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Video Game Review: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010

October 29, 2009 | By Herija Green | comment on this post
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With the new WWE story designer, you can actually book main events that don’t include the names Cena, Orton or Triple H!?!? Blasphemy!

Ah, professional wrestling. At times it’s my favourite guilty pleasure/pseudo sport, while at other times it makes me embarrassed to even be watching. However, although my interest in the real thing wavers greatly, my love of pro wrestling video games is a constant that pre-dates watching my first real match. I’ve always found the genre to be more enjoyable than traditional fighting games (a la Street Fighter or Tekken) in terms of one-on-one gaming because the moves are plausible and there’s some background to everything.

How deep does this love go? Well, I can rattle off a half-dozen genre-defining titles (No Mercy, anyone?) in my sleep spanning multiple generations and platforms. But that barely scratches the surface. I had my original PlayStation modified to play Japanese games because the domestic market wasn’t bearing enough squared circle fruit. Ditto for the N64 and Dreamcast. Despite that dedication level, I’ve been disappointed with recent releases. Thankfully, our long national nightmare is over, because WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 delivers a package rich in both content and replayability.

Controls (4.5/5)

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 ups the ante on the number of moves players can unleash by doubling the number of grapples, adding the ring apron as a location to attack from and increasing your ground-based options. Yet despite all the additions, they keep things simple to control, which makes for an excellent in-game experience.

Your attacks are broken down into strikes (X) and grapples (right stick), but you’ll be executing tons of different moves off those two basic commands. Think of it like a family tree, where moves branch off of one another. For example, you can start with a strong collar and elbow grapple by holding down the right bumper and pushing the right stick up. Once engaged, you then move the right stick up, down, left or right and your wrestler with pull off one of the four moves assigned to that grapple. You’re given four different strong grapples with four moves off of each, meaning you’ll have 16 possible attacks whenever you lock up. Plus, each strong grapple features a strike (press X while locked up) and a submission move (click the right stick), bringing the total of 24 moves.

Beyond the grapples and strikes, you’ll also be able to run (left bumper), Irish Whip (B) your opponent, taunt them (d-pad) and pick up weapons (A) for more visceral damage. Anyone familiar with the series should have no trouble jumping right into a match, and for those new to the fray there’s a pretty comprehensive training mode that walks you through the different moves in terms of both how and when to do them.

Two new items that long-time fans and newcomers alike should embrace are the simplification of counters and addition of manual targeting. In the past, counters were mapped to both triggers — left for grapple counters, right for strikes. This year, all counters are handled by pressing the right trigger at the proper time (the prompt will appear over your opponent’s head to let you know when). It may seem like a minor change, but for series veterans it greatly reduces frustration.

Freeing up the left trigger also allowed THQ to implement a manual targeting system, allowing you to decide which opponent to focus on during matches that have more than two participants. After being forced to rely on the auto-targeting system in years past, this is a big deal.

As if that weren’t enough, each wrestler will have certain abilities (like using the ref as a shield, or stealing an opponent’s moves) that unlock additional moves. My favourite is the “object specialist,” which opens up new options to do with the game’s foreign objects. Watching my created wrestler pull off a one-man “Conchairto” or bust out the “Van Daminator” was tremendous fun.

Unfortunately, the A.I. can still be pretty hit or miss during the actual matches. On the lower difficulties you’ll often find your CPU opponent just stands around waiting to get pounded, while on the higher ones even the weakest of mat technicians suddenly transform into reversal machines. Partner A.I. seems better, though, as your tag team buddy hits the ring when a pin appears eminent to knock the CPU’s partner to the floor or to break up a near fall on you. The game does offer sliders to customize your experience, but unlike in 2k Sports’ recent releases, those sliders cannot be shared.

Graphics/Sound (4/5)

As has become expected, the visuals in WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 are top notch. The wrestlers look like their real world counterparts, and thanks to some improved graphics in the create-a-wrestler department, your own doppelganger no longer sticks out like a sore thumb. Wrestlers also move very fluidly, and although you’ll still see the occasional arm sticking through an opponent’s body on suplexes, they manage to interact very realistically. This is particularly noticeable when transitioning from one strong grapple to another as wrestlers move from a collar and elbow tie-up to a side headlock seamlessly.

The graphical muscle is really on display during superstar entrances, where fireworks and excellent lighting effects make you feel like you’re really watching the product on TV. My only gripe as it relates to entrances (and subsequently the in-game action) is the arenas. Yes, the stages are spot on. However, I never felt like I was in a different location. Even the arena for WrestleMania 25 felt like the exact same spot with a fresh coat of paint. Not since the Toukon Retsuden series (I told you I imported!) on the PlayStation have I seen a game capture the feel of a large arena, and it’s something I’d love to see in future installments to give the PPVs a big time atmosphere.

Another area in which the graphics shine is showing off the damage you’ve incurred and inflected on your opponent. Chests redden with chops, limbs are favoured and superstars limp around after taking a beating — these last two are particularly important since the long-standing HUD that showed how your limbs were taking damage has been removed to give gamers a clearer picture of the action. Blood is also present, and although it always starts as a cut on the forehead, you’ll see the crimson mask spread as matches wear on. Blood will drip down your opponent, onto the mat and even onto you. It’s a pretty impressive feat when you see blood on your fists after punching a lacerated victim.

Not everything is a box of fluffy ducks graphically, though, as you’ll see faces that appear to be going through the mat on some submission holds and the ropes do some wonky things at times when wrestlers come in contact with them. The wrestlers’ mouths also look a bit off, and I don’t mean strictly in the sense of movements matching spoken words. All of those issues are minor, however, and the overall visuals are very good.

The audio is more of a mixed bag. Most of the wrestlers deliver their lines well, but a couple of them sound like they’re going through the motions. Commentary is hit or miss. The team of Todd Grisham and Matt Striker are the best of the group while Jim Ross and current TNA announcer Taz get stale in a hurry. Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler do a lot of the commentary during the story modes and they hold up pretty well. However, the commentary that takes place outside the stories is pretty repetitive. Personally, my favourite announcing in a wrestling game remains Giant Gram 2000, which was entirely in Japanese. I couldn’t understand 95 per cent of it — apparently DDT is DDT in any language — but their excitement level matched the action. I’m still waiting for any domestic sports title to capture that same emotion.

As you would expect, all the WWE entrance themes are present, and you can use any music downloaded to your console as well. My created wrestler comes out to Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” and it loads immediately without issue. The crowd chants are varied and well done, while the sound effects are pretty much standard fare.

Gameplay (4.5/5)

The content front for WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is once again loaded with multiple Road to WrestleMania stories, a career mode, numerous match types, online support and a boatload of creation tools, including the ability to generate your own storylines. It’s a serious tour de force that should keep even casual wrestling fans knee deep in fresh content for months.

Like last year, the Road to WrestleMania mode once again centres on specific superstars, which is both good and bad. It’s good because there’s a character-focused story with generally good voiceover work. It’s bad because only six wrestlers (Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Edge, Mickie James and Triple H/John Cena) are included. That means if you’re a fan of someone like MVP or Jeff Hardy you’ll be limited to career mode for your single player fix, which is just a series of matches with no story. On the bright side, there is an included Road to WrestleMania for any wrestler you create, and that one turns out to perhaps be the best of the bunch with an interesting mix of matches/scenarios and some clever humour sprinkled in.

As for the other storylines, they’re generally pretty solid, and I like that THQ decided to mix things up with backstage segments or guest referee roles instead of just wrestling every week. Still, you’ll find some frustrating moments within the Road to WrestleMania in regards to meeting specific match requirements, which in the interest of not giving spoilers I won’t mention specifically. Anyone familiar with WWE programming will undoubtedly be met with a sense of déjà vu for some of these stories, but they’re still fun to play overall.

Next up is career mode, which as noted above is simply a series of matches as you try to capture titles and eventually secure a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. Basically you’ll choose which championship to pursue and then be given a list of contenders. You then pick an opponent from that list to wrestle. After the match you’ll be graded on a five-star scale, and when you reach a certain threshold of stars you’ll be able to compete in a No. 1 Contender’s match. Win that and you can face the champion. Beat him and you’re prompted to pick another championship to go after. Its fine for what it is, but it’s a poor substitute for fans of the “lesser” wrestlers that didn’t qualify for a Road to WrestleMania story.

Thankfully, THQ’s big new addition addresses that issue, and it’s a game changer. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 introduces a story designer mode, allowing users to create all new storylines for any wrestler in the game and then upload them to share with other gamers. It’s a great idea, but there are a couple negatives to get out of the way first. The big one is that you’re only allowed to use a created wrestler 10 times during the entirety of your tale. That doesn’t mean 10 matches, that means 10 total appearances. So anyone dreaming of fielding a brand new wrestling promotion filled with created wrestlers will have to keep waiting. I also would’ve enjoyed a little more freedom to produce text, but as it stands each scene is limited to 12 word balloons. Even that amount is daunting to fill with a controller, so if you plan on creating involved storylines, pick up a USB keyboard as both the Xbox 360 and PS3 support it.

Outside of those issues, the story designer mode is a would-be booker’s dream. The game gives you a wealth of options when creating scenes in terms of location, situation, number of people involved and much more. You can mess with the camera to get just the right angle. You can have the crowd boo or cheer at any time during an interview. You can hot shot angles and blow through John Cena and The Undertaker in less than a month (AKA TNA booking), or you can go old school with the slow burn and have two wrestlers on a collision course as an overarching storyline that lasts years. Assign the belts to whomever you want, be a sadist and book an Iron Man Match with Big Show and Great Khali! All the tools are there at your fingertips, and it’s just a brilliant addition to the series.

Of course, it’s early in the process, and as a one-time writer for an online wrestling federation I’m still experimenting with different scenarios before unleashing my masterpiece (not a Chris Masters reference), but I fully expect this to add a ton of replay value to the game. My primary concern at this point is sorting through the flood of existing content already available just one week after the game was released. Hopefully online communities will start identifying the best storylines, thus making the quest to find worthwhile content easier.

Beyond the ability to create wrestlers and storylines, you’re also able to modify the outfits for existing WWE superstars as well as crafting multiple looks for your own wrestler. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 also allows you to make highlight reels that can then be turned into customized entrance videos for your character. A paint tool has been added to produce original emblems and tattoos. Plus, you can customize your entire move list and create both traditional and top-rope finishers. Your creations can be uploaded or you can download the work of others, which is a cool feature for those that want to use past performers like Brock Lesnar or Rob Van Dam without taking the time to create them.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 also comes packed with oodles of match types, including the usual favourites like cage, TLC and Hell in a Cell. New this year is the championship scramble where a title can change hands multiple times between the five participants in a specific time limit. It’s executed well and is a welcome addition. The other big change is a complete revamping of the Royal Rumble — a match that has long been among the most fun to watch on PPV and the least fun to play in games. This time around you’ll participate in mini games when trying to eliminate the other 29 competitors, making it fun to play as opposed to a chore.

Online play is once again supported beyond just downloading as you can take on other members of the WWE Universe in a variety of matches. The performance is decent, but I did detect some slight lag that seemed to throw off the timing of my reversals. I’m also a little disappointed not to see the Royal Rumble available online as it seems like a natural fit for multiple players.

Overall (4.5/5)

While I’m unwilling to crown WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 as the best wrestling game ever made, I highly recommend it as this is easily the most enjoyable wrestling title I’ve played on the current generation of consoles.

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