It’s that time of the year, where all wrestling fans look to THQ for those precious last few details for the years Smackdown Vs Raw release so they can salivate and get all hyped up for the games release… But not for me. I’m hyped up, I’m wanting this game so badly… But the difference between me and most of the Smackdown Vs Raw fanbase is that I’ve played the game, or at least a close to release build as we can get with 20 days left until it drops. Or it’s an extra 3 days if you’re like me and in the UK.
THQ invited me down to Central London to play test the game, and boy did I ever do that. Six hours of pure gaming bliss, without any of the mocking tones that other publications throw out whenever a wrestling game is reviewed.
So, are you ready? NO, I SAID… ARE… YOU… REEEEADY!? Let’s get this party started!
- WWE Universe
It’s only right for me to kick off the article with the meatiest part of the game this year,
WWE Universe. With this mode, anything is possible. Absolutely anything! When entering the mode for the first time, you’re greeted with a match card for Raw. Simple enough. In it’s most simplest form, you don’t need to do a thing But of course, you do have the opportunity to change what you don’t like. In my first foray into the Universe, the Raw main event had Randy Orton pitted against Sheamus in a Falls Count Anywhere match. Randy Ortonwalked out with his WWE Championship belt, striding down the ramp and then that’s when Sheamus decided to strike.
He didn’t wait for his entrance or for the bell to ring; he came down to smack Randy Orton around a bit. From there the match began outside of the ring, keeping with the continuity, with Sheamus already boasting a full momentum bar. A single high cross onto the steel ramp later and Orton was history. This gave me quite an insight into what could occur within the mode. Other examples are having Drew McIntyre jump ship to Raw and face Evan Bourne in a number one contender’s match for the United States Championship.
Following a McIntyre win, he celebrated a bit before Mr. McMahon strutted out and informed the Chosen One he had another challenge tonight in the form of the Moscow Mauler Vladimir Kozlov. But fear not, Drew managed to pick up the victory in that match too.
The most interesting thing I found is that the announcers actually pick up on what’s happening in the Universe. They made mention of Drew McIntyre being Raw’s latest acquisition, they commented on rematches, they even made things feel more real by having the announcers say that “We’re just 24 hours removed from [Insert PPV Name Here]!”. It all feels so real, it’s really amazing. And I can surely forgive the lack of diverse commentary teams if it means better commentary than the rehashed announcing we had for the past few years. (FYI: The only announce team in the game is Michael Cole & Jerry Lawler.)
One of my favourite parts of the mode was testing out the Money in the Bank and how you can cash it in. The first time I got to Wrestlemania (I skipped to it, which happened really quickly.) David Hart Smith of all people won the Money in the Bank contract. At Backlash, I had him cash in on The Undertaker… Hart Smith went and won. Because the game actually takes into account that the champion has already been through a gruelling match already, and obviously wouldn’t be at full health. Thankfully, he didn’t hold the belt for long. This is a fantastic foundation for what should come in the years ahead with the Smackdown Vs. Raw series. It’s the perfect blend of the season mode from Smackdown 2, GM mode and Exhibition. It’s replay value at it’s finest.
- Road To Wrestlemania
This year Road to Wrestlemania has received an overhaul. Since it’s inception, the formula for Road to Wrestlemania has been intro, cut scene, locker room, match, save, cut scene, etc until the end of the story. There’s not much room for fleshing everything out, this year is different. You’re now in total control of your chosen superstar in one of 5 new stories that feature John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Christian, Chris Jericho and “Vs. Undertaker”. You have an open world to explore, featuring talent that you can talk to (Although in my short time playing Road to Wrestlemania, most of them were dicks.) or even attack!
The attack mechanic begins once you’ve pushed a superstar 3 times… Why, 3? I don’t know. But once an attack is initiated, you have to wear down your opponent sufficiently enough to knock them out, which you can do either via finisher or by a strong attack. This eliminates the seemingly random knock out system from last year (And further back if I recall correctly.) I didn’t spend enough time playing this mode to figure out if it did anything more than give you experience points, but it’s a nice feature to have anyway. Speaking of experience points, this is crucial in the game this year, where you’ll spend time upgrading your skills, so you don’t become jobber fodder.
The backstage roaming controls take a bit of getting used to and can be clunky at times. Also sometimes the controls regarding the “WWE Phone” are unresponsive, but hopefully that will be fixed in the final build of the game. Also a downside to the open world is that everything is reminiscent of a Japanese RPG game, not that JRPG’s are bad, but the fact that voiceovers aren’t in time with lip syncing and sometimes over the top reactions can be distracting from the overall beauty of the mode.
- Creation Suite
Smackdown Vs Raw just wouldn’t be the same without it’s world class creation suite, inviting you once again to create your own wrestlers, finishers, entrances, move sets and highlight reels. For those who have been living in a bubble, oblivious to everything Smackdown Vs Raw related since Summerslam, the new Create A Finisher situation is the corner grapple, where you can create your very own insane avalanche move from a springboard Codebreaker to CM Punk’s Pepsi Plunge. Not much has changed with the creation of your finisher, this year speed can be increased or decreased by one percent rather than in 25% chunks, you can add rotation to your corner move, and of course the distance to impact.
Create A Wrestler is again largely the same as previous years, barring the obvious new costume options and the graphical upgrades. The menus are a lot less cluttered this year with categories being merged so items of the same type are on one place instead of two. Plus the addition of unique accessories ramp up the creation of unique superstars to 11.
There isn’t much to say about the paint tool except you can now edit the pre-set logos as well as creating your own. You can also put these logos on signs and assign them to a stable of wrestlers too.
Overall, it’s still as amazing as it ever was. Why mess with success?
- Causing Havok
The main addition to actual matches is the Havok physics engine, which is one of the staples of the gimmick matches this year, especially when it comes to Tables, ladders & Chairs. I played a TLC match with one of THQ’s PR reps, pitting The Miz (Me) against Kofi Kingston. The match was fun and closely contested, as you would expect with multiplayer matches. The interactivity with the weapons was a highlight, having off the cuff things happening such as The Miz running up a ladder from the outside in and grabbing onto the ladder and climbing to the top only for Kingston to push the ladder out throwing Miz into the ropes.
As well as the Havok engine, there’s a new item grabbing mechanic in Ladder and TLC matches, removing the meter in favour of a pulling system. The difference is night and day, with the pulling system actually making you feel like you’re doing something and getting you more involved instead of just waiting for the meter to drain down, whilst your character looks like Jack Swagger at Wrestlemania 26.
Back to Havok, which is integrated into all weaponry to add that certain unpredictability when it comes to delivering crushing moves to your opponent. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to perform a Last Ride on your opponent, with him landing on the steel ring steps and actually having them sell the impact in a different way to if they were simply given the Last Ride onto the canvas.
The only issue I can see for certain people in the community is the fact that selling doesn’t last as long as it does in real life, but for me it’s quite perfect because if the in-game wrestlers sold table spots and such like they would in real life, then you’d lose the fun factor. The balance is perfect.
- Match Creation
This has been wanted for quite a while now and for me it harkens back to the days where to get customizable match types on Smackdown Vs Raw, you’d have to have a PS2 and Action Replay. There’s a dedicated community out there for match creations and now they’re getting a run for their money as THQ have added a Match Creation feature! If your dream is to have a Last Man Standing match in Hell in a Cell, you can do it… If you want to play a Flaming Tables match, you can do it… In fact, there’s a plethora of things you can do for each and every match. With the inclusion of this mode, it pretty much adds 100s of new match types, that are catered to your whims.
I know I’m going to love it just for 1-on-1 Last Man Standing Matches inside the Elimination Chamber.
- Story Creation
The storyline creator makes it’s second outing in this game and it’s still really easy to use just like last year. This year you’re able to have 15 created wrestlers feature in the mode with unlimited uses for each, so that throws the downside of last years debut out the window. Plus this year they’ve included the all important branching storylines, so no longer are you bound to one linear path where you browse through cut scene, match, cut scene. In addition to this, we have got all new scenes, especially Undertaker specific scenes where he can appear and disappear at will, just like in the real WWE.
It will be worth investing in a USB keyboard to churn out your very own WWE Storylines.
- Overall thoughts
This game is amazing. They have done a hell of a lot of work, not only in the graphics department, but also with making the game feel more realistic than ever. The Havok physics engine is a hell of a lot of fun, the commentary has improved ten fold and everything just feels right. I do believe this can be the year to knock No Mercy off of it’s perch at the top of “The Best Wrestling Games Ever” lists.
It’s released on October 26th in the United States, and October 29th in Europe. Keep your eyes peeled for the review soon!
> Pre-Order the US Version from Amazon.com: 360 – PS2 – PS3 – PSP – Wii
> Pre-Order the UK Version from Amazon.com: 360 – PS2 – PS3 – PSP – Wii