Review: Where's WCW when you need them?
If you've played a Smackdown game before, you know the routine, as it borrows heavily from the last major update, Shut Your Mouth. The big addition from HCTP, the body-specific damage and weardown is back and remains the same, which is okay since it's done pretty well and adds a bit of depth to the mostly arcade-centric gameplay. The big change is the ?tactics' feature. Basically, it's your wrestling style, be it clean (doing technical moves), dirty (using chairs, removing turnbuckle pads, etc) or being neutral (a tweener as they say). Each comes with a special meter to fill up for a special bonus if you get it all the way full. If you're wrestling clean, for instance, you can ?Hulk up' and be invincible, impervious, and can reverse every move of your opponent for a limited time. It takes quite a bit to fill up so it cannot be abused too easily.
Everything else in SVR is familiar, though. The arcade-style gameplay is fast and exciting at its best, but cheap and button-mashy at its worst. For some weird reason, you can't even use the analog stick for movement anymore, which is a step backwards from HCTP which was the first to actually enter the 21st century where analog sticks are used for everything except the latest Tony Hawk rehash and fighters. Oh well. At least it's precise and still gives you plenty of control to pull off the numerous moves in the game. Like with HCTP, you actually do have to wear down certain areas of the body for finishing moves to be more effective, which is a nice touch. You can't wear down the legs of an opponent and then use Sweet Chin Music to finish them off, you actually have to wear down their upper body and head to make it more effective. It was definitely the best addition to HCTP and it's just as vital here, and a key element to winning matches.
Much of the problem with Smackdown vs. Raw is while all of this is great, it's the same thing as the last game?and the last game?and the last game. Though the differences between WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It and SYM were pretty nominal in hindsight, the difference between it and SVR is minimal, and anyone with experience with previous games will not find it all that fresh (though most vets of the game are way more into the Creation stuff it seems, and not the WWE-centric stuff). Many of the silly flaws with the game have not been fixed (the lame tag matches, boring cage matches that have the slowest cage climbing in the history of the modern world, stupid AI in triple-threat matches, etc), only covered up with more features and options. The game is both excellent and poor all at the same time; thankfully the still-soild gameplay and insane depth does overshadow the unchanged things that need fixing. If you've never played a Smackdown game before, you honestly will not even notice, but others will recognize the lack of changes almost immediately.
Though based on the same engine as the original Smackdown on PlayStation, SVR looks great. The wrestlers and Divas still look a bit weird and fake, but they're loaded with realistic animations that mimic their actual movements, and many of the canned animations (basically technical wrestling stuff) are outstanding. There's a ton of unique arenas to fight in, so you don't get bored of the same backgrounds, though you do have to unlock them. The crowd up front, notorious for being cardboard-like, are much more realistic and lively, though that's pretty irrelevant. What's really nice is the created wrestlers are slowly but surely looking more like they belong in the game, not abnormal creations that don't carry the same solid design as the stock wrestlers. And even when there's 6 guys in the ring at once with numerous objects around, the frame-rate stays solid with no drops or slowdown at all.
The audio has seen a massive improvement, of sorts. For the first time since WWF Attitude, the wrestlers and other personalities actually speak, instead of reading endless text. However, most of the characters are speaking in very low voices and quite casually, making what could be a heated exchange seem like dress rehearsal before a play, and thus not as cool as the real-life promos many of these wrestlers are good at. Unfortunately they didn't record the grunts and groans during fights, though. Play-by-play is good, featuring JR and Jerry Lawler for Raw events, and Michael Cole & Tazz handling Smackdown stuff. It does have a tendency to get repetitive, but not as bad as its been in the past. And for the first time, actual licensed music roams in menus and during fights, complete with bands like Powerman 5000 and Breaking Benjamin (Halo 2 and Smackdown, not bad for a mediocre rock band).