WWE Smackdown vs. RAW
System: Playstation 2
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes
Released: November 2004
Genre: Pro-Wrestling
Capabilities: Dual Shock 2 Analog Control, Memory Card Compatible, Multi-Tap for up to 6 players, Network Adaptor for up to 2 players

Review Written: November 11, 2004

Yukes and THQ are back for a sixth straight year with the WWE Smackdown series on Playstation consoles with the latest entry in the series being titled, Smackdown vs. RAW (SvR). The main new additions to this year’s game are actual voiceover by WWE superstars in the Season mode, a brand new Create-a-Belt mode, and for the first time ever in a WWE console game, online play! However, some of these new additions aren’t executed as flawlessly as I’d imagined which results in diminishing what could have been the ultimate WWE game to own this year.

Before I get started, I’m sure you all want to know who’s in and who’s out of the roster this year. A lot of the big names are here as always like Triple H, Edge, John Cena, The Undertaker, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, and Randy Orton. Legends are back too this year, 11 in total, with even bigger names added this time such as Andre the Giant, and the often requested Bret Hart. The extra legends actually took away from the amount of active wrestlers, as a noticeable amount of familiar names aren’t included such as Eugene, Spike Dudley, Lita, Maven, and La Resistance.

Gameplay remains mostly the same in SvR, with a few new, but pointless, additions to the game engine. There are now pre-match mini-games such as a stare-down battle, and best of five slugfests which involves doing simple button combinations that are prompted on screen or controlling a meter that almost exactly replicates the kicking meter off the Madden football games. There are also chop-battles during matches that happen by doing a specific button combination in a turnbuckle grapple. I only mildly enjoyed the chop-battles, the pre-match mini-games I loathed as I don’t find them to mix well with the fast paced gameplay SvR has to offer. The other main new feature to the controls this year is the ability to fight “dirty” or “clean,” this feature adds another meter by your character bar and it increases as the wrestler performs the respective traits for each tactic. “Dirty” wrestlers will tear off turnbuckle pads, pose outside the ring, and beat upon the ref, “Clean” wrestlers pose inside the ring, and do high-risk aerial moves to increase their bar. The payoff for maxing out the bar results for “Dirty” wrestlers being able to pull off a shift-stealing low blow move, and “Clean” wrestlers being temporarily invincible.

I haven’t really loved the Smackdown gameplay engine that much to begin with, but it is really starting to get on my nerves in SvR. The button mashing meters that are here to bust out of submissions will cause sore thumbs for everyone, and brings back horrible memories of the grapple meter Acclaim used in their Genesis & SNES wrestling games. The way the wrestlers move in the ring just doesn’t have that natural feel it does in Yuke’s WWE Day of Reckoning game on the GCN, or AKI’s much acclaimed N64 wrestling titles. Counters seem to be rewarded on dumb luck, and not actual skill. There are also major clipping issues when wrestlers are on top of tables. That’s not to say SvR doesn’t have its bright spots. I do like the character stamina gauge, and the ability to execute up to 16 moves out of a front grapple. The thing is this is the first time in a while the bad outweighs the good this year, Yuke’s desperately needs to give the game engine a makeover, it has been showing its age badly.

The Season mode is back, and the new superstar voice over added really adds to the experience while playing through it. A lot of the under card talent such as Mark Jindrak, Charlie Haas, etc. don’t sound all that enthused in the delivery of their lines, more so like they’re being forced to read a script. Thankfully, guys like Kurt Angle, John Cena, and Eddie Guerrero do a tremendous job on their voice acting, adding in all their little trademark quotes too. Vince McMahon actually does the best job, he sounds so damn convincing in his lines, almost exactly like his television interviews. The actual Season mode is still one calendar year long, though depending upon which roster brand you pick you’ll miss out on a couple months worth of programming when you’re brand isn’t scheduled for a PPV that month. The storylines are of their usual greatness this year; expect lots of unexpected allies and foes, and trying to win the eye of the various WWE Divas. It only took me about a solid six hours to finish a Season, but I do encourage multiple play-thrus due to several different endings for it depending on whether you play through the storylines as a good or bad persona. You also win ‘WWE Cash’ each week that is used to unlock Legends, Arenas, and Create-a-Wrestler move-sets. One major drawback of the Season mode is the plethora of loading screens, I swear it seemed like at least 30-45 minutes of each Season is spent on loading times. It’s almost a whole minute of loading, if not more for each week of play, but once you get adapted to it, you’ll go through a few Seasons in no time.

The biggest gameplay addition this year is online play. Regrettably, it fails to deliver the goods. There is one plus however, and that is the ability to wrestle with your own created wrestlers online. However, when wrestling with two created wrestlers I experienced significant lag throughout my match. With that exception, all my other online outings went rather smooth. THQ must have found lag in a lot of other match types in testing periods because the only modes of online play available are singles match-ups, and bra-and-panties matches. There isn’t even user profile stat tracking for win-loss records, and imagine how cool it could have been if we would be able to set up 8 or 16 man tournaments to compete in? So overall, the online play seems more like a stripped-down afterthought, than how great it could have made this game.

As usual, there are over a good dozen match types available for offline play for up to six players. All of your standard WWE match types are here like Cage, Hell in a Cell, Tables, Ladder, TLC, Hardcore, etc. The Elimination Chamber and Bra & Panties matches that debuted in last year’s Here Comes the Pain are back. Elimination Chamber is easily one of the best match types out of the whole game. The only new match type this year is the Parking Lot Brawl, which mildly resembles a fight in the recently released Def Jam: Fight for New York, as wrestlers can interact with the vehicles surrounding them by smashing them into the hoods. The Royal Rumble match got a new makeover this year, as wrestlers don’t go over the rope as easily as before with the new ‘ring-out’ meter that is added for each wrestler, this makes it an incredibly more enjoyable affair for everyone.

Aside from removing the ability to create taunts, all the creation modes are back from last year, plus a couple of new ones. Stables and move-sets can still be created. The create-a-wrestler is insanely in-depth as you can create almost any superstar that is not in the roster with the thousands of textures available. Although I do wish they import that excellent entrance editor that is in Day of Reckoning over into the Smackdown series. The Create-a-PPV mode returns after a four year hiatus, last being seen in 2000’s Know Your Role on PSone. Finally, belts can now be created with many different types of faceplate models being available. However, the fancier the part, the more WWE Cash it’ll cost to add on, but these belts can be defended on created PPV’s for bragging rights against your friends.

I didn’t think Yuke’s could improve upon the superb character models for the wrestlers in last year’s game, but they managed to give them all a complete overhaul this year. Most of them look excellent, as Ric Flair, Edge, Bret Hart, and countless others look nearly identical to they’re real life counterparts. There are a couple iffy ones like Chris Jericho, and Garrison Cade, but for the most part Yuke’s did an excellent job. All of the moves are also animated to perfection, with each wrestler’s trademark moves like HHH’s Pedigree, and John Cena’s F-U receiving a new makeover to showcase their impact. The entrances also look fabulous as all the superstars perform their trademark struts and poses on the way to the ring, complete with their pyro’s and entrance movies. This time around, the legends all have their authentic entrances and theme music too. Most of the wrestlers have their actual entrance themes this year, minus a couple superstars (Flair, Stacy). SvR also borrowed a page out of Day of Reckoning and included licensed soundtracks from rock artists such as Breaking Benjamin, and Powerman 5000 in an impressive soundtrack which bests the generic guitar riffs of old that populated past Smackdown titles. Commentary is back after being absent in Here Comes the Pain, as both announce teams of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler and Tazz & Michael Cole are here to call the action. They do a decent job too, as they have several specific things to say about each star, and don’t get as repetitive as older Smackdown titles did.

Ultimately, this is another good effort from the folks at THQ & Yuke’s, but the new additions aren’t executed as great as they were in Here Comes the Pain last year. The gameplay is starting to get pretty stale, and the online play is a major disappointment. However, the insane amount of match types available, and the best Season and Create-a-Wrestler modes out on the market makes up for it, and will keep any WWE enthusiast happy for another year until the next sequel. If you’ve purchased the past Smackdown titles and enjoyed them, then by all means go out and pick up WWE Smackdown vs. RAW.

Graphics: 9.1
Sound: 9.2
Gameplay: 7.0
Replay Value: 8.1

Overall: 8.3

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