Wrestling With the Big Boys
Like many other gamers, I have reservations about annual releases. Although there are some notable exceptions, series like Need for Speed and Guitar Hero have suffered regular criticism for releasing games that resemble their previous counterparts a little too closely. Luckily, SmackDown vs. Raw has managed to avoid this issue thus far, and 2011 looks to be an even bigger improvement to the franchise than previous entries, and will provide users with yet another completely different wrestling experience. We recently went hands-on with some of the new features of SmackDown vs. Raw 2010, and came away with some very positive impressions.
Although the basics of the wresting mechanics are nearly identical in SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 (minus a few control tweaks) the game features some big upgrades in the content department. First up is the all-new WWE Universe mode, which replaces what used to be the career mode. WWE Universe mode allows you to manage the careers of not only your favorite wrestler, but of the entire WWE roster in the game, as well as any created wrestlers. You can set up matches, pay-per-views, and belt events with your favorite wrestlers, and you can play through any events you set up, or sim them to advance your own storyline. The interesting thing with the WWE Universe mode is it not only allows you to play as much (or as little) as you want with your favorite superstars, but it also keeps track of wrestlers you use the most and adapts to the way you play.
During our time with the WWE Universe mode, we were able to create matches with wrestlers like Randy Orton and The Miz, and create both rivalries and allies across the Raw and SmackDown franchises. Things also got interesting when we added two custom characters to the mix, as we were able to create a rivalry between the two characters, but allegiances with other wrestlers. The WWE Universe mode is a nice compliment to the Story Designer mode (which made its debut last year and returns in 2011) and offers a fair bit of creation in regards to the format and shape of the careers(s) which you want to follow, but doesn’t require you to create cutscenes or design a cohesive story around your actions. Simply create matches, play through the ones you want, simulate the ones you don’t, and sit back and enjoy your WWE Universe.
If you like your experience more structured, however, the Road to Wrestlemania mode is back, and you can follow the stories of WWE Superstars like John Cena and Rey Mysterio as they make their way to the big show. Although the basic format of the Road to Wrestlemania mode hasn’t changed, there are some notable improvements to this year’s iteration. First up, the game includes a free-roaming backstage area where you can create rivalries and participate in secondary bonus actions that create extra storyline elements within the Wrestlemania storyline. The free-roaming aspect is not as realized here as you might hope, as the backstage area only consists of a few rooms, but the “discoverable” story moments are pretty cool, and certainly add a little bit of play value to each of the game’s five Road to Wrestlemania stories.
Of course, last year’s title was all about creation, and fans will be happy to know that all the creation tools are back with subtle improvements. Character and asset caps have been heightened this time around so you can incorporate more of your own personal content in your story. The RPG elements in the character creation modes have also been tweaked to allow for greater integration in the WWE Universe mode. Stats like charisma are available for you to personalize so that when you simulate matches and relationships, the game can react the way you want.
Although the biggest upgrades for SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 seem to be in the single-player department, there have also been some new online multiplayer components added. Chief among these is a fully-featured online Royal Rumble. This is definitely something for which the fans have been clamoring, and the online Royal Rumble feature will allow up to eleven people to participate in an online free-for-all that ends with one person left standing.
SmackDown vs. Raw is definitely a rare franchise that seems to be getting better with age. Though I was initially concerned about what new features they could add to make the game seem like a worthwhile experience, it seems that enough has been changed to warrant attention from fans. Though we haven’t been able to check out the full package yet, we won’t have to wait for long, as SmackDown vs. Raw is coming to store shelves later this month!