Also On: Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Release Date: Friday October 23rd 2009
Age Rating: PEGI 16+, BBFC 15
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw is one of the longest running game franchises being sold today. So long in fact, that I actually had to go hunting to find out exactly which title was the first in the series and when it was released. First released as WWF Smackdown! on the Playstation back in 2000, the series has gone on to be one of the most popular franchises around, selling approximately 47 million copies worldwide. The series has gotten its fair share of critical acclaim over the years as well, despite suggestions that sometimes the game doesn’t offer enough improvements or new features over the previous year to make it worthwhile. This year Yukes and THQ have returned to try and up the ante once more in their effort to create the ultimate wrestling game, and you know what? They may well have succeeded.
Like virtually every version that’s gone before it, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 offers a few changes here, a smattering of improvements there, and some new features to go with it. It’s one of the new features that will no doubt be the most lauded by fans as it quite simply is one of the best new features to be added to the series since it began. The Story Creator is the thing dreams are made of for many a Smackdown vs. Raw fan. In the Story Creator you can let your imagination run wild as you create a near limitless amount of stories. From single show storylines to a 10 year long work of script writing brilliance, the Story Creator gives you the tools to do it. Fancy creating a story where Randy Orton decides to join D-Generation-X? How about recreating the storyline where Stone Cold Steve Austin was run over by a car? What about a storyline that culminates with The Undertaker finally losing at Wrestlemania? Story Creator lets you do all this and so much more.
It really is easy to use as well, while also allowing for some genuinely deep customisation. You start by selecting the show you want to create a story in, then deciding whether to have a scene or a match. A scene can be a variety of things, from an intro to the show, from the commentators chatting pre-match, to a contract signing, to the aforementioned running over of someone with a car. Each scene is customisable, allowing you to pick the characters involved, what text they may be speaking, the emotions they’re conveying, the location it happens in, how long the scene is, and more. Do you want to have Randy Orton attack John Cena before a title match, injuring his legs? You can create a scene that shows it, and then set Cena to have leg damage at the start of his match. How about Batista running down and interfering in the match as well? Yup, those options are there for you. As mentioned as well, these stories aren’t just limited to a single show either. If you have the time and patience, you can craft a story that can last up to 10 whole years. The amount of options you are given will allow some of the more creative people out there to make some truly exceptional storylines.
Of course though, what good is spending several days of your life creating the best storyline the WWE has ever seen if no-one other than yourself is ever going to see it? Fear not, as SvR has begun to really embrace its community, allowing for user generated content to be shared by everyone. This means that any storylines you create, any wrestlers you painstakingly recreate, any innovative finishing moves you think of, all of them can be shared and downloaded by anyone. This gives the game so much longevity as there are bound to be countless creative people out there who will completely fall in love with the Story Creator, banging out stories that rival the WWE programming we watch on TV today.
The Story Creator isn’t without its little problems however. Text entry can be a pain if you only have a pad to use, though the game does score points for allowing you to use USB keyboards if you have one to hand. My biggest beef however, is that you’re limited to only 10 appearances by your created superstars in any given storyline. That can be 10 appearances in scenes, or 10 matches, or any combination of the two, but that’s it. And that’s not just 10 appearances per created star, it’s 10 appearances in total for all your created superstars. It’s a baffling restriction to put in place so I can only imagine there are some technical reasons behind it, but if you were hoping to create yourself in the game and make a story that puts you in the spotlight for several months, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Hopefully it’s something that can be fixed with a patch at a later date, but really it’s hard to complain too much when you consider just how much is available for you in Story Creator.
The Create-A-Superstar section has been changed this year as well, partly for the better and partly for the worse. Now when you create a wrestler you have a limited amount of points (48) you can spend on the items of clothing he wears. On most of the standard wrestlers I created I didn’t find this to be an issue, but when trying to create a different look for the cut-scenes I was often left trying to manage the points as best I could, sometimes having to remove a pair of shades or a hat from my wrestler. This is balanced out however by the new Paint Tool which lets you get creative with the outfits, as the images you create here don’t cost any points, so you can go wild here. The end result is a set of wrestlers who look better than they ever have before, whether it’s the pre-made superstars or the characters you make yourself.
The rest of the creation modes from last year are back as well. You can still create your own finishers, only this time you have even more options, as well as the ability to create dive finishers from the top rope, as well as front grapple finishers. The Highlight Reel from last year has been improved, allowing you to take highlights from your matches and save them, which can then be made into entrance videos for your wrestlers. As already mentioned, everything created here can be shared online which makes spending the time on them worthwhile.
As far as game modes go, everything that was here last year is back again. The Road to Wrestlemania mode returns with new stories, featuring Triple H, John Cena, Edge, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Mickie James, plus a story for your created superstar, which is a nice addition. The career mode and online matches are here just like last year, as well as all the Exhibition match choices you would expect, with a couple of new additions. The Championship Scramble match makes its debut here, a mode which sees 2 wrestlers start the match, with another one entering at preset intervals, until all 5 participating wrestlers are in the ring. Every time someone scores a pinfall or submission, they become the temporary champion. When the final time limit expires, whoever is currently the temporary champion becomes the official champion, meaning the current title holder just easily lose their title without ever being pinned or submitting. The game also sees mixed tag matches, with guys and gals laying the smack down on each other, though every time someone tags in, the game forces the other team as well so it’s always guys against guys and girls against girls. The Backstage Brawl has been improved here, with the number of backstage areas increasing from 2 to 5 different areas. Perhaps the biggest improvement to the game modes comes in the Royal Rumble. This years sees the introduction of mini-games within the Rumble, where you may find yourself tasked with pressing the on-screen buttons faster than your opponent, or trying to stop a line in the sweet spot to get someone eliminated. Also new is the inclusion of Royal Rumble finishers, moves you can do when you have a stored finisher which will send your opponent crashing out of the Rumble in spectacular fashion.
Of course, all the game modes and different ways to create the look of your wrestler means nothing if the action in the squared circle is a let down, and thankfully SvR continues to shine as the most accurate representation of Sports Entertainment available. Just like on TV each wrestler comes equipped with literally dozens of moves each, from grappling moves to varying attacks, dives from the top rope to different submission moves. Despite the variety of moves available, the action is pretty easy to control, and learning the techniques has been made even easier this year, thanks to the introduction of the THQ Training Facility. The game takes you straight to the facility at the start of the game, with over 100 different tool tips popping up giving you all the guidance you need to learn the various ways you can put your opponent in a hurt locker. It’s a feature that’s so simple yet so welcome, and you have to wonder why it was never included in previous editions of the game. Anyone new to the series will find it a godsend as it will very quickly guide them onto the path of pain.
There have been a few changes to the actual wrestling action this year which have made it even better. Gone are the different reversal buttons for striking and grappling, instead replaced by a single button. Instead of being able to mash it constantly however you’re given just one chance to reverse an attack as it comes your way, and become competent at it is a key to defeating your opponents on the highest difficulty, as matches become battles of counters and reversals that at times are simply incredible to watch.
Also changed this year is the grapple system. Though it’s still controlled the same way with the right stick, each direction is assigned to a different grapple type, be it a Collar & Elbow, Side Headlock, Waist Lock or Rear Waist Lock. Each of these grapples can have 4 grapple moves assigned to them, as well as a striking move and a submission move, meaning you have a total of 24 offensive moves from the strong grapples alone. It’s a small but significant change that makes the game even more fluid than ever, as you can go from one grapple type to another without having to release your opponent between holds.
You will also notice a brand new HUD this year as well. Gone are the miniature bodies in the top corner of the screen which shows the limb damage. Yukes has decided to go for a minimalist approach this year with a simple halo around the feet of each wrestler representing their momentum. Rather than show the damage each wrestler is suffering in each area on the HUD, this year the game relies on visual clues to let you know where you and your opponent are suffering. This approach allows you to concentrate more on the action in the ring rather than the information dotted around the edge of the screen like in previous years.
Not only does the game play better than in previous years, but it looks absolutely fantastic as well. Each wrestler looks incredible and has been painstakingly recreated, and all of their moves have been made to look sufficiently painful. Not only does it look amazing in the ring, but outside it as well thanks to some exceptional presentation. From the introductions before matches, showing the championship belt before a title match, to the WWE logo and copyright notice that follows the end of a show, everything has been polished to perfection and there are times when you can really believe you are watching some real WWE programming. The audio doesn’t quite match the same standards as the commentators can sound a little bored at times, but it’s certainly not bad and the voice work during the Road to Wrestlemania mode goes some way to making up for it. The game contains all the intro music for each performer as well, using it as menu music, so whether you like the music selection will really come down to whether you like the real music or not.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 feels like the game Yukes and THQ have been trying to make for some years now. The addition of the Story Creator and the way they’ve embraced the community for allowing for all their creations to be shared are the two best things they’ve done with the series in years. When you add that in with an already top notch wrestling engine and plenty of games modes to keep you entertained, the end result is the best wrestling game in recent memory, if not the best wrestling game ever. If you enjoy wrestling games in the slightest, this should definitely be on your radar. I promise you won’t regret it if you give it a chance.
Final thoughts: THQ and Yukes have combined to create possibly the best wrestling game I’ve ever played, which is some compliment considering how good some of the games have been over the years. The Story Creator mode and the fact you can share stories just increases the games longevity enormously.
Gameplay – 9: The wrestling action remains pretty much the same as in previous years, though a few small touches here and there, such as the one button reversal system and the improved grappling, make a world of difference.
Graphics – 8: The wrestlers all look appropriately beefy and lifelike and they all animate excellently. Only a few minor clipping issues now and then stop it getting higher marks.
Sound – 8: The commentary is good without ever being great, the voice work is well done in the Road to Wrestlemania mode, and the music is the theme tunes from each real life wrestler. Hard to really complain at it.
Presentation – 9: Smackdown excels in the presentation stakes this year, to the point where a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking you were watching the actual television show. I struggle to see areas where it could be improved upon next year.
Overall – 9: The series has changed a lot over the years and this really does feel like the game they were aiming towards from the beginning. The wrestling action is as good as you’ll get, the presentation is exceptional and the ability to share your creations with the rest of the world adds that extra element which makes the game even better. Quite simply the best wrestling game in the modern era of gaming.