I remember the very first time I played a WWE (formerly WWF) wrestling game. It was great fun - chairs could be used as weapons, you could create your own wrestler and the fight could continue into a changing room backstage. That was on the Nintendo 64, and was back in the 90s. After playing Smackdown vs. Raw on PS2 however, my memory of a golden era on the N64 has been somewhat tarnished. I realise that what I was playing then, was pants, and what I am playing now, is actually great fun.
Since my first encounter with the genre, the games have been churned out at a rate of about one a year - each with minor improvements on the last. This instalment however seems to have fewer enhancements than the rest - a full range of wrestler and commentator voices and the reintroduction of the Pay Per View mode are two of the notable improvements. One very good feature is the inclusion of ‘mini games’ already seen throughout other game genres and they help vary the gameplay - which can become slightly monotonous.
The gameplay is good. The beginning entrances of the wrestlers feature their theme music accompanied by short clip of an actual match. The actions and realism of the crowd have been improved, as have the wrestlers. As opposed to looking like 3D hexagons and polygons like former games, they take on a more human form with improved textures and shapes. This can be most clearly seen in the ‘Create a wrestler’ mode. This function is one of the most entertaining modes on the game due to its intricate detail. There are hundreds of cloths, body piercing and tattoos to choose. You also have the ability too choose the colour, height, and overall physique of your wrestler down to the exact width of his hands.
After your wrestler has been created (it can be an androgynous being consisting of women’s hair and clothing on a 6ft Terminator look-alike) you can then go and show it off to people all over Europe. Smackdown vs. Raw is the first wrestling game that uses Sony’s Net Play function. There if very little communication between your rival in the ring, but it is a lot more fun than playing against the computer. A slight delay in the internet connection can cause disaster however, as I experienced when on the verge of victory.
The menu is well set out and easy to use. The music is good at first, but soon becomes infuriating. The makers of the game assume that because you bought a wrestling game you must love hard, heavy, loud, screaming-right-in-your-ear rock music. This admittedly fits well with the game, but for those of a sensitive disposition our advice is to find the options menu - fast.
Overall the game is damn good fun. It is perfect in both short blasts and in long extended sessions. Over their short history, wrestling games have over gone many changes, and have evolved greatly. But luckily, they have not lost their theatrical and melodramatic core, which keeps them so entertaining and enjoyable to play. And Smackdown vs. Raw is proof of this.