For the past couple of years, I've been reviewing SmackDown games, a franchise I've never denied being a fan of and never shied away from being incredibly tough on. Two years ago, I said the game was good by giving it a 7.5, and a year later I said the title had made just a bit of progress and gave it a 7.8.
As someone who has been buying these titles since they debuted on the PSone, I'm thrilled to sit here today and tell you that WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 isn't good -- it's great. For a while now, the THQ franchise has been putting pieces of greatness in every game -- Road to WrestleMania, the Highlight Reel, etc. -- but they've never come together. This year, enough pieces come together to get the most jaded fan off the couch and into the squared circle.
Are you ready for our video review?
If you've missed all the coverage on IGN, SVR 2010 is the latest installment in THQ's annual wrestling series. This time, you're getting 67 Superstars and Divas, a handful of match types, and a whole bunch of modes. Road to WrestleMania (the six story-driven, character-specific tales) is back, along with the Create-A-Superstar-honing Career Mode, and the ability to record match moments and edit them into a Highlight Reel.
Basically, all of the cool stuff from SVR 2009 has returned, but there's oh-so-much more.
The biggest thing WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 has going for it this year is the fact that it's embracing its community. For years, fans like me have had to lurk on Internet message boards
while sharing formulas for creating the ultimate version of heroes gone by. Those days are gone. Here, you'll be able to create characters, Highlight Reels that can double as entrance movies, as well as finishing moves and upload them to the SVR servers so that other people can download them, search for them by keywords, and rate them.
Still, the biggest gem in this year's crown is Story Designer. Last year, the game introduced Road to WrestleMania, uber-specific stories that were focused on a particular character. That mode is back this year. The stories focus on Edge, HBK, Mickie James, Triple H/John Cena, Randy Orton, and your CAS -- but Story Designer gives you all of the tools to make your own tales. You're getting more than 100 preset scene animations that range from giving a speech at a podium to someone getting hit by a car to someone finding a briefcase. You take these scenes and put whomever you want into the animation roles and then tweak the camera angles and music. From there, you can input your own text and have the Superstars/Divas say whatever you want them to. If you're in love with Story Designer like myself, it's also worth pointing out that both the PS3 and 360 support USB keyboards for crafting your tales.
Want to create a story about Jericho falling in love with the Bella Twins? CM Punk quitting the Straight Edge Lifestyle? Mark Henry missing Mae Young? All the pieces are here for you to create those epics.
You'll take these scenes and use them to set up matches on calendars that can last for up to 10 years. If someone gets wailed on in a scene before a match, you can go in and set the health for individual parts of the body. If you want a run-in, you can choose who will run in. If you want someone to lose by DQ or win by count out, you can set those stipulations so that the player knows what he or she needs to do. Every belt is available to put in a story and assigned to a given Superstar or Diva via the character select screen.
This is groundbreaking stuff, people. All of these stories -- whether they're one show or 10 years of WWE programming -- can be uploaded by the creator and downloaded by other players for free. This is an endless stream of free content to keep your grubby little mitts on your controller of choice. This means that all the storylines you wish would happen in the WWE or that you see happen on TV can now become a videogame reality.
When I was writing out Create-A-PPV plans in my high school notebook, this is what I was dreaming about.
Of course, there are hitches to this mode. For starters, you can only use Created Superstars 10 times in a given story. Mind you, that's not 10 different Superstars; that's 10 appearances by a given hero. Maybe your one CAS is in five matches and five scenes, but you get just those 10 slots. Toss in a second CAS, and the number begins dropping even faster. Personally, I don't get why this restriction exists because I know how many of you were dying to take your cast of created crazies and insert them into tales all their own -- and I know I was excited to give Gruesome Greggy's BYWF counterparts some limelight -- but it is what it is. It sucks, but it doesn't overshadow how awesome it's going to be to take any of the 67 Superstars/Divas, as well as a handful of NPCs, and put them into plays written and directed by you.
While I'm mentioning Create-A-Superstar, it's worth noting that the entire feature has been overhauled. THQ went in and put an emphasis on creating 3D models for all the clothing and parts you can pick so that the finished products have a chance at standing up to the real Superstars and not looking completely fake. The final result is a bit of a mixed bag. Hands down, the characters look more realistic than ever, but there are some nagging issues.
IGN fans know that my backyard wrestling persona is Gruesome Greggy. Gruesome's a pretty easy dude to create: overweight, brown hair, a pair of sunglasses, t-shirt, suit coat, slacks, and Converse shoes. Every SmackDown -- hell, even WWF WrestleMania 2000 -- has been able to create this guy pretty much spot-on. However, SVR 2010 has a new limit on how much stuff you can have. See, before when it was just t-shirts getting painted on bodies, the game restricted you to a certain number of layers your characters could have. Here, with things being 3D objects, each item has a point value so that you need to pick and choose how to spend your 48 points when creating a character. Somehow, my simple list of items is too much for the game to handle. Either Greggy's got to have shades and no pants or pants and no shades, because the suit jacket accounts for so many points.
Another letdown is the fact that the number of names for the announcers to call you has taken a nosedive. This year, there are just 35 audio names, and they're all generic stuff such as "The Samoan" and "Thunder." The actual names are long gone.
Scrambles aren't just for eggs anymore.
All that sucks, but the mode still does a lot right. I've never seen a SmackDown load CAS parts this quickly, the characters do look good, and the new Paint Tool means that you can create outfits that will look like Superman, RVD, or whomever you're trying to replicate. See, SVR 2010's Paint Tool allows you to create whatever logo or image you want with the system's simple but detailed widgets -- line, pen, paint can, etc. All of that detail accounts for zero points, but hair, shoes, pants, coats, and shirt are too much for the CAS system to handle. It's frustrating, but you get over it when you see what the game has to offer.
Sticking with CAS, things are a bit different this time around when it comes to earning your attributes and abilities. Last year, the game launched and forced created players to go through the Career Mode to take their sub-50 overall rankings to something respectable by participating in Career Mode matches. Trouble was, you didn't get to decide how your points were applied and the Career Mode was a snoozefest. This year, Career Mode is back and mostly untouched, but you'll be earning attribute points by the handful for any match you take a CAS into no matter the mode. If you want, you can even enter your CAS into matches as a computer-controlled character against a computer-controlled opponent and bank the points at the end of the match without every playing. Thankfully, you get to apply the points to whatever attribute category you want when all's said and done.
Personally, I dig this year's spin on leveling-up created Superstars. Now that I'm not forced into the boring Career Mode and can level-up no matter the match I choose, I'm fine with applying my own points. I know that the kids who want to make armies of characters might be disappointed to have to go out and earn the points and cooler abilities, but it's nowhere near as limiting as last year's game.
Speaking of last year, those Road to WrestleMania stories are back, and once again they are extremely well-done and entertaining. Each one is 12 weeks or so of WWE matches and scenes. For the brand new option of taking your CAS into the tale, you'll find yourself starting in the front row before being insulted by Santino and making your way into the WWE. From there you'll go on a tear for the Intercontinental title, take on Vince, and more that I don't feel like ruining.
What makes these stories stand out from last year is the fact that there's quite a bit more interactivity. In the Mickie James story, you begin dating Brian Kendrick and need to choose between him and an increasingly creepy Natalya. When JBL launches a Shawn Michaels Retirement Campaign in HBK's story, they'll come a time when you need to decide if you'll accept Bradshaw's blackmail demand. It's these little moments where you get to choose whom you take out or what you want to say that make these instances interesting. It made me feel like I was playing the role of that character in the WWE.
A few other nice touches are the optional and mandatory goals for some of the Road to WrestleMania matches. These tasks -- leap off the top of steel cage, beat someone in a few minutes, etc. -- are cool in themselves because they unlock characters, costumes, and areas, but the fact that most are introduced with the Superstar explaining why he'd want to do something really drives home your reason to do whatever it is you're being tasked with doing. Shawn Michaels' whole story is showing that he's not ready to retire, so you feel for him when he explains why he's going to vault off the cage or bust Jericho open.
And now we come to the heart of the matter on why WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 succeeds where so many of its predecessors have failed -- presentation. In short, this game feels like you're watching WWE programming at times. When you finish selecting the competitors for a match, it flashes "World Wrestling Entertainment" before taking you to the standup screen before the entrances. Choose to go on, and there's a fast load (9 seconds on the PS3 and 12 seconds on the 360) before you're launched into entrances. If it's a championship match, you get the screen with the belt on it before the ref holds up the title and you're kicked into the ring. For the first few moments of the match, the "WWE Live" logo appears in the bottom left corner, and when a bout is over, the show copyright pops up. That ugly HUD from years past has been dumped and replaced with a simple halo around your Superstar's feet, too.
These are tiny touches that make the whole package shine.
Getting beyond visual enhancements such as the new camera angles, there's a bunch of tweaks under the hood. The Havoc engine is being used for the first time in a SVR game for physics, and it's mainly accounting for how the characters interact with the ring ropes -- their arms getting tangled in the ropes as they kick out and such. This leads to a number of goofy instances where people are crazily tangled and then miraculously freed, but it does help the ropes react more realistically when getting pulled on (watch Christian choke a guy on the bottom rope by standing on his back) and when people pass through them.
Time for the new and improved Royal Rumble.
Meanwhile, a number of new moves have been added to the game's repertoire. The controls are still left stick to move and right stick to grapple, but there are now chokeslams and other moves from the apron; the ability to execute grapples on the sides of downed opponents; and Collar & Elbow, Side Headlock, Rear Waist Lock, and Wrist Lock strong grapples that each come with four moves apiece.
I don't know if that sounds like a game changer on paper, but I assure you it is in this title. The way this game moves feels more fluid than any version that's come before it. The fact that you can turn opponents from their bellies to their backs, seamlessly move from one strong grapple to another without breaking the hold, and so much more makes the game move in a way that's completely refreshing while being completely familiar.
Another nice addition is the move to one reversal button. No longer will you have to click one button to reverse strikes and another to reverse grapples; now, one shoulder button does it all. It might sound easy, but you only get one shot at tapping the reversal for a given move and the window is pretty tiny. I've been playing quite a bit, and I only now feel like I'm getting in the rhythm for when to properly use it. Being able to duck under HBK's superkick after he's gone through the whole rigmarole or wiggle off of Cena's shoulder before he can deliver the FU is an amazing feeling -- especially when it looks this good and is accessible enough that you never feel completely out of a match.
While we're talking about improvements, I'd be a fool if I didn't touch on blood. I've never hidden the fact that I'm an old school ECW fan, so I like my wrestlers bloody. When I first saw the "new" blood in SVR 2010, I was a bit disappointed. It always pops up over the left eye and starts off looking like a blob of strawberry jam. What makes this blood great is that it moves. After busting an opponent open, keep wailing on his noggin and watch the blood spread. The blood will engulf the left eye, it'll drop onto the opponent's chest, and then it'll splash back on your chest. Now, it isn't moving in front of you. It just jumps from state to state, but it's jumping during big punches or slams into the turnbuckle so it makes sense and isn't weird.
In the Shawn Michaels storyline, there's a goal that challenges HBK to bust open Jericho to prove he still has fight left in him. Slamming Y2J's head into the exposed turnbuckle and watching the blood get worse and worse with every slam was one of the coolest close-ups I've seen in a videogame wrestling match.
Never mind that after slugging it out with Jericho, HBK's knuckles were coating in his blood. Simply awesome.
Although a majority of the match types are stuff we've seen before -- the Inferno Match, Extreme Rules, and so on -- there are some new tweaks and new bouts. Remember how much the Royal Rumble has sucked for, I don't know, all time? This year, you're going to participate in one of several mini-games to eliminate opponents/fight to stay in the ring. When you have a guy against the ropes, you'll grapple with him and kick off a game where you need to tap whichever button is lit up on the screen. Pull off the taps faster than the opponent, and you hurl him over the top rope. For a corner elimination, three buttons will pop up one at a time. First person to nail them wins the moment. Sometimes, foes will go over the top rope and land on their side on the apron. You'll start pushing the guy with your foot, but to actually shove him out, you'll have to stop a bouncing line in a sweet spot a few times in a row.
If all these mini-games aren't your cup of tea, everyone also has Royal Rumble finishers. These are one-hit moves that eat up your finisher and knock opponents out of the match when they're on the ropes, apron, etc. There are 18 of these finishers that can be as simple as a powerbomb but can be character specific feats such as Sweet Chin Music, GTS, and the Pedigree. When you're creating a Superstar/Diva/CAS moveset, you'll be able to choose which Royal Rumble Finisher you want.
Before I move on from the Rumble, it's worth pointing out that this has been given the presentation gloss as well. The event starts with the ring announcer welcoming you to the event and explaining it before introducing the participants who drew the first and second slots. When someone gets eliminated, you'll see them freak out on the outside before walking backstage. When it gets down to the final three and then the final two, there are in-game cutscenes of the participants reacting to the fact of the matter.
Similarly, Championship Scramble makes its debut this year in the 5-, 10-, and 20-minute varieties. Here, Superstars enter at preset intervals until five guys are in the ring. When time expires, the last person to score a pinfall or submission is crowned the champion of whatever title you've been fighting for. Again, presentation is rad here with the announcers walking the viewer through the rules before the beginning of the match.
Finally, your Created Superstar can walk the Road to WrestleMania.
Also popping with "new" next to their titles are the Mixed Tag match option and Backstage match. Mixed Tag is just a girl and a guy taking on another girl and guy. When a member of the opposite sex tags in, the other team has to follow suit or face a DQ; just like in every other mode, there's no guy-on-gal action allowed. Meanwhile, the Backstage bout gives you access to five locales behind the scenes (No, you can't brawl to those locations from the ring.) where there are interact-able objects. The "Backstage Arena" has laptops to smash over people's heads, the locker room has a door to throw people through, and so on. You can only win this type of match by a knockout.
On a smaller scale, First Blood matches now have specific moves you can do at the opponent's head to try and draw blood, TLC/Ladder matches have characters wear down quicker to make their slow ladder climbs seem more realistic, as well as sport a cone of light so you know the perfect spot to climb in, the weapon wheel is in color in the Extreme Rules Match, and the ref now follows you in the Falls Count Anywhere match. There are still no entrances for the Elimination Chamber, but you can climb to the top turnbuckle this time.
Similarly, Create-A-Finisher is back and adds the ability to create diving moves, but if you saw the mode last year, you know what to expect this year. Online matches are here, but they're the same four-man song and dance you know from last year. I played a few matches and had a bit of lag, but it wasn't unplayable by any means and could've just been my connection.
Seeing as how most of the matches were solid last time, I'm fine with the developers leaving them as they were. The blood-drawing moves in First Blood are nice and I enjoy the new pacing of ladder matches along with the cone of light to guide me in. Plus, the championship you bring down is the one you take home; there's no swticheroo like last year. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed participating in a Royal Rumble match, so the new mini-game format totally had me pumped to start trying to see how long I could last, and the Championship Scramble is as much fun as it sounds. I know I haven't really dwelled on the match types, but that's because there's no real reason to. They're solid and fun; so that's all you need to know.
Oh, you also need to know that although auto-targeting is on in multi-man matches, you can once again manually target opponents if you like. This is a godsend.
We'll be doing a full head-to-head of the PS3 vs. the 360 version in the days to come, but on a broad level there isn't that much of a difference and that's why the games are getting the same score. The PS3 has a seven-minute install, but it loads stuff faster than the 360 and seemed to download content quicker as well by quite a few seconds, but nothing too amazing because most stuff was under a minute across the board. Meanwhile, the graphics are a bit more colorful on the 360 and pack a tiny bit more detail, but the PS3 can upload Highlight Reel clips to YouTube via an in-game option and the 360 can't. One oddity I found was that there'd be an occasional, split-second pause in PS3 matches. Not every match and not even every other match, but once in a while, there'd be a blink-and-miss-it stutter.
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