Since THQ took over the WWE licensing from Acclaim, we’ve been treated to an endless onslaught of top-notch wrestling games. Alright let me change that, PS2 fans have been treated to an endless onslaught of top-notch wrestling games, GameCube fans have received some decent ones and Xbox fans have been subjected to the torture known as RAW. Being that this is the franchise that consistently outperforms the others, Yukes! and THQ have had a hard time topping themselves with each and every entry. Just as you’re about to count them out, they continue to impress by delivering a deep wrestling game that’s fun to play and easy to master. This year’s game is even better than before because the designers have added more depth to the grappling system, included a new feature to exploit the wrestling styles of Faces and Heels and added new storylines that will remind most fans of the WWE product when it was at its peak in the late 90s.
Every year begins a new with the story mode and this year’s version has been revamped quite a bit, featuring fresh storylines and voiceovers from the real WWE superstars. I’m glad that THQ was able to get the real superstars into the studios but it seems like they lost quite a bit when they were removed from the element. WWE is well known for its stars’ over-the-top monologues and confrontations. All of the speech in the game sounds like it was being said politely in a phone booth to an old lady. Even Vince’s usually outrageous demeanor has been tamed down and HHH sounds like he’s on Ritalin. It sometimes works in the backstage elements but it sounds ridiculous when the stars actually come out to the ring and speak before the live audiences. It’s like they’re whispering to them, the complete opposite of what we’re used to seeing on TV.
Thankfully the game makes up for this with compelling storylines that will have you guessing and waiting for the next move. After playing the game for a bit I started getting flashbacks of circa 1997 WWF, back in the Attitude era when millions of people were hooked on the program. The writers did a great job of weaving together storylines filled with twists and turns. Most of the things that happen in the game make an awful lot of sense and some of the turns are just downright brilliant. After I became the champion someone put a hit on my head and all of the superstars were coming after me whenever the opportunity arose. This could have easily been a rehash of the old HHH bounty storyline where Bautista cashed in on the bounty, but it wasn’t. It turned out that Kurt Angle put the bounty on me and was actually in cahoots with Benoit to steal the RAW title and bring it to Smackdown! where they would then proceed to trash it. The designers were brilliant here; they took two different storylines, the aforementioned HHH story, and the WCW Medusa storyline and combined them together to make an entirely new and fresh story. You’ll encounter plenty of these situations that are fun to watch and engage in. It’ll eventually be so good that you’ll wonder aloud why the real WWE doesn’t hire these guys to write their storylines.
My only problem with the storylines is that they were perhaps a little too
good and realistic. Remember that episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes a character on the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon? There’s this line where he says that everyone should talk about Poochie and when he’s not on the screen they should say “Where’s Poochie?” Well there’s a great analogy pertaining to that and HHH’s role in the WWE. I don’t want to spoil the fun but let’s just say that there are plenty of “Where’s HHH?” moments in the game.One of the major elements that the grappling system has lacked since the series started is depth. Up until recently you only had four true grappling moves at your disposal with a couple of variations depending on the condition of your opponent. SvR multiples this number to 16 by offering up two different stages of grapples. First there’s the initial stage which dictates what kind of move you want to do; the four categories are quick moves, power moves, signature moves and submission moves. After selecting one you will see an intermittent animation, afterwards pressing a direction and the circle button will perform the move of your choice. You’ll have more options in choosing how to punish your prone opponents as well. Hitting the circle button once will pull them to there feet where you can choose to punish them in the upright position. However, tapping the circle button twice will allow you to pull the character into the sitting up position where you can perform an additional set of moves like a dropkick to the back of the head. Overall the system is much deeper this time around and should serve to silence many of the problems that the critics had with the previous games.
It’s amazing that it took this long for a developer to instill the Face/Heel dynamic into a wrestling game. Every worthy fan knows the terms Face and Heel and their relation to the fans and the product. Yukes has realized this as well and has decided to finally incorporate the relationship between the two sides and the way that they behave during matches. Faces can earn the affection of the crowd by pandering to them and performing their signature moves while Heels can irk them by doing dastardly things like using weapons and cheating. One of the new features that we’ve yet to discuss in really benefits the heels. When performing a submission hold the wrestler executing the move is required to break it five seconds after the ref calls for it, but often times the heel will hold on to it for longer to milk the move for all its worth. By holding down the L1 button you’re now able to do just that, pissing off the crowd and causing your opponent further harm. Now if only we could jump into the crowd and pop the little kid’s balloons we’d be set.
Last year’s game added positional damage and the new weight system which prevented lighter wrestlers from picking up heavyweights. This year’s game adds a couple of new features that add that extra dimension to your matches. There are a couple of pre-match elements that recreate the feel of the real WWE experience. In the Test of Strength you’ll be required to correctly press two buttons before your opponent. Whoever wins will gain the advantage at the onset of the match while the loser is left open to attack. Similarly, there’s a shoving match which requires you to press X twice before your opponent does. If you win you’ll gain an advantage similar to the one mentioned above. When performing certain submission holds a fluctuating meter will pop up above the health bar. You can try to escape the hold by stopping the meter in the large red zone, or reverse it by stopping it in one of two smaller zones. It’s not revolutionary but it’s about time that a wrestling game allowed you to reverse a submission maneuver. The last real feature adds a two-click meter to those chopping matches that wrestlers like to have. Before you perform a chop on an opponent you’ll have to stop the meter in the power zone and then stop it again in the accuracy zone. How well you do determines the power of your maneuver. Again, it doesn’t affect the gameplay but it offers up a nice change of pace.
It should also be noted that the Smackdown! System now adheres to the reversal system introduced in the GameCube wrestling games. Before, the reversals were mapped out to the square button. There weren’t specific buttons to reverse grapples or strikes, so players could just wail on the square button and reverse an abnormal amount of moves. Now you’ll have to press the L2 to reverse strikes and R2 to reverse grapples. This makes the game much more balanced, making it more difficult to successfully reverse maneuvers on a consistent basis.
The original Smackdown! on the PSOne revolutionized the look and feel of wrestling games to come; featuring the most realistic and lifelike presentation of the product at the time. After all these years the game still looks great and does a great job of representing the fanfare and excitement of the WWE. Last year’s game looked pretty good and this year’s game appears to be a pretty faithful rehash of last year’s game. There are some minor fixes here and there, but there’s very little that will stand out to your eyes. I noticed that the crowds look a little more sparse, but feature more detail than before. Perhaps it’s due to the limitations of the PS2, or maybe it’s the designer’s commentating on the WWE’s lack of business, either way it’s a decent sacrifice that doesn’t really affect the overall look too much. If you even remotely follow the product you’ll be able to recognize your favorite superstars from afar. Guys like Booker T, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and HHH really look great while second-tier guys like Rey Mysterio and Christian look pretty good.
I’m a little saddened to see that the game doesn’t keep up too well with the landscape of wrestling. Ever since Vince demanded that his wrestlers reverted to a “less dangerous” style of wrestling, everyone’s gotten fat and out of shape. Even the proverbial fat whipping boy, HHH, is ripped in this game. Then again, being married to the owner’s daughter kind of gives a guy that kind of leeway, doesn’t it? The engine is fully capable of rendering six highly detailed models on the screen at one time without the slightest hint of slowdown. Making this more impressive is the fact that each character benefits from the lighting effects, casts a realistic shadow and adheres to the shader used to simulate the look of sweat on flesh. It’s all very impressive, but I doubt that many will take the time to appreciate just how spectacular this engine is. As for the entrances, they’re all still here but they’re not as impressive as they once were. All of the sets look great and do a decent job of recreating the look found in most of the WWE’s Pay-Per-Views.The WWE’s Jim Johnston is well known for his work throughout the programming and the masterpieces that he’s crafted over the years. With such a guru at their disposal it’s a wonder that Yukes decided to try something else with their sound direction. Our statements about Day of Reckoning having the worst soundtrack ever were premature because this game puts it to shame. In addition to featuring most of the tracks from DoR, SvR adds in a handful of exclusives that give it that extra edge. Yukes has decided to take another stab at adding play-by-play, but after the debacles in this game and Shut Your Mouth!
, I’m not so sure that play-by-play in a wrestling game is such a good thing. There’s some great promise here, that’s for certain. Depending on which show you choose you’ll either get the crew of JR and The King or Michael Cole and Tazz. The announcers themselves aren’t at fault, it’s just the way that their commentary is pieced together. They rarely have anything to say about the match and the few comments they have are repeated over and over again. It’s especially grating to hear Tazz say “I’ll tell you what Cole. I’ll talk about what it’s like to be in the ring and you talk about frosting your hair” when Cole hasn’t even said anything about the match yet. There’s no cohesiveness to the commentary either, it’s just a bunch of snippets that play at random. So out of nowhere you’ll hear things like “Benoit is the rabid Wolverine” followed by 30 seconds of silence. Calling it awful would be an understatement, train wreck is a more accurate term for it.
You can still have tons of fun with the Create-A-Wrestler feature but it’s not as deep as the ones found in RAW
or Day of Reckoning
. There aren’t as many options to choose from and it’s tough to make a faithful creation of yourself. I’m generally interested in the whole CAW process but I was kind of turned off by this one. To preview the moves you have to individually highlight each one and then hit the button to preview it. In past years you simply needed to highlight it and you’d be able to see the move in action. Hopefully the developers can find a way to streamline the feature and make it more functional. My most wanted features would be the ability to create my own entrance and some support for the Eye Toy. It’s a highly functional device and it’s about time that other developers started taking advantage of it.
Online play is all the rage in the year 2004 and it’s expanded over to the wrestling genre. This year’s Smackdown! Allows you to take your game coast-to-coast via the Network Adaptor. In this mode you’re able to compete in single matches against your opponent, but there’s no real motivation to do so. What the game really needs is an online federation in which players compete against one another, form alliances and craft their own storylines. There needs to be a sense of accomplishment and as it stands, there really isn’t one. The only real reason to take your game online is if you want to challenge human opponents but you’re too embarrassed to tell your friends you’re a wrestling fanatic. On the plus side, we experienced very little lag and it was easy to jump into a game for a quick match.
Smackdown! Vs. RAW isn’t without its faults, but it’s the most well-rounded wrestling game to-date. With a robust story mode, a deeper grappling system and the addition of online play, this is the best wrestling game available today. Some of the sound issues need to be worked out, but all of the new elements more than make up for the deficiencies. You may have been turned off by the current state of the WWE’s programming, but it’s nice to know that THQ continues to maintain its excellence through these tough times. Forget about watching the shows, buy this game and create your own experiences. It’ll be the most wrestling-related fun you’ve had since the late 90s.