Fighting the possum pin.
Playing WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 is like receiving a great offer for a credit card in the mail. In big, bold letters on top of the letter, it has everything you would ever want: 0% APR for the first six months, a balance transfer option, no annual fees, a rewards program, and no liability on unauthorized purchases. Then you start to read all the exceptions in the fine print, and you realize that this is just the same deal that they’ve have been hawking for years. Used wisely, it’s still one of the best offers around, but you don’t feel as psyched about it as you did at the start.
[image1]WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 touts plenty of new features, more than the average annual installment in the franchise (so get ready for a long review), but nearly all of them have unwelcome limitations. Though most of these shortcomings are understandable, they will nonetheless tick off more than a few diehard wrestling fans, both hardcore fighters and creation artists alike.
Learning from their recent success with UFC 2009 Undisputed, THQ throws you right into an interactive tutorial, a practice ring where you can get accustomed to the rearranged controls and moves without having to flip through the manual. Like other practice modes in other fighting titles, you can control the difficulty of the A.I., set the momentum meter, and swap in different wrestlers. There is, however, no way to use one of your created characters, and the provided checklist for each move is buried in the menu screen.
Among the new maneuvers that players will appreciate are moves on the apron, allowing you to execute a wider array of attacks, grapples, and transitions along the edge of the ring with ease. Ultimate control grapples aren’t mandatory anymore, giving you more choices when creating or editing a moveset, and you can now transition fluidly between the four strong grapples. Moreover, finishers and grapples specific to Royal Rumble have been added, as well as neat win-or-lose mini-games that occur near the ropes, to make the match type more about trying to toss opponents out of the ring.
Reversals, once separated between strikes and grapples, have been condensed into one button (right trigger) for any reversal type, and you have the option to turn on reversal indicators. Hardcore players who have mastered the two-button reversal system will feel slighted, but this simplification does level the playing field and gives players no excuse for not knowing how to counter.
[image2]The momentum required to use a finisher can no longer be stored either. Since the momentum bar resets if you don’t pull off the finisher in time, this intensifies the all-or-nothing dynamics of the system and makes the moves leading up to the finisher that much more important. You don’t want to give your opponent the chance to run away and leave your finisher out to dry.
The HUD for momentum now centers about the wrestlers’ feet instead of cluttering the screen. You can turn this off as well, but then you won’t know when you can use a signature or finisher move. On the other hand, the standard health meter that shows the condition of each body part (head, body, arms, and legs) has also been removed. This isn’t completely debilitating since wrestlers still hold their heavily damaged limbs. And hey, it’s a throwback to the days of WWF No Mercy when all you had was a spirit gauge. Still, it probably would have been better if there was an option to show or conceal a variation of the health gauge instead.
In addition to featuring Randy Orton, Edge, Shawn Michaels, and John Cena (with Triple H in co-op), this year’s Road to Wrestlemania mode also includes a plot for WWE Diva Mickie James and for a created WWE Superstar [Hopefully not the story of her ruptured implant. ~Ed]. Where Mickie James demands more respect for Divas, who commonly play the role of eye candy and trophy girlfriends, your created wrestler has no plans to be in the WWE until Intercontinental Champion Santino Marella calls him out of the crowd for being a weakling just like everyone else in the audience.
The mode still works as before, pitting you through a gauntlet of various matches with different win conditions (complete special conditions to unlock special match types and items), while answering your cell phone and being the typical muscle-bound badass in cut-scenes. However, each Road to Wrestlemania path is extremely linear: The few decisions you can make only change up some win conditions or what wrestlers appear in a cut-scene or match. It just makes you wish for the more full-bodied and lengthier story modes from the past.
There are also a few moments when the mode doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to do. I spent several minutes brawling with a few bodyguards in Mr. McMahon’s office until I realized that I had to break some of the furniture. In fact, a reminder of the goal and movelist should appear during any of the numerous match types (including the new Championship Scramble). No one should have to flip through the manual to figure out how to do something, let alone win.
[image3]On the creation modes, let me give you some good news first. The graphical improvement for the Create-A-Wrestler (CAW), thanks in part to the new 3D parts, now makes your created characters look on par with the models of the actual superstars. Not only do CAWs have up to three additional slots for alternative attires, but how created wrestlers improve stats has been made clearer and easier. As your CAW wins matches, you can spend points that can be distributed however you like between the eight attributes, making sure that you increase the maximum point value for each attribute by using its associated skills (for example, the maximum hardcore stat increases by using weapons and drawing blood). Not only that, but your CAW also gains experience by being in any match in any mode against any opponent, human or A.I..
Unfortunately, the 3D objects in CAW mode also come with a point system that assigns a point value to each type of clothing, accessory, and tattoo. Having 48 points might seem like a lot, but when a jacket can be 16 points, you’re probably not going to walk out looking like Randy Savage anytime soon. Current WWE Superstar trends may demand that you strut down the entrance runway wearing nothing except some black spandex underwear and a chic, custom-made pair of boots, but that doesn’t mean your fantasy character needs to be one pull away from being in a bad porno too. That your CAW can earn experience everywhere he goes – even in Exhibition mode – is convenient, but that also makes the CAW-centric Career mode almost unnecessary.
Not many people will be using the new Superstar Threads or Paint Tool, either. It’s nice that you can change the colors of each clothing part on a superstar, if just to keep up with Rey Mysterio’s mask of the week, but the mode could have been more than palette swaps. If THQ wants to maintain a certain wrestler’s image, someone should have asked each WWE Superstar on the roster what other clothing they would approve of wearing in the ring. The Paint Tool is also a nice idea, allowing players to draw their own tattoos and logos, but using it is like trying to use MS Paint to draw, well, almost anything worth drawing.
Instead, the Story Designer is probably where many creation addicts will be spending their time. Giving you almost full directorial control over the angle, setting, text, and facial emotions of over 100 animated scenes, as well as the type, win conditions, and even wrestlers’ health for every match, you can create 10-years worth of fantasy material. Do you want John Cena to lose the #1 contender spot for the WWE Championship at No Way Out because Batista hit him with a chair backstage while he’s being seduced by Maryse and Gail Kim and Kelly Kelly and the ghost of his ex-girlfriend in just the first week? Oh, the man-drama!
Better yet, if you have neither the interest nor time to make a story, someone has probably already made one that you’ll like online. Not only can players upload and download any created content, if just for safe-keeping, but they can review, comment, sort, and preview all of the online content. Hands-down, this is the most revolutionary feature to come out in the franchise in a very long time.
[image4]But regardless of your Shakespearean pursuits, there are several downfalls. The total number of CAW appearances in a created storyline is 10; so if you have 2 CAWs in 5 matches and scenes, that’s it. You can get around this by making chapters, but as a measure to regulate the online servers, it still makes a deep cut in the CAW community. To add insult to injury, you cannot edit entrances, appearances, movesets, entrance music, or highlight reels for downloadable characters.
In trying to uphold the presentation and ‘PG’ image of the WWE brand, THQ and Yuke’s have blurred the lines of gender equality in a way that will spark petitions on message boards. While women can now compete in any match type – except for Inferno Match, First Blood, Hell in a Cell, Last Man Standing, and Royal Rumble (yeah, it’s a lot) – a woman cannot fight against a man in a one-on-one battle. On the flipside, a woman can play the male role in any of the Story Designer scenarios, but there are some scenarios where you can’t cast a man in the female role, even if the man is a created character who wears a bra and a bikini and has a Diva-styled moveset.
Now I can go on for days about equality between the sexes amidst a culture of male-straitjacketing and gender-based marketing, but I won’t. What I will say is that THQ doesn’t want to get sued and be labeled as the company that allows under-aged boys to make a 7’2” bodybuilder with a thong who can mount an almost-nude 5’4” woman, punch her in the face ten times, and throw her into a fire. Now, that also means that they can’t make a kick-ass 5’4" woman who can mount a perverted 7’2” bodybuilder, punch him in the face ten times, and throw him into the same fire. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this situation of “equal inequality” is worth it.
[image5]Finally, the only way I can finish this review (Duke is probably looking at the PC Clock right now [Damn you, Nick, get out of my head. ~Ed]) is to cram the rest of my notes together in a quick rundown. Clipping still remains rampant. Even the arms on one of my CAWs began spazzing out. Rope physics are a nice touch, but makes clipping worse. Some submissions like the Tazmission or Ankle Lock still don’t lead to a tap-out. Some tag team moves have been unceremoniously dropped.
On the good side, Create-A-Finisher has extra moves, and you can create finishers from atop the turnbuckle. Wrestlers can now have allies and enemies. Finishers can go into slow-mo. Blood can splatter on a wrestler’s chest. Manual targeting has been added (never turn it off). Loading times are ridiculously fast. And a model of Duke himself is apparently somewhere in the crowd (let us know if you find him).
WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 could have been so much more, and yet it is more. The enhanced character models, lightning-fast loading times, authentic WWE presentation, reconfigured match types, better CAW stat-building, the new Story Designer, and the online upload/download server mean that most fans of the franchise will clothesline anyone who gets in their way to the register. But just as many fans will be disappointed by the CAW point system, CAW restrictions in Story Designer and as downloadable characters, gender restrictions, the ho-hum Career mode, and the polished but still linear Road to Wrestlemania. It’s not as much “Your World Now” like the debut trailer claims, as it is “Your World Now. Some Restrictions Apply.”