Holy cow has it been a long time since I’ve written a review for an Xbox 360 game (it has also been a long time since I remember ever saying holy cow). However, I just finished WWE SmackDown vs RAW 2011 and have been wanting to give my thoughts on how the game is as well as comparing it to last year’s game (which I have reviewed already, here). Note: I realize I probably give a shit way too much about a video game about sweaty dudes pretending to fight each other, but there you have it. Second Note: I am not going to cover every aspect of the game, but rather a few points that I have found worth talking about.
I am like a broken record when it comes to talking about the WWE SmackDown series, and 2011 is to be no exception. The game is different enough I guess to be worth a damn but still manages to fall short in key areas that have needed improvement for many, many years.
First off, the Road to Wrestlemania mode has been almost completely revamped and is now almost an afterthought whereas two years ago it was the main event. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the storylines presented in this mode have certainly suffered. Also, you can now run around backstage to instigate “Challenge Matches” which only serve the purpose of unlocking WWE Legends and alternate attires for wrestlers. In previous years, the Road to Wrestlemania was quite different in that you would trigger unlockables after completing certain tasks during matches such as “Win the match in under 3 minutes”. This new way of doing things is fine I suppose, but the challenge matches aren’t as apparent as you’d think and you could get screwed out of unlockable without even knowing it. A more visual approach to the challenge matches could have helped greatly. Otherwise, this is the same Road to Wrestlemania mode we’ve come to know since 2009.
Speaking of revamped engines, the control system in SmackDown vs RAW 2011 has been almost completely re-done, and generally it seems it was for the better. When I first picked up the controller after playing a good lot of the 2010 edition, I was initially startled by the change. After a few matches though, I was back into my usual groove of piledrivers and gut kicks. To fully appreciate the new controls however, I had to step back and think about how newcomers would tackle this new scheme. I’ve seen unfamiliar players attempt to play the game, and it usually results in them attempting the same move over and over and over ad nauseum until the match is over. With this new scheme, they could pull off a variety of moves without even really trying, which is a huge step-up for the series.
Perhaps the largest new feature of 2011 is the WWE Universe mode which works much like WWE programming you see on TV. You’ll see a list of matches being put on in the latest show, who the competitors are and given the option to play the match. You are not required to play these matches, and can simulate them as you wish. Okay, why is a simple list of matches exciting? Well, because this is all done automatically by the game’s engine.
In the WWE Universe mode, the game’s engine decides who is champion, who are the #1 contender’s and who is rivals with who. This creates a sense of dynamic that has not been seen before in the series. Best part of it is that it’s all done in the background with essentially no user intervention. Your created wrestlers can even become part of the action if you wish. While this is not quite the return of the GM mode of year’s past, this is certainly close to a streamlined version of it.
If you’ve never played a SmackDown vs RAW game online before, there is only one thing you need to know about that: It stinks. What I mean is that you can’t expect to have any sort of fun while attempting to play it. Trying to fend off these problems, this year’s game has a new updated Royal Rumble mode which allows for 12 real players to fight it off all at once. While this new feature does work okay, there is still much to be desired in this area, especially in the way the online server works.
Even with all these issues, I have still found 2011 to be a very fun game in just about every aspect. Who knows, the new WWE Universe mode might just allow me to stick around after I’ve grabbed all of the achievements after all.