Friday 10 April 2015

Smackdown! VS Raw Review (PS2)

Another year on from Here Come the Pain and the annual offering from the world of sports entertainment lands on the door step once more. HCTP took the brave move of changing the control system to allow more flexibility and use of tactics during matches. Despite taking some Smackdown fans time to adjust, the change soon became the obviously superior setup. So after a significant leap forward for the genre last time around, can this title offer gamers anything more than simple roster updates and improved graphics?

In truth little has changed. Graphics have been improved with character models looking more solid and life like than before. The control system remains much the same, a good thing as the one put in place last year functions perfectly. There are small differences which streamline the controls (such as grapple moves with weapons being assigned to the same button as striking attacks) making matches flow that little bit better but nothing major was needed and the developers have taken a ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it approach’.

The game itself also remains very similar to the last version of the title. This time around the game came with online play and the rather entertaining new match mode of the ‘’parking lot brawl’ where players fight in a ring of cars using the vehicles to inflict damage in a number of different ways, apart from this comes the expected roster updates. However,  in this case the update serves as a major draw back as the WWE had lost a good half dozen top level super stars since the last game. More than once you may find yourself cycling through the available wrestlers only to find there is not actually anyone on the roster you really want to play as. Obviously this is not the fault of the development team but does point to the sharp turn around in fortunes and falling appeal that WWE had at the time.

Unfortunately, the new features do not really gel with the style of the game and feel far to tacked on. At the start of matches there is now a rhythm action style psyche out where the characters hit each other. There is also the wrestling equivalent of a mission mode with set tasks of varying difficulty being laid out in lists for players to complete at their leisure. However, this only serves as a minor distraction and is unlikely to keep players away from the main game modes.

One tweak that does help the gameplay is the improvement with submission moves- now as well as hammering the pad in order to keep a move locked in, the opponent in the submission move (move depending), can escape by stopping a moving cursor in a small square box on the Smackdown bar at the top of the screen. As characters become weaker the sense of panic missing the escape section of the bar for the second time really does begin to build as you become desperate to stop your wrestler from giving up.

The Royal Rumble has also been made a lot tougher to win with characters needing to be worn down before they can be thrown over the ropes- stopping the cheap tactics available to gain victory in all the previous version of the Smackdown franchise. Once a character is thrown over the ropes they hang on and players must knock down an energy bar to get them to finally hit the floor. This makes the Royal Rumble a far more tactical affair as while you are trying to knock someone’s bar down another superstar may come and attack you leaving you in a very vulnerable situation.

In the last Iteration of the title older wrestlers or ‘legends’ where introduced as unlockable characters. We say ‘Legends’ but in fairness only a few truly qualified as great superstars and thus did not merit much interest from players annoyed that Hulk Hogan was not available. This time while Hogan is still absent there can be no question regarding any of the characters on show (although putting ‘Classic’ Undertaker and ‘masked’ Kane in there is a bit cheap). Among the line up is the late, great Andre the Giant, The Legion of Doom, Brutus the Barber Beefcake and the all time great Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. In fact the list of  legends are so strong in strength and personality it only serves to show up how weak WWE has become recently.

Smackdown VS Raw presents us with a very strange thing in the gaming world. The game itself is better than last year, everything has been improved and polished and made near perfect in the execution (gimmicky rhythm sections aside). But the simple fact is the current crop of WWE Superstars is dull and uninspiring. Last years version of the game had big names such as Goldberg , Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar etc, who are not present here. Meaning that while the game is improved technically from last year, there is not really anyone on the roster worth playing as- until the legends are unlocked that is.

Overall 7/10

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