Wrestling games have been yearly for as long as I can remember, way before the whole Smackdown Vs. Raw sub-franchise started, but there's one thing that always impresses me about them. Yuke's' ability too constantly improve upon the previous year's installment. It's no easy task, but it's something they seem more than capable of and this year is no different as Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011 promises to supercede last year's game with relative ease.
The basic combat has retained its format from last year, but refinements have been made. The right stick still controls the various grappling moves that can be performed, but it's now possible to auto-pin off the back of certain moves, if the timing is correct. Melee attacks such as punching and kicking are also relatively similar, but what helps to control the pacing and flow of the combat is the improved counter system.
Pressing RT or A with the correct timing will counter a move, which can then be countered back. However, what's good is that it's no longer about guesswork - indicators pop-up on screen for a split second which give you a guideline and it makes the fights seem a lot more natural, especially when you end up doing the classic back and forth punching lock-up.
While these improvements are all well and good, and very welcome, Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011 has also seen improvements to its core mode, Road To Wrestlemania, as well as the addition of another, WWE Universe.
WWE Universe is a pseudo mode really, as it attempts to simulate what happens in reality. There will be scheduled shows and PPVs, but it's entirely optional. You can dip in and out whenever you feel like it and the celendar won't have advanced - it actually feels very much like the old career modes, but it's customisable. The game will learn, based on what matches you play, and will create events to suit this. However, you're completely free to play/amend any of the matches offered. All matches will affect rankings, and title holders.
The real meat of the game comes with Road To Wrestlemania, which has again been modified. You still get to choose from some custom stories, which include one involving a custom wrestler, but this time there is a lot more interaction. Yuke's have added a new backstage area where you can run around and talk to/start fights with various wrestlers, or listen in on their conversations. It also serves as a vessel for some of the mode's story telling, as some of the fights don't happen in the ring.
The camera is a bit strange though, and it'd be nice if they could sort that out as it can make navigating the backstage arena a little bit frustrating. Aside from various story elements, it's also possible to spend EXP earned during the mode on improving some very basic stats.
All in all, it seems as WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011 is yet again going to build on the high standards set by the franchise. And with an even more diverse create-a-wrestler mode included, alongside returning options, like create-a-finisher, wrestling fans should be more than satisfied when this is released later in the month.