The Average Gamer

Current-Gen WWE Video Games: A Retrospective

Shawn Michaels dropkicking Ric Flair in the chinWWE is a massive company. The largest professional wrestling company in the world, I hear you ask? Indeed. Part of its massive revenue no doubt comes from the sale of WWE merchandise and THQ’s WWE video games are no exception.

The Smackdown Vs. Raw (SvR) series started back on the PS2, but finally improved somewhat with the move onto the current generation of consoles. The 2007 edition was released on the Xbox 360. This marked the first major change in the gameplay of the series, from grappling with a single button to using the analogue sticks for multiple grapples. This was certainly for the better; instead of the usual 8 grapples this system allowed for 16 different grapples, from the front and back. Moving to the analogue sticks also allowed for more accurate movement of a wrestler and feels more natural (and less painful on the thumb!). Flicking the right stick down was also introduced to pin an opponent, again bringing a much-needed fluidity to the controls.

From there, the games have mostly improved from year to year; although 2008’s edition was a bit of a step back. This version had an over-reliance on fighting style selections, rather than tweaking the main gameplay. For example, a hardcore style wrestler would gain lots more momentum from selecting weapons instead of using regular attacks. This led, unfortunately, to very unbalanced combat and was always more fun to play dirty/hardcore anyway.

SvR 2009 introduced even more fluid gameplay, along with graphical improvement and visual accuracy. Signature moves were introduced, which built up to unleashing a wrestler’s patented Finisher. General Manager Mode was dropped in favour of Road to Wrestlemania mode for the remainder of the SvR series, which basically involved taking your chosen character through each week of Raw/Smackdown. This mode culminated in a match at Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest event. Although these were fairly linear modes, there were also lots of extra collectibles to unlock by meeting certain conditions in matches. These were a great incentive for achievement/trophy grabbers and are fun to play through, even if it’s only once.

SVR 2010 deployed use of a new game engine, the Havok engine, which led to significantly better use of collision detection and improved graphics.  Other new modes included: create an aerial finisher; and Story designer mode, where in you can create your own stories for any wrestler. These modes almost leave nothing to the imagination. There’s nothing quite like a triple somersault into a judo chop from the top rope!

The 2011 edition of the series refines what was brought into the fray in SVR 2010, whilst also touching up the graphics further, improving the roster and making much, much better use of the Havok game engine. You could finally perform any move onto tables/ladders! This feature was a long time coming and excellent fun in its execution. Highlights include propping up two tables on top of each other, then performing a finisher from the top of a ladder, through both tables. In the wrestling world, it looks rather beautiful. Only the right stick is used for grapples also, the grapple strength determined by the grogginess of your opponent. This is much more realistic and, with the AI being particularly weak across all editions, at least it’s more of a challenge wearing an opponent down.

No matter which edition you pick up, the multiplayer is tons of fun, with the later editions (particularly 2010 and 2011) having more match types to choose from. Championship Scramble is one wherein five wrestlers can repeatedly pin each other. In this mode, the champion is declared as whoever got the last pin before the time runs out.

WWE All-Stars, the latest WWE instalment, has a roster complete with some of today’s greats (some not so), and yesterday’s legends. There is a good mixture of old and new WWE favourites. The game itself is a much more arcade-like effort than the Smackdown Vs Raw series. It’s rather like Legends of Wrestlemania tried to be, but actually turns out to be more in the vein of Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game by Midway, for those who can remember that far back. With more reliance on combos (and even juggle combos), coupled with spectacular-looking, over-the-top grapple moves which suit the character design perfectly. Instead of opting for realism, the superstars/legends in the game look like cartoony action figures, with ridiculously-sized muscles and expressions. It adds to this new wrestling experience very well, and has proven to be a very challenging title, with a difficulty curve the series desperately needed.

Being a WWE fan of some twelve years now obviously helps to enjoy this series that bit more. In fact, it’s the series’ biggest problem; non-WWE fans probably aren’t going to be interested in these games, for that very reason. With that said however, there are a lot of WWE fans out there, and it is clear that this franchise continues to sell, with sequels in development all year round.

I personally cannot wait for WWE ’12, which promises more tweaks to improve the overall experience, such as ‘storing’ finishers for use at any time, which hasn’t been used since the original Smackdown Vs. Raw games. A new engine is being introduced again, this time called Predator Technology. This will improve the physics and graphics even more, promising faster matches and now allowing Finisher animations to be broken by an opponent. Further changes to the pinning system have also been detailed; instead of button bashing, the player is required to stop the marker in the area to kick out. More damage, with a smaller area to succeed in kicking out. It’s good to see that now the physics are correct while improvements on the more basic elements are also being included. Layeth the Smacketh Down!

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