WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 Preview (Xbox360)

Another year, another Smackdown! vs. RAW title. I remember back in the good old days of Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role when there hadn't been time for yearly formulaic titles to properly set in yet, back when it was just so cool to be able to play as your favourite stars and possibly create your own as well. Now, well there's no trying to avoid the fact that SvR has become as... predictable as any FIFA or PES title, but that doesn't necessarily mean Yukes (the guys behind all the Smackdown! vs. Raw titles and the original ones as well) can't keep things fresh.

Down she goes...
Smackdown! vs. Raw 2011 carries with it the usual slew of changes, tweaks, updates, additions and revisions. The roster has been changed to reflect the current state of the WWE, game modes have been added and changed. For example the Hell in the Cell mode has been tweaked and offers several variants. There's a new physics engine as well surrounding objects and how they're interacted with.

The game revolves around two modes: Road to Wrestlemania and the 'WWE Universe' mode. The Road to Wrestlemania should be familiar to you by now, as it's pretty similar to the ones in the previous couple of iterations. You'll be able to choose from a list of story lines to follow, although we're not sure yet if there'll be a storyline for a created character or a Diva. Wrestlers like Jon Cena and The Undertaker are a choice however, and you'll be able to go through their stories.

For the first time since Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth, you'll be able to roam around backstage and perform mini-quests and interact with other wrestlers. There seems to be a limited amount of choice available, but re-play value in these modes is questionable. The real meat and potatoes of this game though is the new 'Universe' mode. It replaces the standard Career mode from previous games and tries to incorporate all of your choices, preferences and past actions into a persistent dynamic career.
You can once again throw things at people, which apparently is a good thing
From what we've played so far, the controls seem to be very intuitive, and not as easy to just 'pick up' if you're a layman or a casual player. Grapples are now mapped to the right tumbstick, and you now have to take into account descent angles and such. There seems to be a lot of hidden and contextual depth to the control scheme which could take a while to get a hold of. Countering seems to have gotten a tad bit silly in this game. We don't really want to use the term 'too easy', but if you have two people who know what they're doing then you're going to see reverse followed by counter followed by reverse a lot.

One of the things that definitely didn't impress us was the highlight reel - whilst playing a match the game is supposed to automatically save snippets to form a 'best bits' segment at the end of the match, but the feature is either poorly coded or just hasn't been finished yet, as the parameters in place means that it misses out on a lot of the good stuff. Another long standing problem we've had with the series is how they balance the 'reality' of the WWE.

Obviously, the whole thing is staged and scripted, so that everyone involved knows that wrestler X is going to go down and stay down after so many minutes or whatever. In the games however, you can't code for that, so you often get odd scenarios where, despite a beating which would hospitalise any real person, your opponents just keep getting back up and pro-longing the match. The point can be best highlighted when we observed a colleague playing a 6-way Ladder match that lasted just over 45 minutes. Even in the WWE, we just don't think that would happen and so it kind of makes the more complex matches a little bit frustrating.

There's also multiplayer of course, although we haven't been able to test that out yet. We hear though that for the first time you'll be able to hold a Royal Rumble match online, either via Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. It depends how many wrestlers they allow at once, but that certainly could be fun to participate in, so we'll have to wait and see how that turns out. Online will feature THQ's own 'Online Pass' charge. People who buy a new copy of the game will get one free pass per copy, and those who buy second hand will get a trial, but will eventually have to cough up in order to enjoy full online functionality.
Randy Orton. From what we've played of the story-line mode, we get the impression this guy's a bit of a douchebag
Ultimately there's not a lot to say. Whilst there's definitely more changes to behold from the last iteration of the series, but the fact of the matter is this is simple another instalment in a franchise that's not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. It depends what gripes you had with the last one - maybe they were fixed, maybe they weren't, but odds are that if you liked the last one you'll like this one. Smackdown! vs. RAW 2011 is due out on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (among other consoles) on October 26th in North America, and October 29th in Europe.

Most Anticipated Feature: We can't wait to see a fully stocked online Royal Rumble match. Remind us to bring popcorn.