Unfazed by skeptics or the creeping influence of the UFC emerges Smackdown vs. Raw 2010, the latest heir to a long-running line of WWE wrestling games. It's taken some considerable risks in the past, but 2010 is wagering on what's perhaps its riskiest prospect to date--the players. As its tagline proudly boasts, the world of the WWE is now in your hands. Does all of it amount to a showing that's sure to topple the rest?
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 updates its time tested formula of fights and features with a breadth of new additions in and out of the ring. There are two new match types--the mixed tag and championship scramble match--as well as some returning classics like backstage brawls and the ubiquitous Royal Rumble. The sheer list and variety of exhibition modes this year is simply enormous; no matter your preference for laying the smack down, chances are you'll be catered to.
For a more storied approach, there's also the Road to Wrestlemania mode, which returns this year with all-new campaigns, including one you can participate in with your own custom character. The storylines are amusing and set up some interesting scenarios. You'll decide early on whether or not you want to give the intercontinental belt back to its owner, or give it to Vince... right in the face. Whatever your decision, the ramifications of your actions tie directly into what happens next. Campaigns can take all sorts of interesting directions, giving players a reason to tread back and see what could have been.
But perhaps the most substantial addition to the roster this year is a pronounced emphasis on user-created content. Support for custom characters, entrances, and highlight reels remains, but 2010 also allows you the ability to create your own custom storylines to share online. Hindered only by your imagination and a few technical restrictions, nearly every aspect of a show can be tailored to your liking. The potential for creativity is huge, and it's always a good thing when a game lets you orchestrate your own behind-the-scenes catfight.
On the backend, 2010 also rounds out the experience with goodies like a rival system, which lets you to sketch out an intricate web of relationships among your star-studded cast, and a training mode tucked neatly behind the menu screen that offers hints on command inputs. Online play is present and in full effect, though be wary of its four-player limit and intermittent lag issues. In all, 2010 is a solid effort on all sides. It doesn't necessarily reinvent much of what the series has established thus far, but with all of its thoughtful new additions, it definitely a complete package.
Compared to 2009, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 retains a lot of the same mechanics with a few tweaks thrown in for good measure. Softening up the opposition with a choice mix of clotheslines, kicks, and throws is still the name of the game, only now you'll be able to throw in a few other flashy moves in the process.
On top of custom finishers and a new diving variant, you also have access to a signature move, which serves as a window to a devastating finisher. While certainly handy for adding flair to a fight, signature moves also considerably speed up the pace of a match. It's thus more important than ever before to load up on defense, which makes the game's new single-button reversals even more crucial.
The series' trademark ability system has also seen a bit of change--you'll unlock them one by one depending on the strength of certain stats. Sweat out the requirements, though, and you'll gain access to powerful perks like fired up, which lets you execute three finishers in a row. With its broad range of abilities, there's definitely some room for depth and strategy.
In the ring, you'll face a familiar set of perils: welcome sources of pain like turnbuckles, ring ropes, and metal staircases. That, coupled with an increased number of ways to grapple, choke, and eliminate your foes from the ring add up to a myriad of possibilities you may encounter in any given match. Not all's smooth in land of haymakers and hurricanranas, though: the dodgy collision detection still feels largely untouched from past iterations, and the default automatic targeting makes it difficult to pick out your mark in large group situations. A manual toggle remedies this to an extent, but at this point, it's time for a more elegant solution.
Though it feels like the system could afford to change things up a bit, the series' signature fighting system still feels good. The questionably miraculous A.I. comebacks are still there, but if you harness all the tricks the game gives you, a satisfying win is definitely not out of reach.
The Smackdown vs. Raw series has made some incremental improvements in graphics over the years, but save for a slightly-improved crowd and a handful of new animations, 2010's visuals look largely the same as 2009.
It isn't the most technically impressive game on the block, especially when you get into some of the cruder looking environments. But with a minimalist UI, camera cut-aways, and the addition of show logos and branding, the game succeeds at capturing the look and feel of the shows it's trying to imitate. Actual WWE stars lend their voices to the game's in-game dialogue, and though you may not be particularly impressed by their skills as thespians, you'll surely come away amused at their infallible ability to lay the cheese on thick.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is a game about its big storylines, big matches, and big thrills. But most of all, it's a game about its fans, which makes it one of the more enjoyable installments of the series to date. If you're a glutton for punishment with an itch for customization, this is definitely your ticket.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.