WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 review
I foolishly requested this game to review after seeing the very promising WWE All Stars at E3. I hadn't played a WWE title since 2003's Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain, and was curious to see what great strides developer Yukes and publisher THQ had made over the past decade. I came away from my experience disappointed, annoyed, and perplexed. If you're a diehard WWE fanboy (as it seems most of my fellow reviewers in the industry are), you may want to avert your eyes.
I seriously don't even know where to start; everything about this package is painfully subpar. Immediately notable is the game's presentation, which is to say that it barely has any. There are layers upon layers of convoluted menus to dig through, but ignoring that for a moment and just focusing on the in-game action, I'm astounded at how utterly boring everything is, especially for a sport built around flashing lights, pyrotechnics, and over-the-top theatrics. The characters and environments look like they were ported from the Wii version of a PlayStation 2 game, with the Backstage area being the worst offender.
Acting as a hub between matches and story events during the Road to Wrestlemania mode, Backstage is a perfect showcase for Yuke's half-assed attempt to cash in on what makes WWE so popular. While gracelessly maneuvering the bland, Wolfenstein-esque corridors, my ridiculously-dressed John Cena would encounter familiar faces to interact with. You can talk to some of them, or you can push them, like a little girl. If you push them enough and their feelings get hurt, you will then get into a backstage brawl, which is not nearly as exciting as it sounds due to controls so poor that even Backyard Wrestling outshines them. Most of the divas will simply say the same bitchy thing to you over and over, even if you just won a tag team match with them as your partner. At one point Stephanie McMahon glitched out (I'm assuming) and just kept repeating part of a phone call, complete with such blatantly crude lip-sync that even extras in a Godzilla film would sigh with disdain.
In order to progress the story, you must walk around and talk to specific characters to unlock a match for that venue. Unfortunately for all of our sakes, all of the voiceovers were apparently recorded after each wrestler had been dosed with enough Valuum to kill a whale oof medium-to-large proportions. The words they're saying are supposed to be aggressive and exciting, but the way they're saying them almost puts me to sleep. I will admit, John Cena occasionally has some semi-witty comments, but I'm too busy trying not to nod off during the amateurish dry readings to care.
I had an unhealthy obsession with Stacy Keibler and Chrissy Hemme once upon a time, and thanks to the magic of TiVo I actually became rather well-versed in all things WWE. As ridiculous and staged as it all is, the wrestlers commit 100 percent to the drama they're creating, and that makes it work in some inexplicably preposterous way. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is completely devoid of that commitment, and the entire experience suffers greatly because of it. All of this compounded by the most annoying, claustrophobic Backstage camera I've encountered in a long time.
When you finally make your way to the ring, you're met with stale entrance cinematics, extremely limited commentator dialogue, and burdensome controls. Yukes hasn't just been making (at least) one WWE game every year for the past decade, they've been working almost exclusively on wrestling games since the studio’s formation in the early '90s. They own a majority share in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the top wrestling promotion in Japan, and this is the best they can come up with? If I did the same thing every year for more than 10 years, I hope I'd be considerably better at it than Yukes is at making wrestling games.
Movement and combat is clunky at best. You can do quick or charged melee attacks, grapples, Irish whips, run, use chairs and tables, and pretty much anything else standardized by the sport's real-life counterpart, but it just doesn't feel right. There is no fluidity to the combat. No impact. I could bash two Undertaker action figures together making crashing sounds with my mouth and that would be a more exciting scenario than most of the matches here. It doesn't help that the game is a few generations behind in terms of visuals, but even simple things that shouldn't be a problem can and will go awry, like staying locked onto the opponent that's attacking me (rather than the computer abruptly deciding that I'd probably like to bodyslam my tag partner instead).
There are a lot of cut corners that pulled me out of the experience time and time again. For instance, I was accidentally disqualified for drop-kicking a female tag team opponent (instead of tagging out to my own female partner) at the beginning of a match, and the following scene showed Cena rolling on the ground like he had got his ass whooped. It's a small touch, perhaps, but when weighed together with everything else that's wrong with this game, the negatives are insurmountable.
So what's to like? There is a new Universe mode, which dynamically changes based on the actions you take across all modes. Everyone seems to be really talking it up, but in its newborn form, I wasn't particularly impressed. The concept intrigues, however, and I hope for fans' sakes Yukes continues to improve it so that, with any luck, it might be a worthwhile feature in Smackdown vs. Raw 2021.
I had a hard time finding online matches unfortunately, but should you fare better than I, there is an all-encompassing suite of modes available over Xbox Live. Any type of match in the game can be played online, but be warned that everyone I’ve spoken to is reporting notable lag to be quite common. The 30-Man Royal Rumble has also been added to the online options, though the max players are limited to 12. If you're thrown out of the ring early, you will join the remaining queue in place of one of the AI characters. Sounds kind of fun, actually. Too bad the desolate multiplayer never gave me the chance to find out.
The one area WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 truly manages to shine is in the customization and creation department. You can customize every single facet of the game, from creating unique wrestlers, new moves, fan signs, or even building your own story arcs and individual scenes from top to bottom. You can literally orchestrate an entire season however you see fit, then upload it to THQ's community servers for others to download and play. It's a very robust system, but also a very complicated one. Only the most determined will see it through to the end, and only the most talented of that bunch will come up with anything worthwhile. Still, should the lackluster quality of the rest of the game not bother you, there is an abyssal level of replayability to be found.
Quite bluntly, THQ should be ashamed of themselves. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is not representative of the sport's flamboyant pedigree, let alone befitting a game released anytime after 2005. It is so reprehensibly constructed and targeted directly at the lowest common denominator that fans and gamers alike should be insulted, as I was. The Universe, online, and creation features are compelling, but the foundation upon which they are built is so decrepit that it completely invalidates the meager value this game has to offer.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360 & PS3]