WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 PS3 Review
Publisher – THQ– Developer – Yukes – Genre – Fighting/Sports – Players – 1-12 – Age Rating – 15+ – Other console/handheld formats – Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, PS2
As a gamer I’ve always enjoyed THQ’s wrestling series, although as a reviewer I’ve found it very much lacking in certain areas and some features have even been broken. This year, the series has once again received attention in certain places, although does it raise its game enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of No Mercy?
Each annual release of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw is typically filled with delightful little touches alongside more significant changes. This year the game has become a little more seamless, Hell in a Cell has swelled in size, and the WWE Universe mode is a new addition that makes simple exhibition matches seem like they are of some importance in an ever changing environment.
Let’s start with the latterly mentioned WWE Universe. This mode is a huge addition that is going to be particularly pleasing for the avid WWE follower, with a little wrestling world coming to life within the game. Rivalries and alliances are formed based on random events and the results of matches, face and heel turns happen just like the real thing, title contenders come about through a ranking system, and the commentary team also speaks out on a wrestlers current run of good or bad luck. The mode is fantastic and takes the full annual WWE calendar and just keeps going on and on, automatically making matches and really coming to life. Of course, you don’t have to stick with the matches that the game puts together, it’s possible to set up your own at anytime and even schedule match ups for further down the line.
Road to WrestleMania is a popular returning mode, although it’s not without its changes. You can once again play as a select handful of WWE personalities: John Cena, Chris Jericho, Christian and Rey Mysterio each have their own unique storylines to fight yourself through. For those who’d like to see the Undertaker’s legendary streak ended at WrestleMania, then playing as the likes of John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth or your own created wrestler will allow you to attempt this major feat. Free roam also makes a return – it’s nice to see the WWE personalities doing different things in this compact living world, and you can even shove them to provoke a backstage brawl, earning experience to expand your stats if you manage to come out on top. The latter is overly tedious though, and I’ve managed to hardly upgrade my stats at all and still have a lot of success within the mode. Regardless, it still remains a very good mode, although, due to some unnessecary distractions, it isn’t quite as good as it once was.
The wrestling action itself also has a variety of changes. The grapple system has been simplified and now works based on the situation, strong grapples come into play when an opponent is dazed for example. Such grapples are far too easily reversed though, often making their attempted use completely pointless, and during such moments when wrestlers are groggy, would it not make more sense for you to have to recover before you can reverse? More positively, the game does feel slightly more seamless, allowing for new situations such as propping your opponent up on top of a turnbuckle to then follow up with a move of your choice, certain moves can be turned into pins, and signature moves and finishers no longer require a groggy opponent to use them on. Improvements to the weapons physics also makes it possible to slam opponents down on top of objects and the ring ropes behave a lot more realistically than they did last year.
I mentioned the Hell in a Cell, which is now very authentic in its size, but it’s not the only match that has seen some changes. The weapon physics are impressive enough and makes object use feel different from previous games in the series, which means that weapon-based matches are entirely different, although I’ve seen some weird physics, which makes me wonder if the game was even tested. Anyway, table matches no longer require the use of a finisher to get your opponent through one of those tables – the deed is now possible with any move as long as it’s one that is able to smash them through a table and is in the correct position. Ladder matches also gets rid of all that sweet spot nonsense, and now just involves pressing up and down with the stick when indicated to grab what hangs above the ring.
This is all well and good, although the in-ring action once again feels dated, the visuals are looking tired (hair doesn’t really look like hair for example), the Road to WrestleMania mode doesn’t attempt lip synching at all during backstage moments, and a new engine for the series is long overdue. Things like the AI, which is shockingly bad at times, really needs thrown out and started from scratch and the less said about the laggy online modes the better, but I will say that they’ve now added in all the match types, which includes the Royal Rumble for up to twelve players. All good if you can find a smooth match, not so much if matches are constantly plagued by lag. On the plus side, the comprehensive creation tools are back, meaning you can create and share everything from wrestlers, storylines, moves, fan signs and more.
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is a decent update for the over decade old series, although it’s also a series that could do with a major update. There’s much to like here, although broken and dated elements really lets it down and manage to get in the way of the enjoyment at times. Many fans of the series are expecting more from each instalment every year, and I definitely think that these loyal fans are deserving of a big Here Comes the Pain style overhaul.