As regular as clockwork, THQ and Yukes bring us a Smackdown! game for PS2 just a few weeks before Christmas. This time, they’re also delivering Raw, as the two brands go head to head, vying for your love. Who will win? Let’s find out, as we take a look at WWE Smackdown! Vs Raw.
It’s a pretty game, there’s no denying that. The character models look better than ever, the crowd are as realistic as I’ve ever seen in a wrestling game and the arena designs are just simply brilliant. The first thing that regular Smackdown! game buyers will notice upon first starting up a match is that the camera angle has changed from looking up the ramp, to being side on, as we’re used to seeing on TV. I’m a fan of this change, as everything that helps make the game as close to it’s television counterpart gets the thumbs up from me.
Some of the move animations are wonderful, and you won’t bedisappointed with any of the visuals in the sixth Smackdown! game. The only reason that it doesn’t get full marks is due to the fact that with 6 active wrestlers, the screen gets a bit clogged up with GUIs. With two different meters (we’ll get to that later), an icon to show how damaged your character is, as well as having to make space for the wrestler’s names and Smackdown! finisher dots, it’s a very tight fit to manage 6 of these in the same screen. That problem aside, you’ll not find a better looking wrestling game on the market, and the PS2 is really being pushed to the limits.
SD! Vs Raw’s sound is certainly an improvement over last year’s audio. Two commentary tracks have been added, one from Raw regulars JR and King, with the other being supplied by Smackdown! commentators Michael Cole and Tazz. The banter between each pair is light years ahead of what we witnessed in Just Bring It a few years ago, and I’d say that the play by play is marginally better than last year’s too, which wasn’t a bad effort.
The problem I have though is that the game isn’t really suited for in depth commentary. SD! Vs Raw is very much an arcade game, with the focus being more on having fun than realism. Due to this, you could pull off a series of moves in a few seconds, which could take a minute for the real WWE superstars to pull off on TV. This means that the play by play could be talking about a move you hit 5 seconds ago, and a lot could have changed in the match during that time. I don’t know if there’s any solution to this that THQ could implement, but it might be worth their time considering whether commentary best suited to a wrestling simulation is used in a fast paced, frantic arcade title.
Another improved feature is the wrestler voiceovers. Now, when you’re partaking in the usual backstage blabber that you’ll do 100 times in season mode, you don’t need to read the captions, the real WWE workers have put their vocal talents to use for us to hear. You’ll hear Rene Dupree talk about his Fifi (that’s his dog, don’t think what you were going to think), Tajiri blurt out 300 words in roughly around 5 seconds and Edge call you a chump stain, which can only be good. Unfortunately, some of the voiceovers sound like they’ve been recorded in a toilet, with dodgy production and the enthusiasm of Kevin Nash working an Iron Man match.
As for the music, 90% of the real music is used. People like Ric Flair and Stacy Keibler still have cheap knock offs of their real life themes, but just about everyone else comes out to their own personal music. The aural experience in Smackdown! Vs Raw isn’t perfect, but still, it’s an improvement from last year’s effort, Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain.
If you’re expecting a radically different game from SD! Vs Raw’s predecessor, you’ll be disappointed. The game plays just about identically to SD! HCTP, which isn’t too bad considering that I was a fan of last year’s gameplay. The one big addition is the fact that you now have two bars to fill up during the course of your match. As usual, your Smackdown! finisher bar is there, but there’s also the addition of the Clean/Dirty meter, depending on your fan affiliation. Faces (good guys) can fill their meter by performing crowd pleasing moves, like their signature holds or top rope dives. Heels (bad guys) fill their bar by bending the rules to the very limit, with low blows, eye pokes and weapon attacks. When the new meter is full, faces will go on a Hulk Hogan-like period of invincibility where nothing can harm them, and their finisher does double damage. Heels will be able to find themselves with a new move to their arsenal; a devastating front low blow that does as much damage as a finisher. I’m quite happy to see this new bar implemented into the game, as it does add a little bit of longevity. OK, you’ve finished season mode with a face Chris Benoit, but you might want to do it again as a heel.
Aside from the countering being slightly harder, with a smaller window of opportunity to get your block in, it’s just the same as last year. Signature grapples, power grapples, Smackdown! dots, you know the drill. Still, it plays just as good now as it did in 2003.
For some unknown reason, THQ decided that they would only add one more new game mode this year, in the shape of the parking lot brawl. This is pretty much useless, as all you do is Irish whip your foe into one of the many cars surrounding the backstage environment, you get a “funny” animation and they fall over hurt. Repeat until they’re beaten up, then pin them.
Another disappointment is that you’ll find that the Last Man Standing mode has been made a lot easier this year. I loved last year’s version of it, as you really needed to work hard to get the win, and you could be sitting there for 10-20 going crazy when Undertaker just won’t stay down. This year, it’s a case of hitting him on the head with a chair and picking up the win within 3 minutes.
As far as season mode goes, it’s very similar to last year’s, but with the aforementioned superstar voiceovers. You’ll get into feuds, PPV battles, make friends and generally do all the things you see WWE superstars do on TV. It’s a very enjoyable way to pass the time, even although I did find that far too many storylines focused around the WWE Divas, which didn’t really suit the personalities of some wrestlers. Seeing Undertaker or Kane being hit on by Trish Stratus before going for a shower together is just so out of character that it would make anyone with the concept of continuity cry. Is it time for unique storylines for every wrestler in Smackdown! 7? In my opinion, yes, it is.
But the BIG new feature is the online mode. For people with an Internet connection on their PS2, they’ll be able to take on opponents from places far and wide to see who the best really is. Unfortunately, you can only have two modes online, Single matches and Bra and Panties contests. I’ve not yet been able to try out the Online mode, but from what I hear it works quite well, with the only disadvantage being the lack of match modes. Still, it’s a good first step for THQ, and no doubt we’ll see much better incarnations of online wrestling in a few years.
There’s also the create a belt and create a PPV mode. The latter plays just like it did in the first Smackdown!, and isn’t anything groundbreaking. The create a belt mode offers a wide range of designs to create the perfect title, and can be defended against friends. It’s not something I’d buy the game exclusively for, but it’s another nice addition to the series.
Anyway, there’s plenty to do for people who haven’t played a Smackdown! game before, but for a lot of the people who have been following the series for years, the lack of new features a bit of a let down.
I’m not a fan of this year’s Create A Wrestler mode at all. The entire layout has been changed, and I find it harder to put together my creations. It’s still too obvious to tell who are the WWE superstars and who are the created guys that you’ve made, due to the major difference in the quality of the characters models. There have also been moves taken out of SD! Vs Raw that were in previous games, which looked just fine. Adding moves is fine, but only if they keep the ones added in previous games. I feel as if THQ have let themselves down here, with a big step backwards on the CAW front.
It just gets worse and worse, for the roster. Last year’s was bad enough, but now it’s been taken to a whole new level of crappyness. There are actually LESS wrestlers in the game this year than there was last year. There are people like Eugene, Rob Conway, Sylvian Grenier, Billy Kidman, Spike Dudley, The Bashams, Nunzio, William Regal and Kenzo Suzuki who have been on WWE TV for months and months, some even for a number of years, who haven’t made it into the game. Smackdown!’s general manager is even Kurt Angle, when he was replaced ages ago on TV by Teddy Long! That’s just not good enough.
As for the legends, a lot of the useless additions like Hillbilly Jim and Nikoli Volkoff have been dumped in favour of real names, like Bret Hart, Mick Foley and …er…Brutus Beefcake, aka Ed Leslie, The Booty Man, The Man With No Face, Furr Face, Zodiac, Disciple or as he’s most commonly known, the guy who follows Hogan around like a bad smell.
This isn’t good enough, THQ. I appreciate that it does take a long time to put a guy into the game if he debuts a couple of months before the release date, but there’s no excuse for lowering the number of guys in the game, and leaving out some fairly big names who have been around for years.
It’s the usual, I’m afraid. In short term bursts, there isn’t a rival to the Smackdown! series, in terms of wrestling games. But there is no way you’ll be playing this game in a year’s time, unless you want to practice before Smackdown! 7 comes out. If you’ve got online capabilities, this will probably hold your attention for longer than the usual effort from Yukes and THQ, but the lack of wrestlers and match modes, as well as a finite season, means that you’ll be done with this game long before this time next year.
Overall (Not an average)- 7.5/10
Yup, I’m giving this a lower score than Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain. There just hasn’t been enough done to take the game to the next level. From the small roster, to the lack of match modes, and taking into consideration the fact that there isn’t a lot to keep you coming back again and again, I’m more than a bit disappointed. A few weeks ago, I didn’t have high hopes for the game, because THQ hadn’t announced one thing that had me saying “Wow”. I suppose that I don’t hate the game, and I’ll be playing it for a while, but it’s not really a sound investment for people who can’t get online, and already own Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain. I’d even go so far as to recommend HCTP over this game, to anyone who has never played a Smackdown! game. It’s cheaper, the roster and season mode is fairly similar, you’re only missing out on one more (poor) match type, and I consider SD!5 to have the better CAW system.
THQ are the market leader in the western world, as far as wrestling games go. And now that they don’t have the Legends Of Wrestling series to challenge them, I suppose that they think that they can relax and just release a game that’s barely an improvement, knowing that it’ll sell well. Maybe that is the case, maybe it’s not, but Smackdown! Vs Raw isn’t groundbreaking, and I think a lot of people won’t be happy if the go out and buy it, especially if they already own Here Comes The Pain.
Better luck next year, THQ.
UK: £29.99 (PS2)