It must be tough working as a developer on a yearly franchise. They know that they’ve made important changes to the game, but the tweaks might be so subtle that gamers don’t recognise that this is the case. This year however, Yuke’s have made a special effort to ensure that Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 works differently to previous games in the franchise. The controls have been tweaked, Career Mode has been replaced by an all inclusive WWE Universe, and there have been changes to the Road to Wrestlemania story mode. The good news is that these changes are generally positive, and Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 will likely be a welcome addition to any WWE fans game collection.
The biggest change in gameplay is the new physics system that has been introduced for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Objects now react more realistically in a variety of situations. No longer will that table just be moved out the way by unseen forces if your Superstar performs a move near it. Your opponent (Or indeed you) could end up going straight through the table as it smashes into little pieces. Other ‘foreign objects’ also act more realistically in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Ladders for example will lean against the ropes, against the ring, and a variety of other places allowing you pull off a wide variety extreme moves. The new physics system certainly makes WWE Smackdown vs. Raw feel more realistic – if you can call pro-wrestling that! – and special match types are a lot more fun as a result.
Yuke’s have also made changes to specific match types for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 with Hell in a Cell in particular the most improved. The ‘demonic structure’ is now a full replica of its television counterpart. Now there is more than one persons worth of space between the ring and the cage, and weapons can be pulled out from under the ring for even more carnage. Of course, you can still get out of the cage in – this time by smashing your opponent through it – and unleash further mayhem outside and on top of it.
Ladder Matches have also changed for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011, but they still prove somewhat frustrating. You don’t need to spend as long wrestling with the belt/briefcase/prize of choice above the ring, but your opponents need to practically unconscious to give you enough time to do so. Ladder match AI can sometimes go awry as I saw in a Triple Threat match between myself, Vladimir Kozlov and Chris Jericho. My Superstar was out for the count, Kozlov was trying to grab the briefcase and Jericho just stood there and let him do it! Still the AI of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 generally works well overall – if less so in Tag Team Matches – but seasoned players will need to ramp the difficulty up to Hard or even Legend for a proper challenge.
Perhaps the most significant change for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is the introduction of the WWE Universe. The WWE Universe essentially combines Exhibition Matches and a Career Mode into one and the game will react according to how you play. The outcomes of matches will change rankings, determine future matches on the in-game schedule (though you can change or just simulate these if you’re not interested) and will create alliances and enemies for superstars. Of course, titles can change hands too but the challenger needs to be high enough up the rankings when a Pay-per-view comes along in order to do so.
Naturally, with this being the WWE rivalries and interference play roles in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 and they’ll develop you play matches in the WWE Universe. For example, playing a match as Matt Hardy vs CM Punk ended up with Drew McIntyre attempting to interfere, leading in turn to Big Show running down to the ring in order to even the odds. Matt Hardy and Big Show’s relationship improved because of this and they could eventually go on to form a tag team. Relationships between superstars plays a big part in deciding what cut scenes occurring before, during and after matches in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Enemies could assault you on their way to the ring, or after a match. In turn your allies could run to your aid, or even betray you . It’s all rather unpredictable but that’s what makes the WWE entertaining, and it’s a welcome addition to WWE Smackdown. vs. Raw 2011.
This year, Yuke’s have also made changes to the Road to Wrestlemania story mode for WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011. The biggest one of these is the fact your chosen Superstar can walk around back stage, interacting with other Superstars and performing mini challenges are essentially RPG elements. Completing matches, partaking in backstage ‘events’ (i.e. fights in the locker room) and finding hidden objects all give your Superstar experience points, which you can use to upgrade stats. It’s an interesting new system and it works quite well, but sometimes wandering between one end of the backstage area to the other in order to try and find someone to talk to (or pummel) can get tiresome. The lip syncing is completely off too which takes away from the ‘real’ life of a Superstar.
However, the actual stories in the WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 more than make up for the occasional lack of depth in the backstage area. There are five different Roads to Wrestlemania on offer each following a particular Superstar. You can choose John Cena (Yes, again.), Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Christian or a Vs. The Undertaker story. The last one allows you to play as one of four pre-determined Superstars, or one you’ve created yourself, as they try to end The Undertakers legendary Wrestlemania winning streak. Personally, my favourite Road to Wrestlemania story was Christians’ as it made me feel as I was watching WWE in 1999 all over again.
One odd thing about Christians’ story however is that it takes place on the ECW brand which was cancelled all the way back in February this year. There are also storylines that involve wrestlers who aren’t even on the books of the WWE anymore, and of course there are plenty of Superstars who’ve appeared this year that aren’t on the games already impressive roster. It’s a small annoyance, but one that could frustrate hardcore WWE fans.
Naturally, if you think someone deserves to be in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 you can always attempt to add them yourself using the create a wrestler tool. This feature remains mostly unchanged from last year, but you can still expect thousands of fan created Superstars to appear online for download. The option to create a finisher has also been tweaked for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 allowing you more freedom as to how you beat down your opponents.
Overall, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is an improvement over the previous irritations of the series. The improved physics of the weapons and combination of exhibition matches and a career mode into ‘The WWE Universe’ works well and makes every match played an interesting and enjoyable experience, even if they are occasionally let down by AI issues. Meanwhile, the Road to Wrestlemania storylines remain as enjoyable as ever, but the introduction of the RPG elements lacks some depth. Aside from that and a few other minor issues, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 a highly enjoyable game and is a must for any WWE Fan, and highly recommended as an enjoyable fighter for anyone else.
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 from 29th October 2010