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WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw
game: WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw
four star
posted by: Eric Qualls
publisher: THQ
developer: Yukes
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:00 AM Thu Dec 9th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Thu Dec 9th, 2004

Click to read.The SmackDown! series has always been very good as far as making steady improvements each year.  There was always something new and different that set it apart and made the newest title better than the ones before it.  WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw continues this trend of improvement, but the changes you'll find in SvsR don't raise the bar nearly as high as Here Comes the Pain did over Just Bring It or Shut Your Mouth.  Despite only really being a half step forward rather than the giant leap we're used to, Smackdown! vs. Raw is still a very good wrestling title that will keep fans busy until SmackDown! 7: The Search for More Money hits next year.

 Like pretty much everything in SvsR, the season mode is back, but not really any better than what we have seen before.  In fact, it has taken a step or two backwards.  The overall story is more linear now, and there aren't as many points where you are allowed to choose what happens next.  Also, there aren't as many scenarios and storylines as there were before. This means that each time you play through the story mode you'll be seeing pretty much the same storylines just with different opponents.  This is very disappointing since Here Comes the Pain had dozens and dozens of different storylines.

Something new that was added to season mode this year is that most of your interaction with other WWE superstars is done with full voice work.  Each and every superstar recorded a ton of dialogue for the game, so now when someone calls you out for a fight, you are actually hearing their voice.  Your character still communicates through text, but most of the things the other superstars say to you is with their real voice.  This all sounds wonderful, but the sad truth is that a vast majority of the WWE superstars and divas sound really horrible.  You can place the blame on the lame script and the crappy quality of the recordings, but this just sounds exceptionally bad.   Also, you can tell that a lot of the people were just simply not into it because many of the lines are spoken with little emotion or feeling.  Some superstars really put an effort into it, but for the most part it seems that the voice work was a big fat waste of time.  

Another big fat waste of time is the online mode.  This is definitely the mode that got the most attention prior to release, but it also seems to be the mode that had the least amount of effort put into its creation.  You can only have either a one-on-one match or a bra and panties match.  That is it.  There are no epic six-man elimination chamber matches here.  No wild tag-team TLC matches.  Just singles and bra and panties.  There isn't even any sort of ranking or win/loss record system.  This is just bare bones multiplayer wrestling minus the trash talk you get with a person sitting on the couch next to you.  One good aspect of the online mode is that any and all CAWs (Create-A-Wrestler) are welcome, so it is fun to see all of the wild characters other people have come up with.  Other than that, though, online mode is super lame.  

The various creation modes have always been a big part of the SmackDown! series, and SvsR has a lineup that is sure to please.  The Create-A-Wrestler mode is much the same as before, but it has loads of new parts to use and a new interface that make it a lot easier to get through.  The only problems are the same things that plagued the game last year.  For example, you can't create custom entrances like you can in THQ's other wrestling games, which is very aggravating.  Your choices for music are better this year since there are now a number of licensed songs to go with all of the superstar themes and crappy generic music we've had since SmackDown! 2, but nothing can compete with the custom soundtrack option for Raw 2 on Xbox.  You can still create character that look exactly how you want and then assign them whatever moves you want, and that is really what counts, but I wish I had some more control over certain things that would really make a character my own.

Other creation modes include Create-A-PPV and Create-A-Belt.  The somewhat amusing Create-An-Animation mode that has appeared in the last couple of games is gone, but it won't really be missed.  Create-A-PPV allows you to create a card of up to eight matches with whatever superstars and stipulations you want.  Create-A-Belt is a fun mode where you get to make your own WWE championship belt.  From the type of strap, to the color, to the plate on the front, and much more, everything is up to you.  You can then defend your custom belt against your friends.  The PPV and CAB modes are supposed to work together in that you can create a number of custom belts and then compete with your friends in a sort of fantasy WWE.  It all works really well and makes multiplayer matches even more fun because they'll mean a lot more now that titles can potentially be on the line.  

An essential part of any wrestling game, or any licensed game for that matter, is that it is true to the source material.  For the most part, SmackDown! vs. Raw has all of the features you could want from a WWE title.  The roster is significantly smaller than last year, but all of the main superstars are here.  There are also a handful of legends that you can unlock, and unlike last year they all have their proper theme music and are all just about perfect.  Bret Hart, Andre the Giant, and Mankind are just some of the legends you can unlock.  As far as match types go, SvsR has every match from HCTP but adds a parking lot brawl to the mix.  The parking lot brawl is basically a hardcore match, but you can do a lot of moves on and in the cars and it is a lot of fun.  The parking lot is actually the only backstage area in SvsR, which is somewhat disappointing, but it isn't a huge loss because the whole hardcore scene has slowly faded out in favor of more in-ring wrestling.  All of the other matches - TLC, Hell In A Cell, Elimination Chamber, Ladder, etc. - are all back and just as good as before.

The most important aspect of SmackDown! vs. Raw, of course, is the gameplay, and thankfully it is as solid as ever and has been given a few tweaks to make this the best playing wrestling game so far.  All of the great things that were introduced in Here Comes the Pain such as the improved grapple and submission systems are back, but there are a lot of new things that make the game look and feel very much like what you can see on TV every week.  Before matches you can participate in stare downs, shoving matches, or test of strength minigames that are simple to do, but they add a lot to the experience.  While in a match, a chop battle (think Chris Benoit) will pop up occasionally which is also really simple but still really fun.  There is a new meter on the screen that rewards you for playing to your character's alignment.  Heels fill their meter by using weapons and cheap tactics.  Faces fill their meter by taunting and playing to the crowd as well as doing high flying maneuvers.  When your meter is full, you earn a limited period of invincibility if you are a face and a special low blow attack if you are a heel.  

Another big change to the gameplay is seen in the royal rumble matches.  Each wrestler now has a ringout meter, and only when that meter is emptied can they be eliminated.  Rather than falling down to the floor, wrestlers will grab onto the top rope and stand on the ring apron when you irish whip them into the ropes.  You then have to grapple with them or punch them in order to deplete their ringout meter.  Another character can come over to help you get them out, which makes the meter go down even faster.  You can only grapple with them for so long before they are able to get back in the ring, though, so it can take three or four attempts before you actually knock someone out of the match.  You can also regain some of the ringout meter by eliminating other people.  What all of this means is that royal rumble matches take a lot longer than before and they are definitely a lot more exciting.  It makes the royal rumble a lot more realistic as well because the big guys such as Undertaker, Kane, and Big Show are a lot more difficult to eliminate and it usually takes a concentrated effort by two or three people to actually get them out.  The result of these changes is a royal rumble match that is a lot more exciting than in past years, and in which it is really satisfying to pull out a victory, since it takes a lot more work than it used to.  

All of the changes to the gameplay, along with the great graphics and animation, make SmackDown! vs. Raw the best representation of the WWE product that has ever appeared in a videogame.  Every single movement a wrestler makes is exactly like they do in real life.  It really is incredible.  The matches themselves are also really, really great to watch and are extremely close to what you see on TV.   The matches move at a perfect pace and all of the moves and back and forth attacks just flow together really well.  All of the attention to detail and all of the effort that went into making the matches play out just like they do on TV pays off big time in SvsR.  This is a game that is just as fun and satisfying to watch as it is to play, and that is something that you can't really say about too many games.  

The graphics in SmackDown! vs. Raw are pretty spectacular.  All of the superstars are very detailed and look just like they should.  The most impressive part of the graphics is the animation.  What I enjoy most of all is that each superstars' mannerisms and movements have been recreated in the game perfectly, and it really goes a long way towards making this game look and feel authentic.  A major change in the presentation this year is that rather than playing the matches with the ramp and jumbotron in the background, the camera now faces the crowd.  That doesn't sound like a big deal, but it mimics how it looks on TV and is just another little detail that makes SvsR stand out.  Since you are looking at the crowd for most of the match, they have been given a significant visual boost.  Much, but not all, of the crowd is now in 3D and it looks very good.  Overall, SvsR is a great looking game.

Sound plays a big part in SmackDown! vs. Raw, but not all of it is good.  All of the superstar themes have been included and they all sound great, and THQ has also included licensed music from Powerman 5000, Zebrahead, and Breaking Benjamin.  It is nice to have some halfway decent licensed music for CAWs, but nothing can compare to the custom soundtrack option for the Xbox.  THQ's effort in SvsR is very much appreciated, though.  Other aspects of the sound aren't so good.  Like I said above, all of the superstars recorded dialogue for the game but almost all of them sound horrible.  Also, the announcer teams of JR and the King as well as Michael Cole and Tazz make their return after being absent in HCTP.  They don't sound super good, and you hear a lot of repeated lines, but I would rather the announcers be included than taken out.  It helps give the game that authentic WWE feel and I enjoy it even though it is pretty bad.  The sounds of wrestling are as good as always and do a very good job of making the moves seem powerful and painful.   

One of these years THQ and Yukes are actually going to pay attention to reviews and fan feedback and the Smackdown series is finally going to be perfected.  Every year I say, "With a few tweaks, the next Smackdown could be perfect," yet every year they somehow still mess something up.  The gameplay is better than ever and closer to what you see on TV than ever before, but there are a lot of little issues that keep Smackdown! vs. Raw from being a five star game.  It isn't a huge improvement over Here Comes the Pain, and the much talked about superstar voiceovers and online play are pretty much horrible, but it is still very enjoyable, and for most wrestling fans it is worth a purchase.    

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