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Series: SmackDown vs. Raw (Previously SmackDown!; it would become WWE in future)
Released: October 26 2010 (US) and October 29 2010 (UK)
Consoles: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2 and PSP
Of all the games in the SmackDown/SmackDown vs. Raw/WWE series, probably the last one that people remember is SmackDown vs. Raw 2011. This is presumably because of the seen-it-all-before feel to the game, a sensation which one had felt for several games by that point, and due to the general staleness of WWE television in late 2010 (the release date for this game) which reflected onto the game. However, if one looks beyond the not-so-fresh vibe, SvR 2011 was actually pretty good, if not quite the game-changer (no pun intended) that we had hoped for.
It didn't help that the initial sales pitch for SvR 2011 was based around improved detection as it related to objects like tables and ladders. Whilst a nice improvement, it was a minor adjustment, and not something that the game should have based its marketing around. Fortunately, there was more to SvR 2011 than this. (Before I forget, this would be the last WWE release on PSP after six entries, and the final WWE title on PlayStation 2 after a whopping ten games.)
Road To WrestleMania was back with new stories. There were only five this time as opposed to six in SvR 2010, although one of them allowed for a choice of several characters, and each one had branching plot developments which increased replay value. Whilst the John Cena story was pretty boring overall (and I say that because the material wasn't that strong, not as a knock on Cena), the other tales did provide entertainment. Amongst the highlights were a nod to the Raw guest host theme that had been used in 2009-10, the integration of talk shows like the Peep Show, the use of Money In The Bank as a tool to set up a title shot at the time of one's choosing, and the return of several legends (including Paul Bearer, who had proper voice-overs) as part of a unique and exciting path towards attempting to end The Undertaker's Streak.
Boosting RTWM were the return of the popular option to roam backstage between matches in an increased locker room environment, although the rooms provided less interactivity than the backstage world had in games like SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth. You could also interact with various wrestlers at random intervals and even have those altercations result in unscheduled brawls. The other extras were the ability to boost ability points in the Trainer's Room, mini-quests unrelated to the main plot of each story, and the Easter Egg that saw the names of several characters on a whiteboard who weren't playable in the game (including Carlito, Tommy Dreamer and The Hurricane, the latter of whom appeared under CPU control during one RTWM bout). It was shorter than the RTWM modes in the last two modes, but it was still very entertaining, and offered more side-options than the same mode in SvR 2009 and SvR 2010, which meant a fulfilling experience on the whole, even if we were still hoping for the chance to insert a wrestler of our choice into these big storylines.
That request was accommodated to some extent by the new Universe mode. Replacing the unpopular and undeveloped Career feature, Universe acted as a halfway house between RTWM and the old Season mode. You could control any wrestlers during any matches on any shows, although you were advised to play through all bouts to ensure that you had greater control on the happenings within WWE. However, the CPU would throw in swerves in the form of cut-scenes and storyline developments, and there were also occasional voice-overs to add drama to proceedings. It followed a WWE calendar, with unlockable items along the way. You could jump right into Universe from the main menu with one press of a button so that every potential match you had contributed to your little, erm, Universe. And you could modify and skip matches to have a greater chance of having the WWE product that you wanted; so if you wanted Randy Orton to miss WrestleMania altogether, or if you wanted Vance Archer to win the Royal Rumble and thus main event Mania, well you could. It was far better than Career, and whilst the CPU scenes could occasionally disrupt one's flow, the mode was a good addition, and would barely scratch the surface of what Universe would provide in future games.
Gameplay didn't really change bar the slightly different HUD (which now consisted of a small bar at a wrestler's feet) and the ability to automatically pin your opponent off certain moves (such as Tombstones and hurricanranas), as opposed to them only resulting in pinfalls if the move animations had included such an outcome, and there were new cut-scenes and additional move options during Hell In A Cell and Steel Cage matches (you could finally use weapons inside the Cell). Speaking of bouts, the new Match Creator option was a nice addition. With this, you had greater control over the rules of the match, as well as being able to add minor touches that essentially resulted in brand new matches being added to the game. Via Match Creator, you could have a Finisher match, or a regular singles match inside the Elimination Chamber (or in a ring surrounded by Inferno match-style flames), or you could even have an ECW-esque Flaming Tables match. There were some options which would have made this add-on even better, but it was still a cool addition that, whilst unspoken, meant that there were several new match types and a wealth of minor stipulation options at your fingertips.
After the barren downloadable content in SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 (although that game did introduce Community Creations, which continued here), DLC returned in SvR 2011. Besides a pre-order exclusive character for Bret Hart and alternate attires for Rey Mysterio and Kelly Kelly, several new characters and bonus legends were brought in for DLC, including the series debut of Lex Luger and several members of the once-hot Nexus faction. Unfortunately, Daniel Bryan's sudden return after his abrupt 2010 firing wasn't covered by the production timeline, so he didn't make it into SvR 2011. There were a lot of newcomers, though, such as Sheamus, Drew McIntyre, The Hart Dynasty, Wade Barrett and many more. Amongst the legends (which returned in full form here after sparse appearances in the last two games due to Legends Of WrestleMania; incidentally, the decision to include a group of retro stars ended any hope of a sequel to LOWM), we had appearances by Steve Austin, The Rock, the aforementioned Bret and Luger, The British Bulldog, Jake Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Terry Funk, the debuting Ricky Steamboat and Rob Van Dam, who somehow made it in despite spending most of 2010 in TNA. Oh, and one of Taker's Druids was the only fictional character this time around (which marked the last appearance of a "fake" character in the series).
Rounding things up, the presentation was enhanced to include real-life watermarks used on-screen during WWE television. Loading screens included facts and quotes relating to wrestlers on the game. The Training Facility returned during menus, although it wouldn't appear again in the series. There were a record 22 arenas boosted by the splurge of different PPV events during 2009-10, although one saw the long-awaited series debut for the old WCW Monday Nitro show (another arena had a crowd consisting solely of Druids, which was creepy in a cool way, or cool in a creepy way). Within the creation suite, there were now extra cut-scene options for Story Designer, and you could save a whopping 130 moves as part of Create A Finisher. There were two covers between the UK and US versions, with Randy Orton, The Undertaker and Sheamus moonlighting on the UK box and John Cena, Big Show and The Miz on the US version (actually, there were technically more since Bret Hart, Randy Orton and The Undertaker each had a pre-order version of some kind, with each including a bonus game unlockable and a WWE DVD disc). And wrestlers now moved around again during pre-match screens, and had different "stances" during the match selection process.
To be honest, the main criticism of this game is simply the stale feel that it had; despite the changes listed above, it still felt like the same game from a year earlier, three years earlier or even five years earlier. Partly because of the wrestling engine, partly because of the name and partly because of the general layout of the game's features, it felt too similar to previous entries and, as mentioned earlier, WWE television didn't exactly have a banner year in 2010, leading to further disinterest by fans. And whilst RTWM was mostly really good, and Universe was much better than Career, gamers were still hoping for that Here Comes The Pain-style Season mode, which this game didn't provide despite the positive aspects of its two single-player options. The gameplay itself had only changed slightly, and still wasn't as in-depth as that of previous games in the series. We were also now down to just one commentary team (Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler), although few would have boycotted the game for that reason. And whilst the graphics were as bright, sharp and colourful as ever, a lot of wrestlers still looked too much like computer recreations rather than realistic portrayals of the stars themselves, although not to the extent that they had in SvR 2010.
Overall, I'd say that SvR 2011 just came at the wrong time. The same game a few years earlier may have been greeted with more warmth by fans, but it just had that "seen it all before" feel by the time it was released in late 2010. And there were certainly areas for potential improvement or growth; some of the bigger criticisms that fans had of the series were only slightly addressed at best. That all being said, SvR 2011 is undeniably fun to play, and does offer a plethora of options, from RTWM to Universe to the new possibilities provided by Match Creator to the still-strong creative suite to the pretty strong roster (almost everyone not attached to TNA was included, and then-TNA star RVD still managed to sneak in; bear in mind that TNA signed a whole host of former WWE stars in 2009-10 in an ill-fated attempt to recreate The Monday Night War).
Was this the best entry in the series? No, it wasn't. Was it a poor game? Again, no, it wasn't. SvR 2011 falls somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of games from the long-running series; its main drawbacks were its lack of true innovation, because at the heart of the game, you still had a pretty damn fun wrestling title. But the series required a refresh, which would be provided by the next entry in the series, WWE '12 (the name is a hint as to the big changes that were coming). However, if you're ever offered a chance to play SmackDown vs. Raw 2011, I suggest that you take it!
Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good