For years, what was once known as the WWE SmackDown! series of video games provided fast-paced thrills and hectic gameplay. The franchise successfully captured the larger-than-life spectacle that is wrestling, and threw in a massive roster of grapplers that even in digital form exuded all of the showmanship that their real-life counterparts projected on TV. Other WWE games such as No Mercy, WrestleMania, and Day of Reckoning proved successful, but SmackDown! outlasted them all.
Eventually, the series became WWE SmackDown vs. Raw and combined the big fight feel of its two major television shows. Shortly after the change in name, THQ and developer Yuke’s took it in a different direction. No longer would the series be a fast-paced arcade-like wrestling title. Beginning with SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, the series went for simulation over arcade gameplay. And while this shift provided one of the best games in the series to date, later entries have failed to deliver in terms of quality, and it’s really starting to show.
What Went Wrong
Right off the bat, the main problem with SmackDown vs. Raw is the lack of evolution. Refinements are usually easy to pinpoint in other sports titles with every entry, but SmackDown vs. Raw has been plagued with glitches, control issues, and technical flaws for years, and there never seems to be any remedial work done to improve these aspects of the series.
In addition to bugs, the presentation has really begun to falter. This is especially true on the Wii which is not known for being a graphical powerhouse but can still process much better visuals than the SmackDown vs. Raw games have on the console in the past. Even on the HD systems, however, the visuals still don’t meet the standards for what current-gen games should look like. Character animations are wonky, and the sound never seems to exceed mediocrity. While hearing authentic entrance themes is really cool, the commentary is just plain, and just plain dull.
But the biggest problem in the long-running SmackDown vs. Raw series isn’t its glitches or uninspired presentation. The main flaw in this series is its tired gameplay. FIFA and NBA games manage to feel fresh by featuring vast improvements, tweaks, and modifications. The same simply cannot be said about SmackDown vs. Raw. THQ and Yuke’s need to make some major changes to the gameplay engine to make it feel fresh like it did back when WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006 was released, back when WWE SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain launched, and even back when WWE Day of Reckoning surprised GameCube owners with its fast, rewarding grappling.
Elements That Should Remain
SmackDown vs. Raw may be in need of some major reconstruction, but there are also a few gameplay elements that continue to impress with every entry. Edit modes are still some of the most robust in any game, and creating your very own WWE Superstars, storylines, and finishing maneuvers is a total blast. A few more options would be greatly welcome, but aside from that, the tools that the series puts in front of you to get creative work really well after all these years.
When it comes to match types, the WWE series of games outshines every other wrestling video game out there including TNA Impact! and Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring. Being able to participate in Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, Championship Scramble, and Extreme Rules matches is always great, and there’s never any real lack of modes or match types. Having said that, the mechanics for all of the individual matches in the game could definitely use some sprucing.
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 saw the debut of a brand new mode: WWE Universe. This feature melded exhibition mode with a story-like design to make the entire game an interactive experience as you played. Rivalries could be formed, title matches could be assigned, and wrestlers could turn on the fans, all through this interesting feature. Sadly, it had its limitations too, and while WWE Universe certainly posed a great new idea, the devs need to make sure to fine-tune it for the next installment.
Raw Changes Are Necessary
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw has been a fun and engaging series for years. Unfortunately, its quality has started to diminish, and a complete lack of evolution is dragging the franchise down. The developers have already stated that their main objective is to create a wrestling game that looks like the entertainment form does when viewed by young children. That doesn’t mean the games should be haphazard and lacking in quality. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw needs a serious renaissance before fans start ignoring it altogether.