When Vince McMahon first decided to take control of the family wrestling business left over by his father, he embarked on a journey to present a vision complete with both innovative ideas and intriguing characters. However, the brand eventually diminished in quality due to predictable storylines and the sudden change towards a more kid-oriented programming motto. Luckily, old school wrestling enthusiasts and gamers alike can rely on the latest yearly wresting game to provide them with their very own virtual fix of the sport. Now in its 12th year, Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is a title that offers several promising modes, but fails to capitalize in the areas that count most. Here are a few reasons why this game is a contender rather then a champion.
WWE Universe: Fun but Flawed
Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 introduces a bold, intuitive new mode called WWE Universe. The perfect way to describe this new feature would be as a combination of both the Career and WWE 24-7 modes from last year. Universe mode allows you to dictate the tone of WWE programming by providing the framework on a match-by-match basis. Once you have determined your show’s roster, current champions, and feuds the system then automatically sets off a sequence of events to customize your original settings. You are encouraged to playthrough the mode primarily because it unlocks various titles, hidden superstars, and exclusive arenas along the way.
One of the unique aspects about this experience lies in the way that events are shaped before your eyes. Once you have established feuds with your rivals, they can interfere in your matches at any given time. Some main event matches are even restarted but with advanced stipulations to change the outcome. There are even instances where if you team up with another superstar regularly then you are given the option of forming a new tag team with him or her. These moments are essentially what gives this mode legs while making perfect use of the same segments found in the Story Designer option.
While WWE Universe has several positives that make it an entertaining experience, there are also key flaws that hold it back from reaching it’s fullest potential. My biggest complaint lies in the inability to defend titles at any given time. The ranking system implemented into the game only acts as a tool for determining the number one contender. Once a challenger has been chosen, he or she is allowed to compete for the championship belt at the next PPV.
While I can understand the philosophy of making title defenses exclusive to PPV’s, this is an unrealistic approach to what WWE broadcasts. Intercontinental, Tag, and United States titles have all been defended on both Raw and Smackdown shows and thus the same should apply in the game. Furthermore there isn’t really a sense of competitive spirit between both brands. This was an area the original GM Mode nailed mainly because of the show ratings and free agent contract acquisitions that took place. It would be nice if some of these features manage to make their way back in future Smackdown games.
Another problem that occurs often lies in the repetitive nature of the segments between matches. As you progress through the first year of action, you’ll be ambushed several times by the people your in feuds with. The frequency of these scenes become dull after the first couple of times and I would like to see the creative team experiment with mixing things up. Setbacks like this are inexcusable mainly because there is already a wide array of cutscenes to work with in the Story Designer library.
The same can be said about the frequency of number one contender matches. If you have the same athletes at the top of your ranking list then you can expect a number 1 contender match almost every other week. One of the key reasons for this problem could be the fact that your roster only stars with 36 superstars as opposed to the 70 you’ll have once you’ve unlocked everyone. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of acquiring every hidden component, then you can always pony up 800 Microsoft points and buy the Fan Axxess pack.
This pack not only offers up every unlockable but also grants you the ability to customize every superstar’s attributes to your liking. The only problem here is that an option like customizing attributes should already be free within the game. If you don’t want to spend 800 Microsoft points, then you can unlock the same feature by spending 80 instead. If the message behind the game is all about controlling your own WWE Universe then you should have full reign over everything right from the start.
Lastly, another incentive to purchasing Fan Axxess lies in the promise of receiving the game’s upcoming DLC. If your hoping to update your roster to mimic the real life current one, then you’ll be sadly disappointed. Superstars like Batista and RVD are available while people like Daniel Bryan and the remaining Nexus members are nowhere to be found. Plus, the marketing efforts behind the game plans to make Wade Barrett a DLC character as opposed to a roster regular are absurd at best.
I can understand the philosophy of making Legends unlockable, but if anything they would be better suited as part of a Legends DLC pack. Part of the reason with having a sports title is to have the roster as up-to-date as possible. While this doesn’t mean having Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio playable from day one, it does mean that if you have Nexus members completed then they should be on the initial roster from the beginning. Playing the game as is feels very much incomplete because of the lack of a relevant roster, but if you’re a fan who doesn’t care about updates then you’ll get by without it.
The Enhanced Features:
This year’sedition ofRoad To WrestleMania remains intact with 5 new storylines including John Cena, Christian, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, and V.S. The Undertaker. I was disappointed that neither the Miz nor Sheamus got their own individual story especially since they are marketed on the game boxart. Each story strives to emphasize the importance of WrestleMania and aids the superstar in his quest towards establishing a memorable moment. Just as before, the rewards for completion include unlockable superstars. Several of these stories are ripped straight out of the headlines of any regular Raw or Smackdown TV broadcast.
Due to the production time in which this game was created, certain superstars appear on other shows prior to being drafted. Luckily this isn’t too bothersome because the backstage roaming has returned to take up your time. You have the option of starting fights, upgrading abilities, and sometimes conducting interviews should your storyline call for it.
I would argue that the best story synopsis lies in the Undertaker streak storyline. This is slightly more creative and intriguing because it’s something that can potentially happen on a larger scale. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the other stories are flawed, but I would encourage the creative team to experiment with more ideas. What if Shawn Michaels came out of Retirement? Who would win in an Epic Rematch between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock? What if DX reformed and tried to bring back the Attitude Era? These are just a few ideas of many that can really take this mode to a whole new level.
When it comes to gameplay, the inclusion of the Havok physics engine adds more sensitivity to actions. You can now slam your adversaries through ladders for maximum damage. The A.I. is also noticeably more improved and will provide a decent learning curve should you opt to play in Legend difficulty mode. The character models remain as detailed as they were before, meaning that it’s easy to mistake a superstar from his or her real life counterpart. The soundtrack mainly consists of wrestler themes as opposed to original music. Also, the crowd reaction to each match seems unbalanced all to often. There are instances where you’ll here more boos even if you have two good guys facing off against each other. This can be rather annoying and instantly kill excitement in any given match.
When it comes to the returning features, the Superstar Thread and Create A Superstar tools receive substantial upgrades. You can virtually craft your very own athlete to your hearts content and alter some of the colors within another wrestlers attire. My only complaint is that there are some aspects that you can’t completely change.
For example, if you change John Cena’s t-shirt attire to another color then the hat he wears to the ring will remain the same color as before. Little drawbacks like this aren’t a big deal, but a fix could go a long way towards maintaining superior quality. Of course Story Designer is back and adds a handful of more pre-arranged segments to choose from. All of these tasks can be very time consuming but if you’re willing to craft the perfect story then you’ll be pleasantly rewarded.
Royal Rumble Online:
When it comes to online play, THQ decided to include the Online Axxess promotion to encourage people to buy the game new. Those who opted to buy used had to also buy the right to play online if they wanted to. The heart and soul of online lies in the Royal Rumble mode. Last year, the development team created a vastly improved experience and finally found a way to bring it to the online community.
The Rumble can have up to 12 players online, with up to 6 superstars in the ring a once. After having played in several of these types of matches, I have to admit that this has to be the best reason to have Online Axxess. I didn’t encounter any noticeable lag time, but yours may differ based upon your connection speed.
Moving forward, I would still like to see Create-A-Belt return to add further value to online play. Even more ambitiously, if there was a way to extend WWE Universe mode into online that too could be very rewarding for gamers. Given that people are already able to swap creations online it would seem like the next logical step would be to expand this into online functionality.
WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2011 is a fun, but flawed wrestling game that offers a compelling package geared towards keeping any wrestling fan glued to the TV. While WWE Universe is a great recreation of GM Mode, the inability to defend titles and the lack of diverse cutscenes between matches can make things become stale fairly quickly. However, if you’re not concerned about having an updated roster and can get over minor glitches, then this game is more then enough to satisfy your desire for wrestling entertainment.