Just like the big-name pay-per-view events that regularly punctuate the WWE's show schedule, Smackdown vs. RAW is back for another year. The latest entry in the long-running series picks up where last year's game left off, continuing to focus on user creation and true-to-TV action. The biggest new additions this year are on the user creation side, but the action itself also benefits from some refinements. There are a lot of little touches that make matches feel more like those you see on TV, injecting some dynamic excitement into the proceedings. Yet what spices a match up can also make it last far too long and feel like a grind. The game also suffers from many perennial problems, such as weak sound effects, imperfect online play, and nagging animation issues. While this year's Smackdown vs. RAW is definitely better than last year's entry, it's more of an incremental improvement than a substantial upgrade.
6237554NoneA quick reversal saves Edge, but it's too late for that poor table.
One of the first improvements you'll see is the training facility, which pops up at the beginning of the game. The controls are largely unchanged from last year, but the training facility is a great place to get familiar with how different moves work in different places in and around the ring. Smackdown vs. RAW's controls are largely dependent on position, and getting to know what moves character can perform in specific situations will not only make you a better wrestler, but it's also just plain fun. Characters have expanded move sets this year, and it is much easier to maneuver your opponent around the ring to take advantage of their repertoires. The training facility is also a good place to get familiar with abilities, which play a more concrete role this year. Each wrestler has certain abilities, ranging from passive ones (like being more resilient to pins and submissions) to active ones (like quickly escaping the ring or regaining some health by hitting yourself in the head with a chair).
Using your character's special abilities can give you an edge in the ring, but odds are you won't need them much while playing solo. The computer doesn't put up much of a fight in one-on-one matches, and you'll easily dismantle opponents without taking too much damage. It's still fun to whale on another wrestler, but when your opponent sends you across the ring with an Irish Whip and then just stands there waiting for you to recover, you'll long for a more realistic challenge. When things do get tough, it's almost always because more wrestlers are in the mix. Two-on-one handicap matches, tag-team contests, and pretty much any other match with four or more wrestlers ringside are difficult to win. This is not because your opponents are tougher but because there are more of them, and they will vigorously try to break up any pin you attempt. These matches last much longer and capture that satisfying struggle that is characteristic of some of the most epic real-life matches. But when you've been beating on your opponents for upward of 30 minutes, it reaches a point where it stops being challenging and starts being frustrating. And because both manual and auto-targeting can be finicky, it can be even tougher to single out an opponent for a punch or a pin.
Still, this move toward more thorough realism has many advantages. Aside from the astounding list of match possibilities, there's an interesting new rivals mechanic in place. Previously, you could move superstars between shows, change their crowd reaction, and make whatever tag team your heart desired. Now you can tweak each character's allies and enemies, which will affect who comes to help or hinder your character during matches. For example, in a normal one-on-one match between Triple H and Undertaker, Kane decided to show up and prevented Triple H from pinning Undertaker by distracting the ref. This random occurrence made a regular match feel more lively and dynamic, like an event on Smackdown or RAW.