The Smackdown vs. Raw series has been around for more than a few years now, and like a time-worn WWE superstar, it is starting to get creaky in its old age. The core mechanics that fuel the entertaining action still set the stage for some great fights, but the perennially problematic collision detection and finicky positioning mechanics are taking their toll. The new modes and refinements in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 are more focused on setting up matches than landing gut punches, which makes the game feel more like a meddling manager than a reigning champion. Yet though the series may be getting long in the tooth, there's still enough action to satiate those with a penchant for powerbombs.
Your costume won't catch fire in Inferno matches, so feel free to accessorize.
One of Smackdown vs. Raw's strengths is that it gives you the freedom to stage a huge variety of matches. 2011 offers more ways to tweak your showdowns than ever, with new locations and expanded match creation options. Whether you're setting your favorite superstar up to take on his archrival in an extreme rules match, or taking on a few friends in a Hell in a Cell diva showdown, it's fun to set the stage and then fight your way through a contest of your own devising. Furthermore, almost every match you play gets roped into the new Universe mode. This mode sets everything within the context of the WWE television schedule, including regular shows and marquee monthly events. You can play or simulate the matches that the game sets up or tweak the parameters to structure events to your liking. Matches that you play outside of Universe mode get slotted into the schedule, and the game often interjects melodramatic cutscenes and surprise events. Universe mode creates an enjoyable sense of continuity, but on the whole, it is little more than a new structure for the same familiar action.
The sheer number of moves you can pull off in the wide variety of different match situations is still very impressive. Knowing your wrestler's arsenal and maneuvering your opponent into just the right situation for a devastating attack is definitely satisfying. There have also been some refinements made to the core mechanics this year, particularly in matches that involve environmental elements like ladders and tables, resulting in some more realistic and more impactful falls. Unfortunately, the problems with the underlying physics system still linger. Collision detection remains a problem that can cause your strikes and grapples to go awry at frustrating moments, and this issue becomes even more problematic when there are more than two wrestlers in the ring. Learning to execute a wide variety of moves isn't enough; you have to know when the game will let you execute them. It may be unrealistic to expect to be able to perform any basic move at any time, but you should merely have to learn the rules--not the rules and the flaws. This has been the case with Smackdown vs. Raw for years, and while it is certainly possible to have a lot of fun fighting both AI and human opponents, these flaws still put a damper on the excitement. The sound effects further lessen the thrill of competing on the WWE stage, making a flying leap from the top turnbuckle sound about as intense as a door slammed by someone who is mildly annoyed.