SmackDown vs. Raw is one of those franchises that is constantly innovating, and fans of both the WWE and sports games have had little chance to criticize it for not adding tons of new content every year. Although the 2011 iteration cannot hope to match 2010 in terms of innovation, it builds very successfully upon the formula that was laid out in that game and adds a new career mode, new Road to Wrestlemania stories, and of course, more of the signature creation elements that made last year’s iteration such a success.
The biggest new feature in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is the WWE Universe mode. This mode replaces the career mode that was present in previous iterations. Although the career mode in prior games served its purpose well, it was a little basic and worked within a stoic template to bring you the same “rise to fame” experience no matter who you played it with. However, WWE Universe works a little differently. Instead of following a single wrestler’s career, you can step into a GM role. You can set up matches, assign belts, determine rankings for your favorite wrestlers, and create your own storylines based on your actions as a GM. Of course, the world championship is the ultimate goal for any character, and if you want your favorite wrestler (either created or existing) to have a chance at the top, you’ll have to fight for it and go through matches with increasingly-ranked contenders until he or she (there is Diva support) has a chance at the top. Or, of course, you could do it the easy way and just schedule a Money in the Bank match, which gives the winner an automatic shot at the top.
The WWE Universe mode really is immersive, and as you schedule, play, and sim matches, it is easy to get lost in the management element, which is almost as addictive as the gameplay itself. Although the direct approach employed by previous career modes might be missed by a few, the WWE Universe mode gives you ultimate control over your favorite characters and allows you to participate in the experience in a way you never had before. And unlike the career modes of old, the calendar in WWE Universe is endless, so if you don’t want the story to end, it doesn’t have to!
Although the WWE Universe Mode is certainly the biggest new feature of SmackDown vs. Raw 2011, there have also been some notable improvements to other facets of the game. The Road to Wrestlemania mode (which functions as the game’s main “story” mode, for the uninitiated) has been changed quite a bit. There are five Road to Wrestlemania stories to choose from, and you can follow a WWE writer-penned story following John Cena, Christian, Rey Mysterio, or Chris Jericho. The fifth Road to Wrestlemania story is a special “vs. Undertaker” story that allows you to play as one of four WWE superstars or your own created superstar to end the Undertaker’s winning streak at Wrestlemania.
The biggest new element of the Road to Wrestlemania mode is a free-roaming element that allows you to run around the backstage area of your venue before each match. This free-roaming aspect is pretty limited, as the backstage area only consists of a few rooms, but it gives you the opportunity to interact with other superstars, advance the plot in a deeper way (if you choose), and participate in extra stat-building side missions. This extra element also created some branching elements that impacted the storyline of the game, and depending on the way you interact with other superstars (generally you can either push or talk to wrestlers backstage) you will gain extra allies or enemies over the course of the story.
Aside from the new elements, your favorite modes from last year are back, including the deep character creation system and the story creation modes. While some new elements have been added to the character creation mode, the most improvement has been made to the story creator mode, which now supports branching storylines. Creators who want a pivot point in their stories can set the conditions of the branch and then map out both the different and common elements between the multiple paths of their stories. While this feature takes a little bit of work, it is a great new tool for the dedicated story creators out there to create the exact story they want.
The visuals in SmackDown vs. Raw have also received a facelift, which is a good thing considering the game’s visuals have looked about the same since the 2008 iteration of the game. The superstar models have been improved greatly and have a new muscle tone texture system and dynamic skin elements that give the wrestlers a more human look (the former models tended to look a bit like action figures on occasion). The game also makes use of a brand-new physics system that makes everything look a lot more realistic (and brutal)!
SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 definitely doesn’t overhaul the formula like 2010 did, but I think the format of the game is in a good place right now. The additions made to the Road to Wrestlemania mode as well as the totally immersive WWE Universe mode are ample incentive for wrestling fans to pick this one up. And of course, add that to the improved creation modes, suped-up visuals, and of course online modes (which now support more Royal Rumble players), and you’ve got another solid title in a franchise that has made a habit of not disappointing fans. And with plenty of DLC coming for this title in the next few months, you can bet that you’ll get some lasting value from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw, even after you’ve unlocked every wrestler, completed all the Road to Wrestlemania storylines and created your perfect career in the WWE Universe mode.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
New dynamic wrestler models look great, and the new physics engine works extremely well. 3.6 Control
Controls are largely the same, save for a few tweaks. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Although the voiceover is weak in places, the overall audio scheme sounds good. 4.3 Play Value
Between the endless WWE Universe mode, the five Road to Wrestlemania stories, and the user-created content, fans won’t be able to put this one down for a long time. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.