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In the past few years, the Smackdown! vs. Raw games have entered a niche market that has been near impossible to break out of for the developers. In last year’s installment, it seemed like they had completely given up on getting out of that market by delivering a game solely for wrestling fans. Its introduction of the WWE Story Creator mode was probably the best thing to happen to the series in a long time. In this year’s installment, Yukes introduces WWE Universe among even more additions. Some of which work out fine, most of which fall slightly short.
The aforementioned WWE Universe is by far the biggest addition to WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. It takes all the matches you perform in single player (excluding Road to Wrestlemania ) and blends them together to form storylines, and help people rise through the ranks to the point where they eventually earn title shots.
The actual idea of WWE Universe is something that at first seems like a wrestling fan’s dream. It makes storylines for you, leaving you the work of just playing the matches. This brings up the biggest problem in WWE Universe mode, though. You never really feel like you have any control over who gets the big push and who doesn’t. I worked for months (in game time) to try and push The Miz, placing him in main event matches constantly, and never had him fully rise to the point where he could get a WWE Championship shot. It feels similar to the actual WWE in a sense that the only people that seem to get big title shots are John Cena, Edge, Triple H, The Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels.
All of this could be easily reconciled by simply allowing you to mess with the number one contenders ranking; or allowing you to make title matches on your own. You can make matches, but for some odd reason the game doesn’t let you assign it to be a championship match or a number one contender’s match. There’s no reason for this whatsoever and it is by far the most frustrating thing in this year’s WWE Smackdown vs. Raw installment.
I’ve even witnessed the game break its own rules a few times. I would work my ass off just to allow Shawn Michaels to be the number one contender but out of nowhere, John Cena would get the title shot at the upcoming PPV. Another thing WWE Universe mode adds is that occasionally random story events will play out in-game (mostly before or after a match starts). They tout that they have “over one hundred cinematic moments” though I only witnessed around four separate cinematic's in around 10 hours of playing WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw. On top of that, they’re way too predictable. In almost every number one contenders match you play, you can bet that afterwards Vince McMahon will come out and say “Did I not tell you about your OTHER opponent?” and out comes Vladimir Kozlov or Mark Henry.
I hate on WWE Universe for its problems but that doesn’t change the fact that the mode will add weeks of replay value. It’s a great idea that THQ has came up with but if they would have ironed out some of its problems, it could have been truly revolutionary.
Last year’s “revolutionary” mode, the WWE Story Creator, is back though left mostly unchanged. There are a few new scenes but apart from that, I saw no changes. It was a great mode last year and it’s still pretty fun this year but mostly overshadowed by WWE Universe mode. Next year, they really need to add on to WWE Story Creator as I’m afraid it will continue to get overshadowed by more impressive modes. Making it more accessible could be a start.
Similar to the WWE Story Creator, Smackdown’s “create a finisher” mode is still here. This mode is one that never really became”overshadowed” by anything. I still have a blast trying to make an incredibly unique (though mostly awkward) finisher. This year, they added top rope finishers. The top rope finisher’s all look and feel tacked on. There aren’t many options for moves and they look even more awkward than the normal stand up finishers.
To add a bit of an “RPG” feel, this year, you can roam around backstage in the Road to Wrestlemania modes (where you go on a pre-written storyline that culminates in a big match at Wrestlemania). This particular addition doesn’t feel tacked on or unfulfilled like the others, it just seems entirely unnecessary. All you do is wander around backstage, find random superstars, talk to them, then usually have one of the most boring backstage fights you can imagine. You must also go to the trainer’s room and level yourself up (you gain EXP from fights). Road to Wrestlemania this year is surprisingly tedious, due mainly to the piss poor addition of roaming around backstage. If you’re going to add something to a really impressive mode like RTW, make sure it’s actually fun and doesn’t put me to sleep.
Yukes did manage to add something and have it work almost perfectly. This year, all weapons have a certain physics system in them that make them feel ten times more realistic than ever. Ladders crumple, chairs break properly, tables shatter, and all weapons bounce a bit. The most affected weapons are the tables and ladders. Seeing a ladder simply lean on a rope may seem incredibly simple but it really adds a sense of depth that has never been seen in Smackdown vs. Raw games before. The inclusion of the new physics system in weapons makes the gameplay ten times more fun and exciting. The TLC matches will become your favorite match types as throwing a man off a ladder just to have him then smash through a table never gets old.
The gameplay itself is still very solid. There aren’t many changes to it which is probably a good thing. It’s still a blast to work a 10-15 minute match featuring Edge and Christian. Moves have a realistic feel to them and the added fact that the match you’re in actually matters (thanks to the WWE Universe mode) makes it all the more exciting.
I complain about Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 quite a bit but the fact of the matter is, it’s still entertaining to play if you’re a wrestling fan. The WWE Universe mode will frustrate you occasionally but after a while, you can look over its many problems and see the true greatness. I still recommend this game to anyone that holds an admiration for wrestling. If you don’t, Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 won’t change that.