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WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010
System: various :: Rating: Teen :: Players: 1-4
Genre: Wrestling :: Released: 20 October 2009

By Damien Wilkens
30 December 2009 There's something in art known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem. The basic idea is that if you put a monkey in front of a typewriter, hitting random keys for an unlimited amount of time, he will eventually produce a work of Shakespeare. By this same logic, if you put THQ and Yuke's together with the intention of making a pro wrestling game, at least a few good efforts should result from their attempts. For all the problems I've had with the series in the past, it's only fair that I acknowledge Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 as one of the good ones.

Let's get this out of the way right now: this game is not No Mercy. It never will be. No Mercy for the N64 was a game with embarrassingly bare bones presentation, but timeless, challenging gameplay born out of the necessities of limited hardware. While the SvR series has spent the majority of its lifespan making things bigger, louder, and shiner, often neglecting the action that goes on in the ring. If there's one advantage to this approach, it's the eventuality of hitting that visual roadblock mere steps away from the uncanny valley that forces the developers to stop putting all of their resources into graphical excellence and refocusing on fixing the ailing gameplay. I feel it's safe to say that we've finally reached that point. The visuals of this game are the absolute best they can possibly be on current hardware, and all of the details you've come to expect from a WWE television show are here in full force from the spinning belt graphic before title matches to the copyright info just as a broadcast goes off the air. Ropes no longer clip into body parts, and blood can shed from both the head and chest, even splattering onto the fists of an opponent. It's a great looking game, and the only thing that can be called to task is the problem with long hair, which has plagued the series for years. Normally, it's not too noticeable, but when Maryse flips her head back for a taunt, only for her flowing locks to remain glued to her head as if they were made of plastic, it does look rather silly.

The roster selection, a mixed bag in most cases, is actually quite exhaustive this year. All of the stars you'd expect are present, but now even the most insignificant superstars such as Ezekiel Jackson and the Bella Twins have made it in. There are a few guys that no longer work for WWE cluttering the field like JBL and Mr. Kennedy and their involvement in Road to Wrestlemania stories come off as a bit dated, but I honestly can't complain about having a roster this large. The only clear omissions are Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith, though I suspect they'll be downloadable later on.

Despite an almost slavish attention to detail, I can't really say that Yuke's has completely ignored the gameplay. Indeed, with every new installment since 2007, there has been some new feature designed to completely change the way the game is played. In 2007, it was the switch to analog control. In 2008, it was the fighting style system, a concept that fell apart at the seams and made the game nearly unplayable. Last year introduced an improvement to tag team matches, all the more ironic considering there is no real tag team division in wrestling anymore. In 2010, we get a pretty solid amalgamation of these past features. The ultimate control moves are still there, but scaled back in favor of more normal grapples.

The entire process of playing through a match itself feels fresh for the first time in years. Gone are the clunky HUDs that would fill the screen, and now all the information you need is displayed in a halo around your character's feet. The only thing on display is the familiar WWE logo in the corner, making your match look as much like a real television production as possible. The camera starts stage right, as with most shows, but has a strange habit of panning 90 degrees at random points in the match. This only seems to happen during singles matches, but it's noticeable when it does.

Gone is the two-button reversal system of games past. Now one button handles all counters, be it grapples, strikes, or even finishers. While this may sound like it would make the game dramatically easier, the window for reversals has been severely shortened. Though this means you're going to take more unanswered punishment than you're used to, it also means that Frank Gotch-esque reversal exchanges between The Great Khali and Kane are gone for the most part. The method of kicking out of a pin has also changed, borrowing the meter system from last year's Legends of Wrestlemania. In general, matches look more like actual contests than they ever have before. There is more of a focus on the punch / Irish whip / slam style of modern WWE, and there are more brawling moves than in years past. It is not without issues, however. Weight detection has disappeared completely, and superstars still move a little too fast, even with stamina turned on. Moves, especially punches, seem to lack the force behind them that was conveyed so well in UFC 2009 Undisputed. This is mainly the fault of Yuke's for their habit of reusing old animations. A good number of standing attacks still lack connecting animations, and it will make you want to edit them out of all movesets immediately. Strong grapples are also still preceded by a collar-and-elbow tie-up every single time, which never happens in a real wrestling match. With the addition of apron moves and other contextual options, I can only hope a method is implemented in the future for these moves to flow more naturally during the course of the match.

Finishers have gone through another change of their own. You still can't store them, and when your momentum is full, you have to execute a trademark move before you even have one available to you. Though it makes sense that smaller moves would build to larger ones, it completely eliminates the ability to pull a finisher out of nowhere, and it makes them easier to counter since the move that follows your trademark almost certainly has to be your finisher.

If all of this seems like it would be a lot to learn for new players, well, it is. To the game's credit, every effort has been made to make things as easy to get into as possible. The traditional menu screen has been replaced by The Training Facility, an exhibition match in a gym that offers pop-up tutorials that walk you through all of the controls. Once the charm of giving Triple H 47 RKOs wears off, you can then choose from the laundry list of match types. The main additions this year are the Championship Scramble (a rather difficult match that works much better in a video game than it does in reality) and the Mixed Tag Match (allowing intergender teams to fight it out). While the former is a welcome addition, the latter is pretty useless. Men can only fight men and women can only fight women. If your opponent makes a tag, you're forced to do the same at risk of a DQ. The trade-off for this is that Divas can compete in most all match types now, even cage matches. While a welcome addition, the sheer silly fun of beating on Big Show with Mickie James will be sorely missed.

The other match types have gotten their own small tweaks here and there. You can climb the turnbuckles in the Elimination Chamber again, there's a cone of light in ladder matches to help you place the ladder, and characters no longer scale the Hell in a Cell like rabbits on meth. All of these are great, but the biggest improvement this year is to the Royal Rumble match. After years upon years of being the most frustrating match in the game, it's now become one of the most fun. There are four different methods of elimination; you can now toss opponents from the ropes, from the apron, over the turnbuckles, or with a finisher. There are also gang eliminations, and up to three people can work in tandem to eliminate, say, The Miz. Though some of the elimination minigames are more fun than others the apron eliminations in particular are a pain it's a welcome addition to a match that was in dire need of help. Even the way wrestlers enter the ring during the Rumble has been improved. Instead of making a straight beeline to the ring, Randy Orton will take his time down the ramp, and Batista will do his machine gun pose (with pyro) before entering.

The Road to Wrestlemania mode has returned, and for the first time ever, there is a Divas storyline, along with a rather amusing story for your Create a Wrestler. The others are the expected mishmash of main eventers, and the stories themselves are pretty interesting, if a tad short. There are a number of cool scripted events such as your character getting tossed to the outside, only for an interfering enemy to attack, causing a count out but at only three months long, each tale can be completed in one sitting. The also-returning career mode is largely the same, though it is no longer the only avenue with which to build up your CAWs. Now you can earn stats in any match, even those controlled by the CPU, and reap the ability points after the fact.

If there's one feature that needs a major overhaul next year, it's the CAW mode itself, which is severely lacking. Gone are the painted-on clothes of previous games, replaced with more defined threads, but replacing the old layers system is now a "points" system. Each piece of clothing has a certain point value, and you have a limit of 48 points. While this may seem like a lot, it renders certain attire combinations an impossibility. The choices are still pretty lacking as well. Anything resembling a good long hair style is out of the question, and simple clothing options such as MMA-style shorts are strangely absent. From a design standpoint, a paint tool has now been added, allowing you to create literally any sort of logo you can imagine, but online restrictions exist that make it a moot effort if you intend to share your characters.

Create a Finisher has returned, and is as silly as ever. In addition to making long, drawn-out, indy-riffic front grapple moves, you can now create your own aerial maneuvers. It's a welcome feature, even if created moves share the same stigma as the created wrestlers, in that they never look quite right when mixed with the preset parts of the game.

With all of these options and improvements, I was fully prepared to call Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 a decent game, which is more than I've been able to say for years. But what really put me over the edge where two features that I've wanted in wrestling games for over a decade.

The new Superstar Threads mode harkens back to those days of No Mercy by allowing you to edit the default wrestlers. Though you can't change them into other wacky outfits like you could in No Mercy, you can edit the color of almost every part of their attire. Obviously, this works better for some superstars than others. Mike Knox, for instance, wears just about the same thing to the ring every time, but you can now duplicate just about every single costume Rey Mysterio has ever had during his WWE tenure. Did CM Punk wear purple trunks last Monday? You can reflect that in the game. Does the idea of John Cena running to the ring in bright pink jean shorts amuse you? It should, and you can do that in the game. There are two minor issues, however. You can save up to three extra attires for each wrestler, but the CPU will never make use of these changes. If you're in a Royal Rumble, for example, the only guy who can use an updated attire is yourself. A small gripe, but it's noticeable. There are also some people with parts that simply can't be edited. John Morrison has red fuzz over his boots, and no matter what color you make his pants or boots, he will always have the red fuzzy parts. Same goes for Goldust's face paint and the symbol on Undertaker's pants. Considering that this is the first year for such a feature, it can be forgiven.

The big gun in 2010 is the Story Designer mode, which is exactly what it sounds like. For the first time in any wrestling game, you can now create your own playable stories, with a staggering number of options. You can create just about any scenario you can imagine, adding text to over a hundred preset scenes, leading to matches in which you set up the conditions of victory, how damaged each superstar is to start, and where the story goes from there. In total, each story can be up to 10 years in length, and consist of up to 500 segments. All is not perfect, as for some unexplained reason, created superstars are limited to only 10 appearances in the 360 and PS3 versions. So yes, that story where Superman chases Lex Luthor's Intercontinental Title is going to have to wait until next year. Even with this restriction, the entire roster is still available to you.

While you'd expect me to point to all of these fancy new features as more evidence that THQ and Yuke's truly don't care about the game itself, I have to say, I really liked it. I don't need the perfect wrestling game; I simply want a wrestling game that shows that the developers actually cared about making something fun and replayable in spite of the license, and that's what we have here. It's no longer a chore to play through matches, and the sheer number of features helps it surpass the usual two-month lifespan of previous titles. With the amount of customization available, you're only limited by your imagination now. Are there still areas that could use a lot of improvement? Most definitely, but I'm happy to say that this year, the Smackdown vs. Raw series has taken a big step in the right direction. And for the first time in a while, I'm genuinely excited to see where it can go from here.

Final Grade: 8/10

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