Review: Smackdown vs Raw 2010 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Smackdown vs Raw 2010
Genre: Wrestling/Fighting
Developer: Yukes
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: 10/20/09

Another year, another chance to lace up virtual boots and step into the ring with the cast of the WWE. As a lapsed wrestling fan and an admitted video game junkie I’m always interested in playing the yearly wrestling game releases to see what has changed and if it can revive the memories of the fun I had playing games like No Mercy and Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain. Every year I face the disappointment that occurs when a game series gets bogged down in a yearly release schedule.

Much like other yearly series such as Tony Hawk, the Smackdown games since 2006 have felt like a rehash with slight tweaks each time. Most of the time these tweaks had problems or there ended up being other glaring problems with the games. They added things like choosing which weapon to grab from under the ring, but then the tag AI was worse. Or like as last years entry, there are add better tag team mechanics and storylines, but they severely limit how to build CAW stats. The game’s engine has been showing its age for awhile now and the last three years have felt like they took Smackdown vs Raw 2006, upgraded the graphics, then just toyed with different options for better or worse.

In some ways, the same complaint could be said about Smackdown vs Raw 2010. While it’s still not the overhaul that the series really needs, it makes up for that fact with some new additions to the series and a ton of little upgrades all over the place.

While it may sound lame, for Smackdown vs Raw 2010, it really is all the little things that count.

For starters, while the Road to Wrestlemania mode was an interesting addition to last years game, there was little to do with a created character. The career mode was duller than watching a cat in a tumble drier and it was the only way to increase the character’s stats. This year there is a Road to Wrestlemania mode just for your created character which sounds great on paper. In reality, it is complete crap.

Some genius thought it would be a great idea to have your created character in the typical “Good guy fights authority figure against all odds” storyline. There are several issues with this, starting with the fact that your character is just some random guy in the audience. Throughout the story the odds are against your character, which means a lot of handicap matches. If you jump into the story right after making a character, then your character will also be much weaker as well. There is a large portion of the story where your character will have their appearance changed into something ridiculous. Considering the whole point is to play the story as your created character, having your designed replaced by something else goes against the entire concept. In the story your character makes a decision that is so stupid the game makes sure that other wrestlers call your wrestler just to mention that it was a dumb decision.

The end of that story is also terrible. The only redeeming feature of this story mode is the voicework by Santino Marella.

Thankfully the other storylines are better. HBK and Orton’s in particular are good wrestling stories that wouldn’t be out of place from what you would see on TV.

But for me what really sells this game is the fact that you can create your own story. The Create a Story feature has a surprising amount of depth for a new feature. With this tool you can create a lot of different scenarios like backstage interviews, or surprise attack and so on, with a number of locations, plus full control of camera angles and what the dialog between the wrestlers using freetext.

I love this feature. The fact that you can create and then share stories online means that this is one Smackdown game I’ll probably still be playing by the time the next one comes out. I’ve already downloaded and played some other stories, and there is some just weird stuff already available. I haven’t downloaded any that were really well done yet, but I have played through some odd and amusing ones so far.

The major drawback to this feature is the learning curve it takes to use it. In 2010, there’s a wrestling tutorial available right from the start of the game that works as a background behind the main menu. There is no such tutorial for the Create a Story feature so it can be confusing when you are trying to set up scenes and can’t figure out how to do something the right way. Creating a story takes a lot of time, and at least for the first week if you are creating a story half of that time will just be messing around with it to see how different options work.

Graphically the crowds and character models are nearly the same as last year’s game. There are a couple of little additions to different characters, and some of the wrestler tattoos look great this year, but overall it isn’t a very noticeable difference. The biggest difference is how clothing looks on created wrestlers. It no longer looks like flat textures that are painted on the character. This year things were given more dimension and look like real clothing. The drawback to this is that you cannot have as many layers as prior years.

The Havoc engine is used in this years game, but as far as I can tell this is used mainly for rope physics. While there isn’t nearly the amount of clipping through the ropes or even other wrestlers as there have been in other Smackdown games, instead there are just situations where the ropes move really oddly or get a wrestler caught in them in awkward ways.

The most notable change this year is with the HUD system. It’s gone. Not entirely gone but all of the meters and bars that used to clutter the top of the screen are no longer there. Instead there is a circle at the bottom of the wrestlers feet that you control the shows how much momentum you have built up, with little icons letting you know when you’ve built up enough momentum for either a signature or finishing move. There are no body graphs that show how much damage you have done to a particular location on an opponents body any longer. Instead you’ll have to take visual cues from the other wrestler. If they are holding a specific body part, that’s a clear sign it is damaged. Some people might not like this change, but personally I think it was a great change and overdue. It gives the entire game a closer feeling to the televised product than ever before.

There are actually a bunch of small changes to help further the feeling that you are watching a WWE program. These include the championship graphic before a match with the title on the line and the ref holding the belt above the two (or more) wrestlers. Even the swooshing WWE graphics, complete with obnoxious product placement are here. While it may not be a huge leap from last years game, all of the little details really help the atmosphere of the game, like how when Fight Night Round 3 took out the HUD system completely.

Chopping an opponent’s chest or back produces visual results. The chests get red and will get even redder and show welts the more you attack that area. Blood is still in and looks more realistic than ever. Sure it still pretty much comes from the same area on every wrestler (above the left eye) but how it drips down the face onto that wrestlers chest looks more realistic and brutal than ever. It also splatters onto the wrestler you are using and drips onto the mat, though it still doesn’t stain the mat.

While it’s nice that they’ve got the details down visually, some of the atmosphere built up is ruined by the horrible announcing. Let’s face it, there has never been a wrestling game with good commentary. In that way Smackdown vs Raw 2010‘s commentary could have just been mediocre and it would have been considered passable. It’s worse than mediocre, it’s a step backwards from last year’s mediocrity. This year a ridiculous amount of moves are called incorrectly. Piledrivers are powerbombs and vice versa. If anyone does a big boot there’s a good chance that they’ll announce that Snitsky did it despite no longer being in the company or even a character in the game. The Diva’s will be referred to as male instead of female. It repeats far too often. The only time the commentary works well is during the specific Road To Wrestlemania moments where they’ll comment on something at the beginning of a show or during a scene.

Aside from the disaster that is the commentary, the rest of the music is your standard forgettable generic rock and rap music, with exception for Trivium’s Shogun, though that’s a personal preference. The sound effects are the same as most of the previous games.

Like the graphics, there are a bunch of small changes to the gameplay. There are no longer two different reversal buttons. All reversals are mapped to the right trigger. In order to keep it from being too easy to reverse everything, the game also has smaller input windows for reversing. If you miss the window by being too early, you’re screwed. There are both positives and negatives to this change. Personally I like the change because it makes the matches feel like they’re flowing much smoother as they’ve also made changes to how quickly the momentum bar fills and depletes. On harder difficulty levels, it feels like a much more back and forth match. Chain grappling reversals have also been fixed so that you aren’t locked in a constant reversal loop on Legend difficulty. Now after about four chain reversals, one wrestler strikes the other and they separate. There was a lot of thought put into the one button reversals and balancing the rest of the gameplay to work with it. The mount position punches could still use work as after putting in a lot of hours with the game, I still have problems with reversing these.

On the other hand the online play is screwed up royally. The input window for reversals is so small with several moves that any lag pretty much ruins the reversal system. Certain headbutt moves are still in the game and haven’t been fixed so they can still be spammed online. If you are a person who has no one else to play with or if you planned on playing Smackdown vs Raw 2010 online more than offline, you may want to reconsider. Between lag ruining reversals and people who constantly spam certain moves the online arena is more of a frustrating experience than an enjoyable one.

There are more grapple move positions and less emphasis on the Ultimate Control Moves. Now for the first time you can manually move between the positions as well. Holding the right buttons and moving the right joystick along with another direction you can switch between collar and elbow, side headlock, rear waist lock, or side wrist lock. This is a great addition because for awhile having back finishers or signature moves were always much harder to pull off than front ones, but now it’s easy to get from the standing position into the correct position.

For the first time in the series, you can also perform grapple move from the apron. There aren’t a lot of moves that can be done, but there’s still something satisfying about suplexing a guy from the inside of the ring to the outside. There are now moves that can be done specifically on the sides of an opponent who is on the ground, and now it makes a difference if they are face up or face down. At times this can be frustrating if you are using a character like Cena where in order to do the five knuckle shuffle you need the other character face up near the center of the ring. However it’s not hard to flip someone over or drag them to the center of the ring.

In face the controls are nearly spot on. Veterans of the series should be able to jump right in because even with changes made to reversing moves, doing apron moves, strong grapple transitions, and ground moves, it all feels like a natural step of the control system that was in the last couple of games. The A button is still for context sensitive actions, B is just for dragging and Irish whipping opponents X for strikes and Y for special moves. D-Pad is still for taunting, left stick for movements, Left button works with certain abilities, Right Button modifies grapples, Right trigger for reversals, and Left trigger for manual targeting (if you have that that option turned on).

Although nearly spot on…there are a few issues. I’ve already mentioned issues with the reversing windows online, but there have been some modifications I don’t understand. There doesn’t appear to be an option to call a tag partner in to attack the legal or illegal partner of the opposing team, something that was a large part of last year’s game. Auto-targeting has somehow gotten worse in this game, leading to a lot of occasions were you might want to attack someone standing on the apron only to attack as if you were aiming somewhere else. This is a problem for tag matches, for multi-man matches it hasn’t been too much of an issue. Manual targeting isn’t much better as it seems like it takes far too long to actually pull it off. I’ve played matches where I hit the manual targeting button several times only to have it do nothing.

While Yukes has made subtle changes to the control system from one year to the next, in my personal opinion this year’s version is the best control system of the series and the most noticeable upgrade since Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain.

It’s just a shame the computer AI hasn’t received the same attention. As far as I’m concerned this has always been the worst thing about the Smackdown series; predictable non-aggressive AI. Even cranked up to the hardest difficulty level, the computer does a lot of stupid things. For one, it’s not aggressive at all. There are too many times where I can just stand there and it will take the computer about a minute to decide to attack. Like every Smackdown game, it relies more on reversing moves than it does just fighting back in a more intelligent way. The balancing is a bit better as it’s harder to reverse moves now and on higher difficulties it’s easier to lose momentum so it results on a much longer, more back and forth match than ever before.

It’s just sad that this has to deal more with momentum and reversing than the computer fighting aggressively. The different abilities also change how the computer fights, so there is at least some variety, and it doesn’t always follow up an irish whip into the corner with an attack so it is not as predictable as it has been in the past. It is just annoying to think the old Def Jam wrestling games still have better computer AI than the 2010 version of Smackdown.

Man, I’ve written a bunch about the game and I still haven’t talked about all of the additions to the game. Let’s focus on the other new parts of the game:

There is a new Championship Scramble match type. Two wrestlers start and three more join as the match goes on, and whoever has the final pinfall or submission is the champion. Actually getting a pinfall in this match, even if you set it to the 20 minute limit, is extremely hard to do unless you happen to be one of the wrestlers that start the match. It’s a fun addition, but not something you’ll likely play very much.

There’s a Mixed Gender Tag Match where two teams that consist of one female wrestler and one male wrestler can team up and face each other. However only the male wrestlers can face the other male wrestlers and so on. Striking a female wrestler with a male wrestler results in a DQ. I hate this crap and I’ve never understood the gender restrictions in these game. It wasn’t always like this, and it just limits the matches that you can put together. It’s not as if the female wrestlers are even rated below the male wrestlers, there are several male wrestlers they are rated above or nearly equal to.

Royal Rumble received a huge makeover. Now there are mini-games to play in order to eliminate other wrestlers. I’m ambivalent about the changes to this mode, while it was something fun and different the first time it can get annoying quickly. In particular there is one mini-game when they are against the ropes that require mashing different buttons that gets old really, really fast. Corner eliminations are a quick time button event, and on Legend difficulty the game requires you to hit the button almost instantly. Rumble finishers are fun to use and are an excellent addition, but I got tired of these elimination mini-games after doing them once.

Aside from those match all the other match types have existed in some shape or form in the other Smackdown games, but there are still an impressive number of matches to choose from hardcore, hell in a cell, extreme rules, table, TLC, submission, last man standing, iron man, etc. Just about any gimmick match that has been displayed in the WWE is available here to play with.

With the long list of match types, the career mode, Road To Wrestlemania, and so on there is a lot of gameplay in Smackdown vs Raw 2010 to kill time with, but it’s all the creation modes that really increase the time that you will spend with the game. Nearly everything is customizable this time, you can create a wrestler, create an entrance video based of highlight reel moments, create a finisher (both standing and diving varieties), and create a storyline to upload and share. This is what is going to keep me coming back to the game and to me provides nearly limitless replay value. Just to try out other people’s stories with wrestlers they’ve created will provide me with a lot of entertainment.

So to wrap it up, while it might seem like the same Smackdown game when you first turn it on, there have been changes made to nearly every facet of the game to provide a better experience and to give you the tools to create whatever you want. Many of the old flaws of the series are still present and there really isn’t much further they can push this game engine so it might be best to let the series go out on a good note with Smackdown vs Raw 2010.

The Scores

Story: Above Average
Graphics: Good
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Amazing
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Incredible
Final Score: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
This is the best Smackdown game to come out in years and there are a surprising number of changes and additions to the gameplay and presentation. The creation features will keep me busy through next year and I look forward to all the weird creations people come up with. Still, this series has beaten this game engine to death and the need to be more improvements to the AI, game balance, and commentary. Online lag kills the reversal system and make online games a chore instead of fun. It’s time to start over with a new game engine.



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One response to “Review: Smackdown vs Raw 2010 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. Raul Avatar

    i really like how thorough youve made this review. I just wanted to add a little something to the mixed tag details. Although it is true that a male hitting a female in a match results in a DQ, if the ref gets distracted or gets knocked out you can actually pull off a once-illegal move, lets say DDT, on a Diva, lets say, Maryse, and still keep the match going.

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