WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Nov 01, 2010

SmackDown vs. Raw 2011, which comes hot on the heels of a significant upgrade in last year's model, is here to satiate our hunger for wrestling action. Once again, it's time to step into the squared circle and see what's under the hood.

The Pros
  • WWE Universe mode is a significant upgrade over both Career and Exhibition modes.
  • Physics changes and tweaks make matches like Hell In A Cell much more exciting.
  • Creating characters and finishing moves is still hilarious fun.
The Cons
  • The famed SDVR button mashing is back in full force, with quick time events that don't always work.
  • Road To Wrestlemania is a good idea gone wrong.
  • Graphics and presentation could use some work.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 Review:

Having been a wrestling fan for most of my life, I look forward each year with bated breath to a new game that illustrates what's going on in the WWE universe, with new playable and unlockable characters and new ways to beat, rack, torture, and humiliate my opponents. And, for a great many years now, going back to playing on my PS2, THQ have been releasing SmackDown vs. Raw games to sate that hunger.

So, here we are again with a new version, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011, coming hot on the heels of a significant upgrade in last year's model. Once again, it's time to step into the squared circle and see what's under the hood.

We've Got A Great Show For You Tonight, Ladies And Gentlemen...

SDVR 2011, like all wrestling games, plays out in two arenas, both inside and outside the ring. Before the referee rings the bell, let's take a look at what's happening backstage. One of the first things you'll notice, and one of the most significant improvements in the game, is the WWE Universe mode, which combines elements of what used to be Career Mode and Exhibition Mode. It allows you to either watch as Raw and SmackDown episodes and pay-per-view events play out, or step in and play any of the matches on the card, changing the flow of the universe's storylines significantly. Play as either an established or  created character, and the moves you make will lead to any number of cutscenes and storyline changes that play out over a number of years. You'll need to work your way up the ladder if you're going to be taken seriously, but that's the fun of it, isn't it? And it is quite fun, indeed.

The flipside of that, however, is the Road To Wrestlemania mode, which puts you in control of a character as they play out the weeks and months that lead up to Wrestlemania. Sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? And it is, except the execution, which plays out a little like a wrestling RPG, falls flat. You'll wander around backstage to listen in on conversations or engage other wrestlers, and even brawl with them, in an effort to gather points that will allow you to visit the backstage doctor and level up your moves and your resistance. It's a pretty clunky system overall, and a lot of it doesn't seem to make much sense. Also, the lack of any environmental elements or music somehow makes the whole thing depressing overall.

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Making His Ring Debut...

As it has been over the past couple of years, the Create Your Superstar mode in SDVR gets a lot of attention. There aren't too many changes from last year's model. You can still create a wrestler, give them new duds, level them up (although you can max level them without having to do any work, so why you would weaken your own character right out of the gate is anyone's guess), enter them into a storyline, create a Highlight Reel, and share it online. The best part of the whole deal, though, is creating a finishing move, wherein you can string up to ten maneuvers together and make it your finisher. While that's not new, the ability to create those moves out of a corner position is, and it's a delight. It's especially hilarious to watch your character do things that no human being on Earth could actually do.

If you don't want to create your own superstar, have no fear. There are more than 70 established WWE superstars from which to choose, and others to unlock or to download in the future. Some of that DLC has already been announced, and, if you sign up for Fan Axxess (for a price), you will be able to play in the very near future as members of the Nexus, or in a WCW-branded ring.

The Following Match Is Scheduled For One Fall!

Over the years, the real Achilles' heel of the SmackDown vs. Raw franchise, and almost all wrestling games period, has been the control scheme, which will leave you frustratedly button mashing until you are literally screaming at your television and throwing your controller around the room. (I'm looking at you, SDVR 2004!) Though some finesse has been added to the process, I'm sad to say that you will still experience that feeling as you are trying desperately to kick out of a pin or avoid being thrown over the top rope in a Royal Rumble match.

Also, all of your defensive maneuvering happens via quick time events which flash up onscreen when you're supposed to use them. For the most part, they don't seem to work, or are, at least, arbitrary. Neither tapping the appropriate button nor holding it down seems to change your fate in these circumstances, and, of course, once you go down, there is a latency period that makes it impossible for you to move or do anything else.

The news isn't all bad. There's a new physics engine that makes the animation a bit more realistic, and helps not only the wrestlers, but also the objects they encounter, behave more realistically. Also, tweaks have been made to such match types as Hell In A Cell to eliminate the frustration of being pinned against the cage with nowhere to go, and, thankfully, room has been added to better aid your wrestler in making outside-the-ring moves.

Also, you can now take any kind of match online, including Royal Rumble matches, and, though there's a very little bit of lag, they are definitely more fun to play against a number of other people. You can also upload your created storylines and have them rated by the public at large.

He's Going Old School!

The final knock on SmackDown vs Raw 2011 is the fact that the presentation throughout just seems lackluster, and like a game from the previous generation. Sure, the physics are better, but the characters still don't look as good as, say, Fight Night or EA Sports MMA. Also, the voice acting is pretty awful in a lot of cases, and it sounds and seems like sentences were frankensteined to make them work, with weird pauses between words. All of this has the combined effect of taking you out of the game, which is just no fun.

And That's The Bottom Line...

It seems as if Yuke's and THQ were more concerned with adding new bells and whistles to this year's version of SmackDown vs Raw than they were to really addressing some of the problems the game has always had. This makes sense, because you have to stay competitive in a market where every game that comes out has a ton of new content, but I'm pretty sure there will always be a market for a wrestling game, regardless of whatever else is coming out that season.

This isn't to say that SDVR 2011 is a bad game, but maybe next year should be spent really working on and honing the mechanics to take it to that next level before thinking about how much more you can do with the concept. I'm a fan, and I probably always will be, but I would love a game that makes even the most hardcore fighting gamer sit up and take notice.


Still want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?