WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010

I love Pro Wrestling. Unashamedly love it. Obviously, being in my mid-twenties, wearing a T shirt featuring a topless John Cena is only marginally less embarrassing than being caught masturbating over a picture of your extended family, by your extended family. Despite this, I love it. I love the soap opera acting, the badass heroes, the scheming villains, insane stunts, testosterone-fuelled violence and the occasionally absurd attempts at humour. Like Con Air, and we all know that is the best film of all time, right? Thing is, THQ’s Smackdown vs. RAW games have forgotten about this aspect of Pro Wrestling, instead offering up what are basically fighting games – crazy, unbalanced fighting games – with a bigger focus on competition rather than spectacle. Things took a right turn with this year’s Legends of Wrestlemania release, which celebrated all of the flamboyance and action that makes the WWE such an entertaning product.

We all KNOW it is fake, boys. If we want real, we’ve got the UFC.

Creating characters has been a huge part of this series for an age now, and now it has been revamped to offer more options for your terrifying imagination to run wild with. Just like Hulkamania. Creating entrances returns, as does create-a-finisher, which now includes the ability to develop some truly insane flying manuevers. The biggest new inclusion is the create-a-storyline mode, which blows the doors of kayfabe wide open and allows you to sculpt your ideal episodes of RAW and Smackdown, building characters over the course of weeks of TV and pay-per-view shows. You create cutscenes, write dialogue and set matches, along with the conditions needed for the player to progress to the next segment. Despite being a little limited – you have to choose from a selection of set animations, as opposed to having full control over the sequences – it is an excellent new addition to the SvR series.

In another particularly inspired move, THQ have seeked to capture the community that usually springs up around wrestling games. There are websites and forums all other the internet full of tragic, neckbearded man-children who dedicate their lives to creating legendary wrestlers – past and present – for use in every single release. These are usually painstakingly detailed, and in most cases, have the “formulas” written out on these sites for us lazy gamers to input ourselves. Now, every custom creation can be shared, in-game, through Xbox Live or PSN, so if you feel your copy is incomplete without a perfectly re-created Chris Benoit to run rampant with, then there are no doubt several hundred of them already available to download.

The actual gameplay remains largely unchanged from the previous years edition, and this is fairly indicative of one of the Smackdown vs. RAW series’ main problems. The “quicktime” grapple chains from Legends of Wrestlemania have been removed completely, instead going back to the “No Mercy”-esque style of grappling with your opponent first, then transitioning into a move from there. Graphics are still incredibly glitchy in places, with things like belts clipping through wrestlers, the ropes STILL looking awful when the action requires them to move (even with the inclusion of Havok physics this year, which is absolutely unnoticable) and moves not connecting in the correct place – for instance, a top rope dive intended for a prone opponent hitting them while they are standing and looking ridiculous.

There are still the plethora of match types to choose from and the usual single player career modes to toil through in order to unlock classic wrestlers. Again, completely unchanged from the previous release and are still in need of some serious work. Loads of menus make progress through career mode slow and clunky and the Road to Wrestlemania, although a great idea, allowing you to take part in a pre-made WWE storyline charting a wrestlers path to the biggest event of the year, is very, very limited. You have the illusion of choice during certain sequences, but the reality is that there is only one path to the inevitable title shot. Imagine a wrestling game with the same morale choice sytem of say, Fable? Allowing you to turn your back on the fans or save the good guys from a sneak attack, you know, just like on TV?

Online multiplayer is still a joke, from the as always poor menus to the unplayable, laggy matches, with everyone rushing to pick the highest rated superstar or a maxed out custom character. Even THQ’s million-selling UFC title suffered from these issues, so it isn’t exclusive to this series, but really, a solid netcode and a simple, user-friendly interface (which, in all fairness, they’ve achieved with the front-end of the game, using the FIFA “Arena” method of putting you in control immediately, then allowing you to access game modes from a simple set of options overlayed over the action) would be another feather in the Smackdown vs. RAW cap. A cap that hasn’t changed in years and is a bit out of fashion, but a feather in it nonetheless.

Again, this is another annual release where all of the new features in the world don’t address the issues that have been plaguing the series for YEARS, no matter how excellent they may be. For all of the steps forward in community and customisable content, there are some fundamental flaws to the gameplay that are holding the Smackdown games back from becoming essential purchases for wrestling fans, and even allowing them to cross-over to the masses. If this year’s features are expanded on for the next game, brilliant, and all that, but in order to really take things to the next level, perhaps completely reworking the gameplay would be the best thing to add into next year’s release.

6 out of 10
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