It is that time of year once again. Time to lace up the boots and step into the virtual ring with THQ’s WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. Smackdown vs Raw 2011 features a host of new features as well as improvements to modes that have been in previous titles. There are also a whole bunch of superstars for you unlock as you play the game as well as some new online modes that fans have been eagerly anticipating for years. In addition to that the Community Creation tools have been expanded and you can now throw your friends over the top rope and talk trash while you do it.
The Road To WrestleMania returns this year with a new twist. For this year’s version you have Christian, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and the Undertaker to choose from. The twist comes with the Undertaker’s Road to WrestleMania story as you don’t play as the Undertaker; you play against him. If you pick the Undertaker’s story then you get to pick either R-Truth, Dolph Ziggler, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston or your created superstar to go up against the Dead Man. It’s a nice little twist and whether the Undertaker’s WresteMania streak continues is completely in your hands. The stories themselves are also pretty cool this year and they go places that I wasn’t expecting especially with the Undertaker’s story. In addition to that there is also now a free roaming area backstage. This is where you can talk to superstars before a match, do an interview, visit the general manager’s office and more. When you walk up to a superstar you will usually have a couple of options. You can either speak with them or shove them. If you shove them three times than a brawl will break out between you and that superstar. As anyone who watches WWE knows, brawls are a frequent thing backstage and it was nice to see that touch of realism added to the title this year. Once you are done with that you will get some points which you can use to improve your wrestler. It is a little bit like an rpg in this way, however, if you aren’t a fan of rpgs than don’t worry. This is a very small part of the package and if you just want to get to your next match without doing any of the optional backstage stuff than you can do that as well.
The next new feature for Smack down vs Raw 2011 is the WWE Universe mode. The WWE Universe mode is essentially the exhibition and career modes merged. In the WWE Universe mode you get to make the matches and then see how everything plays out. The game will “watch” you as you play and it will set up future matches and/or feuds for you to participate in. You might be watching Chris Jericho make his entrance and all of a sudden the Miz jumps Jericho from behind before the match gets started. It adds a layer of unpredictability that people should enjoy. It should also be said that just because the game suggests a match and/or a feud for you that doesn’t mean you have to participate. You have complete control so if you don’t like the game’s selections than change them to your liking. You also get a chance to view the schedule so that you can see when the next pay per view will be taking place. In addition, you will get to check out the rankings for both Raw and Smackdown. It will list the champion as John Cena and then tell you who the #1 contender is all the way down to the #10 contender. There is also a news feature where you can check in on your Universe and see what is currently taking place. Another thing that you can fool around with is the “My WWE” feature. This is where you can pick a superstar and decide what they are all about. You can pick what show they are on (there is even a WCW option), whether they are the champion, what abilities they have, how the crowd will react to them and their allies/enemies. The level of customization you get is great and you really do feel like you are in control.
The various create modes have also made their return this year. You can create a move set, create an entrance, create a finisher, create a WWE Superstar and create your own story. These modes are not brand new themselves, however, the development team at THQ has improved upon previous iterations. With the create a finisher mode there is a new finisher position, new finisher names and over 100 new animations. You can also choose whether you initiate the finisher in a front grapple, from the top rope or from the corner. With the create a Superstar feature you will get more ways to customize your own wrestler in addition to the ability to customize the signs you see in the crowd. The new paint tool will allow you to create your own logo as well as import and edit logos for created Superstars, crowd signs and even show brands. Then you have the story designer which is making a return from last year. If you thought last year’s version was good than you will really enjoy the updates made for this year’s title. The story designer this year features branching storylines, multiplayer matches, a bunch of new scenes to choose from and more. You will have a couple of different options to select from and how the superstars behave will be dependent on what choices you make. A lot of people should have fun with this as you could create a “good” path or a “bad” path or whatever you want.
Just like in previous years online play is also a big part of this title as well. This year though THQ has added a new feature that fans have been clamoring for in recent years. The online Royal Rumble has finally arrived and fans will be happy to hear that it works really well. Up to twelve players can participate in an online Royal Rumble although you don’t need twelve players. The number can range from two to twelve. There are only six wrestlers on the screen at a time so if you have all twelve slots filled than some people will simply spectate until it is their turn to enter the Rumble. Your order of entry is randomly generated by the game and the cool thing is that if you are eliminated from the Rumble you still get to participate. If you picked Randy Orton and then got eliminated you will get the chance to control a future entrant instead of the AI controlling them. You might get a chance to control Jack Swagger as entrant 20 or maybe Santino as entrant 15. It is completely random, however, it keeps you involved in the game and you aren’t forced to just sit there and watch if you get eliminated early. It was a great idea by the development team. In addition to that there are also the community creations. This is where you can download a story that someone created within the story designer, download a superstar someone else created, upload your own creations and more. You can also rate material that is on there to help the best material rise to the top.
In addition to the community creation tools THQ has come up with an interesting new way to handle downloadable content for Smackdown vs Raw 2011. Similar to how you had to do with UFC Undisputed 2010 there is a code on the back of your instruction manual that you need to enter for online play. There is also a “Fan Axxess” pack that you can purchase for 800 Microsoft points that is essentially a lifetime DLC pass for Smackdown vs Raw 2011. When the Nexus DLC becomes available in the future, if you have purchased the “Fan Axxess” pack, than you will get to download it for free at that point. There are also other downloadable content packs that THQ has planned where you can download them as soon as they come out and not have to worry about whether you have enough points in your account. You can buy all of this downloadable content individually when it arrives, however, you will be saving yourself money by getting the “Fan Axxess” pack. From a person standpoint I like knowing that whenever new DLC becomes available I can quickly download it. I won’t have to run over to Gamestop and pick up a Microsoft points card.
Going through all of these modes I did happen to notice a few annoyances. First of all not every entrance is completely representative of what the superstar does in real life. I would say that 98% of the entrances are accurate, however, WWE fans are going to notice the ones that missed the mark. Cody Rhodes entrance, for example, is all wrong. The character that Cody portrays on television is narcissistic and as soon as he comes out on stage he looks into a “mirror” and makes sure he is looking good before heading to the ring. He even has a mirror on the back of his jacket. That part is nowhere to be found in his entrance in the game. There were times while playing this game when the lip synching was really, really bad. It was so bad in certain areas that it looks like the developer didn’t even try to make sure it looked good. The commentary could also be pretty bad in some spots, however, if you have ever watched Michael Cole on a WWE show, you know that is true to life for him. The camera in the backstage segments of the Road to WrestleMania is also pretty bad. It could be hard at times to see if there were any wrestlers in the room with me if I had to try and swing the camera around to look behind me or to another part of the room. Fortunately the backstage part was such a small part of the overall package that it didn’t really hurt the gameplay. It was just a bit of an annoyance.
Finally, Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is now utilizing Havoc physics. For people who don’t quite know what that means, pay attention the next time you see the Undertaker give the Last Ride to someone onto the ring stairs. This new physics systems allows you to get closer to the true WWE experience by leaning ladders on other ladders and then running up them to launch yourself at your opponent. I have seen moves like that in person when I attend WWE live events and it is great to see them included in this year’s version. Overall, Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is a fantastic title. It’s not perfect but it is a title that I had a lot of fun with and one that I will keep coming back to. The way that THQ expanded the online offerings for this title should make a lot of fans happy. If you are a WWE fan or a wrestling fan in general you owe it to yourself to check out this title. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll be surprised how much fun it is to throw your friends over the top rope.