With the clocks having gone back an hour and my house's array of timepieces in chaos, the annual flow of releases from THQ's Smackdown vs Raw franchise is most definitely more reliable than clockwork - and definitely more reliable than the postman! The due date for Smackdown vs Raw 2010 has passed and, once more, the partnership of wrestling moguls WWE and gaming giants THQ has spawned a baby rammed full of grapples, finishers, bloody-noses, faux-reality drama and bad costumes; and I love it!
Wrestling games have come a long way since the days on the PSOne where I found Stone Cold's taunt one of the funniest things in the world. Times have changed, wrestlers have come and gone and gaming graphics have soared to lofty new heights above the virtual stratosphere. Developers have greater resources available to them and SDvR definitely displays that.
It's still the basic formula, so prepare to dig out your butcher's uniform cause it's time to throw around some meat. The in-ring combat that has been present for over a decade now has been honed to near-perfection - it's hard to see it getting any better, truly. The combat options have so many branches that fights are truly free form, fancy relentlessly pounding your opponent's face in? "Fine", bellows the god of wrestling in the sky, "but make sure you try out my custom finisher, it looks brutal." So whether you're a fan of destroying some faces or acting out humiliating S&M fantasies from the top rope, SDvR surely caters for you. (Don't take that too literally.)
Upon entering the ring, your eyes will widen as the ever-improved graphics stream their beautiful waterfall of blood, sweat and RAW pain into your very soul. Well, that might be overplaying it a bit, but the visuals are certainly something to be treasured here with everything from the basics, such as hair, skin and eyes, to the smaller details such as tattoos and muscle-rippling being recreated with notable crispness.
As with most technology nowadays, games are also beginning to jump on the "features-galore" bandwagon, and SDvR is no exception. I will say, however, that in the twisted, fictional world of wrestling games, features galore is most definitely good-times galore. The 2010 iteration has more features on offer than deco-lingual robot that can juggle and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner simultaneously while reading bedtime stories to you. As with said imaginary robot, many of the features are benign and essentially pointless, but all offer an extra dimension, supplying more wrestling-related chaos to dwindle away your free time with.
Lauded on the back of the box is the curious statement, "It's your world now". Well thanks very much wrestling, for handing the world over to me, how exactly is it my world now? Oh, I can make my own story can I? Coolio. In reality, creating your own story sounds rather more fulfilling and rife with opportunity than it actually is. The interface for this process is riddled with various tools and actions which scream "ARGGHHHH" at any novice user within 30 miles before giving them the finger. There's a reason that story-scripting is left to the people making the game, the system is far too fiddly to be enjoyable and when your many spent hours come to their sweaty fruition, you'll realise you've just thrown out of the window what might seem an entire lifetime and throw your pad at the wall in a mad fit of rage.
The other creation modes are more short and straightforward, so offer a nice sideshow to the relentless violence that the main game comprises. I'd espescially reccommend the Create-A-Superstar mode, though I bet you won't be able to resist making a hulking bear-man. It's practically obligatory when all those tweaking options are flung into your face like a 300lb man following an absurdly powerful Irish Whip.
The wrestling itself works well, with grapple moves being transfered to the right thumstick amongst other changes. Repeatedly dosing a fat guy with slugs from your hulking bear-man's fist never felt so satisfying and finally earning a finisher and being able to unleash your crazy beans on your opponents body is always sure to bring a smile to the face. The animations can seem laboured and overwrought at times, with highly evident screen jerks when the animations snap into place but the interface is so smooth and the action moving at such a fast pace that this small fault is far overshadowed.
Musically, the title seems rather stubborn, like a young teenager refusing to admit that he really, really likes "Barbie Girl". The game has enough metal in it to build a ship and while it suits the gritty nature of the game, it can get grating on the ears, eventually turning your brain into a messy blob full of iron-filings and hate for the overused genre. There definitely needs to be a wider selection of music on offer here. Pulling that nail back out of the coffin, the soundtrack, while hardly eclectic, did introduce me to some new bands and the artist/info display when the songs come on is helpful for those who like to pad their music collection.
As with most wrestling games, this was clearly made for the hardcore. The fans that go into stores every year and buy each edition before returning home and entering a wrestling-filled coma for a year until the next version comes out. While this is all well and good of THQ, it does make SDvR a bit of a closed community. While they have added the menu screen in-ring tutorial to try and alleviate, as a novice I felt that I was having the controls and nuances of wrestling shoved down my neck like creatine pills. If you're a fan of wrestling, you'll doubtless enjoy the game on a further level, but if not, it still makes a fun distraction from the class-a titles. It is an acquired taste though, so if you're not sure, this is definitely one to rent first.
Sam has been unable to peel his bloodshot eyes and RSI-ridden wrists from the world of gaming since he was first introduced to it, like all good junkies, by his Grandad. From those early days of MegaDrive sweetness, bashing through the throngs of enemies on Shining Force II, his love of all things games has extended upwards and outwards onto a variety of platforms. You can either believe that spiel, or get the real scoop and know that his spaceship actually crashed here some years ago and he is currently incognito as a games writer for Console Monster.