PlayStation 2 Review
Sat, 11 December 2004
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While the first few games in the Smackdown series (which begun on the original Playstation) always looked flashy, their gameplay often did very little for me. But the games have continued to slowly improve, to the point where now I believe they fully deserve their massive popularity. Last yearâ€™s Smackdown Here Comes The Pain is held in very high regard by many gamers, especially those who are also wrestling fans. So this yearâ€™s effort - Smackdown vs. Raw has some pretty big â€śwrasslinâ€ť boots to fill.
This isnâ€™t the massive improvement that the last title in the series was. But it is still an improvement. Sports game like EAâ€™s titles and other yearly updates arenâ€™t usually known to eclipse the previous yearâ€™s offering. Occasionally they do, but usually they just throw in some cool extras, more polished graphics and a few tweaks here and there. It is fair to say that if you played Here Comes The Pain to death, this one is going to seem pretty similar. The way I see it though, if it was 10 years, 6 years, 3 years, or even 2 years since the last game, such relatively slight improvements would be a total let down. But only one year later, on the same system, they are enough to make it worthwhile. Ok, the roster is rather less impressive and the story mode is a bit less involved in some ways, but the graphics are better, the sound is better and the gameplay is better. Iâ€™d say that should be enough to be happy with, so cheer up you cynical bastards.
Graphically Smackdown vs. Raw is excellent. The character models have improved noticeably since the last game (and they already looked pretty fantastic). They are extremely well animated, feature great facial details and realistic textures. They look very much like the real life wrestlers they are supposed to represent, including all the little individual mannerisms, poses and taunts. The long hair still looks quite bizarre at time, but it is slightly better than past efforts and by no means bad enough to ruin things. These really are some of the most impressive character models I have seen on the PS2 or any other console. You can tell theyâ€™ve worked hard to make the females, or â€śdivasâ€ť as WWE insists on calling them, look as sexy as possible. Theyâ€™ve done a fair job of it too Iâ€™d have to say. As far as polygonal females go (which admittedly isnâ€™t very far) they are pretty sweet. All of the wrestlerâ€™s flamboyant entrance sequences have been rendered so faithfully in Smackdown vs. Raw that if you squinted your eyes (or had a few too many beers) you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching the actual television shows. The different arenas all look very convincing too. The crowds are colourful, many of them hold various signs just like in real life and they move just enough to seem lively. Though the audience is made up of mostly flat 2D people with a couple of frames of animation, in the front rows there are a few 3D dudes mixed in. This works much better than youâ€™d expect, your eyes are naturally focused mainly on the action in the ring, so you really do get the impression that there is a large audience watching. All these factors add up to make Smackdown vs. Raw the most realistic and best looking WWE game yet.
The sound is a bit of a mixed bag. In the career mode each wrestler has recorded a voice track so they actually speak all the lines that go on in the story. Thatâ€™s a great addition, but unfortunately most of the time the way they read their lines is eerily reminiscent of a porno and about equally as convincing. Some fans may dislike this, but not me. I found the terrible acting hysterical and considering how cheesy the storylines are it fit in pretty well. It all seems to have been written in a distinctly tongue in cheek way and when you hear them speak it seems as though the wrestlerâ€™s themselves couldnâ€™t take this stuff seriously. Hey, wrestling is quite often as corny as hell, even its biggest fans (and I am one of them) would have to admit that and the poorly delivered dialogue is perfectly in keeping with that vibe. It sounds like the recordings were rushed, as not only are the lines delivered in a half-arsed manner but their sound quality is a bit off also. Thereâ€™s commentary included during the matches, by either Michael Cole and Tazz or Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, depending on if the bout is taking place on Smackdown or Raw. This could use some improvement because, although delivered well, most of the lines get repetitive very soon. The commentary teams also introduce pay per views and comment on the backstage shenanigans during the career mode. It definitely adds to the atmosphere and helps you feel like you are part of a real WWE broadcast. The sound of the crowd cheering, booing and chanting various things is highly effective, as are the other sounds- punches, slams, chairs over the nogginâ€™ and so forth are all accounted for.
Musically it includes many of the same licensed songs that featured in Day Of Reckoning on the Gamecube. I got sick to death of them pretty quickly in that game, so you can just imagine how annoying it is to have to sit through them all over again. Fortunately you can turn them down in the options menu. On the upside, nearly all of the wrestlerâ€™s real entrance music is included.
The control system for Smackdown vs. Raw is superb. Thereâ€™s such variety to the moves you can do and, once you get the hang of it, all of them are quite simple to execute. The circle button is used to set up grapples, along with one of the direction arrows; up for power grapples, down for submission moves, left for signature moves and right for quick moves. Once the grapple has been locked in you can pull of a variety of moves by once again using the direction buttons. There are various striking moves available using the X button. You can attempt to counter your opponents using L2 against strike attacks or L2 for grapple attacks. Then you have Running moves, top rope moves, submission holds for downed opponents, finishing moves and much, much more. This is the best playing Yukes developed wrestling game yet.
The computer AI is a bit patchy. Sometimes it goes nuts on the offence and you have to work hard just to get back up, other times itâ€™ll just seem to forget what it is meant to be doing, like it has suffered one concussion too many. Turn it up to hard and it usually works much better.
New additions to the gameplay include meters that appear while a submission hold is applied; if you time it correctly you can escape holds more quickly or even reverse them. Also there are now â€śchop battlesâ€ť which is not as kinky as it sounds; you have to time your strike just right (using another meter) as you and your opponent attempt to chop each otherâ€™s chest into mince meat.
The new thing most people will notice though has to be the ability to play as either a clean or dirty wrestler. Thatâ€™s right, through the wonders of technology we can now smell the wrestlers and choose whether we want them to have a fresh and pleasant odour, or stink like a big bag of poo. Just kidding, clean/dirty means heel/face (in wrestling speak) or good guy/bad guy. So as a clean wrestler you have to please the crowd by using high risk moves and doing stuff like obeying all the rules and generally being a pansy nice guy. As a dirty wrestler you basically have to cheat your arse off, which is much more fun. Perform these acts enough and you build up your clean/dirty meter (this game sure loves the meters). Once the meter is full you can either become essentially invulnerable for a while as the good guy or, as the bad guy, you can deliver a devastatingly powerful attack square into your opponentâ€™s knackers!
Thereâ€™s plenty to keep you busy in Smackdown vs. Raw. Every match type you can think of is here: parking lot brawls, elimination chamber, royal rumble, bra & panties (chicks only thankfully), table/ladder/chair match and all the rest.
The multi-player options are well looked after. You can play all the different matches against others, some of them with up to six people if you have the right set up. This is also the first game in the series to incorporate the ability to play online. Unfortunately you can only play online in a straight up one on one match.
For the single player, along with the story/career mode there is the â€śchallenge modeâ€ť which set certain criteria that must be met in a single player match. One of the stipulations is beat John Cena in a hell in a cell match without using the L2 button. There are many of these challenges included and the incentive is good; complete them all and you earn things like extra arenas to wrestle in, or move sets to use in the create-a-wrestler mode.
Speaking of create-a-wrestler, this yearâ€™s is a little easier to manage, but still very in depth and, therefore, time consuming. I really dig it though, I made an absolutely killer looking Incredible Hulk.
The roster is a bit less impressive than in Here Comes The Pain, but still nothing to sneeze at. There are a couple of vanilla newcomers that nobody is ever likely to choose, but thatâ€™s not the programmers fault. There are several legends that you can earn including my man Bret â€śHitmanâ€ť Hart, Andre the Giant and The Legion of Doom (Road Warriors).
Ok, I think that just about covers everything. Smackdown vs. Raw might only be a fairly small step forwards, but I think it is a step well worth taking. I have been totally hooked all over again. Most fans of good action and fighting games should get something out of this one and all hardcore wrestling fans should definitely buy it.
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Current world champion of WWE games