Review by Vilge Duin

"Less Bang For Your Buck, Get An Older Game For More Value"

Introduction
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WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 is the seventh game in THQ's long running Smackdown series developed by Yukes that started on the Playstation. The series has had its ups and downs but has almost always been heralded with success shown by its sales numbers. However as has been seen with the last few instalments, the game engine is beginning to show its age after seven ongoing years without any major change. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 is a game best owned by hardcore WWE fans who need a more recent fix, but for everyone else it's better off to pick up an earlier, and cheaper, version.

Features
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SDsvR '06 has numerous match styles that range from regular one on one bouts to six-way Armageddon Hell-in-a-Cell matches. The number of match styles is almost mind boggling. There are singles, tag with managers, 6-man elimination tag, Royal Rumbles, Fulfill Your Fantasy, Elimination Chamber, Hardcore, Submission, First Blood and a plethora more including variations on those. Almost every style of match you can see on WWE programming is included.

This year the game sports much improved voice acting from almost every WWE superstar. It is much better than the previous iteration's and sounds much like it would straight from a broadcast. However plenty of stars such as Tajiri, Steven Richards, Sylvain Grenier, Rob Conway, Eugene, Snitsky, Scotty 2 Hotty, Ric Flair and Chris Benoit provide no voice talent and are unusable in the game's season mode. Also almost all of the legends provide no voice over work either barring Hulk Hogan (only his most recent version), Steve Austin and Mankind. However this is understandable for those that have passed away (such as Andre, British Bulldog and Junkyard Dog).

With that mention of season mode, the game boasts an all new system for the game's traditional “story” mode which I will mention later in detail.

New this year is a sleeper hold system, momentum and stamina system, possum pin, create an entrance, cage door escapes, GM mode and a few other system tweaks. However nothing has been substantially changed from the previous game. Most of what has changed is graphical, general gameplay tweaks that in some cases hurt the game's overall appeal and a lot of work has seemingly gone to improving last year's online function.

On that note I cannot comment on the game's online capabilities since I do not have a PS2 able of getting online. THQ has released information themselves though on what you can expect. Every match that uses four or less wrestlers is capable of being played online, as well as being able to trade CAWs (doing away with formulas) and play for created titles.

Story
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Yukes has done away with the past few years' season mode structure. Now almost every wrestler you can play as (excluding those who provided no voice work) share a variety of storylines. There is about 8 or so different angles that they can partake in, with some being interbrand (the Legend Tour storyline is available to both Smackdown and Raw) and others being available only on a specific brand. A season comprises of four of these storylines pieced together with some directly leading from one to the next, creating a larger overall story. Seasons end though once you complete them and either win or lose a final title match at Wrestlemania. You can generally complete them in a manner of a couple hours of steady play and once completed there is barely any reason to play through again. The voice acting, as stated previously, is very good but you can tell it is pieced together based on which wrestler you choose. There are subtle comments made by some wrestlers but the wrestler specific storylines that THQ promised are almost nonexistent. Unless they are one of the nonplayable members of a storyline, no wrestler has one that is unique for them.

Overall the seasons are fun the first or second time through, but once the storylines begin repeating the game shows it has even less replay value in this regard than the Here Comes The Pain and Smackdown vs. Raw which had a forever ongoing and two year season mode respectively.

Graphics
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The graphics this year are perhaps the best ever seen in a wrestling game, and that is no exaggeration. Gone are the ridiculous shine and plastic look of wrestlers in the past, replaced with living breathing grapplers. Almost every wrestler is spot on with their real life counterparts and created wrestlers have never looked more real. The overall presentation of the game is also astounding, playing off of the Smackdown vs. Raw theme very well. The video quality for titantrons is also the best seen yet. Everything just flows seamlessly together, with very little glitching. However, as with most 3D wrestling games there is a fair amount of clipping involved with some moves. Wrestler's hands, feet, and even their bodies will clip through one another taking away from the overall experience.

Music and Sound
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Sound this year is a mixed bag, which is more so up to personal taste in regards to music. There is no longer any background music that plays during matches, and commentary chatter is almost unchanged from last year. Much of it begins grating over time, especially with no variety. Also some of the comments begin based off of moves being performed at that moment, but are not synched properly. For example, Triple H can go for a Pedigree but Jim Ross will comment about “What a devastating Pedigree” when Triple H has only done the kick set up and the move completes with barely a sound.

Music for created wrestlers has also been gutted completely. The original songs that have been part of the series for so long are no longer there. In their place is an even smaller assortment of actual songs than last year. There are 17 or so tracks in total for use, but that number is deceiving. Almost half of them are instrumental versions of other songs that contain lyrics. The in game wrestler's music sounds great just as usual though, with almost every theme there including a couple people not in the in game roster (such as Vince McMahon, Teddy Long, Eric Bischoff and Tazz). Every wrestler gets unique announcing from either Smackdown's Tony Chimel or Raw's Lillian Garcia and they do a competent enough job. They don't sound totally right, as again you can tell the game is accessing its memory while they announce the wrestler. Instead of announcing a tag team together for example, they are announced separately and the waiting between phrases leaves noticeable gaps. This is especially obvious with created wrestlers.

The sound effects, as per usual are top notch. Every grunt, stomp and chair shot sounds spot on. The absence of the Elimination Chamber's glass chambers shattering sound effect as well as a few others is odd.

Gameplay
========


The gameplay comprises of using the X button for strikes, the O button for grapples (5 sets of 5 different moves), square for doing various things, triangle for running, select for regaining stamina, L2 and R2 for reversals, R1 for changing focus and L1 for finishers. All the basic rules of wrestling apply, as dictated by the match style you choose.

Now instead of focusing on every aspect of the game, which there is too much to go over and much of which is best experienced first hand, I'll go over the various things I think the game has that go wrong.

- Limited selection of weapons. You have chairs, a sledge hammer and a barbwire bat under the ring. Depending on the match you have tables, ladders and a title belt available ringside with a couple other things in the Backstage brawls match type. Other games like Day of Reckoning 2 have chairs, tables, crutches, brass knucks, garbage cans, kendo sticks etc. Even games from years ago such as No Mercy had variety in what you could beat your opponent with from stop signs to oversized beer cans. The lack of weapon variety makes no DQ, TLC, Hardcore, Table, Ladder, etc. matches blur together.

- The roster, albeit outdated already because it is a WWE game (which comes with their ever changing programming) has a few notable missing wrestlers. Guys like Hardcore Holly or Val Venis, who are staples of WWE programming, are no where to be seen while guys like Mark Jindrak, Spike Dudley and Charlie Haas who haven't been employed by the company for a good portion of the year are still in. I'm all for including guys who have been recently released but at the expense of guys who were in the previous games it is unacceptable. Smackdown 2 had almost everyone you could imagine in it while some people's favourite wrestlers are still not included. On a similar note, the opening videos are of their most recent updated versions. Wrestlers like Animal, MNM and the Mexicools can be seen but are not available in the game. Odd considering most of them have been champions of some kind and Animal was previously in as a Legend.

- The game allows sliders to adjust things such as reversal rate and weapon damage, but at their default settings the game seems unbalanced and slightly broken. You shouldn't have to adjust the right off the bat so you can have a reasonable chance. This may be no problem for veterans of the series but for those who are new, it will be a steep learning curve even on easy without adjusting them.

- Even though it's minor to some, the saving and loading of the game take ridiculous amounts of time. In a one hour time frame I spent 40 minutes wrestling matches and 20 minutes loading. This was also without using entrances. Other bigger and larger games like Final Fantasy X and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have quicker loading and saving than this game. After so many years, you would believe Yukes would have fixed the system.

- GM Mode is almost a joke. Giving it credit where it is due though, THQ did say this year was almost a beta version, but it still is ridiculously bare. When free programs like Extreme Warfare Revenge exist, this looks sophomoric in comparison. You begin by drafting up to 20 superstars for whichever show you pick (they can include unlocked Legends and created wrestlers if you turn them on). You then spend a year going head to head in a ratings war with the other show. The mode is fine and decent if played with a friend, but it is downright cheap and ridiculously hard against the computer. The CPU never has wrestlers gain fatigue, never has injuries and seemingly has an infinite supply of money when it comes to putting on shows (which usually have every variety of main event you can find). If you try to keep up with its relentless onslaught you in turn will have numerous fatigued wrestlers, multiple injuries and a growing hole in your bank account. Also the implementation of things like rivalries and interfering with other shows is pulled off in a hackneyed way. As a big selling point for the game, it fails miserable on its first outing.

- The inclusion of WWE Legends is also horrible. This year Hulk Hogan has three versions of his persona included, but Yukes has taken out his unique taunts that were in last year's game. Why? It is one of the most asinine decisions in any game series I have seen. To include a wrestler three times and yet TAKE OUT his taunts that make him unique is unacceptable. A big issue with the Legends is the controversy surrounding unlocking Jake “The Snake” Roberts. At first he was declared playable for this game and weeks later it was changed to him being a PSP exclusive. That is a bait and switch that should not have occurred. And regardless of the annoyance that comes with it (unless you have a PSP, the PSP version of the game and a USB cord or a cheat device there is no way to get him) you cannot even get him now since the PSP version of the game is not available. If you're going to force people to do that, fine, but at least make it so they can get him the moment the game ships. Another big qualm is Bret Hart's movseset. For the second year in a row it is horrendous. That is inexcusable. Never once in his career has he done a jumping round house kick, but it's a default strike. Junkyard Dog is also announced as “The Legend”. If you cannot get the proper announcing for him, why include him in the game? And on a final note involving Legends, why no Piper or Animal (or Hawk, or anyone from the previous games)? They were in before and those two specifically have been involved in matches and angles over the course of the year (Animal being a champion as previously mentioned). Add wrestlers, don't subtract.

- Counters again are horrible to the point of being sickening. Big Show should never do a backflip over someone who grapples him from behind. Never. Yet he does, at least a few times a match. Yes, there's a weight detection system but what's the point if you mock it with super heavyweights doing backflips? The 10 or so canned animations grow tiresome after all, and with other games like Day of Reckoning having multiple reversal SETS (not just reversals) this looks amateurish by comparison.

- Why is there no move interruptions? It has been in games such as No Mercy and is a core principle the Day of Reckoning system is touted over, but nothing even close here. I don't ask for DoR style interrupt everything at a touch, but if a guy has someone in a stalling suplex, I expect him to drop the guy when I kick him in the gut. Also on that point, targeting for kicking someone out of pins or submissions is a pain. If you're not targeting the wrestler doing the pinning, you won't kick him out of it even if you are physically kicking him on screen.

- The create an entrance feature is horribly implemented. The lack of variety in lighting type and animation selection shows how limited it is. Other games have done it, and done it far better even on the first try. Taking out the original songs also was a blow to the CAW (and now CAE) feature that was unnecessary. Some may not have liked them but those 21 songs had variety and allowed many to create their own unique wrestlers without using the ingame soundtrack or an existing star's song.

- One of the biggest problems is movesets, as I mentioned before with Bret Hart. Some are so inaccurate it is not even funny. And with SDvsR ‘06's change in how moves are grouped, guys like The Rock and Steve Austin can now no longer be completely accurate. Then there is the case of taking moves out as well as taunts. More time is spent fixing up the wrestler's movesets than playing the game. And Yukes pride themselves on being wrestling fans, when things like this show what a lie that is.

- Not particularly gameplay related, but relevant. The in game roster, season rosters, GM mode rosters and the opening video rosters are all different. In one section of the game someone may be on Raw while they are on Smackdown elsewhere. Even the commentary gets in on the confusion with mentions of Smackdown on Thursday nights, but in GM mode Smackdown is on Friday (a very recent change to the show, but older things like including tag champions is excluded). One example of this is Rob Conway and Rene Dupree listed as the World Tag Champions, when Dupree has been on Smackdown for the longest time and Sylvain Grenier has been Rob Conway's partner. Also in regards to mixed up commentary, hearing them announce Wrestlemania IX from Minneapolis, Minnesota is laughable.

- Women are also barred from any matches involving more than four people. Why? This makes little to no sense and is an unnecessary change. They were able to before but not now. In regards to the women though, the new Fulfill Your Fantasy match is slightly amusing. You can choose from any of three outfits for the women (school girl, French maid and nurse) and you hit each other with pillows, spank each other on a bed and try to remove each other's clothing in order to fill up a fantasy metre for the win. Amusing, but becomes boring very quickly.

- About the new gameplay tweaks and changes. The sleeper system, although adding a sense of “WWE Programming” to the game, is also flawed. On some occasions, you cannot hit X to get out at all and it is unclear which match types you can actually perform it in. Possum pins are an intriguing new addition but are difficult to pull off and in some cases unnecessary (it requires a stored finisher, which could be better used to actually finishing off your opponent). Escaping the cage has been changed to a meter system. Simply hit X at the right spot to climb out progressively. Escaping the cage through the door is done in the same manner after grappling your opponent in that corner (which is sadly always a superplex), The Buried Alive match is just a casket match and its mechanics are quite frankly horrible. It's a basic tug of war battle button mash to get your opponent in, and then it's simply tapping a button and seeing if they can counter at the right time. They have also taken out the ability to knock over ladders if one person is on it, as two do. And if you are climbing up second, you may as well kiss the mat since the first one up has the advantage of punching you off. Other little nuances have changed for the worst as well. Such as “Dirty” wrestlers trying to deliberately get DQed if you are dominated a mtch. Nice addition in theory, as it occurs in real life. But the game can't capture WHY a wrestler will nail you with a chair and get disqualified. If Triple H took a chair to Ric Flair over and over, it's to injure him for an upcoming show and send him a "message". Something that has no relevance in the game (but would if they ever implemented it in season mode) aside from being annoying.

- The locker room feature is interesting but after slightly messing around there's not much to do with it aside from change 4 posters/objects on the walls and three “collectibles” (two on your desk and on in front of a TV). There are plenty of unlockables but getting them is as easy as completing one season of both Raw and Smackdown and going through all of the challenges available (which can now be done with two players).

- Create a wrestler is more streamlined and is overall better implemented but otherwise nothing has really changed. Clothing items and the such are still as limited as ever and some things still look painted on while others have very little “3Dness” added. Moves as previously stated have been taken out and made worse for wear as well. Not much can really be said for something that is mostly graphically changed.

- And on a final note about the new momentum and stamina systems. Stamina is used up every time you run, do a move, counter, etc. At its default setting, it drains extremely fast with most wrestlers. When it reaches the end of your bar you “pass out” by falling over for a few seconds exhausted. Getting it back is a matter of holding select for a couple of seconds. The momentum metre has been seen in games since WCW vs. nWo almost ten years ago. Do the same move over and over and you get punished with your momentum going down. Do a variety and it goes up. Get it maxed and you can do a finisher or store it for later use. Do it at max and it does the most damage, do a stored one at half momentum and it does half damage. A very simple system that's been implemented elsewhere is not that revolutionary in any way. However it is much better than the constantly increasing “no matter what” bar from the previous games. All in all though, both features are bare bones and don't affect gameplay that much (in fact the stamina system can be turned off entirely).

Replayability
===========


Replayability comes down to a few deciding factors. Do you have friends? Do you have online? Have you played a Smackdown title before? Each one of those questions will heavily factor into your decision.

If you have no online and are stuck playing the computer, than this game will likely grow tiring after awhile. The computer very rarely changes its tactics, and going to higher difficulty levels simply makes it reverse your moves more frequently. Season mode only has so much replayability and after you've seen all the storylines the only difference will be what the wrestler you choose says. GM mode in its current state is almost too flawed and limited for multiple playthroughs.

With some friends you very well may have quite a few matches, but as is the case with any game in the Smackdown series the fun can run dry if you're friend is not a WWE fan. Also, having more than 2 players requires a multi-tap. But even though the single player GM mode is flawed, 2 players can have much fun trying to one up the other and build a superior show.

I cannot speak personally, but the online functionality is sure to enhance the replay value quite a bit. With a seemingly unlimited slew of other online grapplers to contend with there would be no end to the amount of matchups you could take part in. Especially with the increased number of modes. However as with last year, this year may be plagued by players using cheap tactics to win a match, disconnectors and rampant use of maxed overall CAWs.

But the deciding factor is if you've played the previous games. If you have, very little has changed. Most of it is cosmetic and not much has been added to the gameplay. Some meters and new bars are in place, but nothing has changed with the core gameplay. So if you're already tiring of the same old gameplay nothing has been added or changed to likely excite your interest again.

If this is your first Smackdown game, than you very well may be in for a treat. A 7 year running series must be doing something right, and this could be the wrestling game you're looking for. If you've never played one than by all means try it out and see if you like it, but I recommend you stick with a more cost effective and almost identical experience with the previous one or two titles.

Value
=====


For the price tag of a brand new game, it isn't worth it. Very little has changed with the game aside from the superficial. It may have tonnes of features, but many are still implemented poorly. Yukes has never been able to pull off brand new things right out of the gate and it shows. With the availability of Smackdown vs. Raw as a greatest hits title and even Here Comes The Pain for less, the $60 price tag is too much to ask for something not very changed nor improved.

Conclusion
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Suffice it to say, what it comes down to is you are paying more for less with this game. With all the negative that the game has going for it, some of which is inexcusable (such as taking out moves), it is simply no more than a rental at most.

If you are new to the Smackdown series I highly recommend you try out one of the previous games as they are very similar for far less money. If you're a rabid WWE fan who doesn't care much for any difference in gameplay and you only want an updated (and in some ways a downgraded) roster than by all means go out and buy the game. Nothing will likely persuade you otherwise anyway.

But for those that are weary of this new Smackdown title or are new to the series, you are simply getting less for more money. Do yourself a favour and rent it first if you want to try it out or just buy the previous instalment for half the price.

Overal Breakdown (All out of 10)
=========================

Features - 7
Story - 5
Graphics - 9
Music and Sound - 8
Gameplay - 6
Replayability - 5 (Cannot judge online)
Value - 4


Overall (Not an Average) - 6


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/22/05


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