WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2011 – hands-on

In this business the bigger steps get noticed and applauded, while smaller but important updates can be overlooked. Last year WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2010 was a huge step forward for the series and we gave it high praise for the implementation of an insanely deep online community as well as a new storyline creation mode to go with Create-A-Wrestler. Now a year has passed and WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2011 is due in a few months. We finally got our hands on it recently and while it might not be a quantum leap, it seems to correct some of the few flaws of last year while maintaining the quality of the most recent edition.

Our favorite update is one that sounds small, but makes a big difference in practice. The physics engine and how the multitude of objects (chairs, ladders, tables, etc) interact with the player have been completely redone. Take for example the formerly very rigid set of options of how to break a table: before you’d set up a table and carefully place your opponent in harm’s way and then have a rather scripted table breaking sequence. Now any move that involves throwing a character to the ground breaks the table in a very real looking way, no matter what part of the table the guy hits. That alone adds much more reality to the battles, which some may think is a silly demand for a “fake” sport, but fans know it makes a huge change.

The same goes for the chairs and ladders, which finally reflect some sort of weight when the wrestlers use them. When a ladder is set-up like a ramp, you see the ropes move down with the ladder’s heaviness in a non-scripted way. And once an item has beenused up, aka smashed over an opponent, the wreckage sticks around instead of just fading away. For longtime fans of the more hardcore side of wrestling, it seems like TLC, Money in the Bank and similar battles will all benefit from this.

Speaking of the various match types, it seems like every year the developers pick at least one type of match and aim to radically improve it. Last year the Royal Rumble went from a grueling ordeal to exciting and varied, and now Hell in the Cell is getting similar attention. We’re not saying that throwing guys off of or through a giant metal box wasn’t fun before, but after seeing the changes made, we can’t see ourselves playing last year’s version ever again.

First of all, you’ve at last got some real space to move inside the cell. In years prior, once outside the ring you had a very cramped space to move in that didn’t allow for any real attacks or the use of foreign objects. Now there’s a healthy amount of room to maneuver around the ring, where onecan pull off normal grapples or specialized assaults that smash your opponent into the cage. And the improved physics are also on display in how you smash people through the roof of the cage. Overall that marquee match appears to be better than ever.

Outside of plain exhibition matches, the single player modes have seen some changes too. First off, the great Road to Wrestlemania is back, but has several new facets to deepen the campaign. Instead of hanging out in a boring locker room between matches like earlier, now there’s a free roaming backstage area your wrestler explores, where you can either go to the next story point, make branching decisions, or just run into other wrestlers and talk/fight with them. There’s also some new RPG Elements (TM) on display (leveling up your stats and the like), which were part of the old career mode and are now in Road to Wrestlemania. Lastly, and most strangely, you also gain a time machine to go back and replay previous matches or make different choices in the story. It all appears to make for a much deeper single player experience.

But if you want to make your own guy and play through a career with him, that’s where another single player update comes in. The old, somewhat stagnant career mode has been replaced by WWE Universe, which is a strange mix of the previous career experience with a season mode added where you have much more control over the world. Though you could just take your wrassler on the path the AI sims for you, alterations can be made at any time. You can change your opponents, allies, match order, you can sim years worth of matches, plus the AI is keeping track of how you play and who you fight against, creating rivalries of their own. It’s all looks like a extremely rich update.

On the player creation side of things, it looks like they're staying the course with only some minor, but welcome updates. Last year’s amazing community features will be back, where players already share literally millions of created items. Some small interface changes have been made to the beloved Create-A-Wrestler mode, now including templates for certain outfits as a starting point for creating something. For example, no more will you have to reinvent the tuxedo for every dapper character you make.

Add to all that even more wacky items, plus the smart new ability to make custom signs for your custom characters and the mode is looking good. Also CAW has at last cut out the middle man and allowed you to change a wrestler’s stats from the start instead of just slowly raising them over many matches. Lastly, the ability to make corner finishers in Create-A-Finisher aims to keep that already insanely deep creation mode fresh.

It remains to be seen if all these smaller revisions add up to an even better total package, but the possibilities are looking bright. Yes, there isn’t an addition to WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2011 on the scale of last year’s online community, but perhaps, when the game comes out October 26, all these little things will make a big difference.

Aug 18, 2010

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.