Review by horror_spooky

"Tables, ladders, and chairs! Oh my!"

In my review for SmackDown vs. Raw 2010, I suggested the idea of Hell in a Cell finishing moves. I was tickled to discover that they actually implemented this in the 2011 installment, as well as ladder finishers. The modes have been expanded, and there have been some other cool changes. However, the most publicized new feature in this game is the improved physics, and how awesome it is to tip a ladder over and send your opponent crashing through a table.

Tables break realistically in awesomely. When wrestlers crash through the tables, wood and metal fly everywhere, and the tables react depending on where the wrestler falls on it. Chairs also break, as do ladders, but their damage models seem very limited. The amount of destruction that can be caused is really awesome, and it's quite entertaining setting up different situations, like tables stacked on top of each other around the ring prime to suplex someone through from the top of a ladder. This new destruction system really adds a new layer of excitement to the core gameplay.

Controls have also been improved this time around. The right analog stick still controls grapples, but if you want to do a submission, all you need to do is click down on the stick. This allows for a lot more variety in move-sets, and more freedom to choose cool grapples and not have to sacrifice them for submission moves.

In past games, superstars going for pins in matches where it didn't make sense was very annoying. This time around, it doesn't happen. Wrestlers will perform the same move, but without the pinning attempt at the end of the attack. In matches where pins are possible, players have the option to go for the pin or not by pressing the B button. I really liked this system and thought it brought a sense of structure to the game by rooting it more in reality—as real as you can get when it comes to professional wrestling.

These subtle changes and the new physics system are complimented by a potentially excellent WWE Universe Mode, that falls short. WWE Universe Mode makes exhibition matches much more important than they were in past games. The game watches everything you do as a player, and sets up feuds with wrestlers, creates title matches, and sets up pay-per-views. It's a really neat feature, but it is flawed. WWE Universe seems to work very differently with certain things when it makes no sense at all. For example, I placed my created wrestler in nothing but tag team matches against the champions and the top two contenders for an entire month. I won all the matches, but the WWE Universe didn't advance my team in the rankings at all. Instead, my created wrestler became the #1 contender for the WWE Championship. It's weird things like this, and a certain amount of uncertainty that goes along with playing WWE Universe that really keeps it from being as phenomenally addicting as it could be.

WWE Universe does make the offline multiplayer a lot more fun, though. While it's still annoying that players using different GamerTags can't earn achievements on someone else's save, it's fun to take control over your favorite wrestlers and battle for the titles as the WWE Universe sees fit. I'd still like to see the return of a solid General Manager Mode, so I have my fingers crossed for next year…

Besides the new features I mentioned and the refined controls, SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 feels very much like the previous installments. The series needs some more drastic improvements soon or it's going to grow stale. 2011 just doesn't do enough new stuff to warrant a full-price purchase from gamers who have played every single game in the franchise like I have, and even gamers who have only dabbled in the series will be very familiar with everything that SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 has to offer. There needs to be major revisions for the SmackDown vs. Raw series of games to remain fresh, and not grow stale like so many other franchises with yearly installments tend to do.

Visually speaking, the game is gorgeous. The ring apron looks very detailed, the crowd looks great, and the wrestlers look fantastic. The new physics system is impressive, and overall, the game has a solid visual representation. It's probably the best looking game in the series, without a doubt. There is noticeable lag many times in matches, and even in the character selection screen. Why there are so many technical hiccups is beyond me, but they are tolerable, if not annoying.

Where the hiccups aren't tolerable is with the online modes. Downloading content from Community Creations is a great way to improve replayability, but actually playing online is a headache. The servers disconnect constantly, and almost every time I had a match going, there was an obsessive amount of lag to contend with. The hyped new feature of being able to play the Royal Rumble online is broken because it's nearly impossible to find a match. Ranking up online means next to nothing, but the steady stream of cheap DLC and all the content created by the community does help matters.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 has a lot of great audio, featuring awesome music taken from the theme songs of the wrestlers as well as great rock music in the menus. The voice acting is rather awful, though, in many cases, and extremely corny. The commentators sometimes announce matches in a very fluid manner that makes it seem like they are doing so in real-time, but other times they make far too many mistakes for it to be even taken seriously. It's quite annoying, especially for a wrestling nerd like myself.

I dumped quite a few hours into the game, but that's mainly because I love professional wrestling. Casual wrestling fans and gamers who aren't that familiar with the WWE product probably won't invest quite as much time into the title, but those who do, will find a lot to love. The Road to WrestleMania storylines are starting to feel a little stale, but they still allow for mild enjoyment. The WWE Universe Mode will be the big draw, and I wouldn't be surprised if wrestling buffs dump just as many hours into it as an RPG aficionado would in the latest Dragon Quest title. It's a shame that it has such serious flaws. Still, the different create modes are still great, the ability to download and upload from Community Creations rocks, and the achievements in this game are fun and challenging to go after, and some of them are very clever (Man of 1,004 Holds…ah). On top of all the achievements, different game modes, and all that jazz, there are a ton of unlockable alternate attires, superstars, arenas, championships, and more.

SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 feels like a complete version of all the SmackDown vs. Raw games that have come before it, but it's a little too much of the same, without enough changes to keep things fresh. The online needs fixed and the flaws in WWE Universe need ironed out as well, but overall, SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is a really, really awesome game. Change my score from an “8” to a “9” if you haven't played the other games much or if this is your first experience with SmackDown vs. Raw. Otherwise, just remember that for $59.99, you're largely paying for the same old song and dance, just a newer version of it.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/21/11

Game Release: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 (US, 10/26/10)


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