XBox 360 – THQ – $59.99
THQ brings back its yearly moneymaker WWE SmackDown vs. Raw with a revised visual look to the game and brand new Create-A-Story mode. Since its inception on the Playstation in 2000, SmackDown has been an annual franchise that has continuously worked to improve itself with updated graphics, gameplay, new match types and, most importantly, user customization.
Taking pages from some real life WWE programming in its story mode while keeping as up to date a roster as possible with each iteration, there is an instant appeal for sports entertainment fans to pick up this game and play out the role of their favorite superstar or their own custom creation.
The gameplay of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is very similar to the previous years. Players move their wrestler with the left analog stick, use the right stick to lock up in to a grapple and use various combinations to perform specific moves. This isn’t like a standard fighting game where complicated button presses are needed to pull off “special” moves like the complete circle on the DPad needed for Zangief’s piledriver in Street Fighter.
Hold the right bumper and hit the right stick to lock a grapple and then pick a direction on the right stick to hit a power move. For general strikes, the X button is used with a different left stick direction causing different attacks. Various other buttons allow for different offensive and defensive maneuvers depending on location like throwing the opponent in to the turnbuckle, grabbing a steel chair out from under the ring and smashing it over your opponents head or putting them through the Spanish announce table (which still lacks announcers Hugo or Carlos).
The control and action of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 plays out in a very easy to control and streamlined manner. Subtle changes to the ease of running attacks have improved upon last year’s formula while the core mechanics have stayed largely the same, just more refined. Revised this year is the Royal Rumble match which now includes a button pressing minigame as opposed to button mashing as it was in past games. The addition of the Championship Scramble match to coincide with WWE’s new match type is also a fun and frantic feature added to this year’s game.
The only real gameplay weakness still lies in the game’s AI, mostly in matches containing more than two superstars. It becomes increasingly frustrating in tag team matches when a player hits their finisher maneuver over and over on an opponent but constantly has the pin broken up by the opponent’s teammate while their teammate sits idly by watching from the corner.
The referee being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being the target of a move which ends up changing the momentum of the match is also bothersome. While AI errors like this are few and far between, they become increasingly annoying with every repeated offense.
Returning as always to the game is the Create-A-Wrestler mode which allows players to customize every facet of their ideal superstar. As some of the most hardcore fans of the game have shown, it is possible to create any WWE Superstar, living, dead or fictional, that a player can come up with and have incredible levels of detail. Added for the first time this year is the ability to draw on logos and tattoos to their superstars, further increasing the level of customization. Players are able to share these creations with an unlimited amount of users with an easily navigated server holding created wrestlers, moves and stories with a full rating system to bring up the cream of the crop.
New to this year’s game is the Create-a-Story mode. Players are given the opportunity to bring their dream WWE stories to life using the full roster of the game as well as their created wrestlers. Stories can be anything from one show to years long where players pick the match ups, interview segments and backstage moments.
With a fairly extensive set of canned animations that could be edited with different text and facial animations, players plot out what they have dreamed to see the superstars do but never got the opportunity to in real life. While it is a great first attempt at the mode, the options for special animations run out rather quickly.
While promo segments can be kept interesting with well done dialogue, there are only so many backstage incidents where a car can run over a superstar, narrowly miss hitting someone or blow up and have it still make sense. Luckily, it only needs to make sense to the player creating it or those who chose to download it over the service.
SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 uses the Road to WrestleMania as its story driven mode, this year featuring six different stories to choose from. The Created Superstar storyline allows players to use any of their created wrestlers (obviously) who works on making their way up from nothing to the main event of the biggest show of the year.
Randy Orton and Edge, both “heels” (bad guys), each get a chance to shine in story mode this year which has usually be reserved for the “babyfaces” (good guys) in the past. Mr. WrestleMania, Shawn Michaels, sets up the Showstopper against a group of superstars looking to end his career. WWE Diva Mickie James headlines the first Diva’s storyline to a WrestleMania rematch of epic proportions. Finally, Brand Warfare takes players through a story with John Cena and Triple H as they try to prove which is the dominant WWE show, Raw or SmackDown.
All of the stories fit in well with the WWE Universe and what has happened in the past. Even with some of the raunchy or absurd stories in the past (like Triple H “making love” to the head of a corpse in a funeral home), the stories in WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 feel like they could possibly take place during a real WWE Broadcast.
Graphics and Sound:
The look of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is the most visually impressive ever in the series. The absence of the large and awkward HUDs and inclusion of small details like the “WWE Live” logos make the game feel more like a broadcast than a video game. Should someone walk by quickly, they make actually think the match happening is a real show. Added to this year’s game are real time bruising of superstars’ bodies and a new blood mechanic. Now, players can relive the Great American Bash match of 2006 where Batista bloodied Mr. Kennedy so badly that Batista was coated in his opponent’s blood in epically gory detail.
Hair animations are not yet perfected and still clip some and the new rope mechanic where someone’s foot or arm can pull a rope towards the center of the ring occasionally break the streamlined visuals. The most glaring visual flaw comes from the eyes of characters that look like glass marbles. This isn’t noticeable in matches but closeups during backstage scenes bring this to light.
The sound quality of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is split. The game puts tons of effort in to making the moves of superstars feel like they have a ton of impact behind them. Bodies sound and look like they should be battered and broken. The entrance themes pump and fireworks explode as a superstar enters the arena. But at the same time, the generic commentary of the announce teams gets old quickly.
They also sound like they were recorded at a sound stage and don’t have any of the urgency or punch of a live event. This carries over to the voice over of superstars during the Road to WrestleMania. While some superstars give better deliveries of their lines, they are still just that. Lines. It never feels like the superstars really mean what they are saying like they would on a WWE broadcast when they are in the heat of the moment in front of a live audience.
As a whole, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is a good game that takes what it has done right in the past and continues to polish itself further in the areas where it did lack in previous years. Like most yearly franchises though, it doesn’t feel like a new game and each improvement has less effect on a someone who has picked up one of the more recent iterations as opposed to someone who is new to the series or hasn’t picked up a copy in years. What WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 does do best though is give the most realistic WWE Broadcast experience yet to a video game.
As each year passes, THQ gets closer and closer to that perfect experience and this game is an admirable attempt. Perfect for the diehard fans of the series with its unprecedented level of customization of both superstars and storylines, it is also a great jumping in point for any wrestling fan who hasn’t come in to the video game world yet.