This review is dedicated to the memory of WWE's Eddie Guerrero. WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2006 is not just another wrestling game. It actually defines the genre, thanks to lots of improvements and tons of options. It's not the perfect wrestling game but it's damn close. You don't have to be a wrestling fan to appreciate the challenges put forth in this excellent title.

There's no use slamming the old wrestling games. This is new territory. Where we try to caution you about annual sports titles and how little they improve year-to-year, suggesting you wait out a season or two until some major changes have been implemented, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2006 is ripe for the picking. If there is a better wrestling game on the market I'll eat my…words. I hear digital text contains very few calories.

WWE 2006 (as it will be referred to in this review) is a lot more challenging in many respects. The AI has been tweaked but it's still a bit of a disappointment as the characters tend to perform in too similar a style. The AI may be more difficult to dominate but you can change that by adjusting the slider options. The trouble is that all of the AI characters are affected by those changes. At least you have the various multi-player modes to look forward to.

Strategy must be exercised carefully in this game. There are a lot of decisions to make which requires a lot of forward thinking. Instead of being able to keep your opponent under control with a couple of your most powerful moves, you are now going to be forced to use a different technique. A Momentum and Stamina meter have been introduced to make the gameplay more realistic. You aren't going to have unlimited ammo anymore. Keep using all of your top-level moves and eventually you're going to be drained of energy thanks to the Stamina meter. If you continue to use the same moves repeatedly you will bore the audience and lose Momentum, making you more sluggish and vulnerable to hits. You've got to make a conscious effort to keep things fresh and interesting.

New moves will make you want to experiment with the gameplay. There is a new sleeper hold, the ability to play possum, the Irish Whip and grapple moves that are totally customizable for each character. The only grapple elements you'll have to share are submission holds and the dirty and clean grapples. Other grapple options include martial arts, power, speed and old-school. Remember the Hulk is a playable character and you've got to respect his old-school style. I wouldn't want to argue with those pipes.

The Season and GM mode let you see the world of professional wrestling from a different perspective than just watching it on TV. The GM mode is deep and contains a lot of text and menus but if you want to run a multi-million dollar business you're going to have to get used to doing a lot of paperwork. In the GM mode the bottom line is ratings. Get the ratings and you're earning big money. To do this you have to hire the best performers, er…I mean wrestlers that you can afford. You'll also have to script events and create rivalries to titillate your audience.

Character creation is much more comprehensive than it used to be. Not only can you customize each character's grapples but you have tons of physical options to choose from. You can even trade your creations with other players online.

Multi-player modes can be accessed both online and offline. Online you can play against five other players while you can only duke it out with three others online. From tag team to battle royal matches, the game doesn't miss a trick - or a match. It even includes the Buried Alive match where you have to wrestle your opponent out of the ring and into a waiting coffin whereupon you proceed to bury him with tons of dirt that just happens to by lying nearby. Hey, it's all about ratings.

Wrestling for the championship belt is the tour de force of the online matches. Stats are recorded and stored for all players so you can check out the history of the players that you're going up against. It can be intimidation to say the least if you're up against a multiple title holder. There are a few online omissions that would have really completed this game such as a buddy list and the ability to communicate during matches. I guess you can't have everything.

Closer and closer to graphical perfection, the characters are virtually photo-realistic. You won't have any problem recognizing any of the wrestlers unless they are fabricated. The animations are, (and I hate to use this word when referring to the movement of trucker-sized guys) graceful. Shots of the crowd make it appear as though you're watching the real event on TV. The voiceovers are even better than some of the stuff that passes for acting on the actual WWE broadcast. The commentary leaves a lot to be desired. It tries too hard to emulate the excitement of the game rather than just being a component of it.

Finally, a wrestling game for people that have more than a one-digit IQ. Who'd have thunk it?

System: PS2
Dev: Yukes
Pub: THQ
Release: Nov 2005
Players: 1 - 6
Review by StewXX