Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you feel like smashing a chair over someone's back. SmackDown vs. Raw 2011
is a relatively safe and virtual way to vent some aggression, and not just with chairs. Fire extinguishers, cars, sledge hammers, fire, ladders, tables, and chairs are all tools for
beating your opponent. This latest installment has a few more weapons, a lot more tweaks, and is an over-all improvement over last year's title. There's plenty of new content and easier ways to share it. Pull on your best leotard and grab a seat while I get into the finer points of SmackDown vs. Raw 2011
The quest for fame, glory, and riches is the foundation of the WWE. Whether you're a Superstar, General Manager, or lower on the totem pole, building the brand and keeping the fans happy is the key to keeping the cash flowing and the good times rolling. An over-simplification? Maybe, but this modus operandi is important to keep in mind when trying to understand the entity that is the WWE. As SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 takes players backstage to the locker rooms it's important to remember that it's all a glorious show.
As previously mentioned, players get backstage access in SvR's new Road to WrestleMania modes. John Cena, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Christian, and multiple superstars including Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, or a created superstar round out the characters with a Road to WrestleMania tale to experience. The last group all participate in the same quest to overthrow Undertaker's winning streak at WrestleMania. It's nice to see attention being payed to the less popular superstars, but multiple characters means the story is less personal. In other words even though you play as those superstars, very little of their own personality gets a chance to shine through. Make no mistake, the Undertaker story line is the most surreal the series has ever gotten and is the most memorable. Personally I miss the create-a-superstar story dedicated to building up a career and a reputation in the WWE.
There is one more design decision that I take issue with as far as the backstage interaction. Characters act as though they're on camera at all times, but it's only during cut scenes that we hear any sort of reaction from the crowd. This simple audio cue would have gone a long way into creating a more immersive experience and would also help the sometimes awkward backstage brawls that have no audio but the grunts and thuds of combat. A different approach could be taken entirely. Giving the player multiple dialog options and making the superstars, divas, and general mangers behave more like they would if they were not on camera, could go a long way to humanizing them. WWE stars are people too, and they don't always act like their “characters”. That approach really doesn't mesh well with how the WWE operates, but it would be a nice change of pace.
There aren't any huge additions to the SvR formula this time around. The same experience from 2010 is now sharper and tighter. Sure, there's the new My WWE universe feature, but I'm more impressed with the slightly sharper presentation, improved controls, and the improved physics for objects. I'm also very pleased that that the HUD has stayed pretty much the same. The user created content was slightly expanded and the online access to other users' content is faster. The audio has taken a hit though. Announcer commentary didn't have the same flow, and sometimes I wondered if they we're even paying attention to the match in front of them. I guess that's one of the consequences of trying to add more varied dialog. The crowds themselves look a bit better, but the their audio could have used more attention. The sounds of cheering would run into each other and produce and unsettling jet engine noise.
Going back to the create-a-modes for a moment; I noticed an odd trend. The involvement of Divas and Superstars in created scenes is limited based on sex. For instance you cannot create a “divas scene” using two superstars. This includes a created scene where players can have two characters “kiss”. Two divas can be used and a superstar and a diva, but two superstars cannot “kiss” in SmackDown vs Raw 2011. This seems counter intuitive, because the main attraction to create-a-modes is the freedom to create the content that you'll never see in real life. Before you folks get any funny ideas; I first noticed this slightly chauvinistic attitude when I tried to create a scene where Beth Phoenix kicked the crap out of Santino. Violence between a diva and superstar is strictly not allowed, which is also reflected in creating matches. That small complaint aside; I found the create-a-modes to be easy to use and offer as much freedom as SvR 2010.
I've already mentioned the tighter controls, but not how they translate into gameplay. A single button for reversals has freed up some real estate so now the RB and left trigger are dedicated to move your opponent's position. This may take away some options like a block function, but it helps players easily set up combo moves like the tree of woe. Also a dedicated button for moving a stunned opponent helps with ladder and inferno matches. The same strike mechanics are back with a quick tap initiating a jab or beginning a combo. Holding down the strike button initiates a heavy attack, which can be changed up based on which direction you're holding with the left stick. Grappling is just as easy, with the right stick taking up most of the work. Changing up which grapple to transition from to pull off a move from behind, an arm hold, or a head lock is as easy as flicking the left stick and pressing RB. Changing the grapple stance also allows the opponent to reverse the grapple though, making it a fair trade off. Submission holds can be done standing or with the opponent on the mat just by depressing the right stick. The same mini-games that determine a pin, ring out, etc. have also returned but they're varied enough as not to get too repetitive.
Signature and Finishing moves are all context sensitive now and are easily executed with a press of the Y button. Assuming you know your character's move set well enough, there shouldn't be any reason you can't dominate the opponent whatever your fighting style. If you are unfamiliar with the controls or dislike your favorite wrestler's move set, I recommend spending some time with the create-a-move set mode. It's set up so you can manipulate everything from strikes and grapples to how your character gets in the ring. The preview function also goes a long way to help you decide what moves to select.
I'm afraid I didn't have as much luck with the online multi-player that Jeremy had. All the options were great to look at, but I couldn't find anyone to play with. When I finally created my own match and someone else joined, the lag was so bad that I was booted from my own match. Using an approved Xbox 360 router with an open NAT type might help gamers to avoid this issue. Mine has a closed NAT type, but it still works fine with lots of other titles. I'm not about to go out and get a new router just to play this game. Local multiplayer was fun enough for me, and I really dug the street-fighter-esque character selection screen. I would also like to note that the controls are intuitive enough that my buddy Sean, who is a soccer fan, was able to pick up and play the game with little difficulty.
With the sheer amount of content already on the disc, the many customizable options, and future DLC already on it's way; SvR 2011 offers a lot of value. After only ten hours of play time I feel that I've just scratched the surface of the on disk content. A world of user created content is just a few button presses away from the main menu and un-lockable content can be easily obtained for a small price of 80 Microsoft points if you're feeling a little lazy. Rest assured that there's enough content here to justify a purchase and the refined gameplay experience is worth a trade up. I may have had a few issues with some design decisions, minor bugs and the online multiplayer, but overall Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is worth the price of admission.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Plenty of content and refined controls make this title a definite buy for WWE fans. This is one of the most entertaining wrestle games around. It's easy to get lost in the WWE fantasy. Just keep in mind that you'll need to shell out more moolah for the online multiplayer if you get a used copy.