Review: Where's WCW when you need them?
WWE Smackdown has become a traditional release of sorts ? every fall, the Madden of wrestling games can be counted on to deliver a solid wrestling game with the most up-to-date rosters, cool new match types or customizations, and the same ?ol gameplay. Such is the case with the latest entry, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw. More than ever, Smackdown lives up to the Madden comparisons, because aside from new features, SVR is the same game as Here Comes the Pain, or even Shut Your Mouth from 2002. Granted, that's not saying SVR is a bad game, when in fact, it is the best game in the series thus far, and it does have a decent amount of additions, tweaks, and enhancements to round out the WWE experience. However, THQ and Yuke's have become complacent it seems, no doubt due in part to the lack of competition in the wrestling game genre. If you're a hardcore WWE fan, you already have this, but if not, you can pick up Here Comes the Pain for $20 and have just as good a time, unless you absolutely need (substandard) online play and the latest WWE rosters. But no doubt, Smackdown vs. Raw screams of rehash, and that has to count for something ? unless of course, you've never played a Smackdown game before.
SVR is as always jam packed with match types, wrestlers, and customization options. Basically, every match you can think of in WWE is here, from Bra & Panties matches (which are pretty entertaining if you like catfights and stripping digital girls down to their unmentionables) to Elimination Chamber bouts, the Royal Rumble, and Ladder bouts. That's why this is the ultimate party game for wrestling fans ? you can go all night fiddling around with the different match types and never get bored. It's a shame none of this matters in online play ? despite it being hyped as a great new feature, you can only do basic matches and Bra & Panties fights; that's all. And despite being Broadband-only, there's no headset support of any kind. It's basically the same exact setup beta testers had, and that's highly disappointing considering. Since there's almost a total guarantee that another Smackdown game will be out in 2005, let's hope they take the online mode seriously this time, and not treat it like a throw-in.
The ?Create-A' modes are back, with all the usual options. You can create wrestlers using the super-complex CAW mode, and bring back omitted stars such as Steve Austin & Goldberg (not hard since they look alike), which can be used in career mode, you can create your own stable (gang) of wrestlers, create pay-per-view events to play out (nothing new, this was in WCW Mayhem and WWF Attitude many years ago), and create belts to defend against your friends in all those crazy multiplayer battles. Too bad the online is such a hack job though, because it would add some suspense to be able to defend and lose your created belt to another player via the Internet. Maybe next year.
The career mode is mostly the same as the last game, with a couple changes. When you start off, you get to choose which show is your favorite, Smackdown or Raw. Each offers different menu screens in-game (and which dancing Divas you get to watch dancing around). Anyway, you can use an existing WWE star at their current levels, reset their abilities to 0 and start over, or stick in a created wrestler to take from the bottom to the top. Depending on whom you choose, your story will be different ? for instance, I selected Shawn Michaels as my career wrestler, kept his stats at default, and won the WWE World Title within a month of game time (basically 4 matches). Though really, getting the belts is just part of a journey, not the final goal, since you'll be hounded by challengers all the time; and they do a decent job of not giving you the same guys over and over (a surprise since the real WWE seems to rotate around the same people with very few new players). Like HCTP, you earn Smackdown ?dollars' to use for unlocking stuff in-game, such as different Divas for the menu screens, arena types, CAW movesets, and of course, many of the new legends included, such as The Rock and probably the biggest surprise, Bret ?Hitman' Hart. There's definitely incentive to playing career mode, but it's too bad you can't use them in the career mode. How cool it could have been to take Bret Hart back to the WWE gold after all these years.