The Undertaker is on his knees. His eyes (pretty in black eyeliner, of course) reveal shock, anger and disbelief. He tried to get back into the ring in time. He tried to beat the referee's count out. But he couldn't. And in the blink of an eye reigning World Heavyweight Champion CM Punk is off down the tunnel towards back stage safety, holding that belt aloft. It was a brutal, dominating performance by The Dead Man. Disqualification was CM Punk's only hope. Disqualification is what he got.
Say what you will about WWE, you can't deny it has its moments. The one described above I saw the night before I sat down to write this hands-on preview, around about midnight on one of the many Sky Sports channels. And, say what you will about THQ's long-running (this is the 11th!) SmackDown vs. Raw series, you can't deny it has its moments, too.
Most of the memorable ones occur when playing the game with friends. Over a few beers, perhaps. Laughing, messing about, folly. SDvsR is not Street Fighter IV. It's not THQ's excellent UFC 2009: Undisputed, despite being developed by the same Japanese studio. You can't take WWE broadcasts too seriously, and you can't take SDvsR too seriously. Once you accept that, the annual updates are often a right laugh.
Perhaps because THQ knows SDvsR is probably as good as it's going to get in a multiplayer sense, this year it's concentrated on giving the solo player more stuff to do outside the ring. SDvsR2010's tagline is "It's Your World Now". It's all about you, the player, not only creating your superstar, as you have been able to do for a few years now, but creating your own storyline. As all WWE fans know (it's clear not all WWE fans know this), WWE is as much of a soap opera as it is a spectacle of athleticism. Superstars are actors as well as muscle-bound monstrosities. It's all about expression - in the arms, in the face, in the eyes.
So, welcome to WWE Story Designer mode, an expanded version of the GM Mode from 2008's game. The actual mode was inaccessible in our preview build, but we know enough about it to reckon it's going to suck up plenty of your time. The idea is you'll be able to design your own storylines featuring the various WWE brands: SmackDown, Raw and ECW, and even pay-per-view. You decide the matches. You decide the scenarios. Like the game says: "It's your world now."
The nitty gritty sounds promising. Your created superstars will read from a script penned by you, although much of it will no doubt be pre-made. You'll be able to tweak the length of the storyline, the number of superstars involved, match types, stipulations and winning conditions. And real superstars can be integrated into your storyline. You'll want The Undertaker making a dramatic appearance of course, since he's clearly the best. Ever.
The tagline doesn't just refer to the new Storyline mode. The Create a Superstar mode has been given a new lick of paint, too. It's not an evolution, from what we've seen, more an evolution, with some new interesting features added that make it even more comprehensive. For the first time ever you'll be able to edit the colour of existing superstar's "threads". This includes everything from elbow pads to gloves, tights to boots. When you do edit something, the superstar will admire your handiwork, lifting his arm up, for example - a nice touch. Your threads are saved as attires - up to a maximum of three - which can be individually named for ease of reference. So, if you fancy kitting The Undertaker out in a bright white leotard, then, well, you should probably book an appointment to see someone quick.
Exclusive to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game is the ability to design and apply logos to skin or clothes. The game comes with a number of pre-made designs, but via the new Paint Tool you can draw your own. You're able to apply a maximum of two high resolution logos to a created superstar, which doesn't sound like much, but alternatively you can have more low resolution designs. My own efforts were, frankly, rubbish. And, if I'm being honest, it was hard to resist the temptation of drawing a big, hairy... yak. The feature should have an interesting impact when created superstars clash online.
The Create a Finisher mode again returns, but this time you're able to add diving. The mode works as before - there are a number of stages to the move, each one linked to the other to form one fluid motion. Once your from the top rope move is complete you can adjust the trajectory points and height of your move, for added effect. Creating a finisher is again an easy, intuitive process, and should seamlessly fit in alongside the existing Create a Finisher features. Each string loads a hell of a lot quicker than before as well, which should please absolutely everyone who found the feature somewhat of a slog to use in the last game.
One problem the series has always suffered from is a degree of inaccessibility. Newcomers can struggle to grasp the somewhat complex control system and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of game modes on offer. Perhaps by way of addressing this, THQ has implemented a new Training Facility. It works a little like FIFA's arena that covers loading. When the game first boots you're presented with a ring set in a training complex. Our build allowed control over John Cena, with Randy Orton as a training dummy. Here you're able to practice moves and movement, with a control guide popping up contextually and ticking off successfully completed commands. To access the menu, all you have to do is press the Start button, with no loading required. It's a nice touch, and definitely helped me refresh my memory.
That's pretty much it for new stuff our preview build had to offer. 2010 feels, in the ring, much like 2009. It's a slow, considered, contextual heavy fighting game that's as clunky as it is fun. Yes there's clipping, and the collision detection is hilarious, but the counter system is tight and the superstar models are impressively detailed. But I expect one last game mode to be revealed before release - there's one mysteriously locked out in the preview build's menu. What could it be? With the game out soon, we'll know soon enough.
WWE SmackDown VS. Raw 2010 is due out for PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, Wii, PS2 and Nintendo DS on October 23.