It has been a fair while since I last put on a pair of tights and indulged in some wrestling action. It has been even longer since I last played one of the official games, with the exception of Legends of Wrestlemania which was somewhat disappointing. So I figured it was time to dust off the tights, apply some serious face paint and get ready to rumble with the latest wrestling installment, WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011.
As already mentioned, I can’t really comment on the changes made since last year as I never got around to playing the 2010 entry into the series, or the 2009 release for that matter. But I am going to jump straight in to how the game plays, simply because this was the thing that I found to be the most different from the last wrestling game I played. The way that the game plays was my biggest concern. Previous games that I had played had always seemed ungainly and unnecessarily complex in the execution of moves within the ring. But with 2011, I was in for a shock.
The game offers a place to practice moves and get the hang of the controls before even getting as far as the main menu. It was here that I discovered the improvements in the controls, before even getting as far as the actual game. I am not sure when these changes in the controls came into play, but after talking to some people it seems that the 2010 installment was where THQ fixed this major annoyance of mine. The controls now seem way more fluid and easy to pull off. The majority of the grapple moves seem to be assigned to the right stick, which makes sense. Executing a specific move will still require the player to be in the right place at the right time, in association to the other wrestler. But now it seems like not having your wrestler in the correct place will still have them perform a move, rather than just stand there looking like a complete plum handing out “air hugs”. Even the execution of wrestler specific signature moves has become easier and quicker to pull off. These improvements to the controls have made me wish that I had gone to the trouble of trying out last years game and have certainly filled me with hope for what I will find in the rest of this game.
At the end of the day, the controls seem to be spot on now and offer an enjoyable wrestling experience rather than a frustrating one. But without a decent selection of modes, good controls are kind of pointless. Once again though, I find myself being impressed.
Perhaps the most impressive mode, in my mind at least, is the WWE Universe mode. This mode follows a calendar of events with Raw, Superstars HD and Smackdown each week and then the monthly PPV events such as Backlash, Royal Rumble and, of course, Wrestlemania. At each of these shows/events, the player is given the match line-up and can manipulate this in a multitude of ways. If the player has gone to the trouble of creating their own Superstar in the full featured Create mode, then they can easily drop this character into the line-up and guide them through to the heady heights of winning a title. Or the player can control any of the wrestlers in any given match, change the wrestlers in said match to others, or even change the match all together. Within this mode the player is truly God of the wrestling world and can design their Universe to their own liking. But the best thing is that this mode never needs to end. When the player comes to the end of a season they simply jump into the next one with all of their hard work intact. WWE Universe mode offers players a damn good reason to keep coming back for more.
Another great feature of the Universe mode is the fact that storylines are created, giving an authentic “pantomime” WWE experience. Players can watch and manipulate the way that rivalries are created and friendships are destroyed, building up to epic main event matches. Of course, the player is not the only one doing the manipulating here. The wrestlers and managers have their own agendas and will play to their own storylines as well. This all adds to the experience and keeps the matches interesting.
But for a more dedicated storyline, the player will want to head for the Road to Wrestlemania section. It is from here that the player can choose from five different storylines in what is basically the Smackdown Vs Raw version of a career mode. Work through the story of either Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, John Cena or Christian, or indulge in a storyline that revolves around bringing the Undertaker down a peg or two. These stories allow the player to partake in numerous matches, but also let the player wander around backstage, triggering events and backstage fights with the other wrestlers that they find there. The whole point of this is to earn experience of sorts that can be used to make your chosen wrestler more powerful.
The reality of this mode is that although the stories are quite interesting and enjoyable, the whole backstage free roam thing seems a little lacklustre. Improving your wrestler doesn’t have as much of an effect as you would think, and the backstage environments are dull and boring. Other than picking fights with random wrestlers and eavesdropping on conversations, there really isn’t that much else to do and it just serves to take the emphasis away from the main story.
As is the current trend, THQ have made the decision to provide the game with an online pass code. This means that players who buy the game pre-owned will need to buy a pass in order to take advantage of the online modes, of which there are plenty. With the huge variety of different match types available in the game, and the rather impressive Royal Rumble mode that has the player fighting against up to 12 other players, there is no shortage of online action to be had.
Which kind of sums up the game on the whole. There is a huge amount of content in WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011, both for wrestling fans and non-fans alike. This is what I found to be the most impressive thing about the game. I dragged along a couple of non-wrestling fans and they picked up the game very quickly and had a lot of fun playing it. What before was a game only for those actually interested in wrestling, now seems to be crossing over into the main stream.
Although the Road to Wrestlemania mode was a bit disappointing, the excellent WWE Universe mode more than made up for it. The game is very well polished, with excellent visual and audio work, and has enough to keep the player busy for hours on end. Is it worth a purchase to players of 2010? I could not say. But as someone who has not played a wrestling game for a couple of years, I cannot recommend this game enough.