WWE Smackdown vs RAW is a series that's been small on updates. Each year we hope for something significantly different that will make the game a big step up from what has gone before, but THQ has definitely been taking baby steps. It's no surprise then that the arrival of this year's edition didn't cause much excitement in the office. We'd seen it all before, or so we'd thought. While SDvsRAW 2010 is once again more of an iterative update rather than a new start, it's brought together everything that's been improved over the past few years and put it into the best WWE game we've played in a long time. If you've been biding your time, waiting for the game that gets most things right, now is a good time to climb into the ring.
What you get with SDvsRAW 2010 is a tonne of content. The amount of game modes, match types, customisation options, training tools and other bits and bobs is mind boggling the first time you see the main menu - something that is actually hidden behind a FIFA-style pre-game ring in which you can have a practice fight or just mess about. Considering presentation has been a bit rough in previous WWE titles, 2010 makes a great first impression.
So what are all these game modes? Well, if you want a single match, either against the AI or friends, the Play option lets you choose between one-on-one, two-on-two, triple threat, fatal-4-way, 6-man, handicap, Royal Rumble (with new ring-out mini-games and finishers) and championship scramble. Championship scramble is brand new to the series, putting five superstars in the ring together to compete for the throne. Most of these match types can be played in a variety of ways, too, be it simple tag team, Hell in a Cell, steel cage, ladder, falls count anywhere, money in the bank and loads more. Elsewhere there's now the ability to choose rivals and allies for your created superstars, resulting in dramatic in-game events that give more believability to your matches. We haven't closely followed WWE for some time, but it's hard to imagine any fans being disappointing by the wealth of match options here.
Road to WrestleMania presents you with a story-driven campaign for a set few characters as they fight in matches leading up to the big event. As well as being able to play through with your created superstar, you can experience a storyline as X-rated superstar Edge, Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels, Legend Killer Randy Orton, WWE Diva Mickie James, John Cena and Triple H.
A feature new to 2010, one that was much needed, is the ability to earn attribute points by using your created wrestler in any match type and any game mode. In previous titles you had to play through the career mode in order to build up your superstar, but this new system means you'll be able to do whatever you want and still make progress towards becoming one of the greats. It's not that the Road to WrestleMania mode isn't good fun (fans will definitely want to play through the various storylines at least once), but now you have more of a choice as to how to go about improving your created wrestler.
In the ring there have been small changes, but these combine to make for the smoothest, most authentic game in the SDvsRAW series. As well as a number of completely new moves, transitions between moves flow better than ever, and the reversal system is now all mapped to one button - a huge improvement on the two-button system we had last year. Not only does this make the game more accessible (something the excellent training tools have a big hand in too), but it's also more enjoyable. Some fans may have liked the extra degree of skill that the two-button system required, but it overcomplicated things to the detriment of overall enjoyment.
THQ has put a big emphasis on community this year . There's the expected and mandatory online multiplayer (as well as single-system play), but the new content sharing will be of more interest to many. Everything you create in the game can be shared with other players, making SDvsRAW 2010 a game you could play, complete with new content, until next year's game and beyond. The big new addition that is spearheading this user created content revolution is the Story Designer - your way to create the shows and fights you've always dreamed about.
The idea of making your own script for Smackdown and RAW is probably a WWE fan's dream come true. On the face of it it's all here: you can choose the scenes that make up each show, pick the characters, select the animations, trim the length of each scene, set facial expressions, choose the video to be played on the giant screen and the music (both intro music and crowd effects), move the camera to your desired position and, perhaps most importantly, add text. There's quite understandably no option to add voice overs (although that would have been amazing), but you can tell the story through on-screen dialogue, inputted via a virtual keyboard or USB device.
It's an excellent mode for hardcore fans, and it should mean you'll have new storylines to play through for a very long time, but it's hard not to think it could have been even better. There's clearly a fine line between being too simplistic and overly complicated, but increased control over each scene would have been brilliant. Take, for example, the facial expressions: Each scene is split into chunks of a predetermined length, and you can apply a facial expression at the start of any of these chunks. At times it's impossible to get these to align with events happening in the scene, so characters will express pain seconds before or after you really want them to. A little more refinement would have been superb, but that will have to be on the wish list for next year's game.
Superstar creation has been given an overhaul too, with the clothing items now being real 3D objects. The toolsets are far easier to use than before and the loading time has been greatly reduced, but we struggled to make some of the fighters we wanted due to item limits. The painted-on clothing seen previously didn't look as great, but the layers system enabled you to do pretty much anything; now, with each item costing you points out of a maximum of 48, you have to be incredibly selective over what your fighter really needs. Had the max item count been larger we'd have the best customisation system the series has ever included, but when you can't create who you want it's hard not to long for what we had before.
Presentation all over the game has been given a real TV-style makeover, and the wrestlers look better than ever - although we're not sure about some of the faces. Rope physics have also been greatly improved, even if the way the wrestlers interact with them does at times look a little odd. It might sound insignificant, but one of the best visual improvements this year is the blood. To put it simply, it looks great and makes the more brutal matches seem far more realistic. We're not blood-thirsty psychos, but anything that makes the game more closely resemble the reality of Sports Entertainment is great.
WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2010 is, we're surprised to say, easily the best game in the series to date, and a must-buy for WWE fans - especially if you've been giving it a wide-berth for a few years. The controls are refined, the game modes are plentiful, the presentation is top class and the customisation features will excite the little kid in WWE fans the world over. It's still a tad clunky at times, with traditional beat 'em up fans likely to be unimpressed by the combat system, but grappling fans who like to imagine what it would be like to wear spandex and lift giant sweaty men above their heads will find that this does the job superbly.