WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 (Xbox 360)
When WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 opens, you see the familiar "Do not try this at home" message that starts all of the WWE's programming on television -- which is ironic, because that's exactly what these games let you do.
SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 really makes you feel like you're taking part in pro wrestling. When a match ends in a serious mode like Road to WrestleMania, it's like the show -- complete with commentary that fits with what is going on, and the logo flashing on the screen. The characters also look more realistic than in years prior, though we haven't gotten to a point in videogames where people look and carry expressions that are absolutely lifelike.
But the real focus of SvR 2010 is refinement and polish. The training mode, which can be played right in the main menu with the right stick, is your first glimpse into the game. You can already see that some real thought and effort has gone into creating something better. But Yuke's hasn't reinvented the wheel, like it has in previous years; it has simply taken the sharp edges off a product that has in the past seemed like a Frankenstein monster stitched together.
First and foremost are all the situation-based hotspots in and out of the ring. You activate these either by throwing an opponent into them or by grappling and dragging your opponent to the location. From there you can pull off additional moves. For example, if you drag a guy to the corner, you can climb up on the ropes, straddle him, and give him the classic 10-count punches you often see on television. Take him outside and drag him to the ring steps, and you can bang his head on them until you tire of it. This also extends to special matches like First Blood, Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank -- there are specific mini-games attached to just about every gimmick match available.
Signature moves are a nice addition to your arsenal. In the past these consisted of silly little punches and kicks, and didn't have any kind of impact. Now they are specialty moves that serve well as an opening to your deadly finisher.
Royal Rumble isn't as hard as it was in last year's game, and now there are more ways to get other characters out of the ring faster -- whether that means using a saved-up special move, or teaming up with other players and hitting button combinations to throw someone out.
Even the artificial intelligence is a bit smarter. In previous SmackDown vs. Raw games, your AI-controlled partner was completely useless. Now when you do a signature or special move on your opponent, your partner will actually head to the other corner and knock your opponent's partner to the ground, effectively keeping him from stopping the count.
More player control is a very important thing, and sliders will really make players happy. If you've played virtually any football or basketball game in the last few years, then you know what I'm talking about. Sliders let you adjust everything from the AI's competency to what kind of damage someone should take from a weapon-based attack or a special. This brand-new set of tools lets you tweak the game so that it feels right to you.
In addition, the abilities that used to be lumped into packages for specific types of characters (brawlers, faces, heels, hardcore, etc.) have been broken out into individual abilities. That means that you can mix and match abilities to create the kind of character you want. These skills include the ability to use a chair in a grapple, repair damaged limbs, reverse pins, break a strong submission, etc. As you build up your character's stats by playing various exhibition matches and story based modes, it unlocks new abilities that can be selected in the character creator. If you mix them up correctly, these moves can be very useful in defining what kind of character you are -- will you be a chair-wielding fan favorite, a special-move-stealing high flyer or a complete brute who quickly recovers?
The most important new features, Create an Entrance and Story Editor, also add new layers of customization. The former allows you to create a fairly intricate entrance for your superstar. You can tweak just about every aspect of your personal presentation when you enter the ring, from pyrotechnics and how you stroll into the ring to what lighting looks like and what graphics show up on the screen. The Story Editor allows you to create and upload a story to Xbox Live or play it locally. You set up a series of events, encounters and interviews, and make all the players say and do whatever you want.
But besides exhibition matches, Career Mode and Road to WrestleMania are where you will spend the bulk of your time. Career Mode is virtually the same as last year; it is a means to gain experience and add points to various statistics for each character. As you win more and more matches, earn experience, and build your character up, you are actually preparing your character for the tough challenge that awaits you in the more intricate, story-driven Road to WrestleMania.
This is where all of the polished and refined elements really begin to shine. Road to WrestleMania can be played with your created character; with one of the WWE's top stars, like Randy Orton, Diva Mickie James, Edge or Shawn Michaels; or with a friend via the co-op storyline for John Cena and Triple H. Each of these characters has their own unique storyline as they try to get to the main event at the biggest wrestling show of the year. There are several decent story arcs to be experienced here, no matter what star you decide to play, and there are a lot of match types that you'll only experience by delving deep into this mode. I'd mention them but it would spoil the surprise.
I wish that women in these games didn't have to take such a diminished role. Divas only get one story arc, and many of them are excluded from game modes for some reason. It wasn't always this way, and while Yuke's may be trying to maintain the synergy between the show and the game, I think it's unfair to female players in general.
While the gameplay has been refined, some technical problems still break the natural flow of the game. Clipping issues remain a problem, as well as collision detection. There's nothing more disconcerting than throwing a punch and not having it connect when you are standing right next to your target, or diving off a ladder and landing on nothing because your character suddenly lost his target. These problems have been around for a long time, and it is disappointing to see that they still remain.
But WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 is a solid wrestling title that doesn't completely reinvent the wheel. Instead, Yuke's has taken the time to refine and fix things, and even add some new modes that add some real value to the game. It is a given that wrestling fans will find it highly engaging and fun.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.