WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 Review (Xbox 360)
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 really crept up on me this year. Everyone knew it was coming out, but details were only announced at the end of August, and screens and videos were relatively scarce compared to years prior. Bottom line, the hype train was unusually slow for our yearly WWE game. And, typically when a game gets this kind of treatment, it’s a steaming pile.
But maybe that was the plan all along. Maybe Yukes was trying to lower expectations. Or, maybe Yukes was just implementing a swerve mentality to make everyone think SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 (SvR 2010) was going to be a jobber this year.
If it was supposed to be a swerve, then well played Yukes because this year's WWE production is surprisingly solid.
Good ol' JR might not be too good this year, but the rest of Smackdown vs. Raw certainly is.
Yukes has been trying for years to make the gameplay more realistic in Smackdown. This year the developers made a valiant effort but they were still unsuccessful. The idea of stamina (it’s an option now but the default setting is off) and weight classes has been thrown out the window. In the past Yukes also gave wrestlers bonuses that were based on whether they acted as a heel or a face. In addition to that, the developers also made every character have specific skills based on their abilities. While in theory these things all made sense, they did nothing but make gameplay needlessly complicated.
Now the action in the squared circle can be controlled by more than just the WWE’s most dedicated gamers. And while the game is definitely simpler, it’s much more fun. Each wrestler has a combination of abilities unique to him or her -- it sounds like a lot but you’re prompted to press the corresponding button when you’re ready to play. Basically, last year it seemed like the developers had bitten off more than they could chew with these abilities. This year it’s dialed back to be much more intuitive.
However, the AI opponents are still a tad silly on normal difficulty. They’ll run out of the ring at random times and stand there with their backs to you for a second or two. On the easy difficulty level they stand there like dolts, and on the hard difficulty they will reverse everything. But there are still sliders to alter things like the tendency to grab foreign objects and reversal frequency.
Reversals are only done by using the right trigger. You’ll be prompted when a reversal is possible. The problem I have with reversals in this series is that there is no drama to them. The animation to reverse the move is usually the same as if it were anything else. Certain moves like the RKO have special reversals, but you’ll know as soon as you press the button that the move has been flipped on you.
Beyond the core mechanics, the Royal Rumble has also been revamped to become less mundane and formulaic -- I’m glad this is one of the only cues the developers took from Legends of WrestleMania. Another new match is the Championship Scramble. Here two grapplers begin the match and then every two minutes another enters until all six are in the ring. The bout is timed, and though you may score a pinfall and win the title before the time limit, whoever is holding the title as time expires is declared the official champion. It’s a fun match that is even more enjoyable with an extended time limit.
A legitimate training mode has also been introduced in this version of the game. It’s initiated during the start-up screen -- similar to the hangar in the NBA Live series. Here you are given tasks to complete -- some are as simple as sliding out of the ring or performing a quick grapple. The tasks will pop up on the screen when you’re in a position to do them. You can switch wrestlers in this area to learn each style and also up the difficulty to take your licks in the ring. Essentially, I think this will be of great use for first timers but established ring veterans will know the ropes already.
Jericho might be in just a bit of trouble with that STFU in the middle of the ring.
Yukes has taken additional steps to make the game look more and more like the real thing. An ever-changing advertisement is shown before every match, and the WWE copyright is shown after every match. The HUD has also disappeared. There are no more multicolored bodies or meters to cover the top of the screen. Instead we have a circular meter under every human-controlled character that tells you how close you are to getting your next signature move or finisher. AI opponents will have an F under their feet to let you know that they are packing their most devastating maneuver.
The health indicator has given way to your character holding whatever limb is ailing him or her. It took me a minute to get used to this new presentation element, but I am now in favor it. It cleans up the screen while maintaining the function it had previously.
Chests will redden as the matches go on, which if nothing else, shows that those Ric Flair-like chops are real. And now when you bloody opponents, their blood will drop to the mat as well as on you.
In general the graphics are spectacular as usual. They are especially a sight during the entrances and cut scenes when the game is taking full advantage of the lighting and camera angles. The graphics do take a slight hit when gameplay begins but that’s only because the camera is pushed way back during the match. When the lights go dark and the cameras shutter around the arena during finishers, the visuals are especially impressive. This is because the visual style in place during these finisher moments accentuates the danger of these moves.
The fans look better than they have in the past, and it took me more than five seconds (new record!) to find duplicates. The arenas look great as well. I’ll also use this space to mention that the roster is mostly up to date. The only working superstars who are missing include the Hart Dynasty (minus Natalya) and the newer guys from ECW like Sheamus, Yoshi Tatsu and Zack Ryder. I would not be surprised if they were official downloads at some point -- you can find them online in the meantime.
There are three different commentary teams in place to call your matches. But once again the exhibition match audio is below average. There is only so much these guys can say before they are repeating the same phrases again and again. As for the teams themselves, Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler are solid and Matt Striker and Todd Grisham are fresh in the booth, but Jim Ross and the long-gone Tazz are tired. Tazz has been missing from WWE programming since March and he and JR lose their shine quickly.
The new crowd interaction is a nice touch. You can hear opposing chants for wrestlers like Randy Orton and the regular heel/face chants for everybody else. Maybe next year the developers will include the ability to create your own sound clips like in MLB 09: The Show.
The Championship Scramble is just one of several new additions to the game.
Road to WrestleMania
I would not be surprised to hear that the Road to WrestleMania plots are written by the real WWE writers. While they are limited to Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, John Cena/Triple H, Edge, a CAW storyline and Mickie James, each scenario is fully fleshed out. The commentary and dialogue is also very specific, which definitely makes it more engaging. The only drawback is that you are stuck with these wrestlers. If you are a huge John Morrison fan, you’ll have to use the Career Mode, which is just wrestling match after wrestling match. This year, though, you may have other options.
The biggest innovation in wrestling games this generation is the WWE Story Designer. Every wannabe WWE writer can craft a story for up to 10 years where you’re in control of everything. There are a ton of different options for backstage interactions, along with any combination of real WWE superstars. You can also completely control the dialogue. If you want Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes to argue about their favorite football team and have a match after it, you can. If you want to make a fake Road to WrestleMania for Chavo Guerrero, you can.
There are a few drawbacks. One, inputting the text to develop a storyline would take forever. If you’re going to spend any significant amount of time in this mode, do yourself a favor and pick up a USB keyboard. Two, making a good story takes time. I’m sure there will be people creating well done scenarios but plenty will be half-assed because of the laziness factor. Third, your creativity is limited to mostly real WWE wrestlers. There are only 10 slots for created superstars, meaning a CAW can only appear 10 times throughout any given scenario. Your dream of a WWE featuring only you and your friends will have to wait for another time.
The best part about this mode is the ability to upload and download these plots online. You can take advantage of everybody else’s blood, sweat and tears and play those five-star creations. You can vote for which downloads you like most to help the fellow members of the WWE Universe decide what to play. But just a note of warning, watch out for awkward text and bad grammar. Only a week or so into release, many of the user ratings are inflated so watch out. As time goes on, the rating system will have enough time to let the cream rise to the top.
For all the talk of the new Create-A-Wrestler, it’s largely the same. Faces are still difficult to make, whether it’s yourself or a missing superstar. I would hope they include an EA Sports Game Face type of feature for next year. You can edit the rest of your character to the hilt.
Another neat feature allows you take the highlights of your matches and edit them into an entrance video for anybody you like. Along with the ability to create a set of moves, finisher, entrance and custom soundtrack, your created wrestler can now truly be yours.
The Superstar Threads system, lifted from WWF Raw 2 for Xbox, has long been needed. Wrestlers change the color of their attire nearly every week. Instead of being stuck with an outdated look, you can update them as you please. You can update HBK to give him his DX colors. You can make Edge and Christian match if you want them to team together. You can follow the weekly color schemes of CM Punk and Rey Mysterio and update accordingly. The only flaw is that you cannot change the attire itself. The Miz is stuck wearing long shorts instead of his flashy new undies, and the Big Show still has the one-armed singlet.
Along with the aforementioned WWE Story Designer, the WWE Community Creations Center lets you upload and download wrestlers, highlight videos and finishers. The same review system is in place to ensure quality creations for all. I’m glad Yukes has jumped into the same pool with EA’s Boxer Share and 2K's 2K Share. It really adds to the replay value of the game and lets creative people all over the world do their thing.
The online gameplay is similar to last year. You can play any combination of TLC, Extreme Rules and almost everything else with up to four people. The only disappointments here are the lack of Elimination Chamber, Championship Scramble and most importantly Royal Rumble. An online Royal Rumble would easily make the online experience immensely more enjoyable.
Thankfully, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 even makes this fued feel somewhat fresh.
The Smackdown series has used the same engine for 10 years. It’s kind of like Scott Hall -- it has had its ups and downs and successes and failures. The game will never live up to the legend that is No Mercy, but I’d say this is as far as the engine can take the game. Yukes has done the right thing and given us high quality modes instead of useless gameplay gimmicks. This is a positive direction for the Smackdown series, but the true success of this game lies in the hands of the WWE Universe.
In the Ring: No more stamina, no more weight differentiation. The game is accessible to many but will be mastered by few.
Graphics: Stellar as usual. Wrestlers are really highlighted during entrances and cut scenes.
Sound: Commentary in the RtW mode is great, otherwise it’s the same old lines we’ve heard for years. The entrance music is up to date and does its job.
Entertainment Value: Even a casual WWE fan could enjoy this game.
Online: The WWE meets LittleBigPlanet. It’s a match made in heaven but no Rumble match hurts.
Learning Curve: The new Training Facility will help newcomers get the green off while the die-hard fans will be comfortable right away.
Score: 8.0 (Very Good)