WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 preview

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw (SvR) hit a high point in 2010 with a load of gameplay tweaks and more options for user-created content than fans dreamed possible. In fact, SvR 2010 was so good that it seemed unlikely that SvR 2011 could make any drastic changes to the series, and that is precisely the point. SvR 2011 isn’t out to change the face of WWE games, but it does aim to transform its predecessor from a stock car into a high-performance machine.

The first thing to catch my eye during a hands-on preview was how amazing each of the 70+ superstars looked. The level of detail is simply astounding, from the smallest line of Orton’s tattoos to Jericho’s blond five o-clock shadow. Muscles that stretch and flex beneath the skin bring each wrestler to life like never before. The crowds are still lined with repetive characters, sometimes standing in conspicuous rows, but more often than not, you’ll be far too busy to notice.

As witnessed last year, SvR 2011 has almost every type of match you could ever want. There are eight initial choices, including One-on-One, Fatal 4-way, and Royal Rumble, but each choice branches off into more options. Alone, One-on-One offers 14 different matches, including the destructive possibilities of TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs), Inferno, and Hell in a Cell. And, if you don’t see the match you want, you can probably create it in the new Match Creator. It’s a three-step mode that allows you to manipulate every aspect of the environment, win conditions, and rules.

There are quite a few gameplay tweaks entering the ring this year. Most importantly, signature moves can be performed as soon as they are ready, whether or not the opponent is dazed. Pins are no longer tied to certain grapples and performed automatically, which never made sense in matches like Royal Rumbles, in which pinning is not the objective. Corner controls are also being greatly improved, and players can look forward to new punishments, like hanging opponents upside down from the turnbuckle.

Road to Wrestlemania is back, which tells the backstage tales of John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Christian, and Chris Jericho. Another option, Versus The Undertaker, tasks less popular characters, and possibly your created character, with taking down the Deadman himself. Road to Wrestlemania is a story-based mode that lets you interact with characters, roam the halls backstage, and perform side-quests in return for stat bonuses. Although I’ll leave final judgment to the review, I wasn’t digging it. The dialogue was ludicrous, even by WWE standards, and the controls were unruly, to the point of struggling to navigate a square room.

WWE Universe is the core of SvR 2011. It was a little bewildering at first, if only because of the sheer amount of power lurking inside. The AI generates a full schedule of matches for you to play or even skip through, similar to a standard career mode. The difference is in your ability to tweak every facet of the experience. Wrestlers can be swapped in and out of matches, rivalries can be formed and broken, crowd reactions can be dictated, and superstars can move among brands, much like Edge’s recent expulsion from RAW.

If a match in Universe arises that you don’t like, or you simply feel like punishing your most hated rival with throwaway matches, it can all be changed with a few clicks of a button. Created superstars and quickplay matches can even be thrown into the mix. Obviously, the ability to change everything on a whim removes the permanence of a normal career mode, but it’s important to remember that it is only an option. Players are equally capable of playing match after match without any adjustments.

User-created content is the future of SvR 2011, and Universe only represents a fraction of the series’ improvements. Story Designer, which debuted last year, blew fans away with the ability to create their own stories with dialogue, camera angles, and props, but the mode had serious limitations. Now, up to 15 superstars can be written into the story with an unlimited number of appearances. If that isn’t exciting enough, designers can insert numerous branches into their stories to offer other players a bit of Choose Your Own Adventure gameplay.

Create a Superstar is back (was there ever a doubt?) and is as powerful as ever, and don’t forget to tailor your signature moves and arena entrance while you’re at it. All of this user-created content can be be posted online for other players to download, which created a sore spot last year. It was frustrating to download a story that had the potential for absolute greatness, if only one tiny little bit of dialogue could have been changed. This time around, THQ will offer players the opportunity to modify all content downloaded from other players.

There is no doubt that SvR 2011 has the potential to take the series to a new level. This is the age of user-created content, and THQ is embracing it wholeheartedly with modes to tailor every aspect of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. It’s a shame that recent developments are unable to be included, such as Cena’s loss to The Nexus, or even The Nexus itself, but it’s hard to complain when you have the power to create them.

And, for the record, Wade Barrett is so much cooler than John Cena.