WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 Review (Xbox 360)
Editors Note: Mike posted some additional impressions just after he got the game as well. You can check those out for some more thoughts from Mike on SvR 2011.
How do you make a "realistic" sports game based on a sport that isn't, well, real? Yukes and THQ seem to have found an answer with WWE's Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, but the problem is they just could not quite pin it to the mat for the three count. SvR 2011 is ailed by repetitive and uninspired core gameplay that is unable to overshadow some great peripheral features of the game.
As per usual with this series, SvR 2011 takes steps back in certain areas by recycling the in-ring action. And while the new WWE Universe mode is tremendously cool, one wonders if the developers will ever entirely focus on improving what needs to be improved.
That being said, this is the biggest year-to-year improvement the series has gone through in ages.
In the Ring
I'm going to let everyone in on a little secret in hopes that THQ/Yukes figures this out: Operation Sports encourages us to spend at least half our efforts reviewing the gameplay, and for good reason. It is gameplay that makes or breaks games; it provides a solid foundation on which players build their opinions on.
THQ/Yukes has spruced up the play of the game, but not how the game is played. By this I mean that there are some new nifty animations and fresh moves, but the engine remains the same. Now, this would not be a problem had it been significantly updated during this era, but it just has not -- at least not in ways that are truly tangible to me as a user.
A match will pretty much consist of mashing the "A" button to shake off the effects of your wrestler's grogginess and mashing the right trigger to pack as many reversals as possible into your match. If you do this and hit a few well-timed strikes and grapple moves, your momentum meter will begin to go fill up.
Your momentum meter, which can be instructed to fill slowly, normally or quickly in the options menu, has replaced the health gauge (unless you are in a Backstage Brawl) as the only icon attached to your wrestler. When it reaches 75 percent, you can hit a signature move.
Speaking of signature moves, whoever was assigned to giving the characters their signature moves should be made to watch a Hornswoggle's Greatest Matches DVD over and over. They are not all wrong -- some people have a move in their repertoire, like CM Punk's running knee/bulldog combo -- but some will deliver a punishing elbow to the back of the head or shoulders. I don't think The Miz would consider that his "signature move."
Once a signature move is hit, or the meter hits its capacity, a finishing move can be pulled off within about a 20 second span because there is no storing of finishers this year (once again). So you have to be ready if you plan on pulling off something cool with it, like hitting a shooting star press off the turnbuckle onto the announce table.
And to say there is no strategy would be an understatement. This is a shame because of how diverse the roster is in the game. There is so much room there for creative freedom and how specific styles of all the wrestlers could match up with other wrestling styles, so it's surprising matches do not feel more diverse.
For instance, I figured I would have at least a technical advantage on the Big Show when I was Jack Swagger, but every grapple attempt ended up in what seemed like an endless string of reversals until someone opted to Irish whip or strike. In fact, I regularly hit more finishing maneuvers than I did strong grapple moves in my matches.
You can always go to the game's slider set to fudge around, but there seems to be no happy medium when it comes to reversals.
The submission system has become a severe disappointment. There are no submission-specific grapples anymore, so most things boil down to camel clutches and Boston crabs. The "submissions struggle" system kicks into gear, a severely underwhelming concept that boils down to the attacker simply holding the right thumb stick and the victim rotating the thumb stick until a meter fills. Even when a submission move is hit from a grapple, it is not a "submission system" compatible move and works the same as a regular grapple move.
The controller scheme is pretty much the same as it has always been, generally rewarding those who love to mash away. I suppose for what the game is centered around, the scheme is easy enough and makes sense, and the developers finally made it so that tagging in a tag partner is possible without exiting the ring or taking off the turnbuckle a dozen times.
Where the gameplay improved was in the "little things" department. The new weapons physics engine, while it provides for some embarrassing glitches, is the best the series has ever boasted.
Going through a table does not automatically mean completely cracking it in two, and you don't have to be grappled at the table to perform a move that can damage it. Instead, the table acts as just another part of the environment, and almost any move performed near it can result in a load of splinters for the opposition.
Still, this is not to say that a new physics engine has been unveiled for the wrestlers. The Big Show still Vader-bombed me from much farther than halfway across the ring, and other silly glitches are carelessly thrown in there.
There are plenty of new moves to be performed on top of ladders, including finishers. It has made the ladder match much improved, and even the new system implemented to pull down the belt or briefcase is simpler and smoother. Finally, you can be pushed off the ladder only for your grapefruits to catch the top rope.
The most impressive boost that may go unnoticed is how uncanned the animations seem at times. This shines in the reversals, where a counter seems genuinely pulled off because of physical momentum and, because there are different reversals for the same move, seem very genuine.
The other day I was getting it handed it to me by my brother all match, but at one point I reversed a move he attempted while he was running, and I ended up cradling him up for the impromptu victory, which is a pretty cool way to end a match you were not exactly dominating.
The moves that involve diving out the ring are also helped out by how smooth some of the moves are being pulled off, and it seems to fit within the flow of the match.
Of course, it's tough to get a good flow going if you face the AI. This has got to be one of the most annually disappointing AI systems in sports games. The sole improvement I noticed was that some wrestlers will make sure certain moves are pulled off because of who they are, but not often. In fact, I solely base this off the one time Tyson Kidd went on the apron for no reason other than to hit me with a springboard clothesline.
Other than that, the AI keeps in line with the reversal-heavy nature of the game. It's hard to judge how difficult the matches are based on a chosen difficulty because it seems to only impact how frequent the reversals become. Simply put, if you want to beat your opponent, then you will find a way to beat your opponent. There is no excuse to lose to the computer if you have any experience in this series.
The pinning system adds a bit of unpredictability to this year's edition. When pinned, there is a bar that fills up when you hold a button, and you have to stop it in the "sweet spot" to kick out. The system, which was introduced last year, means there is no cap to the damage you can take before not being able to kick out, it just makes it more difficult to do so.
Speaking of pinning, there seems to be some questions that surround the ease of pinning AI opponents. There have been multiple reports that say it's as easy as punching your opponent, kicking him on the ground and simply getting the three count 30 seconds into a match. Obviously, this is a major issue and bug.
As a final note, one of he best "little things" in the game is what happens when you select Hornswoggle as a manager, no pun intended. But I won't ruin that quirky surprise for you.
The WWE has undoubtedly cornered the market on presentation, so it would make sense for them to do the same in their game. Well, there are some hits and there are some misses, believe it or not.
The best thing the developers did presentation-wise in recent years was to put some of the best entrance songs into the game menu. Now I can listen to Vance Archer's insanity-driven song or The Miz screaming "AWESOME" while moving from screen to screen.
The graphics have not improved more than what you would expect from year to year. However, beware Matt Hardy's six-pack and Randy Orton's 12-foot-high traps. The general graphics kept up with the times but certainly don't take your breath away. When the game is focused on two or three guys wrestling each other on a close-up camera, and there is not much to worry about in terms of environment, the graphics should take your breath away.
That being said, the more I have played the game, the more I have been pleasantly surprised by how much the developers have added in the presentation area, even if the commentary is still terrible -- and they even clearly tried to improve the commentary this year.
The loading screens are very quick. The developers have added some cool Slammy Award Winners, Moments of the Year, and Quotes of the Year along with Did You Know? tidbits, so even the brevity if the loading screens will not bore you. Still, there was a day where it was a full-sized shot of Trish Stratus during the loading screens.
All in all, some video packages and things to make the game more authentic would be nice. The overall presentation made a small step forward but there is plenty of room to improve.
This new mode is the single best aspect of the the game, and it is the reason I hold out a lot of hope for next year's game to be a must-buy (assuming the gameplay is finally shined up.)
In a nutshell, anything you do in the game will have an impact in the WWE Universe. It is Raw, Superstars, Smackdown and Pay-Per-Views all rolled up into a chronological order, with each week's show relating to the next. This gives us the closest thing to the unpredictable nature the WWE tries to give its viewers on a weekly basis
Based on the rivalries, face/heel alignments and title rankings that are set at the beginning of the game (and can be customized at any time, except for the title rankings), there will be a four-match card with computer-generated matches. These can be anything from one-on-one matches to tag-team table matches and so forth.
The user can play or simulate the matches, but the result will impact those wrestlers' standings in the Universe. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
There are over 100 cut scenes and interactions that can impact your matches and your rivalries. If you start off the show with a tag match that pits Edge and The Miz against DX, only for Edge to be ambushed halfway through by Chris Jericho -- who just happened to run through the crowd -- prepare to see retaliation. That night's main event may pit Y2J against Sheamus, and after Jericho picks up the victory, Edge may come out and drill him with a lead pipe to end the show. In this situation, their rivalry is "intensified," and they become "bitter enemies," which sets the stage for a great feud.
In a number-one contender's match for Rey Mysterio's World Heavyweight strap, the game had Rey come to ringside to commentate, but of course he didn't speak. When I went out to see if I could interact with him, he dropped me and aligned with my opponent for the rest of the match. There are many more little storyline twists that impact matches and add to the intrigue of the storylines.
The pay-per-views are used to showcase all the title matches (which are only able to be defended at these shows).
There are still drawbacks in this mode. If you play an Exhibition match, it replaces the next match in the WWE Universe and is implemented into that world. If you create a character, he is added into the Universe as well. I'd like an option to keep whatever I wanted separate, but I like that THQ/Yukes wants the game to revolve around the mode.
Also, I have not seen any promos, and I always seem to get some random wrestler shown in the front row with a ticket, but he never impacts anything.
Road To WrestleMania
This mode is SvR's equivalent to a "season" mode. You can pick from four wrestlers to play through a storyline specific to them, or opt for the Vs. Undertaker mode. The Undertaker one is a small step in the right direction because you can be any one of four young WWE mid-carders or your own created wrestler.
The developers have re-introduced the backstage area to walk around in, but it is pretty dumb, and its sophistication belongs in a Nintendo 64 game.
There are not many choices to make in this mode, but at least losing a match does not always make you restart the week. It branches out a little bit more than in recent tries, but it still pales in comparison to the heralded Here Comes The Pain story mode. Anything less than that will continue to be a severe disappointment. There just seems to be no emotion behind this mode.
I was glad to see the developers left this mode in from last year. You can create your own storylines by choosing from loads of interactions and cut scenes while having the ability to add your own text (just plug in your keyboard if you opt to do this). Then you can add matches and even decide how you want them to be played out, a potentially sweet new feature that, like everything else, needs to be fleshed out a bit.
You can play out these storylines yourself or upload them and have others play them out and review them. You can't upload anything that contains anything you downloaded from the user community, however.
The biggest thumbs up here goes to the amount of choices you have in how a feud or story plays out.
I won't spend much time on this because it is the same as usual, and I haven't used it much since you can download community created CAWs. But as always, this feature of the game is deep and, with enough focus, you can create a fantastic looking wrestler.
This year's big online addition is the Royal Rumble. For how many people that are hooked into one at once (up to 12), the Rumble runs surprisingly smoothly aside from the brutal loading time. Once you are in, you trash talk until you get eliminated, get randomly assigned to someone else coming in, and continue to trash talk until you get eliminated again. The ease with which you get eliminated is lame, but that is more a reflection on the Rumble mode itself.
Because the biggest downfall of this year's game is the AI gameplay, jumping into a triple threat ladder match with two other people is a blast. There have not been as many cheesers as I would have expected, and most of the matches I have played have actually played out as legitimate matches. When everyone chooses to play according to their characters, it can be a real fun time.
The lag has not been much of an issue, but that can and will change with every match. Really, it all depends on whom you connect with for your match.
The Community Creations section is as good as the community makes it, and the game doesn't really restrict how good it can be. You can download and upload storylines, created wrestlers, created moves, logos, entrances -- outside of user-created music for entrances you can upload everything you might need for a Nexus invasion.
As a die-hard wrestling nut and a wrestling game lover, I can say that I enjoyed this game and do not regret the purchase. But there just is not much to do if you are not playing the multiplayer modes. The AI is whacked out of its mind when it comes to competition and there is just too much repetitiveness.
Still, the WWE Universe mode is what makes this game worth the $60. It comes closer to capturing what the WWE is and how it can be represented in a video game better than this series has shown since the previous generation. The online community fuels the customization and provides a nice break from facing the boring AI.
SvR 2011 stacks up to its peers the way Madden does. It has no true peers, and it is still steroid-induced head and shoulders above the "competition."
In the Ring: I can't express enough my disdain for the AI and how boring the single-player matches can become. The little things added to the gameplay are nice reminders that the developers are still trying and there are still some "that was cool" moments. Also, beware the ease of pinning an AI opponent.
Visuals: Par for the course, but I expect more from a game solely based around a handful of people with no environment to have to worry about. Also, enough with the exaggeration of muscles on some of the guys, that's what WWE All-Stars is going to be about.
Audio: The sound itself is fine, but the commentary is still awful, even though I can't think of a better way to do it.
Entertainment Value: As a whole, I don't find myself looking forward to playing this game when I'm at home alone. But with friends or playing online, it is worth spending a couple hours with the game when there is nothing else to do. The match interruptions in WWE Universe mode help dull the repetitiveness.
Learning Curve: If you have a right pointer finger to press the reversal button a thousand times per match, then you can compete at the highest level with anyone. The only thing to be learned is from what position certain superstars execute finishing moves.
Online: This area definitely adds to the game experience from a downloadable-content perspective. The Royal Rumble is a fun experience as long as the microphone is on, because waiting to re-enter the match can be a drag.
Score: 7.5 (Good)