WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW PS2 Review

The SmackDown series is a major part of our annual gaming diet, and for very good reason too. The franchise may not be perfect, but it offers the very best of grappling action and multi-player amusement. Here Comes the Pain was critically acclaimed for its solid engine and attention to detail. The question is, does this new instalment build on that?

To answer the above question early SmackDown vs RAW is basically a refined version of last years big hitting entry, so it does successfully build on all the additions that came before. The grappling system has been tweaked and isn’t quite as flawed this time around. The animation for strong and submission grapples is now visibly slowed down, assuring that they are easier to spot and avoid during a match. In Here Comes the Pain there was no noticeable difference and this was quite an oversight on the developers part.

Problems are still obvious during matches though, no more so then in the reversal system. We still found that aerial manoeuvres are too easily reversed whilst lying on the deck; something needs to be tightened up in this aspect to assure that this is no longer an issue. On the plus side there’s some great looking new reversals, and as always the game impresses with its mostly smooth and seamless transition from one move to another.

A hyped new feature was the option to play as either a good or bad wrestler. It sounds great on paper, but sadly it’s a missed opportunity that perhaps could have been executed a little better. Staying faithful to your alignment will earn you either a nasty low blow (dirty) or a bout of invincibility and increased finisher strength (clean) later in the match. Unfortunately we found it to be too much of a distraction from the actual wrestling rather then a convincing new addition. Thankfully it can quite easily be ignored and played in the traditional method.

Another sore point is the season mode. It now includes voice acting from the actual WWE superstars, although sadly at the expense of the high standard season we have come to expect from the series. Storylines are seemingly fewer and there is less of an open-ended feel, which is a major shame.

As equally as disappointing (and our last grumble) is the online mode, which admittedly is a neat new addition, but being limited to one-on-one matches only, is rather hard to accept. We couldn’t care less about the lack of headset support or rankings, that’s all trivial stuff in comparison. At least the bouts mostly maintain the smooth action of the offline game and there’s enough there for future expansion.

Still the best wrestling title that money can buy, it continues looking for that perfection status, but as a multi-player series it continues to serve us well. Sure, the game has its problems, but these are easily overlooked or even forgotten when the smooth and seamless in-ring action commences.