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WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Wrestling)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Lately, I've had this bizarre habit of reviewing installments in long-running franchises that I have little to no experience with, and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 just happens to be next on that list. It's been a very long time since the inception of this franchise, and it seems to be one of THQ's most reliable cash cows. It makes sense: it is easy to pick up and appeals to anyone who's in the mood for some good, old-fashioned, stupid fun. The gameplay is incredibly shallow, especially when compared to Yukes' other big franchise (UFC). Still, there's a lot to do in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, and most of what it has to offer proves a good way to burn some time. Bear in mind, though: there are quite a few potholes on the road to Wrestlemania.

Uncomfortable visual associations aside, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is not the prettiest flower in the garden. The only real high point is the faces of the wrestlers themselves. The Undertaker looks like The Undertaker, and Rey Mysterio looks like... um... what does he look like? The fighters animate realistically enough, as long as the game is in full control. For example, taunts also lend a bit of authenticity to the game; John Cena waves his hand in front of his face just like he does on television. It gets a bit rough when you're the one calling the shots. Sometimes you'll inexplicably be denied a grapple. This results in a jarring reset animation, which will in turn cause a bit of temporary confusion -- and more importantly, a potential disadvantage. That aside, this game looks like what you'd see on T.V. Entrances get old after the first few times you see them, but they do justice to the contestants.

I'm afraid that it's not possible to approach Smackdown vs. Raw 2011's sound design objectively. This franchise is love-it-or-hate-it at its core, a quality that arguably begins with the sound. The sound effects are canned and lack punch, so to speak. You'll have theme songs hammered into your head whether you like them or not, especially if you take the Road to Wrestlemania. The voice acting is painfully stupid, but like everything else in the WWE, it's beyond-obviously scripted. Wrestlers beat their chests, howl at one another, and feign outrage so conspicuously that it's almost like they're trying to wink at you through the television. If you like that kind of stuff, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 will have you laughing your ass off. If you take it seriously, you're doing it wrong.


Gameplay:

Say what you want about sports entertainment. The rules are often quite clear in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Cause an incredible amount of pain to your opponent and defeat them by pinfall, submission, K.O., or whatever the game wants from you. Each match plays out as the contestants wear each other down through the use of grapples, throws, body slams, and good old punches to the face. If you've seen it done on television, you can do it here.

I may be a neophyte to this series, but it's easy to differentiate between old and new features when the game puts the word "NEW" in big block letters next to certain modes. The one the developers seem to be putting all their chips on is WWE Universe. In their own words, it's a seamless mix of Career and Exhibition. It's not as mind-blowing as it sounds; all it entails is a television-like schedule of events that you can either take place in or set for simulation. What's nice about this mode is its unpredictability; it takes into account all the wackiness that occurs on and off the ring.

What I ended up spending the most time with was the Road to Wrestlemania mode, the equivalent to other games' campaigns. This mode features five storylines to progress through. Each of the stories is an epic yarn of betrayal, opportunism and ambition. Lying, of course. The WWE brand's trademark testosterone soap opera goofiness pervades the entirety of the experience, and it's as fun to ridicule as it is to simply enjoy. What's not fun is how much time you'll spend running around each identical backstage environment. Couldn't I have upgraded my wrestler without having to go to the doctor? At least the comical and often bizarre encounters make it all worthwhile.


Difficulty:

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is a very personalized experience, and its creation tools are as accessible. You can create your own fighter, along with his or her very own entrance. If you want to set up a specialized match with rules of your own, there's an awful lot of stuff to choose from.

When it comes to artificial intelligence, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is brain-dead easy on its default setting. Your opponents exist solely to take megatons of punishment, regardless of how dexterous you are with your thumbs. They'll get up relatively quickly at first, but after about a minute, they'll simply lie down in a number of contorted poses -- waiting for you to deal out more pain.

The only time you'll be at the mercy of the A.I. has to do with what I believe is a design flaw. You must go to great lengths in order to keep your opponents in front of you. If you ever find your enemy at your back, restart the match. If you don't, you can look forward to more than a minute of being clawed in the back. The reversal mechanic won't respond and the A.I. will spam the move until it makes a mistake. That's neither authentic nor fun.


Game Mechanics:

As a whole, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011's gameplay elements are solid. However, some of the mechanics behind the gameplay aren't refined or smooth. Most of the controls work well enough. Strikes are handled with face buttons, while most grapples are assigned to the Right Analog Stick. The scheme works well for a wrestling game, and as long as you're playing it safe, you'll be fine.

When you start taking bigger risks in favor of a more flashy performance, it starts to feel as if the game is actively working against you. You may throw a punch that is visibly destined for your opponent's noggin, only to have the blow fail to register. Worse yet, when it comes to reversals, the window of opportunity is erratic and inconsistent. The "RT" icon may flash over your wrestler's head for a second or so, and all your trigger mashing might be for nought. Sometimes you'll find the mechanic to work in your favor even when you don't remember pressing the right button. It feels really messy, which is unbecoming of any fighting game.

I'm not going to write off WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 as this year's cash-in because it's a fun game. A fun game with some fantastic creation tools and some significant issues under the hood. Even if you're a fan of the franchise, I recommend giving this one a rent before dropping sixty of your hard-earned dollars. This market is expanding like never before, and there are better ways to inflict virtual pain for your gaming dollar.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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