I would like to take everybody on a stroll down memory lane, back to a time when we could all smell what the Rock was cooking, would give Stone Cold Steve Austin a “Hell Ya,” and everybody knew that whomever the Undertaker faced would Rest In Peace. That was about the last time this videogame series has been given the true upgrade that it so desperately needs.
This isn’t to say that the new iteration isn’t an enjoyable, decent game, but in reality, that is all that it really is. WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 fails to live up to its true potential, but even the most jaded fans can still find something enjoyable about this platform brawler.
Before the matches start, the introductions that they use are dead on to their real-life counterparts. The music, lighting, and wrestlers stepping out from behind the curtain are all amazingly accurate. It is also funny to look out into the crowd both before and during the matches to see the signs that people are holding. They are usually pretty creative and some will most definitely make you chuckle if you happen to have a good memory for storylines from long ago.
As for the actual gameplay, it is actually a pretty enjoyable in-game experience. One really nice upgrade over previous years is that when you lock in a move on somebody, it actually takes into account, and adjusts for, the wrestlers’ heights. Even as recently as WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010, if you performed certain moves it would look off because the move could be executed “above” the wrestler. One great example of this is you were to perform a chokeslam on Rey Mysterio as the Big Show. In this case, you would actually grab above Mysterio’s head and lift him up. It looked really ridiculous, but that is not the case here.
When playing the game, the controls are solid but the targeting is a bit off sometimes. The auto-targeting will at points not automatically switch you to the closest opponent, and other times you will randomly turn around and take out the referee. As funny as this might seem, it can be really annoying sometimes. On top of that, there are major differences when switching between difficulty levels. I had the game on normal mode and as a created wrestler took out the Undertaker in three minutes. On the next difficulty level up, it took me 25 minutes and my finisher was reversed/countered four times.
Also of note in this new version is the improved use of weapons. If you go to use a weapon and it breaks, it actually looks like something that could happen instead of something out of a video game. A table that breaks will now shatter depending on where you go through it instead of in the dead center. A ladder in the corner, however, will still break if you are thrown into that corner even if it appears as though it should not. It’s an odd hiccup in the system but at least it maintains the same physics as a breaking table.
Another major upgrade is the realism of the game. Apart from the usual upgrade in graphics, the new “WWE Universe” mode is a really impressive addition. WWE Universe actually creates storylines, rivalries, and cutscenes based on how you wrestle in matches in the mode as well as what takes place in computer simulations. It will also take your created “Superstars,” and put them in the action. One major negative of this is that the contenders are constantly the same people and the matches tend to repeat themselves pretty regularly.
Speaking of created Superstars, the create-modes have been improved over previous years as well. The level of customization for a new wrestler is pretty impressive, however it takes an awfully long time to actually create a new wrestler, particularly if you want to make them truly realistic in the Create-A-Superstar mode. The same thing can be said with the Create-A-Finisher mode, too. As for the match creation mode, it is really nothing special. It is just a glorified menu mode where you can adjust match variables such as KO, No DQ, and some other elements, but there really isn’t anything in there that is actually new.
THQ has, unfortunately, carried over the online pass requirement, but if you register and redeem the code, you get a few bonus costumes and unlock Chris Masters. The online offerings are both a blessing and a curse. First, the ability to download community content is amazing. Users can download created superstars, finishers, storylines, move sets, pictures, and movies from other users and then rate the quality of work. This is a really cool way of adding wrestlers to the game who aren’t in the initial roster if somebody has taken the trouble to create them. The matches online, however, are horrendous. The lag makes playing online almost pointless until you get the timing of it. I will never understand why some games have such a smooth online experience, but others feature a massive lag. In this game, it is very noticeable to say the least.
One other of the immediately noticeable flaws with the game is the commentary. The only commentators in the game are Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole. When they are calling matches, it sometimes feels as if they are calling a completely different match from what is taking place. Plus, if you plan on using a created superstar in any match, I promise you that you will get so tired of hearing the nickname of the character that it will make you want to quit.
Another fairly obvious flaw is in the story-driven “Road to WrestleMania” mode. The mode itself isn’t too bad because it can be used to unlock most of the extra content in the game, but the stories themselves are horrible. One of the stories centers on ending the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak and it is based almost completely in the supernatural, collecting souls, and seeing things. The sad thing is that this is one of the better stories in that game mode.
One of the really great things that they brought back in Road to WrestleMania and in the quick matches are the backstage area as an actual match location. The nice thing about this is that it returns an element of realism from the actual product. However, there are some very obvious flaws with it, the main one being the navigation in Road to WrestleMania mode. It takes a long time to get around from one side of the backstage area to another. Additionally, some of the areas are active and let you throw people into them during matches but at other times people will simply stop running in a location. It is very frustrating trying to get around.
This is a franchise that has been around for a long time and will continue to be a strong seller as long as there are wrestling fans, but it is now long overdue for a complete update as opposed to tweaking elements here and there. It is still an enjoyable game and there are a lot of people who will have a good time playing it, I just hope that THQ will finally take the initiative and update this game like it deserves.
WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: PS2, PSP, Wii, and Xbox 360.