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With over a dozen games released, it's pretty safe to say the SmackDown series has been a massive moneymaker for THQ and the WWE. THQ, following the critical and commercial success of their early WCW games, took over from Acclaim in 1999 to develop and publish the WWE's video games. With many more to come (it's inevitable), the most recent SmackDown series outing, SmackDown vs Raw 2011 was marketed by THQ as being the best yet (aren't all follow up games?).
As always, Exhibition mode is the first thing on the main menu. With many matches returning, such as the Tables, Ladders and Chairs, Last Man Standing, Hell in a Cell and Inferno, there wasn't really anything for THQ to add. The Casket match, Buried Alive match and I Quit match featured in other games of the series do not make a return. However, THQ, via the Match Creator option, have allowed the player to set additional stipulations to matches, besides the one they have already selected. So matches like a Last Man Standing competed in a Hell in a Cell or Table match with an Inferno surrounding the ring are now very much possible. It's easy to get carried away with the possible stipulations, so THQ deserve top marks for that. Naturally, only a maximum of 6 players are supported, so in the Royal Rumble matches you play, the timer will stop when there are six people in the ring. Annoying, considering this is a backwards step as THQ's second game, on a much weaker PSOne system, could hold 8.
New to the series is the WWE Universe mode. Basically, all the exhibition matches you play are recorded on here. If you don't play on the exhibition modes, then some pre-made matches are available, waiting to be played or simulated. Moreover, you can create stories, rivalries and tag teams on here, so it is a remarkable new feature. The menu to this is a calendar, with all the Raw, SmackDown, Superstars and pay-per-view events. You have to make matches for all of them, before you progress to the next week, but it's possible to skip some shows. Naturally, completing some shows will unlock some superstars or arenas, however this is only possible if you play directly from the mode, not matches from Exhibition. As appealing as the WWE Universe mode is, getting rid of the Story/Season mode, a staple in all the previous games, in exchange for this isn't really what I would say is a fair deal, especially considering how it's basically a more complex General Manager mode some of the previous games included. I would have gladly sacrificed this for the Story/Season mode and return of General Manager mode.
Returning from last year is the Road to WrestleMania. Featuring Christian, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Rey Mysterio and a versus Undertaker challenge, it's pretty much the same from last years offering from THQ. One thing I do like is the time machine feature from Christian's RTWM. It allows you to travel back to previous weeks and another important thing, which you will come to know if you play it. Unlockables are just alternate attires and costumes as well as a few additional superstars.
The Training mode from last year, which automatically starts when you start the game, returns. It's a good tutorial, especially considering how the controls have changed from previous installments. The default characters are John Cena, the man you play as, and your opponent Randy Orton. Instead of a small arena like last year, the training mode occurs in an empty arena.
Create mode allows you to make a moveset, wrestler, titantron and new to the series, a highlight reel. Here, you can make a montage of moves that have been automatically saved from your previous matches. Kind of pointless if you ask me, seeing as these games hardly produce that "Oh My God!" moment we often see on WWE television.
Options are vital on any game. Here, it's the same old stuff since 2000 THQ allow you to alter. The difficulty level, the match rules, save manager settings and training mode settings are always there to change.
The Online mode from last year, albeit busy, was nowhere near the standard of any other Playstation game had. The main problem from last year was not even attempted to be rectified. So that means the lag we saw in SmackDown vs Raw 2010 has now found itself on this installment. It's more noticeable in the multi-man matches, although one on one has a poor standard in the first place. Another thing THQ have to somehow crack down on are those superhuman created wrestlers, who have magical powers, such as freezing you, and are able to escape submissions and kick out of pinfalls with the utmost ease. Obviously a problem, from the 2 previous games, that has yet to be solved.
As for the gameplay, many of last years features have been kept. It's always smooth and easy when you don't play online too. But happily, THQ have introduced a new physics system. As well as using weapons to hit opponents in unique ways and table stacking being retained, we now see a renovated Hell in a Cell, where you have to break free through the cage (not kick the door open like before), the ability to slam opponents through tables without having to position them on the table. stacking ladders and many more new features are available. Unfortunately, while still breakable, it's now impossible to stand on the tables (announcers too). The new physics system certainly has a fresh feel, although when you consider Acclaim doing this over a decade earlier, all I can feel is "It's about time!" The grapple system has also been altered and not for the better. While it's still possible to lockup with a normal standing opponent, you automatically hit a manoeuver when they are standing groggy. What I'm fancily saying is that THQ have removed a heck of a lot of moves, but at least the environmental grapples are retained. The roster is basically the same from the game last year, with the newer faces added on and the ones fired from WWE at the time, are now gone.
Well the game is almost a year old and some outlets have great prices for it and others still charge the same price as it was at on release. I picked this up from Asda Direct for £10, an absolute bargain. It's readily available in most stores, online or in store. Anything over £20 and you're paying way too much.
For the long time fans of the series, you should pick it up (if you haven't already). For newer fans, I'm stuck to say whether you should buy this. An impressive and disappointing game at the same time, the choice is yours, seeing as I reviewed it as best as I could.
Smackdown vs Raw has both delighted and disappointed. Unfortunately, 2011 is no different.
The first thing I noticed about SvR2011 are the graphics, which seem to have got worse since the last game. Whether this is because there are more wrestlers, I am not sure. The walk to the ring seems almost jagged. Also, there is still no return for General Manager mode or a really great Story Mode. There is a Road to Wrestlemania mode, but no real choice in the way it ends (except for turning Rey Mysterio into a bad guy, which I enjoyed immensely). It is frustrating that every exhibition match that you play counts towards the new WWE Universe mode, which is sort of like a running year of shows. Titles cannot be put on the line as and when you like. You have to build up the superstars to deserve the right to fight for the title.
Having said all of that, I still sat for hours with friends playing SvR2011. The improved methods of throwing people onto the steel steps and through tables, for example, was very fun.
Roll on WWE '12! More improvements please.