It's that time of year again and WWE Smackdown vs Raw is back with some new modes and some new tricks. Developer Yuke's, despite releasing the game yearly, always seem to find ways to constantly improve the game and this year's instalment, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, offers a new backstage arena and some enhancements to the combat featured in the game. It helps to create an experience which surpasses last year's game and takes the franchise to a whole new level.
The main mode of recent games has been the Road to Wrestlemania and that hasn't changed here. It's still possible to choose from four superstars' campaigns, and there's again a campaign designed specifically for a create-a-character, but it's possible to do it as other wrestlers, like R-Truth.. That storyline is based around taking on the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI and attempting to break his winning streak.
What's great about the mode this year, is that it introduces the backstage area for the first time in a WWE game since Shut Your Mouth and although it isn't the richest experience, it does add something. You can talk with superstars and engage in backstage brawls with them - something which can later on lead to special challenge matches being set-up throughout the story. The superstars will often say things about what's actually going on too and act accordingly.
Playing through each of the storylines will take a pretty big time investment, but the stories are typically over-the-top, as one would expect. They're quite fun though and plenty of spanners are thrown in the works. For example, being able to steal the title belt while another match is going on, then running out of the arena into a car. There's also another part where you do a battle royal against "lost souls" and the entire arena is full of "lost souls" instead of the typical crowd - it's quite surreal.
To compliment this mode, is "WWE Universe", which is almost always active - learning from what match types you choose to do and building events to cater for your needs. It runs just like the actual TV show would, but you can make whatever matches you want. The mode attempts to build storylines too, so expect to see various cutscenes, betrayals and rivalries. It can be rather fun to see what the game comes up with, especially when it tries to form tag teams with created characters. The ranking on the belts could perhaps be a bit more logical though.
The gameplay, while similar to last year's iteration, has seen some welcome changes. Counters are now much more intuitive and accessible than before, as the game offers hints about when counters can be performed. The hint only appears for a very brief period of time, but it allows you to start learning about timing points. The good thing is that even with this, performing counters isn't something that happens all the time and due to the flow of the experience, you can counter counters.
It's also possible to perform "pin" moves. There have always been suplexes and other moves that go into a pin, but now the option is up to the player. While the move is being performed, a trigger comes up on screen for the player to activate if they wish. Again, it adds to the flow of the experience and allows the action to be a little bit more dynamic.
To further these additions, there have been modifications made to the more hardcore experience. Tables will now break much more dynamically based on the type of action that's performed, ladders can now be rested against ropes and used more effectively in ladder matches and chairs can be thrown at opponents.
Aside from the wealth of modes, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, as expected, features a ton of create modes. Most of them are very similar to last year's iteration though, with them just being expanded upon a bit. For example, the create-a-finisher mode now has more combinations which can be selected and create-a-storyline now has more options, such as being able to trigger events when a wrestler is in a certain state.
Overall, the presentation of WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is pretty good. Some things have been borrowed from their other popular franchise, the UFC, like sweat on bodies. Improvements have also been made to how superstars interact with things, such as the ropes around the ring when they're thrown off of a ladder. There are still a few aspects where the game feels a bit mechanical though. It's great that they appear to have got the majority of the actual personalities to record their voices for the game, but some of them sound very wrong - like Stephanie McMahon.
WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is a game that yet again improves on the formula, and Yuke's should be commended for that. The game features some new additions to the gameplay which help to make the fights more dynamic and Road to Wrestlemania has seen an overhaul in its execution, for the good. Hopefully next year Yuke's can really start on pushing this franchise to the next level as they now have a very solid base to work from.