WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006
Release Date: 11/14/05
Let’s get this out of the way up front. No, I’m not Lucard. No, I don’t have any specific appreciation for the Smackdown series, but I’m tolerant of it. No, I didn’t like Day of Reckoning or Wrestlemania 21. Yes, I’ve played Toukon Retsuden 4, and I thought it was damn good, but no, it’s not my favorite wrestling game ever. That “honor” goes to Fire Pro Wrestling D, if you care. Yes, I liked No Mercy, and I still do. And finally, no, I couldn’t get the Macho Man to co-review; he wouldn’t return my calls.
Got all that? Good.
So, today we’re looking at Smackdown vs. Raw 2006, the fifth (and presumably final) installment of the Smackdown series on the PS2, and the seventh Smackdown game in total. The Smackdown series has taken its cues from the Madden series as of late; new releases tend to focus on tweaks to the gameplay and roster updates, while the core game remains unchanged. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as a lot of fans of the series enjoy the arcade-esque gameplay style and ease of play over other simulation-oriented grapplers. But a lack of innovation can leave your product stale, and even though THQ has introduced a few new features to keep things interesting, that’s no guarantee that SvR 2006 is worth your money. So, without further ado, let’s get down to business and see if SvR 2006 is worth breaking out the wallet for.
1. STORY/GAME MODES
As with previous incarnations SvR 2006 offers a story mode, or “Season” as they call it, where you take a superstar through a year in the WWE. This time around, the individual brands offer distinctly different storylines, though they really only deal with your pursuit of the world title, and not the actual ownership of it. As wrestling stories go, these aren’t bad, but they do feel like rehashes of older WWE storylines. “Oh no, Eugene has been seduced to do evil deeds by Trish Stratus!” and “Oh no! Teddy Long’s been run down by an unknown assailant! Whoever could it be?” are just an example of the been there, done that storylines you’ll be put through during season mode. Certain elements of the various stories hit the mark (like hearing Lawler refer to a Dusty finish as the “Virgil Runnels Amendment”), while others (Eddie Guerrero, bless his heart, stealing the Undertaker’s urn and using it to control him) are just really stupid, even for wrestling. There are some mild variations in the story, depending on your actions in the game, but they tend to be few and far between, and rarely are they interesting enough to hunt down.
It is notable that when you use characters that are already in the story mode, they have their own separate storylines they participate in when they would normally be performing in story segments that would include, well, themselves. I didn’t get to see too many of these paths, because my first attempt at this was with Triple H, and I didn’t really want to keep going with that path because (PLEASE INSERT YOUR FAVORITE “TRIPLE H IS ON TV WAY TOO MUCH” JOKE HERE). Still, it’s nice to see that they took the time to make these special storylines for just that purpose, but most people will probably prefer to play Season mode with their custom characters, so it’s kind of wasted.
As far as the game modes go, SvR 2006 doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer variety. Aside from your standard exhibition wrestling, you have the aforementioned Season mode; a new “GM Mode” that allows you to run one of the two major shows as the General Manager; Create-a-Character, Entrance, Belt, and Stable options; and online play, which has been fleshed out more this time around. The GM mode is new, and the Create-a-Entrance feature is new to the SD series, though if you’ve played any of the Xbox or Gamecube WWE games, you’ve seen that before. There are also three “new” match types available; “Buried Alive”, which is a replacement for the Casket Match; “Fulfill Your Fantasy”, which is a replacement for Bra and Panties matches, and features only Divas; and “Backstage Brawl”, which has your characters fighting in a variety of areas outside of the actual ring. None of these matches are actually “new”, you’ll note, so much as they are modified versions of older match types. Overall, the new game modes save this update from complete mediocrity, but aside from GM Mode, there’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before otherwise.
Story Rating: 2/5
Game Modes Rating: 3/5
SvR 2006 has received a massive graphical upgrade this time around, and you’ll notice the difference from the very first match you play. The WWE wrestlers are all highly detailed, and look very close to their real-life counterparts. The various animations are also very fluid (except for the walking animations, which still make your character look like he or she is skating), and everything runs smoothly, even with six players on screen at once. Also, for the first time (that I’ve noticed, anyway), commentators now actually populate their tables, so you’ll see the commentators of each brand sitting at their respective positions, which is actually pretty cool. In-game cinematics uses a filtered version of the game engine, and tend to look pretty good, though several wrestling moves done in the cinematics are nowhere near as well animated as they are in actual matches. Most of the game environments look good too, though the crowds in the arena still look pretty ugly, and you’ll sometimes see individual audience members clip off screen entirely.
Created characters look better than they did in previous games, though they’re still nowhere near as high quality as the WWE wrestlers, mostly because their clothing textures tend to look painted on instead of looking like real clothes. The newly introduced blood effects look pretty good, but I’d still like to see the blood stay behind after falling from a character (I’m a wrestling fan, don’t give me that look). Yukes has also managed to decrease the clipping from previous games; it’s still noticeable, especially when a character has a title belt, or when you’re using a created character, but it’s not as bad as in previous Smackdown games. SvR 2006 is easily the best looking Smackdown game of the series, and it’s honestly fair to say it’s one of the better looking games on the PS2, period. It’s still not perfect, but it’s probably about as close as we’re going to see in this generation of gaming.
Graphics Rating: 8/10
The game music this time around takes its cue from SvR 2005: lots of semi-generic rap and rock acts. Artists like Bumpy Knuckles, Static X, and Dillinger Escape Plan, among others, have tracks included in the game, which are used both as background music and entrance music for created characters. Most of the music is acceptable, if nothing else, but on the plus side, they didn’t include music from the WWE Originals disc or John Cena’s record, so we can be thankful for small favors. As far as wrestler theme songs go, most of the songs presented are accurate to the wrestlers, and the only omission I noted was that Hollywood Hogan no longer comes out to “Voodoo Chile”, which is understandable, if depressing.
The game sounds are mostly the same sounds you’ve been hearing for years, and every slam, slap, and punch sounds as it should. The voice acting this time around, however, is leaps and bounds above previous versions, both in terms of actual voice acting and match commentary. The voice acting provided by the WWE wrestlers is all pretty good, and THQ has managed to make the audio sound appropriate, as opposed to SvR 2005, where in-ring speech sounded like it was recorded in the bathroom. The match commentary is also quite a bit better than in previous Smackdown games, though it tends to be more generic as a result. Your created male characters are also voice-acted during Season mode this time, which is a nice addition, though none of the custom voices are all that great. And characters still don’t make any sort of noise during matches, which is still a fairly blatant omission at this point, especially when Acclaim was able to do such things in games like Attitude.
Sound Rating: 7/10
This is where almost all of SvR 2006’s depth lies, so get ready for a lot of reading.
For those of you that have never picked up a wrestling game in your life, you’ll be pleased to know that SvR 2006 is fairly easy to pick up and play. Almost everything you can do in a match can be done either with a button press, a button and direction press, or by pressing two buttons simultaneously. Strikes and grapples are mapped to the face buttons, as are the run and action buttons, which should be self-explanatory. You also have two counter buttons mapped to the triggers (one for strikes, one for grapples), and the remaining triggers control your targeting and your finishing moves. The right analog stick controls your taunts, and you can move the character around with either the D-pad or the left analog stick (your choice), with the other option taking over the functions of your tag team partner and/or manager. This sounds like a lot of different functions, but you’ll find that the controls themselves are fairly responsive and intuitive, so you should be able to pick them up almost immediately.
For those that have played previous Smackdown games, most notably SvR 2005, you’ll find that several things have changed or been removed/added to the gameplay. New to the game is the Stamina system, which works essentially like the Fire Pro Wrestling Stamina system; as you perform actions, you get tired, and you need to rest to regain stamina. Resting is either accomplished by pressing Select, or by simply not doing anything. This creates an interesting balance in the game; moves that deal more damage drain more Stamina, thus forcing you to balance out your moves instead of throwing your most powerful moves out at all times. Another new addition is the Momentum system, which will be familiar to fans of No Mercy or Raw 2; as you perform moves, counters, and taunts, your Momentum meter fills, and when it’s full, you can perform your finisher. Being taunted, attacked, or countered reduces the meter, however. Instead of simply being required to perform your finisher at that time, as in the previously mentioned games, here you can store one finisher for use at any time, though it won’t be as powerful as if you had used it with full Momentum. This is a more interesting way of offering the player finishers, but it might put off players who enjoyed being able to store up a lot of them, as was possible in previous Smackdown games.
Other gameplay changes are more minor, but still just as noteworthy. You can now steal an opponent’s taunt, which will drain the opponent’s Momentum bar if completed successfully. Countering finishers no longer seems to require burning a finisher of your own, so if your timing is good you can stay alive even in desperate times. Another new feature is the “Possum Pin”, which, if you have a super to burn, allows you to surprise an opponent with a quick pin attempt that’s hard to kick out of. Cage matches now offer an option to escape via the door, and climbing out of the cage is done with a sliding power bar, where you press a button to stop the bar, and however much power is in the bar, that’s how much power your climb has. Ladder matches feature multiple ladders and some new and interesting grapple mechanics for when two people are on the top of the ladder, though they still haven’t found a way to mimic battling across multiple ladders that we’ve seen on WWE shows more recently. The beginning match mini-games are still in SvR2006, but this time, one of the players is allowed the option of choosing which game to play from the get-go. The corner based chop battles have also been removed, as have the “Clean” and “Dirty” meters, though they most likely won’t be missed.
The grapple system has also been fiddled around with. Characters now have five grapple types: a face/heel grapple, which changes depending on their alignment, the standard submission grapple, and three other grapple types (out of a potential seven) that each feature different setups and moves. The “Irish Whip” command has been changed as a result, though not much; you now press grapple and run simultaneously to whip a player, instead of just grapple. If you hold the Irish Whip command, your character will perform a strong Irish Whip, which can send players over the ropes or hard into the turnbuckles, which is a fun new addition. The counter system has also seen some adjustment; the default counter timing is much easier to work with, and you can adjust the timing if you find countering too hard or easy in the options menu, which is a welcome addition. The size consideration from previous games makes a reappearance here as well, so, in plain English, Rey Mysterio can’t powerbomb Andre the Giant. And last, but certainly not least, the online options in SvR 2006 are a great deal more fleshed out this time around, and from all appearances, every match type is available for play on or offline (I didn’t try to play every single one, I apologize). The online play is also stable and runs smoothly.
Create-a-Character makes a return as well, and it’s the same as ever, which is a boon or a vice, depending on your opinion of it. There’s a lot of depth in the creation system, as usual, and this time, you can completely customize the AI of your created characters from the ground up, if that’s your thing. Every single aspect of your characters can be customized, from their movesets to their body size and shape to their ring entrance, which is nice, though it can take hours to create a perfect character from scratch. The Create-an-Entrance option isn’t terribly well fleshed out, either; it’s nice that you can pick certain elements of various intros to create one unique entrance, but since you can’t adjust the pyro timing or fade the lighting effects, most created entrances tend to look sloppy if you try to get too detailed with them. It is a nice start, but considering how many games have done this before, and better, including Yuke’s themselves, I still can’t understand why this attempt is so limited. It is the first try for this series, though, so at least they have a functional template for future games.
Unfortunately, for all the positive things I can say about the gameplay, there are more than a few negatives, some of which are still around and kicking from the first Smackdown games. Collision detection is still spotty, especially during autocombo moves, like the Dragon Whip for example, so you’ll see moves connect without actually doing what was intended. Running moves still require you to be almost spot-on to hit with them properly, as do several of the aerial attacks. Also, of the new match types, Buried Alive and Backstage Brawl matches play perfectly fine, but the Fulfill your Fantasy match honestly makes me long for the days of Bra and Panties matches. Not only is it an incredibly stupid match idea (dress the character up as either a nurse, schoolgirl, or French maid and have at it in a ring with a sofa and pillows set up in it for no reason), but it’s also not terribly fun or functional. Assuming you try to play the match, you’ll spend your time trying to work around the fact that there are these stupid chairs in the ring, and hitting your opponents with pillows while trying to rip their clothes off is, at best, amusing for about five seconds. Unsurprisingly, created characters can’t participate in this match type either, so there’s really no need to even bother with this match type at all.
Speaking of the Divas, SvR 2006 continues the Smackdown tradition of making sure to exclude female players from having any fun with the game whatsoever. There’s no Season Mode option for female characters, and assuming you want to play as one, you won’t be able to participate in over half of the available match types with them. Okay, that might seem like a silly complaint, but the first two Smackdown games, as well as Raw 2, offered players the option of competing in Season mode as female characters, in all of the available match types the game offered. Since several of my friends are female, and play video games, specifically the Smackdown series of games, I feel it should be mentioned.
And finally… “GM Mode”. Okay, it’s wonderful that Yuke’s decided to try and put something like a Franchise mode into SvR 2006, and at first glance, wrestling fans might see it as Extreme Warfare Revenge, only with graphics. The problem being, once you get down to it and actually invest time in it, you see pretty quickly the flaws within. First off, everything in GM Mode is in pure kayfabe (IE, for real, in case you didn’t know… wait, never mind), so you can’t decide who wins and loses unless you actually PLAY the matches. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not so interested in getting Steven Richards over that I’d want to play as him. On the opposite side of this, this basically means that unless you specifically play certain matches, some characters may never see title wins, or even advancement out of the midcard for that matter. Also, aside from booking matches and keeping your wrestlers happy, there isn’t really much else to do in the mode. You could, for example, decide who you’d like to see in a feud, but you can’t actually do anything with that feud, aside from booking the characters in matches or promos to continue it. You can’t arrange for interference in matches, or angles of any kind, and even though you’re the GM, you can’t do anything publicly or through a character like Eric Bischoff to spice up the events of the night. Again, it’s a nice template for things to come, but as it is right now, it’s very limited and doesn’t offer the player much to do.
Overall, SvR 2006 plays better than SvR 2005, and the new additions to the gameplay are mostly for the better. The new game and creation options are mostly mediocre, and the game still doesn’t really do anything to cater to female players, but returning fans will still find a playable and enjoyable experience here. It’s just a shame that, in a lot of cases, that enjoyable experience does little to differentiate itself from last year’s outing.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 6/10
With so many different match types, support for up to six players (with two multi-taps), the ability to create your own characters and title belts and challenge friends for them, and online support, SvR 2006 should keep players coming back for more. Playing through Season Mode and GM Mode might keep players coming back for a while as well, but GM Mode really lacks the depth to keep players as interested as they might be in, say, EWR, and Season lacks depth period. The sheer amount of things you can do, however, sufficiently makes up for that, and SvR 2006 will probably spend a good period of time in your PS2.
Replayability Rating: 8/10
Four different difficulty modes offer challenges to all quality of players, and the difficulty is balanced appropriately, with Easy being awe-inspiringly stupid, and Legend (the hardest difficulty) being hard like Val Venis. You can also adjust the timing for counters right from the options menu, which should give even the most inept players a fighting chance. Players of differing skill levels will still be unbalanced, and there’s still no way to handicap such matches, but with the new modifications to gameplay, the gaps are reduced somewhat.
Balance Rating: 7/10
This being the seventh Smackdown game in the series, it’s fairly safe to say that you’re not coming into this expecting a new and original experience. Yuke’s is still using the same gameplay engine, and while all the new tweaks and modifications are nice, they don’t dramatically re-invent the series. The new matches are modifications of old matches, and the new game modes available have been done elsewhere. GM Mode is a nice original addition, but it’s really the only one. So long as you’re not coming into SvR 2006 expecting a totally new experience, however, you really won’t care.
Originality Rating: 3/10
With all of the different options available to you from the get-go, you’ll probably find yourself addicted to SvR 2006 from your first game session, especially if you’re a fan of the previous games. Season Mode, despite its lack of depth or variation, is pretty interesting the first time through, and GM Mode, despite its simplicity, is definitely addicting the first time around. Combine these options with slick presentation and relatively simple to learn controls, and you’ll find yourself hooked for a little while, at least until you complete a Season or two.
Addictiveness Rating: 7/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
This is probably going to be the last Smackdown game that features the commentary of Good Ol’ JR (unless he gets his damn job back), as well as the last one to feature Eddie Guerrero (unless they induct him as a Legend, which I hope they do), so that should be enough of a reason for wrestling fans to want this. Aside from that, it’s a Smackdown game, which will probably sell a lot of people on brand recognition alone. If you’re not a fan of the series, or of wrestling games in general, however, there’s nothing to see here, because SvR 2006 isn’t really doing anything to attract anyone outside of that market.
Of course, then I remember what website I’m writing for. Never mind.
Appeal Rating: 6/10
I’ve seen it said several places that SvR 2006 is “the best wrestling game on the PS2”, and while I don’t really agree with that, I can say that this is certainly the best Smackdown game ever made. It’s still nowhere near Toukon Retsuden 4, Fire Pro Wrestling D, or No Mercy in terms of simulation aspects, and it’s not as brutal or amusing as Def Jam: Fight for New York, but it’s still entertaining in its own right. If you’re looking for arcade-style wrestling, this is the game for you. It probably won’t be your favorite wrestling game, but it’s still a lot of fun, and you could do a lot worse than this.
Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10
Game Modes: 3/5
Overall Score: 6.4/10
Final Score: 6.5 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
It’s still Smackdown, and it’s still solid. If you like Smackdown games, you’ll find enjoyment here, and this is certainly the best game of the series to date. The new features are underdeveloped, and some of the same problems that plague the series still plague SvR 2006, but the core game is still a lot of fun, and definitely worth your time if you’re a fan. If you’ve been avoiding the Smackdown series, though, you probably won’t find anything here to convince you to take a second look this time around.