Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Review: Smackdown vs. Raw (PS2)
Posted by Chris :: 1:36 PM

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw for the PS2 Game Console is the newest entry in the Smackdown series from THQ that's spanned 5 previous games over two systems. Developed by Yuke's, the 6th game in this series added some well deserved tweaks in the game engine. Several new features have been added this year, such as the opening match mini-games. These consist of a Test of Strength, a Staredown, and a Shoving contest, which are all performed with a well timed hit of a button at the beginning of a match.

Another great added feature was in the form of Clean/Dirty Moves, so you can choose to play the heroic good guy or the devilish, cheating heel. SDvsRaw also has more than 40 of your favorite and not so favorite WWE Superstars along with WWE Legends such as Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Andre the Giant, and the Legion of Doom. And unlike last year's SD: Here Comes the Pain, the legends are complete with entrances and theme music. Nice touches there.

Probably the most improved feature in this year's game is the Royal Rumbles. The addition of a Ringout Meter, which at leat gives you a fighting chance in the Rumbles because it takes longer for you to be eliminated because you have to wear down your bar first. Unfortunately, it also gives your opponents the same fighting chance. So Rumbles are bit harder this year, but more fun.

Also available this year, for the first time ever, is online play. Sadly, the only thing available for play online is singles matches and Bra and Panties matches. No defending your Create-A-Belts, no tag team matches, no tracking your wins and losses, and no participating in Specialty matches. Very disappointing. Maybe someday, someone will get an proper online wrestling game going. And maybe by then, I'll actually have broadband. :(

Returning, FINALLY, is the Create-A-Belt and Create-A-Pay Per View. Fans haven't seen the Create-A-Belt since the Good 'Ole Days of Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64, and I, for one, am glad to see it back. You can also defend your belt in multiplayer and if you lose your belt, it goes onto your opponent's memory card and you can't get it back until you win it back. SO be careful who you put your title up against. You may never see it again.

So, since this was a big title here at AC and several of our reviewers either bought the game and/or wanted to review it, what we've done is set up a bit of a Roundtable Review. This review features our AC's Own Dan, Anthony, and myself along with Special Guest Reviewers Omar and Chris McLeod and (for the most part) covers what I didn't cover up there in the beginning. So, take it away, fellas!
Chris: Alright gentlemen, first off, what are some initial impressions of the game?

Chris M.: As someone who played the fuck out of Here Comes the Pain, I was anticipating this game a ton. I have to say, it wasn't quite as good as Here Comes the Pain was, but it's not horribly dissapointing as some of the reviews made it out to be. The game has depth, but it has depth in different ways than Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain (HCTP) had it. Overall, not dissapointed, but not dazzled. I will go more into depth with this when other questions arise.

Anthony: I was worried it would be a step backwards from HCTP. But, I actually found myself having more fun playing this then HCTP is some areas. The mini-games, and challenges make this a deep game, and much fun to play.

Dan: I didn't really know what to expect from the game. I'd sort of stayed away from the PS2 games for God-knows-what-reason, and even when I ordered HCTP from one of my rental services it didn't work. But when this came around after talking with some of you guys, I decided to get it (We are or were, after all, wrestling fans). I thought the game was actually pretty good. The controls were a bit unintuitive to me, but nothing completely prohibitive. I had issues in other areas, though.

Chris: Now, I was sorta looking forward to the game, but in all honesty, not too much because at the time, I didn't have a PS2, so I was worried I wasn't gonna get to play it. But then I did get one and SDvsRaw at the same time. I've played all of the SmackDown series, with the exception of SD: Just Bring It, and while I prefer the No Mercy engine, ( I honestly think everyone in this room does as well) I've really gotten used to the SD engine.

[At this point, the church says "Amen."]

So all the added tweaks to the engine like the Dirty/Clean meter and the Pre-Match Mini Games were nice additions. I especially love the Dirty Moves, since I'm a heel bastard.

Omar: I think this engine is an improvement over Bring The Pain since it felt almost too mechanical in how you had to break down your oppenent. It was break down one body part and that's it. Compared to a game like Fire Pro, where you can cause general damage to your opponent and win that match, much like real wrestling.

Chris M.: Well, a lot of real wrestling is working a certain body part, too.

Omar: Yeah, but Bring the Pain was extremely mechanical, and if a guy's moveset didn't have moves that damaged the area that his finisher did, you were forced to repeat the same moves over and over. It showed how stupid Rock and Austin's movesets were. Where's the fun in that? Even with the reduced roster, I think it's the best SD game of the series and it does a good job recreating the WWE.

Dan: Now the title of the game is Smackdown vs. Raw - basically the premise follows the last year, give or take a few months, of the WWE storyline, which is that the shows Smackdown and Raw are split, allowing for completely different things to be going on in each show (with the odd trade or feud between shows). How do you think the story mode reflected the spirit of that and the current storyline climate of the WWE?

Chris: Honestly, I don't think it reflected it very well, because the story modes are the same regardless of which brand you're on, which was very disappointing. And sometimes it was the little things. Like I was on Raw and there was Torrie Wilson and Sable on Raw. Which is a big WTF. And both Stacy Keibler and Trish Stratus were on Smackdown. Which made no sense. On the other hand, some little details were quite good, such as JR and King randomly spouting out "You won't see this kind of action on SmackDown!" during commentary and the outrage of a SD superstar coming over to Raw. Seeing Angle and Taker and the like on Raw was neat, but there wasn't really a long term reason for them to be there, and it was like it was forgotten the next month.

Chris M.: I agree with Demp [ed note: "Demp" is Chris' nickname] that the season mode doesn't compare well to the current WWE environment and storylines. The whole "divas on the wrong shows" stuff was very weird. As was the fact that the wrestlers they accompanied weren't even the right wrestlers. The whole "You won't see stuff like this on Smackdown, JR!" commentary was nice and all, but it made little sense when King said it during my battle royale match where it was me and 14 other SmackDown guys. And also, in the real WWE, they don't really focus on brand feuds all that much. I think that the whole "Smackdown invading" and such was a product of the fact that the game is named "Smackdown vs. Raw", and ultimately, I think the idea of the game shaped the story mode more than the actual WWE storylines. HCTP's story mode was probably a little better, though SDvR's wasn't horrible by any means.

Omar: I agree with Demp and Chris on the storyline mishaps, I personally think the story mode from Here Comes The Pain was much better with random stuff from past WWE storylines with the characters from the season being thrown in. My favorite storyline from HCTP was my guy as champ, me getting attacked from a car with a sledgehammer (like Rock) and finding out it was my friend, Killa K's CAW... Then at Wrestlemania we fought. You just don't get that in SDvRaw.

Anthony: I hated how the storylines for each brand were the same. To be honest, outside of the commentary, I didn't feel a difference between two brands. I also didn't like how they took out the option to create the rosters for each brand. But overall, the career mode was fun, and had a variety of twists and turns.

Dan: I couldn't believe, personally, that they pulled the same trick they pulled in this game that they did in Day of Reckoning. There's no real difference here between either storyline. That takes out half of the replay value, unless you happen to like seeing both red AND blue. There were two things I really did like, though. One, you can actually lose matches here and the storyline progresses. I know this because I lost a whoooole lot (we'll talk about that later) intially. Two, you actually get to make the odd decision. This sometimes affects whether you'll have a tag team partner (for instance), or whether you'll be playing a good guy (face) or a bad guy (heel).

Chris: Now, one of the new features in SD vs Raw is the Clean/Dirty Moves and Meter. Two part question here: How did you guys like that, and did it change your wrestling style any?

Anthony: I really enjoyed the clean/dirty meter, I thought it added a whole new dimension to the matches, and the gameplay. I really felt a level of satisfaction hitting someone with a mega low blow after building up my meter, and I also found myself trying to play as a face/heel in order to build up my meter.

Chris: I really enjoyed the Clean/Dirty Feature. My CAW's are usually heel-ish guys and I like to cheat alot by using chairs and low blows, cause frankly it's more fun. So now I can do all that AND get rewarded for it? SIGN ME THE FUCK UP. So it really didn't change the way I play much, because I'm a heel dick anyways. Although the Clean Meter is great incentive to actually wrestle Chris Benwah style and break down your opponents body piece by piece.

Chris M.: The Clean/Dirty moves and meter were okay, but I think it kind of limits my style if I want to do clean or dirty moves with the filled meter. Perhaps I haven't explored it enough, but I usually like to do the dick heel moves AND the crazy dives onto my opponents.

Anthony: You do have the option of turning off the meter.

Chris M: I know... but it just doesn't seem worth it to wrestle a certain style in order to do just a low blow or just more powerful clean moves. It's a nice feature, and I'm sure I'll find more use for it as I wrestle more, but for now, it just seems superfluous.

Omar: I like the meter since I felt like I was actually working a wrestling match, as compared to trying to beat the hell out of my opponent. I even crafted my CAW to working a dirty style and it had a hand in what choices I made in Story mode. My one gripe is that I don't think dirty fighters should be penalized for high flying moves.

Dan: I think it was a little flawed in the execution. I played mostly Dirty, and even when I was trying hard, it was still pretty difficult to pull off the Dirty "finisher". Moreover, when I made a decision storyline-wise that turned me into a Clean wrestler, it didn't work very well for me, as almost all my moves were set up for a Dirty wrestler. It would have been nice to include 2 different movesets to bring that in. What I also noticed a lot of was when I was wrestling Clean with my Dirty moveset, I actually wrestled a lot like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Putting some sort of "grey" or "anti-hero" characteristic would have been nice as well. Unfortunately, neither of those were there. Also, I found it a little annoying that they didn't integrate this feature into all (or nearly all) different match types. Heels and faces exist in Last Man Standing matches too.

Chris: I'll agree with Dan here with the Wrestling Clean with a Dirty Moveset. That didn't quite work out for me.

Chris M.: Yes, and I'll also note that to do the dirty finisher, all you have to do is grapple.

Omar: I think there should have been another dirty attack... Where's the fork attack?

Chris M.: How do you all feel about the CAW mode this time around? HCTP's CAW mode was really great, do you think this version is better, worse, the same?

Anthony: I felt that the CAW has always been the finest feature of the SD series. This one was no exception. I made a pretty good version of my SWF [ed note: Slash Wrestling Federation is an e-fed at] wrestler. Only one complaint: I felt there was a lack of moves that hadn't already been given to an already created WWE wrestler. Not having a slingshot suplex upset me, also.

Dan: CAW mode was interesting. I was able to make a pretty decent luchador, who looked a lot better here than he did in DOR (THE RETURN OF LEYENDA!). However, when I went to create myself, obviously I was looking for a lot more facial details for myself than I was looking for for my masked luchador. I found that while having 154 or so different eyes is nice, how come there are no different noses, or mouth shapes? My guy barely looks like me as I was able to do a slight bit of jaw morphing. I also thought the hair options were kind of abysmal. My hair looks like a shorter version of Rhyno's - curly and long. It was impossible to find even his hair type - I looked over and over again. I'm not sure if it needs to be unlocked, but it's annoying that it isn't there. As for moves, I didn't really feel like it was lacking a lot. It actually had the Emerald Fusion, so I was happy.

Omar: I personally think that creating the body parts for your CAW is almost too deep, The people that post CAWs online are insane to toy around with it to make near perfect versions of WWE guys not included in the game. I love the large selection of moves though.

Chris: I thought the CAW Mode was pretty much the same this go around, although I did like the new interface. And for the love of God, THANK YOU for fixing the shitty looking shorts and pants and for also having a decent selection of short hairstyles. I've always thought that one area where SD Create-A-Wrestler modes were lacking was in all the goofy shit they'd put in for you to use. I mean, really, who's gonna use a Rainbow Wig or a Vegeta hairstyle? Not I, that's for sure. I'm anal about some parts of my Create-A-Demp and the little facial tweaks you can do satisfies me greatly. Also, I'm glad they kept the CAW Snapshot feature from Day of Reckoning, cause I for one was really tired of seeing my CAW represented as Shadow Man.

Chris M.: I'm a mixed bag about the CAW. The initial interface seems kind of unfair. At some points it's easier to scale your body when you have the clothes you want on your CAW. I thought it was good, and I did like the better selection of pants and shorts and short hairstyles (though none seemed to fight just right). I thought it was a little lacking in shirts, and I thought the face morphing was kind of strange. I'm still not quite comfortable with my CAW's face.

Dan: Yes, I agree.

Chris M.: It takes a LOT of tweaking to get the face right... a lot more than in HCTP. The moveset doesn't seem too limited, it's still got the moves I liked last time and then some. The only thing that makes it seem limited is the fact that you can only assign certain moves to certain grapples. Like, in HCTP, I could put anything in Submission grapple... Not so in SDvR. It doesn't bother me THAT much, it's just kind of weird. I DO like the bookmarking feature, though. A LOT. Basically, as you're going through and assigning your CAW moves, you can hit R2 and "bookmark" that move if you like it.. Thus you don't have to go scrolling through all the moves.

Omar: Oh yeah, and some of the B submissions seem kind of weird. A headlock can make you submit? WTF?

Chris M.: And I also don't like that they removed the original entrances from last time. Where's the ballet dancing? Where's the drunken stumble? Those were things that made the CAWs fun last time.

Dan: Okay... I famously went something like 2-20 on the first 3 days with this game in Story Mode. The matches I won I happened to win by sheer luck or by exploiting the system (keeping the computer on the ground longer than would normally be possible, with the same submission move.) Be honest. Wasn't the story mode AI a bit overly aggressive early on? I can't see that being healthy for the casual gamer. I'd have given up if I hadn't bought the damn game. Also, what did you guys think of the WWE Challenges?

Anthony: I think that for a good career mode, you need to gradually increase the AI. It eases you into the game, and let's you build your character up. I didn't notice it being hard early on, but I could sense an un-eveness with the AI in career mode. The game gives you about 60, maybe more challenges. The challenges ask you to complete exhibition matches under certain guidelines for cash. I really enjoyed them - they reminded me a lot of Madden. Plus, it was a great way to earn money for the shopzone.

Ramo: I'm a SD junkie so I know the system in and out so I didn't have too many problems, but I did have the same problem that Dan had with HCTP, if you know in the begining that your CAW sucks, then it's understandable that the AI could whip your ass. I loved the challenges, except for the "win after taking two finishers" one since it's not natural to the game play.

Chris M.: I didn't think the AI was too hard, I think that you have to strike early though, and not let them get an advantage at all. It takes some getting used to, but if you pretty much stay on the offense the entire match, you'll probably win every time. That's one thing I keep in mind while making my CAW: I go for moves and strikes that are conducive to further offense,l ike the Jericho toe kick, which stuns an opponent and lets you get off an easy finisher. The challenges were pretty cool, it's a nice element that it added to the game, but some of them do seem pretty ridiculous.

Dan: See, for me, I was actually not comparing it to Fire Pro D (which don't have no, and don't need no stinkin' storylines), but to Day of Reckoning, where you start up from the ground as a jobber (a guy who loses a lot) and work your way to the championship. In this game, it's like your CAW is already assumed to be a Superstar, but his stats just happen to be 50 points lower than everyone else's. It's extremely frustrating. As far as the challenges, I found I was doing some of them so I could cling to the AI curve and win matches. After the dam broke in Story mode, I started doing a lot better. The gameplay was even compelling. But they really, really need to start slower next time. This was my least favorite part of the game. When I went into exhibition to play, say, Eddy Guererro vs. Triple H, I didn't see any drastic difference between the two in terms of ability, and everything flowed like a normal match. Not so much with the story mode initially.

Chris: I honestly didn't have too much trouble with the story mode mainly, just because I hadn't played an SD game in forever, I turned it down to easy to get my rhythm back. So then I took my CAW, complete with a 26 rating, into story mode and didn't have too much trouble, except for the fact that I tapped out to Shelton Benjamin and had to restart the Last Man Standing Match with Tajiri few times. Then I when I got my stats up to point, I jacked the difficulty back up to normal. But one thing I cannot STAND about the AI is the constant barrage of attacks the computer will hit you with while you're on the ground and they will NOT LET YOU UP AND I WANT TO KILL THE PS2. It's very fucking cheap and not very gentlemanly like.

Dan: Yeah, in No Mercy, after one or two submissions, the game would force you to your feet. In this game, you can actually endlessly apply submissions as long as the opponent doesn't counter.

Chris: One gripe about it, though is that there's no Tag Team Title or Icey Title storyline like in Here Comes The Pain, and even if you had a Superstar Point total of 65, you could still win the World Title. Almost like you didn't earn the title. I didn't like that the World Title being the focus of the Story Mode. I liked the slow build of HCTP's story mode better.

Anthony: I HATED that they took out those titles... really took away a dimension of career mode.

Anthony: This next one's simple question really: what were some of the little things that you really liked about this game? I'm talking about quirks and such the average gamer may not notice. These can be postivie and negative. They can be graphical, control wise, or sound wise.

Chris M.: First off is in CAW mode, the fact that you can put a bag over your CAW's head. Second, I liked the "holding onto submissions until the five count" feature (In order to build up your "dirty" meter, you can hold onto a submission hold after the ref tells you to break it.) Third, I kind of like the new ringside view, it makes it look more like you're on the actual show with the actual camera view.

Chris: The return of the turnbuckle removal and the foot on the ropes moves. The fact that you can complain to the ref about a slow count. DITTO on the "ignoring the rope break" thing. The corner chop mini-game, and last but not least, THE TITLE AT RINGSIDE SO YOU CAN USE IT OMG if you're a champ. But I will say, that the Hell in a Cell looks waaaay too small this go around.

Omar: When I go to the top of the stage, the side view hampers your view, I love being able to ignore the ref for the 5 count, I love being able to complain to the ref. I think being able to have your manager distract the ref and it really works it great. The camera in the 6-man hell in a cell pulls out way too much. Like Demp, I love the chop battles.

Dan: Unlike most of you guys, I think, I actually liked the dancing Torrie and Sable menus. Sable looks actually decently attractive here. I liked that the camera was set just like a TV camera was. I liked the holding of the 5 count, though I wish you could do it in any match type, not just the ones who had a clean/dirty meter. I didn't really particularly like the submission A/B stuff. Nor did I like that submission moves basically were null and void in any match where they were turned off. You can't even apply them to work on an opponent.

Omar: Dano, I think you can. As long as the match has rope breaks

Dan: I don't think you can because it doesn't count them as "submissions", per se. It's like the armbars in the game where it does damage, but needs to be applied repeatedly.

Chris: Superstar Voiceovers: Good? Bad? Cool? Annoying? What's your take?

Dan: One word: awful.

Omar: Most of the guys sound like they were using their normal voices, which is really shown when you hear Vince who must have been really geared up that day.

Chris M.: They were sort of cool, but I don't think they were needed. I don't think they should've sacrificed other stuff for the sake of voiceover.

Chris: Well, like the actual Raw and Smackdown broadcasts, JR and King and Cole and Tazz are hit and miss in the commentary, mostly miss. But for the most part I tend to ignore them in the heat of battle anyway. Now, as for the cut scenes, very few of the voiceovers have any spunk to them. Vince McMahon's is my standout voiceover, as it was emotional and as pumped as he usually is. But as for the rest, *snore* Which is what Eric Bischoff must have been doing during his recording session, cause he sounds like he downed a gallon of Quaaludes before he got started. They add to the realism of the TV production, but I do think that they should have given your CAW a default voice to use.

Omar: Also, if you go through the Story mode with a guy on the WWE roster, they don't talk either.

Chris: Alright guys, final scores?

Chris M.: 3.5
Omar: 3.5
Chris: If I could give it 3.75 , I would, but as it stands, SD vs. Raw gets a mighty 3.5 from me.
Dan: 3.5
My final score: 4/5 While it has some hic-cups here and there (story mode, crappy announcers and voice over), this is still the best installment of the Smackdown series, and arguably one of the best US wrestling games available today.

Chris: Now, averaging the scores, rounding up (chosen at random prior to review starting), we still arrive at a mighty...!

Out of 5.

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