Things you should know before this review begins. I was at Wrestlemania V in Atlantic City. I still fully believe that the WWE should be the WWF. My favorite tag team folks are/were the British Bulldogs.
Most importantly, I've played every wrestling game since the Wrestlemania game in the arcades.
There's a good start.
Demand more, almost get it
People who play any wrestling games might contend that the last great games made for this genre were made on the Nintendo 64 when the WWF was still separate from ECW and WCW. Since that time, the WWF has changed to WWE, ECW is gone as well as the WCW. Outside of the 'other' wrestling on cable television, the WWE is mainly all there is. With that said, it is probably one of the most entertaining venues around. Also, they have successfully put out subpar material since the emersion of the Gamecube. Every year the games seem to sell well, but the overall sentiment of the gaming experience is generally low. People have to buy this game because there really isn't anything better. That's a terrible situation to have to run into.
Things change though.
Enter Smackdown vs. Raw 2010, a game that promises to alleviate the past disappointments and correct the flaws from previously developed gameplay. For the most part the game comes through with flying colors; on the other hand the game still has some considerable flaws. I'm not one to start on the negative, let me tell you what is great about this game.
First and foremost you should know going in that THQ has packed everything you ever wanted in a wrestling game inside this particular game. They have included Madden-esque options such as creating your own character and establishing your own storyline. You can take this wrestler through their own career and have an almost RPG like experience making them into a superstar. The customization options offered in this game are just insanely deep. You can adjust about every attribute of your wrestler (which includes every known body part and clothing material). They also allow you to create your own entrance and your own storyline. They provide a simple template to navigate through and you just sit back and be as creative as you please. That type of open source creativity is something that past titles have lacked severely. That's probably the biggest selling point about the game. THQ has pushed it in its marketing scheme and believe me it's worth your time to experience. It's the biggest reason to purchase this game (outside of being a fan, of course). If I could capture a picture of my U.S.S.R., horn sporting, glasses wearing, disproportionate monster as an example I certainly would. I can't, so just imagine that description. Just know that everything THQ advertises about this option is the real deal; for once it's not an overblown feature (as most companies would beat a feature to the ground and nothing comes out of it). It's the real deal folks, honest to God.
Outside of this, you have other options in the game. Different modes in the game include:
- Play mode - Kind of like a 'Quick Game' option for football. If you do enough in the single player career mode you'll unlock a lot of nice goodies here. Such goodies include a Royal Rumble and a Championship Scramble. It's a quick way to get your wrestling on.
- Road to Wrestlemania - It is what it is.
- Story Designer - I briefly discussed this already. It allows you to create your own story using a template that is provided from THQ.
- Career Mode - This is probably one of the more important modes as it is the best way to unlock most of the goodies in the game. It allows you play as your favorite WWE/WCW/ECW fighter and take them through different championship paths.
- Training Facility - While this isn't technically a mode, it does allow you to practice your wrestling and figure out moves and strategies. It's a good way to get use to the controls and great way to find out the moves.
All of these are deep and useful. I love how you get to a little bit more than expect. There's a ton of depth here to play with and it's very fitting for this type of game. Technically these options create what I could only consider to be the ultimate wrestling experience.
Moving on to presentation. One of the more beautiful parts of the game is how it's presented. Again, thinking in terms of Madden, you get some great music played by some independents, which help push the overall atmosphere while you're toggling through your options. Yes, I know this is a minor thing, but I'm listening to it right now in the background and enjoying it. Getting further into the nitty-gritty of the game, the presentation of the wrestling matches is breathtaking. You get the same great introductions that combine animated characters with real-life video on the screen. I can't confirm this, but I believe the video is the actual video from the actual wrestling introductions. Regardless, it's fun and it gets you in the mood to fight.
Speaking of moods, the crowd is insanely fun. You don't get that crappy Midway crowd, 2D graphics where everyone choppily move up and down cheering when they want to. The crowd actually reacts to you and how well you're doing. If you're putting on multiple hits on your opponent the crowd's cheering and jeering builds and builds. They get you in the mood to do some serious damage on your foe.
With that said, the actual wrestling in cages, with ladders, with managers on the outside, even the royal rumble make this game a beauty to watch. The animations are fantastic, the announcers will keep the action commentary going (though they do repeat at times) and the overall feel of the match will make you keep playing. Besides the environments the character models are nothing short of top-notch. Finally a wrestling game that looks and feels like a next-gen game. Folks you've been waiting for this visual beauty for a long time. Everyone has very defined expressions and are just detailed as hell.
Simply put, you will be happy as hell with what you're seeing in this wrestling game.
Shifting gears here, let's talk about things you will be concerned about.
The first thing you won't like about this game is the contact made between wrestlers. I think THQ needs to spend some money, fly the dev team for 2011 down to EA and ask them how the contact in Madden was done. The contact in THQ is choppy at best and at worst it's completely illogical. For example, I used Jeff Hardy to go through multiple championship paths (I only had three paths left before I started writing the review, so I promise I know what I'm talking about here). There were times where Hardy would do a flying forearm into someone's head only to get tripped up from midair. Now, I'm not a physics major, but once airborne you shouldn't be able to trip anyone. In fact, if you are airborne you're pretty much already tripped, but in a controlled sort of way. In addition to that description, even if I was airborne and actually made contact with the other wrestler, if he wasn't standing straight up the forearm would never make contact. So, you have to literally wait for your opponent to get up before throwing a forearm their way. Basically, you're taking a 50/50 chance in landing the move when it should be a no brainer contact situation. This just doesn't happen with the forearm move, it also happens with kicks and punches. It can get quite frustrating. The contact is not clean at all in the game and that hinders the enjoyment tremendously. If you are on a roll and you want to keep doing damage to your opponent then you're (bleep) out of luck.
Other irritations that run along the same lines, you have a special move that you can use on your opponent at a particular time. There is an indicator on the screen that will randomly indicate when to use this move. Because this is random you have the eyes of an eagle (or an editor) to see that three frame flash to pull the move off. Not the worst thing int he world, but still very irritating. The worst thing, going along the same lines as this, is the reversal indicator. There is nothing more irritating than seeing 'RT' flash up on the screen, you press the button in time and nothing happens and you get your ass handed to you. Yet, when it flashes again on the screen, you press the button in time and you successfully do a reversal, then this becomes a programming issue. This makes the experience of the game untrustworthy and you have to basically keep pushing 'RT' when you're in trouble, hoping and praying that it might be a successful reversal. If I have enough visual skills to push a button in time to pull off a reversal then the damn game should give me that consideration. Yes, this one is positively one of the most irritating things about Smackdown vs. Raw 2010.
Another set of irritations come in the form of not being able to punch/kick other people who might be preventing you from winning a match. During a match when you're about to take someone down for a three-count, you'll find one of their wrestling buddies make it to ringside to distract the ref from doing a count. 85% of the time you will find it nearly impossible to break your pin and knock the crap out of the distracting character. The game seriously doesn't recognize that person as a threat or as your opponent. I had to randomly somehow maneuver my original opponent near the distracting character to have a shot at hitting both of them. When you play a heated match for nearly 20 minutes you will tear your hair out trying to get rid of the other wrestler. I can't tell you how many curse words floated from my mouth at 2am in the morning because of this; just know that my kids are no long allowed to get up in the middle of the night.
Finally, the last flaw in this game is how completely unfair the computer can be. Let's start with an example. Say you're Jeff Hardy and you've been throwing everything except the kitchen sink at your opponent for nearly 15 minutes. You've literally been beating that crap out of this poor fellow so much that it takes nearly 20 seconds for that character to get up. Also imagine that this is a ladder match (pretty cool match, by the way) and winning the match solely depends on you keeping your opponent on the ground for a long period of time. If you don't step on the ladder you can keep them down for 20 seconds. If you do step on the ladder then suddenly they're up in 8 seconds. I can only compare this to a game like NBA Jam where you're blowing out a team by 15 points and suddenly in the last 40 seconds of the game the computer steals like crazy and drains three's like crazy. Yes, you get that type of A.I. comeback every time you pull out ahead and almost win the match. It's one of the most irritating things about the game. I cannot express to you enough how terrible it feels to have controlled a match the entire time only to be royally screwed by the computer. Players should always be rewarded for their efforts in games like this; not punished at the end. It's a horrible feeling and one that might make someone completely turned off about the game.
Is it worth it?
If you compare 2010 to every game post N-64, then yes it is worth it. This game packs enough options, enough wonderful online playing to keep it as a healthy contender in the library of past fighters. If I was a huge wrestling fan (I am a former fan -- I have kids, so it's tough to keep up with) then this would be worth my hard earned $59.99. Though the game has some irritating flaws to it, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is still a major improvement over past titles. The dev team needs to iron out the above irritations before they release the 2011, but they certainly have made strides to make the title a better experience for their fans. It's simply not a game with a popular name; it's a game that people will want to play. There are more modes then you can count, more customizable options that work really well and there's enough here in the total package to see the worthwhile effort that has been made to make the title, well, worth your while.