Review / WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2011 (PS3)

If there’s one thing I love about WWE, it’s the theatre of it all. And no, I don’t mean in a masterfully-crafted Shakespeare-worthy sense, I’m referring to the simple entertainment of watching ridiculously macho men in equally ridiculous costumes violently squabble over who they’ll punch in the face next. The roar of the crowd, the flash of lights, and the heavy metal music, all for something we all know is well rehearsed at the end of the day; it’s brilliant. As always, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2011 delivers that in spades this year, nailing the essence of the event with spectacular entrances, crazy plots, and of course, a whole lot of wrestling. But does this year’s entry offer enough fresh content to keep it in the ring?

Well it’s SVR’s biggest year ever with new modes, moves, and tweaks for fans to enjoy. If you were to look at the game on paper, the 70 plus line-up and more than 100 match types are certainly enough to impress, but long time fans will be looking for more.

The bulk of any player’s time will go into the Road to Wrestlemania (RTW) campaign, which has five different characters. I’ve always loved this mode because it wraps an amusing plot around one wrestler’s epic struggle to become champion, and this year is no different. John Cena’s campaign is a bold fight against the iron fist of Randy Orton, who will stop at nothing to cling onto his title belt despite how illegal it may be. The real star of the show though is the Vs. Undertaker campaign, which sees you picking one of a number of characters then take on the madman’s undefeated streak. It’s fair to say it’s one of the more unique RTW campaigns, and a lot of fun. I don’t want to spoil much more than that though.

You’ll be able to go backstage this time too, letting you roam around and take on different missions as well as drinking in all the WWE memorabilia. It’s a fairly simple addition, which makes me wonder why it’s not that well produced. The vast space allowed to run around in is always completely dead, filled with low-res posters, and fails to give you anything to do other than running around looking like you’ve crapped your pants. Perhaps this one should have stayed on the drawing board; another year in development and it could turn into something interesting, but it just feels underdeveloped here.

Past RTW, the new additions this year mainly come in the form of the WWE Universe Mode. Gone is the career mode of yesteryear and in its place is this clever new addition that tracks your progress as you play the game. You’ll be judged on who you like to play as, how you perform, and who you beat up. The game will then work to come up with your very own story that’s unique to you. It’s a nice addition that gives everyone playing something different to experience. Taking away the career mode (which was beginning to get more than a little stale) also replicates the brilliantly unpredictable edge of the real thing. You get your own cutscenes and your very own WWE-style surprise matches thrown at you at any time. It delivers the feeling of watching a drama-packed show perfectly. As always you can either create your own character to use or bring your own favourite into the mix.

Not that it has much effect on how you play the game; the matches remain largely unchanged this time round. The biggest thing to point out here is a new physics system that makes objects behave realistically. Smashing Jericho through a table will now have a different effect depending on exactly how hard you send him through the surface. It’s not the most noticeable of changes although it is welcome as any new tweaks are. But for the most part people who played SVR2010 will be right at home here, give or take a few new moves to learn.

That’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing; 2010 had a great formula and 2011 seemingly takes the “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. The fighting here is unlike any other in the genre, giving you near-complete freedom of what you do with your character. A simple control scheme makes it easy and fun to learn, meaning you’ll be able to pull off throws, grapples, finishers and signatures with no problem. It feels great to burst into a run towards your opponent then at the last second throw out an elbow and drop them to the floor.

It could still use some polish though; annoying little digs will get in the way in most matches, be it hitting the referee instead of your opponent through no fault of your own, or watching your enemy perform a seemingly endless amount of hits on you because your character refuses to stand up fast enough. Maybe next year we’d like to see the developers hold back on anything completely new and put 100% focus into coming up with a smoother fighting engine with all the quirks ironed out.

Some new texture work also makes this the sharpest looking SVR yet. Every wrestler is a solid representation of their real-self. I’d like to see a bit more work on the crowd; right now it looks like the cast of the N64/PS1 wrestling games showed up to watch the match, and it serves as more of a distraction than anything else. Voice work does the usual job too; I’ll never be able to take Triple H seriously so it just doesn’t matter what he sounds like.

There’s still a lot of stuff to do outside the wrestling. You won’t get bored in the first place thanks to the sheer amount of match types and players to use, but it helps that when you do need some down time you can do something crazy like set up your own story to play out. Even this mode has been improved this year, making it like LittleBigPlanet for Arnold Schwarzenegger. You get a lot of control over the cut-scenes allowing for some truly hilarious (or serious, if that’s your thing) clips.

In the end SVR 2010 was too much of an improvement to expect anything huge from this year’s entry. That doesn’t mean this isn’t the most fun, well rounded SVR yet though. It may only build slightly on what was already there but that still makes it better.

+ WWE Universe offers a refreshing change from the career mode
+ A bunch of entertaining Road to Wrestlemania campaigns
+ The actual wrestling is still fun, varied, and easy to play

– No drastic improvements over last year
– Presentation is a tiny bit rough around the edges
– Backstage segments need work