Brad Ward weighs in on WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 which is THQ’s most ambitious Smackdown Game yet.It has been 7 years since i have formally reviewed a WWE Smackdown game, I felt since then the series has been much of a roller coaster and hard to really pin point to what the games identity truly is. This year the game really finds its moment in the history of wrestling games because WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is not about what the game tells you to do, it is all about what is YOUR MOMENT. So the thing that really stood out to me in this years game which has been a constant evolution through ought the years, but has been finally been fully realized is that the game is all about YOUR choice.

Creation options is something that this game has no shortage of and everywhere you turn it is all about what YOU want YOUR experience to be. So like in past years there is a full featured Create a Superstar Mode with a ton of parts and options to customize your superstar. The created superstar mode this year has not changed an awful lot from years past, but they have added some more parts and makeup options to add to your created superstar. One part of the CAS system that I really like is they have improved the layer system this year, so now you can freely move, delete and view your layers and even select design independently from the part they were applied to. One negative however is that for some designs, you can no longer use the transparency option.

Editing how your superstar looks is not the only way you can edit your CAS, you can also customize the move sets and there is a whole slough of pre created move sets from current WWE Superstars and In game legends. Also there is a ton of move sets for superstars not making an appearance in the game or superstars who did not make the cut for whatever reason. There is some disappointment found in the create a move set system, as it appears that a handful of moves have been removed, and there is even some duplicate moves in the signature slots.

I understand that is okay sometimes, because some superstars do not have a large arsenal of moves, but I am sure most superstars have at least 2 finishers and 2 signatures that standout. For the casual fan who follows their favorite WWE superstar, the movesets do the job pretty good and you will see moves like the Attitude Adjustment, Tombstone Pile Driver and even new moves like the Cobra and Futureshock DDT. All of the WWE Superstars Finishers for the most part are properly represented with the exception of Ezekiel Jackson.

With the ability to create our own finisher continues from years past and we can now choose the turnbuckle as a spot in the create a finisher, with a ton of different moves that can be done off the top of the turnbuckle, including the Pepsi Plunge. You are also able to once again edit the attires of WWE Superstars and WWE Legends, but this year there is a lot more different hot spots to change the colors of the WWE Superstars.

While we cannot change the parts of the superstars, with the added hot spots for changing colors on the superstars it will keep our game current in the ever changing WWE Universe. What would a WWE Superstar CAS be without the entrance, the entrance designer works just as good as it has in past years, and they have added a whole bunch of new pyrotechnic selections and there is about 8 or so generic music selections for your CAS.

While it is all fun and good to edit how your playable superstar looks, is represented and plays, something I always wanted to be in charge of my own WWE Universe. This year with the newly added more the WWE Universe is at your fingertips, think of it as exhibition + Career Mode + plus Smackdown 2 story mode with voice overs. It really is a combination of a bunch of different things as you get to control whether people are good or bad, who is champion and you get to play every event in the WWE calendar from WWE Superstars to WWE Wrestlemania, and is never ending. It is really the equivalent of the dynasty mode in Madden or a Franchise mode in NBA 2k. Not only do you get to play every match in the WWE calendar, you also get to view how people are ranked in a Power 25 like ranking system, view your champions and view the latest news update going on in your universe.

One thing that was really impressive to me in the WWE Universe mode is how the matches you play in quick play, play now mode integrates into your WWE Universe. The presentation in the WWE Universe is in a class by its own, because you will be playing a match and then all of the sudden, someone will do a mid match run in or you get Mr. McMahon trying to screw you over in classic Mr. McMahon fashion. The mode really is why a lot of people will be coming back to the game and make the wrestling game keep putting it in their system.

The road to Wrestlemania mode this year returns and we get to play as Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Christian and the choice of John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, R – Truth, Dolph Ziggler and your created superstar to face the Undertaker. As far as picking YOUR created superstar, it really has to be yours as if you download one off the community creations, it cannot be used in that mode, so you either need to write down the formula or make something from scratch.

The road to Wrestlemania story lines this year are a mixed bag. While they do present a story that is on level with the quality found on WWE television, something is just missing from them. To start off missing from them is the pyrotechnics and show intros which really added to the presentation in last years game. My belief is that with the addition of the somewhat open world featured in the game took away from the presentation of the road to Wrestlemania mode. They do use the open world as a interface to start matches, speak to figures of authority and do some random tasks that the game presents you with.

The mode features full voice overs for the superstars involved in not only cinema tics but also found wandering in the backstage area as well. The confrontations you have with the superstars are entirely up to you, but are encouraged because if not all of the challenges are completed in the game, you will not unlock key superstars such as Stonecold Steve Austin. Confrontations begin by either pushing a superstar or initiating a conversation. Some of the downfalls of the road to Wrestlemania are not enough to make or break the purchase however.

Added to this years game is also a full physics system, as we now see people realistically interacting with objects in the environment from the TLC match with the tables, ladders and chairs so now people will realistically crash and burn into ladders and the ladders will snap in half to the tables shattering into a million pieces to the chairs denting when you whalop your opponent with it. Also if you have an actual table match and you try to put your opponent through a table the table will buckle if your opponent is not beat up enough yet, which makes for some really realistic and interesting table matches.

This year instead of having table finishers, you are able to aim your finishers and grapples as well with the left stick which works not just for table matches, but works great for regular matches as well and the superstars will interact with the ropes and other parts of the ring as well. The Hell in a Cell mode this year got a huge upgrade this year, as the Hell in a Cell structure is just as big as it is in real life, there are more ways to damage your oponnent with the cell as well, as a new way to get out of the cell with breaking out of the side panels of the cell, which does a better job of keeping the action confined within the cell then previous years. The Hell in a Cell also has finishers this year as we will see moves like the Sweet Chin Music to the chokeslam being done as finisher on the edges of the cell. Backstage brawls has been upgraded this year too, as you can now fight in the parking lot, two different locker rooms, gm office and catering. The different brawls areas are taking from the open world backstage area.

The Grappling system has received a huge change this year as now instead of having to apply the RB or R1 modifier for strong grapples, they are now done by getting your opponent into a groggy state. This can be done a variety of ways such as corner clotheslines, ground pick up , brawler combo strikes and reversals. Tree of Woe position has been added to the turnbuckle positions as well the ability to lift your opponent up to the turnbuckle for a grapple such as a suplex. Much of the same gameplay returns with the signature finisher combo being attached to the Y button when you achieve full momentum. The targeting system has been moved to clicking the left stick and works quite well. There also comes a point where you have to tap the a button to get out of groggy state.

One great thing about the last couple of Smackdown games is they have not removed any match types, instead they have added upon them with a great new feature called match creator, which works very seamless with exhibition and WWE Universe mode. You are able to change a variety of options like environment, if you want post match celebrations, time limit and even the option to win by a finisher. So if you want you could make a match so you could win by submission at backlash in a inferno match ring. The options and combination’s are endless and will help with keeping the game from becoming out of date.

The online system this year has gotten an upgrade with the possibility of having an online Royal Rumble. Up to 6 people can play in the ring at a given time and up to 12 people can be connected to the session. So there will be 6 people or so waiting in the queue and is like a ladder or tournament mode in other fighting games. We have not had a lot of time with the mode but it has a lot of potential and should be a lot of fun with some friends.

Also as mentioned you can have up to 6 people in one match, including the Elimination Chamber. They have also added the WWE Shop where you purchase all of your download able content and there is a Fan Axxess pass where you get all of your DLC for free, ability to unlock everything and custom badges and icons for your WWE Prestige Profile. Like a lot of games these days a code is required to play the online mode, so on the back of your manual, is found a code to access online axxess, which gives you access to the multiplayer mode online. By itself if you obtain the game used is $9.99 for online access and $9.99 for Fan Axxess.

When you upload community creations and win matches you get prestige and there is 4 or 5 different overall rankings that start with trainee and end with legend. One huge thing they have fixed this year is you can now edit all creations locally on your Xbox 360. There is still a lack of online leagues this year but I am sure that will be remedied in future years, however we have leader boards that are broken down by match type, so it is not just an overall leader board ranking now. From the few matches i partake in they were lag free and played quite well. Just remember though that could change, but as of now the lag is non existent.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is oh so close from being the new Heres Comes the Pain but there are a few key components that stop it from achieving that such as some elements like some move set issues, presentation lacking in the road to wrestlemania modes and few odd presentation issues in the the game like the spinner belt still being shown in the pre match and the ability to defend belts in exhibition at anytime is slightly dissapointing.

However those things aside does not ruin the overall experience of how the game plays. WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is very fun WWE Smackdown game to play and plays very well and is stays at the level of being a very competitive wrestling game. WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is a product of the craft of THQ’s relentless pursuit of perfection, through the years with the Smackdown series they have always stayed as the champions of the wrestling game industry, even with having despair on their faces, WWE Smackdown series I believe has healed the wounds of past Smackdown games and this is the series MOMENT of Brilliance.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw fans this is YOUR MOMENT.

4 / 5 stars
+ WWE Universe Mode is so much fun
+ Editing community creations
+ Realistic lighting on character models
+ Realistic physics
+ Match Creator with endless possibilities
+ Christians Totally Awesome Road to Wrestlemania Mode
+ Online Royal Rumble and 6 guys on screen online
+ More match types for Divas
+ Rob Van Dam in a WWE Video Game!
- Some Moveset Inconsistancies
- Some lacking presentation in road to Wrestlemania
- Weird title belt defending in exhibition 

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