Review by German Dragon
"Smackdown vs RAW 2006? Dat... Das cool."
Smackdown, first released on the Playstation console almost six years ago, has become THQ's flagship wrestling franchise. Since then, the game has been released annually, like traditional sports games. Last year's game, the original Smackdown vs RAW brought many new aspects to the table that shattered all predecessors,. Smackdown vs RAW 2006 promised to do the same. However, as great as the game is, it takes as many steps backwards as it does forwards.
For starters, there is an exceedingly large number of matches, some of which were not in last years game. All of the favorites have made a return: Hell in a Cell, the Elimination Chamber, Cage Matches... All of that is here. Among the new match types, you have Buried Alive Matches, and Bar Room Brawls. The new matches fit in nicely -- particularly, the Buried Alive match, where you attempt to lock your opponent in a casket. However, there is still an unfortunate lack of a Hell in a Cell elimination option.
The gameplay is still very good, but ultimately, it took a drop from last year's game. The matches flow smoothly as you do all the moves and take all of the risks WWE Superstars do -- whether it is lock in that Ankle, or go up high for that Diving Headbutt. However, the referee seems to have the intelligence span of a four year old. I'm not sure why THQ seems to change the ref's AI so often, but it's not working. The ref used to do his job. Now he enjoys sliding along really close to your wrestler -- like Jacko close. This doesn't work, since if you hit him by accident, which is very easy, you'll be disqualified. Yes, it's realistic, and such a feature should be in the game. However, I can't recall referees in the matches I see on TV every Monday and Thursday trying to squeeze between to grappling wrestlers, or jumping in front of Kane as he goes for a top rope clothesline.
That doesn't take away too much from the enjoyment though; you get used to it, and there's far too many good points for you to allow that to ruin the game for you anyway. Each character has well over one hundred moves in their repertoire, that you can use. These range from the finishers that close shows, like the Pedigree and the Batista Bomb, to the stalling moves that we all know aren't going to end matches -- Sleeper hold anyone? -- to the most unorthodox of moves, like the 619 and the "illegal pin" where you hold the rope for leverage. There are grapples and strikes for every position you can think of, and it all comes together great. And if it doesn't come together great, you could accidentally knock the ref out, and go for a chair.
All of the specialty match types are fun as well, and they all bring something different to the table. Whether it's the ability to climb onto the top of a Cell (which just happens to contain hell) and put your opponent through the steel, or it's having that dream Ultimate Submission match between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, you're sure to have fun. The Elimination Chamber is also a popular favorite. One by one, wrestlers will be released. And once in the match, you can make full use of the environment. Jump from the top of the chamber, or put your opponent's face through it: Your call.
Another feature that was added, to the absolute joy of many internet fans who think WWE bookers are sins against God, is GM mode. In this mode, you can draft your roster, than plan out a year of either Smackdown or RAW cards, attempting to beat out the other brand. This mode is very unpolished, and there's certainly room for improvement, but it's fun. Whether you want to continue to let Batista and Cena dominate, or you want to push slightly less popular talent -- like Tajiri or Christian, is up to you. You can even draft your own Create-a-Wrestlers. As long as you build feuds, and put on good matches come the PPVs, you'll be all set. Just be careful to treat the wrestlers properly, or they'll become angry or even injured.
The create-a-wrestler is very deep, and allows you to create any type of wrestler that you would like -- both male or female. In fact, it would possibly be the greatest create-a-wrestler mode in a Smackdown game to date, if it wasn't for the one glaring flaw that it contains. Two words, my friends: Blur effect. If you put any design on a wrestler's rear, it will be blurred. Considering that's where many wrestlers keep logos (See: Lesnar, The Rock, and even more recent people, like Matt Striker) this becomes a problem. And indeed, it does limit creativity. On the other hand, the addition of a more advanced create-an-entrance almost make up for that. You now have full control: Camera angles, Pyros, Walks, Music, Video, and Taunts. It's all in your hands.
Graphically, the game looks amazing. Whether it is the intensity of the pyros on entrance, or the facial expressions the wrestlers show in the match -- anger, cockiness, pride -- everything is conveyed in an amazing way. The polygon count is high, and the shading is done well. From the details of the mist Triple H spits in his entrance, to the quick animation of Orton hitting the RKO from no where, the game looks amazing.
Sadly, the music is terrible. There are a few decent songs, but nothing special. Everything else is complete and utter garbage. I don't know what happened. Last year THQ had a solid mix of music. This year, they are scraping the very bottom of the basket for some of the worse rap songs out there. I mean rap is bad enough, but this is not even the decent kind -- it's junk. The few rock songs that they put in there aren't very good either. Coming from the same company that created Day of Reckoning, with such bands as Breaking Benjamin, this is inexcusable.
The season mode is also rather poor in the game. It's incredibly short, and extremely repetitive; you won't be able to play it more than twice and have fun. They even removed the ability to continue playing after Wrestlemania. Yes, you heard right. No more defending titles -- no more playing different roles at PPVs depending on whether you are a main eventer or a mid carder. THQ dropped the ball completely with Season mode this year.
I'd still have to recommend the game though. With all it's faults, it's still very enjoyable. And to fall back on, it has Online Mode. True, it's not lag-free or glitch-free, but it's fun. It's not just singles matches, either. You'll be having Hell in a Cells, Cage Matches, Battle Royals, and Submission matches online in no time, all the time while you try to rise through the ranks, and earn your stars.
While not the best, this game is very enjoyable. I highly recommend getting it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/06
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