I wouldn't believe you if you told me there wasn't a part of you who secretly loves wrestling. It's nature and as a man it can't be helped. When I was younger I would openly stroll into school with the latest Stone Cold Steve Austin packed lunch box, or the latest Triple H figurine. Suddenly without warning I've grown up and now all of these things are 'frowned' upon. I'm no longer able to walk into the work office parading my new John Cena lunch box without being thrown banter like insults. Now of course there are still WWE diehards over the age of twenty who will quite happily stroll up town in a John Cena T-shirt, but for the rest of us we must rely on other resources to get our fix. Mine comes by the way of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.
SDvR11 is a huge game to say the least. Almost everything you can think of has been catered for. Online, custom matches, story mode and an all new Universe mode where you become the General Manager and control the whole WWE schedule, it's truly colossal. The main 'career' action comes from the Road to Wrestlemania where you get to choose from five WWE superstars and take them to Wrestlemania glory. This is where it gets interesting. You can play as John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho or Christian in their own story to Wrestlemania or you can try and end The Undertakers undefeated Wrestlemania streak using your custom created character.
Each player has a different story and in true WWE fashion there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. You can also roam freely around backstage while you decide what to do next, however this is where I stumbled across a major flaw in the game. There's absolutely nothing to do backstage; it's so bad it actually gets annoying. The layout of the roaming area is exactly the same no matter which arena you are in. You occasionally have to enter your GM's office and receive messages on your mobile phone but apart from that there's nothing else going on. You might bump into the odd wrestler here and there but unfortunately it's nothing like you see from the TV when the cameras go backstage. There's also nothing interactive so it's really just pointless. I would have loved to have seen more interaction, maybe some media interviews and more wrestlers walking around to speak to and perhaps even get into a brawl with. To top it off, the camera angle is also not very flexible and will frustrate you; thankfully the actual wrestling is good fun.
The controls are easy to pick-up and play. Using the right analogue stick to perform the majority of moves with the simple face buttons used to kick, punch, grapple and Irish whip. Like almost all wrestling games in history it's important to build up your finisher meter which will allow you to pull that epic move on your opponent. My favourite wrestler is John Cena and there is no better feeling (slight exaggeration) in the world that pulling an FU on my opponent. And of course like most things in the world building the meter up is extra fun with the addition of weapons. Tables, ladders, chairs, metal stairs and sledgehammers you name it and it's pretty much available. The one thing I kept forgetting was that some matches are DQ games so it's very unwise to pop out of the ring, grab a chair and smash Triple H in the head with it.
There still seems to be some problems with auto switching between fighters when there are more than two wrestlers in the ring, which can cause frustration but this is something which has existed in almost all previous SDvR games. This will lead to you occasionally Irish whipping the ref into the turnbuckle or even worse, power bombing the ref onto a chair.
Another problem that I have certainly experienced is the online play. There’s a new Royal Rumble mode which on paper looks great and I would have loved to have tried to win an online Royal Rumble, but I couldn’t for the simple fact that the online appears to be broken. Whenever searching for any type of game there only seems to be a few Americans online and while this means you’ll be able to access a game, once started it’s so sluggish and laggy that you end up quitting. This may be down to the fact that I’m trying to connect games from America, or my internet connection is poor, so it would be good to hear of your experiences. Offline games are still impressive though and with a few of your fellow closet wrestling mates around you can have hours of fun.
The presentation throughout SDvR11 is superb. The realism from the player visuals to the story plots and twists really make you feel part of the game. There are over seventy wrestlers to choose from and each wrestler looks almost identical to their on-screen counterparts. Their entrances to the ring just add fuel to the excitement of a match especially when there's a title belt up for grabs.
While there are plenty of exhibition and story modes available there are always people who love to spend hours and hours customising the game to their needs. In SDvR11 you have all the tools you need to do this. You can create almost anything it's that flexible and most of all it's not that hard. You can create your own superstar with his or her own ring entrance and finisher moves, to creating your very own story mode; how in depth you go is up to you.
Overall SDvR11 is an excellent game with fabulous offline features. If the online wasn’t broken I’d most definitely be scoring this game higher, nevertheless if you're a wrestling fan or even a closet wrestling fan, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is the game you should be purchasing or requesting at Christmas. The presentation is of a high standard, the customisation is very in-depth and most of all it's a fun game to play both with friends and without. What are you waiting for? Go and lay the smackdown!