WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011
Football fans have their Fifas, basketball-fanatics can rely on 2K Sports to provide them each year with a videogame of their beloved sport, and THQ makes sure that also the wrestling fans don’t have to be left in the cold. Thanks to Smackdown vs. Raw, now everybody can experience the thrill of entering the ring.
Wrestling gathers most of its fans on the American continent. Superstars like Chris Jericho or the Undertaker (or in the past the great Hulk Hogan and even Mister T.) have giant fanclubs behind them every single match and take their place in the ring like they just descended from Mount Olympus -evnethough the Undertaker seems to look like he came straight out of the underworld – and then ram the living sh*t out of each other, whether or not with the help of a chair, a ladder, or some groggy wrestler who happened to lie in the proximity.
The first thing THQ added to the game is the WWE Universe-mode, which is to be compared to the career mode most sports games have. You become a pro wrestler, and complete the whole WWE agenda. You advance week by week and choose to accept the challenges that present themselves, or rather set up a match by yourself. You shouldn’t expect to become the number one star of the world of wrestling all of a sudden, that’s something you have to earn. Throughout the game you evolve, make friends and enemies, build up a reputation and, eventually, battle for that highly priced champion’s title. An advantage to this mode is that after a WWE season is over, the calender is regenerated, so you can keep on to play this mode for multiple seasons in a row.
You can also choose the Road to Wrestlemania, a story mode with five available kinds of stories to be completed, all of which revolve around making it to Wrestlemania, the Wrestling Walhalla of the year. Only minor setback here is the limited choice of characters you get to control. Leading Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Chris Jericho or Christian to the top is not a problem, but if you were planning to do that with another one of your wrestling heroes: tough luck.
Road to Wrestlemania also has seperate storyline where you can try and stop the Undertaker’s winning streak. This is to be done with Kofi, Ziggler, Morrison or your self-created wrestler.
THQ also wanted to make the gamer aware that it’s not only what happens in the ring that counts. In a (failing) attempt to create some kind of RPG-feeling, THQ added a backstage area where your wrestler hangs around whenever he’s not busy kicking some other guy’s ass. You can talk to some other wrestlers, or even have a little brawl with them. However, ‘talk’ is a big word. Admitted, all the original wrestling stars have their real voice implemented in the game, but the lip sync is worse than in a Jackie Chan-film dubbed in French.
By fighting other wrestlers, you gain some skillpoints. Really nice, but it takes forever to level up, which takes the fun right out of the game. The camera angle used in this mode also causes a lot of frustration and desorientation, and the side quests that pop up, like the gathering of souls in an urn, bring forth a WTF-feeling rather than a WWE-feeling.
As far as gameplay and graphics are concerned, Smackdown vs. Raw doesn’t score bad. The animations used in the ring are fairly realistic and dynamic, but it doesn’t take long until predictability kicks in. Again, I admit, you’re not going to change ways of punching some guy in the face ‘just for fun’, but still… Outside of the ring, the quality of the graphics rather reaches the freezing point. Some posters hanging around have resolutions that don’t fit at all, the GM’s office looks like it’s been built up in five minutes, cardboard objects filling the backstage, … All this increases the feeling that THQ might have handled some of this a bit better.
And then there is the soundtrack. No wait, correction: there is no soundtrack. Smackdown vs. RAW features a song or five, all in the metal genre, but they are not to be found in a menu, you can’t even find the title or artist anywhere in the game. The sound in the ring and the commentary that comes with it are pretty decent, but a bit of music outside of the ring would have done the game some good as well.
This is a nice game, but not to be recommended if you’re not a real wrestling fan. THQ drops the ball a bit too often to deliver a top notch title, eventhough Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is still enjoyable – for a short while at least. Adrenaline: check, macho behavior: check, the feeling that this game has reached it’s full potential: nop.