Review by Milso

"Better than No Mercy?"

After the disappointing game last year, SmackDown! vs. Raw, Yukes have been hyping up this new game as a massive improvement, and I'm very pleased to say they've managed to take almost everything from the previous games and make it a lot better.

Game play: 8
First of all the basic grappling system works a lot better this time round. You still have the four basic grapples, but they're much more customisable now - if you can have power grapples, speed, technical, luchador, old school and martial arts, to name a few, in addition to your basic submission and clean/dirty grapples, this gives you a total of 25 front grapples.

Your momentum meter also goes up or down depending on how well you're doing in the match, and if you continue to use the same move over and over again, it will go down. You also now have a limited time to pull off your finisher before it disappears, you can store it if you want to, but that will make the move significantly weaker when it's pulled off. There's also now a stamina meter that shows your energy. If you pull off too many big moves and run around too much it will run out, you can hold select to recover it, but this leaves open to attacks.

These new game play additions make the game a lot more balanced, realistic and just a lot more enjoyable than it was previously. Multiplayer matches no longer consist of both players taunting until they reach their finisher – and then even when you pull your finisher off now, if your stamina is low, you more than likely won't be able to pin your opponent.

It's not completely without it's problems though. For one thing there is now even more mini-games that can be initiated during matches, where little meters will appear at the top of the screen and both players have to mash the X button as fast as possible to try and win. Even though they do help to make the matches seem more realistic there are a lot of them, and you'll probably find yourself tired after just a few matches. On the higher difficulties the computer controlled opponents are more or less impossible to beat at these games. Most of the meter's can be turned off in the options but it's still annoying in modes like the Royal Rumble where you have a ring out meter. If you get thrown over the ropes, you may as well just restart the match.

Presentation: 9
As always Yukes are great with the presentation. Every wrestler has a near perfect entrance and the menus are clear and simple to use. It is let down a little in GM mode where there is a lot of information you need to keep track of, it would have been nice to have an easier way to check your current feuds and what happened last week, etc, while you're setting up matches, instead of having to track backwards through about four different menu's each time. It's also slightly unclear how you set up title matches and add in created superstars and Legends, but on the whole, it's very well put together.

Graphics: 9
Well I'm sure everybody has already noticed the games amazing graphics that quite seriously push the Playstation 2's limits. You won't see any better than this until next gen. Every wrestler in the game is shockingly life-like, and helps give the feel of a real WWE program, especially during the season mode. Once again, the created superstars let it down slightly, with their flat painted on clothes, and pixelated patterns, but it is a massive step up from last years CAW mode

Sound: 7
The sound is actually very good in most places, but in other ways, it's the weakest aspect of the game. For one thing the wrestlers' entrance themes are dead on this year, almost every wrestler has their correct entrance music and they sound awesome – the one flaw with them being is most of them are a little short and will loop very quickly. It's fine for the respective wrestlers actual entrance, but if you try and stick it on a created superstar, you'll likely hear it loop before the end. It would have been nice if they recorded just a little more for that.

Anyone who played last years game will likely have had a problem with the voice overs, in that most of them sounded like they were recorded in a cupboard, and didn't even sound like the actual wrestlers in some cases.. even though all the correct people did them. Fortunately they're all a lot better this year and the inclusion of voice overs for created superstars really helps too.

On the downside the licensed tracks in the game this year are even worse than last years. There is only one piece of music in the entire game I enjoyed listening to, and even then it was only used for my created superstar's entrance, I would never listen to it casually, the rest of it is sub-par rap music. Fair enough, if you're a big fan of rap music, you might find it okay; otherwise the BGM volume will be turned off very, very fast for most people.

The commentary this year, is actually a step up. It's certainly better than it was before, but after a while, the same old ramblings of the commentators will become very old, they also seem to be quite confused in most matches. At some points they will insult another wrestler, then go straight on to say how much they love them, it can be overlooked, but seems quite odd. The announcing also could do with some work, even though it's mostly good and I love the fact they included some normal call names for created superstars (such as Steven, John, Andrew, etc) the most of it still sounds incredibly strung together especially in tag team and manager matches where you'll hear long pauses before and after the “and”. I also would have liked if they actually announced the actual champions when they were coming out, instead of just if it was a title match, but hey, perhaps I'm being too picky now.

Other Improvements:
The season mode this year is a massive improvement. The cut-scenes are no longer broken down into sections where you have to press ‘x' to skip forward to the next, it's now one long continuous scene, making things much easier to follow, and creating a more authentic feel. It seems a lot more like a proper WWE show down to the melodramatic stories – which are also a lot better this year, including one, rather unexpected SmackDown! story twist that most fans should enjoy. It's also worth mentioning that both Raw and SmackDown! actually have completely different stories now and even though they're both quite short, you will likely want to play through them another once or twice to see different out comes.

Like last year, there still aren't many title belts you can win during the season mode, but thankfully, due to one of my favourite additions, that isn't much of a problem. Yes, they have finally brought back the ability to challenge for, and win belts in Exhibition. Don't like John Cena being the WWE Champion? Well you can beat the crap out of him with The Rock and make him the new champion! And yes, unlike last year the belt would then STAY on The Rock until he is defeated for it. There are 10 belts including the Million Dollar and Hardcore which were added just for a little fun, and all of them can be defended in almost every match type. Having an Elimination Chamber with some friends for the World Heavyweight Championship is great fun.

The create a belt mode also returns and is more or less identical to last year, these belts still do not stay with specific wrestler, but instead stick with your profile, making them pretty much useless by yourself, but if you intend to play online then they could be worth something.

But the single greatest addition to the game is GM mode. Where you play as the GM from either Smackdown or Raw - and it's multiplayer so a friend can be your opposing GM. Basically you do everything a GM should, you pick who you want on your roster, you set up matches which can be for titles, create rivalries and feuds between two superstars, make promo's to keep the fans tuned in to your show, and have to keep everyone on your roster happy by making sure they don't lose constantly, giving them title opportunities and so forth, all of this while trying to beat your rival show for the most fans. The matches you set up can be watched, simulated or played in with two players. It's a lot like Smackdown 2's season mode, but with complete control over the matches. If you've ever played a Football manager game, you'll get the idea.

Final Recommendation:
All this being said, SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 is easily the best SmackDown game, having pretty much everything fans have been wanting, it will keep you occupied for a very long time, and is the best WWE game in recent years. Whether or not it's better than No Mercy, is for you to decide.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/15/05

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