the only reason.
It’s true. No matter how many times I play a WWE game, the first thing I always notice is the graphics. All of the characters here look great for the most part including John Cena, Randy Orton and even lesser talents like Chavo Guerrero who are realistic to their real life counterparts. Rey Mysterio gets particular praise for the designer’s attention to the detail in his mask.
There are a few shortcomings that are present with the graphics. The game still seems to suffer slightly with their representation of Divas. More often than not, they still basically look like men except a little shorter and some minor curving. It’s better than recent years but isn’t quite there. The other issue is with the character poses that you find when you select a wrestler. Do half the wrestlers really need to look like they are constipated? Finlay is a great example of this.
Sound is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital and strong in output. The most recognizable sounds are the in-game music which consists of wrestler themes and other assorted music. I’m not sure how appropriate a current Lynyrd Skynyrd song (I’m more for Freebird myself) is in a wrestling game but I’m willing to go along with it. I’ve developed a considerable taste for Jack Swagger’s theme as well as the ole DX theme which sound great going through my speakers.
As good as the music is; the sound effects fair a little worse. The crash of a table or the force of a belly to belly suplex hitting the mat sound real enough but there is one problem. It doesn’t seem to have enough force. This is a minor complaint at best and out shown by the extra attention given to things such as chops (Woooo!), near falls (2!), or setting a wooden table on fire (Toasty!, okay I made that last one up).
Most people know the story behind a wrestling game. Wrestler A wants to kick the crap out of Wrestler B so they talk about it for a month before getting you to pay $40 for the match only for it to end in double countout. Seriously, the best way to describe the story in wrestling is that it is always changing. Let’s face it, for most men who watch the sport: it’s our soap opera.
For practical purposes, let us explore the controls as in a one on one match. The left analog stick is used for movement and the right analog stick is used for the grapple system. Sounds simple? Then we throw in a few tricks to open up the playing field. A simple right analog stick toggle will give us a quick grapple. This ranges from an elbow strike to an armdrag takeover. Simple but not very effective. Now try holding down the Right bumper while using the grapple button and this will lead to a Strong grapple which will hopefully produce something as devastating as a STO.
Then you can throw in other buttons like B for an Irish Whip or X’s for strikes. Or perhaps you like it dirty and want to use a foreign object. Pick the weapon up using your A button and strike away with your X. Submissions involve clicking the Right analog stick when the opponent is on the ground or in a strong grapple. Finally the finishing blow can be performed with a momentum meter on full and by pressing Y.
That’s the bare basics. The manual does well to explain all that except when it gets to specialty matches. There is a page that describes some actions with the Ladder, Cage and Hell in a Cell matches. But it has a habit of leaving key items out or not going enough in depth about them. Let’s take the example of a key match involving Shawn Michaels against JBL inside a steel cage.
This match actually happens in Shawn’s Road to Wrestlemania mode. There is a mandatory goal which involves Shawn jumping off the cage and landing on JBL. It’s to give the fans what they want. Now the manual does go into the keys for the maneuver but it is up to you to figure out how to pull it off. JBL never stays down for long unless you beat him to a bloody pulp and after a finisher.
So okay, you finally figure out how to climb the cage and you are perched way at the top ready to drop a devastating blow. Your first instinct would actually be to jump on top of JBL while flat on his back and deliver the move. You would end up with a nasty headache. The appropriate thing to do is waiting until JBL gets up (and he better be on the other side of the ring), then dive and hope you hit him. The worst thing? After that, you have to work your way up the cage again if you want to escape.
Along with a few manual missteps, the other thing that is hard to track is the variable difficulty. It ranges from the ridiculously easy to extremely tough. Most one on one matches at normal difficulty will be over very quickly as long as you know how to build up momentum and deliver finishers. All of the matches for Mickie James’ RTWM are along these lines.
But for other matches, difficulty is putting it mildly. The greatest example to date involves Randy Orton as he tries to put away Kane in a mere three minutes in his RTWM story. Most characters, this would not be a problem. An RKO or a head punt would end their misery in a heartbeat. Kane is a special type of beast. He consistently no-sells most moves and your only hope is to be a master of momentum building or find a way to get him counted out.
The difficulty gets even worse in contests that involve multiple wrestlers (think 5 or 6) and matches such as Money in the Bank. Climbing the ladder is not too bad and finding ways to keep the others off isn’t all that difficult. What is? The ridiculous task of holding onto the case long enough to pull it off. The graphic of the briefcase takes forever to deplete thus increasing the length of the match tenfold.
Despite these issues, the game is still very enjoyable to play. Minor exceptions aside, most matches will be particularly thrilling and will have you fighting to put on a show for your loyal fans. I had one match of particular note where my created was fighting Mike Knox and Kane interfered. One choke slam later I was down for the count. However, I was able to reverse a pin at the last moment by Knox into a small package for the win. Little things like that wake up the wrestling and video game fan in all of us.
The strongest category for this game has always been replay and the availability of modes like no wrestling game on the planet. This year is no different. There are tons of wrestlers to control and for once it gives the Divas the option to be more than eye candy. Then you can add all of the wrestling matches available from Tag-Team matches to Royal Rumble to an Inferno Match.
The Royal Rumble match is actually revamped this year to include a different control scheme which gives you more control over eliminations. Trying to eliminate a combatant or escape elimination brings up a mini-game where you have to input presses of the four main buttons (X,Y,A,B) correctly to bring up the successful action. The wrestlers can also be whipped more easily into those situations and this cranks up the intensity.
Another mode you will notice right away is the training mode which opens by default every time you boot the game. John Cena & Randy Orton waiting to go at it. I would recommend that you strive towards the Developmental Graduate achievement when you first get the game since this will help immensely how to perform the various moves. It will also require you to switch wrestlers and situations in order to complete the checklist.
Moving on from that, we have two major modes that have the player going down a path to greatness. The first is the Road To Wrestlemania. Here you can take on six different paths including Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, Mickie James, Edge, Brand Warfare, and Created Superstar. This mode also unlocks various items as you complete goals. Alternate Attires, Additional Wrestlers & Backstage areas can all be unlocked as a result.
The second mode of interest is the Career Mode. Here take a wrestler and get them to the very tip top of the wrestling world. You can set up the three rosters (Raw, Smackdown and ECW) with the included guys as well as ones you create or download from the community. Then you are off to compete for various titles in hope of eventually one day of being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
However, all of this is a warmup when it comes to the insane amount of options available with the Creation tools. First you have the traditional Create-A-Wrestler option which includes up to 64 layers and 48 points with which to create your wrestler. These can get very detailed and also include the ability to make Entrance gear as well as additional attires. A quick note, at this time there is a glitch with the additional attires which require you to edit your original costume and save that as additional attire. If you select a piece of additional attire that is not created at the time of conception you could possibly forfeit any ability points.
After Create-A-Wrestler, there is also a new idea called Superstar Threads. Honestly, this should be renamed to Color Swapping. Say you take Matt Hardy and then alter his ring gear to green drawing inspiration from his popular camouflage look. It takes all of five minutes and isn’t really that special. Create-A-Finisher is a feature brought back this year and lets you modify moves down to the smallest of details includes dives from the top rope.
Another brilliant pair of tools is creating highlight reels and making entrance videos. In any match, you can save interesting moves and high flying action. Use this with a decent movie maker tool and you can create a fantastic highlight reel. The awesome trick here is that you can morph that highlight reel into an entrance video sequence. Nothing is more awesome than taking your created wrestler, wrestling a few matches with him and using that footage in your entrance video.
For the longest time, I think the feature that I’ve wanted most is some sort of Story Designer mode. This feature is in several wrestling text simulators but has never been achieved on a graphical level. This is also what got me to buy the game on release week. It’s nothing short of amazing. You can control matches, promos, backstage interviews and everything else you can think of. All you need is some patience and a good bucket of creativity.
The only limitation besides your imagination is including created wrestlers. In fact, there are only 10 scenes for any story allowed to include create a wrestlers. The reason? Since these creations can be uploaded to the community they thought the size would get to be too much. Therefore the idea to limit them since you can create scenarios for up to 2 years in one file.
Supposedly in the PS2 version, there is no limit because there is no community. Personally, I think it would have made more sense to have an on/off toggle flag. If you use more than 10 scenes, the flag is turned off and you can’t upload it (but you can play it yourself as much as you want). If you use less, the flag remains on and other people can enjoy it. This makes everybody happy. Hopefully a patch is our future to address this and other concerns.
In relation with the community concerns, the nice thing about the product is that there is a huge community online where you can download created wrestlers, storylines, highlight reels, etc. You don’t have to copy down pages of formulas any longer, just download and go. The community can also give ratings to various projects and all of this is searchable with key words depending on what you are looking for.
The only problem I found is that anything you download is not open for discussion. This means if you wanted to edit one little thing on Frank’s creation of Bret Hart during his pink and black attack days, then you’ll need to start from scratch. I’m pretty sure this was done in an effort to prevent people from uploading basic copies of other people’s creations. But couldn’t you have achieved this freedom with another toggle switch?
For those who dabble in Achievements, the game provides 25 of them for 1000 points. There isn’t much variety here as this year includes no online achievements. Points are given for completing RTWM scenarios, trying out some of the new options, unlocking all of the bonus items and learning how to successful reverse your opponents moves (something I’m still learning to master). Particularly difficult achievements include wining as tentative champion from start to end in Championship Scramble (Ahead of the Pack) and winning a Royal Rumble match as the first entrant (Royal Rumble Specialist) which will net you 50 and 100 points respectively.
After a good two weeks and many separate sessions with the game, I feel I can accurately speak on how good and frustrating this year of Smackdown vs Raw is. The game overall for the most part is a fun ride from pillar to post. The matches are fun, the create modes are amazing and the many extras make this entry possibly the best ever for WWE fans. To be honest, not including the arcade games, I would put this third behind No Mercy for the N64 and Smackdown 2 for the PS1.
But then there are limitations/glitches yet to be fixed which include limitations on the story mode, additional attires messing up your ability points, and not being able to manipulate downloaded creations. It isn’t a perfect WWE experience but unlike other yearly games such as Madden, they aren’t sitting on their laurels and being content with what they had the year before. Fans of wrestling games should snap this up and even some gaming fans with creative juices might have fun with this. Recommended for the people who smell what the Rock is cooking.
Cowboy Bob Orton
The Brian Kendrick
The Great Khali