Platforms: PS3 | Xbox 360 | Wii | PSP
As with any yearly sports franchise, it can be difficult striving for innovation and freshness each year. Last year, though, THQ circumvented that issue by stuffing in more content for your money than a KFC bargain bucket. It was glorious, busting open the halls of the WWE and inundating the layer with game modes.
Smackdown vs RAW 2010 (SvR hereafter) was a staggering achievement. Beautiful to behold, crammed with detail and options, it allowed the player to put as much of his or her stamp on proceedings as they liked. It wasn't perfect, the core engine has to change sometime, but it was head and shoulders above 2009's effort. How the hell would Yuke's and THQ top that game with 2011?
Wrestling is a curious brand of sports entertainment, and it's important that those two words go side by side and weigh the same. Balance is everything here and convoluted plotlines involving extra-marital affairs, supernatural resurrections, beatings, backstabbings, broken promises and unholy alliances are just as much a part of the WWE experience as piledriving someone through a table.
Thankfully the developers understand their source material perfectly. It's unbelieveable how much renovation they've done - the main menu is a glittering affair of flashing 'New' symbols - whilst still maintaining everything that has made the series great up to this point.
First place to start? The biggest, and best, overhaul to proceedings: WWE Universe. Customisation bleeds into absolutely every part of the game, and no more so than in WWE Universe. Essentially a mash-up of Career and GM modes, the Universe throws up endless combinations of matches for you to play through. Don't like them? You can change them. In fact you can change whatever you want to change, micro-managing stables, setting up absurd matches like a No-DQ, TLC, Last Man Standing affair inside the Elimination Chamber if you like, and offering up title opportunities as you see fit.
But, don't worry, if you just want to play your way through what is, in essence, an endless Career mode without tweaking a thing, that's fine. I found it to be a lot like Forza 3 in a way, everything handles dynamically - in SvR 11 that means loyalties, friendships and alliances change and shift - and everything is noted. The mode will start tailoring matches to respond to your choices and preferences and you can tweak and fiddle as much as you like, or just leave it to the intelligent system to sort things out whilst you leap into the ring as soon as possible.
Those looking for a more scripted experience, though, are in for a treat too, courtesy of the returning Road To Wrestlemania mode...only this time, there's a difference. What was in previous years a series of simple matches bound by a twisting and turning storyline has been expanded. Now there's a backstage area for you explore like a very mini sandbox, chat to other wrestlers, take on little fetch missions, and start the odd fight if you want to.
It's a welcome idea, certainly, but unfortunately the execution leaves much to be desired. You see, the handling in this backstage area is clunky to say the least. On top of that, invisible walls pop up if you happen to step too close to a random conversation, canned animations mean than even if there's an open door you can't walk through it until it's closed again and you've pressed 'Open Door', and having to push someone three times before they'll fight you rapidly becomes a bit of a mission. Simply having a contextual 'attack' to initiate brawls would have been far more satisfying. There's an RPG mechanic too, to a certain extent. But it makes no visible difference really and the level requirements are so high that you have to spend hours grinding out those backstage battles if you want to get anywhere near maxing out your wrestler. Again, nice idea, but needs development. I'm not even going to start on the lip synching...just know that it's diabolically awful.
Thankfully, the storylines are excellent. Chris Jericho's is a quintessential tale of backstabbing and generally being a bastard to everyone, John Cena's sees the feud with Randy Orton return with some deliciously silly one-upmanship but by far the best tale of all is one you can embark upon with your created wrestler, which sees you challenging The Undertaker's 18 win streak at Wrestlemania. It's over-the-top, completely ridiculous, full of supernatural theatre like a violent pantomime and it's absolutely brilliant. I mentioned Create a Wrestler, well now you can design pretty much anything you want from crowd signs to entrance videos, finishing moves to complete move sets. Want to make a 7 foot giant in a dress who can do backflips and finishes people with a Hurricanrana and waltzes into the ring to Maneater by Nelly Furtado? Yeah, you can do that. Now you can have up to 50 created wrestlers on your roster, and 10 of them involved in storylines.
Then there's the multiplayer too, with every match type represented online, including Royal Rumble...with up to twelve players slugging it out over the course of the 30 man match-up. It's utter carnage and it's a hell of a lot of fun. Moreover, sharing and rating user content is better than ever and ratings can now be given on a number of factors rather than simply scored overall between 0 and 5. Now you can not only create rich narrative tapestries of complete absurdity and share them with a whole bunch of people, but you can put in decision points and allow for multiple outcomes.
There are improvements to the action in the ring too. Tables, chairs and ladders now answer to the laws of physics: they'll shatter, splinter, bend and break. You can aim and direct powerbombs and suplex landings. The wrestlers themselves looks better than ever, glistening with sweat during prolonged matches, muscles flexing realistically as they move about the ring. The crowd looks more dynamic than ever if a little blocky, the canned animations more full, multi-layered, and more diverse than before, all adding to the atmosphere and spectacle.
Unfortunately, there are still a few little niggling issues that have plagued the series for years that are still there. For example, at the start screen with Cena against Orton, running and doing a spear will showcase that the interactions between players is still mightily clunky at times and, although physics is now incorporated into the use of the items, when certain moves connect with a body, the game stutters as if unsure for a nanosecond how to deliver a result. There are still moments when you'll put someone in a sleeper hold and watch your arm disappear into your neck, and don't create a superstar with a cloak...whenever you run, the elbows will just rip straight through the fabric at the back. Reversals are still something of a grey area too, particularly when it comes to chain grapples and armbars. They're far too easy to break out of, and melee reversals more often than not come down to being a matter of complete chance.
In spite of those little niggling issues, you'll be hard pressed to find a game that isn't Fallout: New Vegas with quite as much bang for your buck. It might be OTT, frequently silly, a little childish and often ridiculous, but that's why we love it, and it's clear that Yuke's do too.
- So. Much. Content.
- WWE Universe is fantastic
- Some good ideas in the Wrestlemania bits...
- ...though some are poorly implemented
- Niggling visual glitches
- Still a little clunky and rough around the edges in places
The Short Version: Overall, SvR 11 is a massive success, a worthy upgrade and a must for wrestling fans. There are some cracking new ideas, WWE Universe is an absolute treat and the multiplayer is a delight. Although a few little issues drag the game down, Yuke's and THQ have delivered a package that'll once again delight series stalwarts and yet remains accessible enough to hopefully entice a few newcomers in as well.