The problem with any long-running video game series is that, after a few years, it risks becoming stagnant; pumping out a new game every twelve months can make it tough for a developer to include everything they want. Change the formula too much, however, and you risk alienating your hardcore fan base. THQ's wrestling juggernaut, Smackdown vs. RAW, is one such series. With the release of this year's iteration, the question that has to be asked is, does 2010 hit that sweet spot of change between "not enough" and "too much"? With improved customization, a great new story design mode, and a larger focus on community, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 isn't perfect, but it is a great addition to the series.
As soon as you boot up the game, you'll find yourself in the all-new training facility. Here, you can get the feel of the controls (which are similar to last years) and just mess around with different superstars. At any time, you can press start to bring up the menu, and jump right into the game. The integration of the training facility is seamless, and a truly welcome addition. To newcomers, wrestling games can be intimidating at first. Between grapples, submissions, irish whips, and turnbuckle maneuvers, the controls can get complex. Thus, the training facility introduces a much easier learning curve for new players.
After getting all trained up, it's time to hop into the action. The two main single player modes are the career mode and the Road to Wrestlemania. The career mode is pretty cut and dry: you pick a superstar, then pick a belt you'd like to go after, and go. Each title has you fighting 3 superstars to become the number 1 contender, and then you fight for the belt. The mode is basically a set of exhibition matches, with no story line or any real motive at all. The only real purpose for the mode is to level up your created superstars, but after that, it's pretty forgettable. Unless, of course, you just want to get your superstar every belt there is.
The mode that will take up most of your time is the returning Road to Wrestlemania. This is the mode that plays out like an actual WWE television show, featuring plot driven matches on a superstar's journey to Wrestlemania. There are six separate storylines to complete, including a co-operative story featuring Triple H and John Cena, a diva story featuring Mickie James, and even one dedicated for your own created superstar. The stories range from funny at times, to downright laughable, but are fully voiced by the WWE talent, and are fun to play through. The create-a-superstar story is definitely the most enjoyable, as you get to watch your own creation rise from obscurity to the toast of the WWE.
Playing wrestling games with friends is always a blast. SvR 2010 allows four players to duke it out offline in a variety of match types, ranging from tag team battles, to Hell in a Cell, to the brand new championship scramble. Online, however, doesn't stand up quite as good. There are some persistent lag issues, which make timing based abilities, like countering, difficult to pull off. It's a shame, since this year's focus was all on community, and the online matches just don't stand up to the offline ones. Hopefully, a patch will be released to fix this up in the near future.
Gameplay has received only a few minor tweaks from last year's game, something which some may take issue with. Instead of using both triggers to counter like last year, the counter has been switched exclusively to the right trigger. This was done to take out the guess factor that was in SvR 2009, in favor of a more timing based approach. The result isn't so great, however. Sometimes you'll pull the trigger when the icon comes up, and your wrestler just won't counter. Other times, you can just mash the trigger and you'll counter successfully. The somewhat randomness of the mechanic, especially on harder difficulties where the computer counters everything, can become very frustrating.
In matches with three or more wrestlers, targeting also becomes an issue. You can switch between automatic or manual targeting, but both are pretty bad, and it can be annoying trying to pick your targets. Other than that, the gameplay hasn't received much overhaul, and is similar to previous games. The mode that received the most attention this year was the Royal Rumble match type. Last year, the only way to eliminate an opponent was by sending them over the top rope. This year, there are three different ways to send people out of the ring, including using the turnbuckle in a quick time event, or kicking them out on the bottom rope. Also, when superstars are knocked out of the ring, they don't just disappear; you actually see them walk up the ramp, defeated. It adds a bit of realism to the match, and the different ways to eliminate your opponents keeps it fresh.
With the gameplay remaining more or less the same as last year, the big draw to SvR 2010 is all the new creation modes. The most interesting one is the new story designer mode, which allows you to essentially create your very own WWE storyline. You can create scenes from backstage to inside the ring, set match stipulations, and even set superstars to interfere in a match. You can also stage injuries before a match. For example, in one scenario, you can run over a superstar with a car. Then, in the match, you might want to set that wrestler's legs to be injured, which will affect their performance in the upcoming fight. The mode is really user friendly, and surprisingly deep. The game also supports USB keyboards, which will definitely result in some lengthy scripts. If you're not the creative type, however, you can just download other people's stories online; so after you've completed every Road to Wrestlemania story, there's still plenty to keep you busy.
Create-a-superstar also makes a return, and is much improved. Items this year are in full 3D, and don't just look like they are painted on your character. This really helps make your created superstar look like they belong on the real roster. The brand new paint tool makes creating your own superstar even more customizable. With it, you can design your own tattoos or logos to put on clothing. It's a simple feature, and works just like Microsoft Pain, but is a great addition. Create-a-finisher is back this year as well, and this time you can create a top rope finisher. You can change the taunt at the beginning, take off motion, the type of dive, and even alter the trajectory and speed of your jump. Creation is still a big part of the SvR experience, and this year's version is the most customizable yet.
Graphically, 2010 is the best game in the series. The superstars look amazingly lifelike, and the HUD has been removed in favor of a more cinematic experience. The blood looks especially awesome, dripping from a cut on the forehead to the wrestler's chest, and even onto the canvas. The animations are also better this year, with moves from the top rope actually looking realistic as opposed to automated. There are still some clipping issues, and the animations aren't prefect, but to fix those issues, the engine would need a complete rehaul. The audio doesn't quite live up to the standards set by the visuals, however. The sound effects are bland, and the commentary is repetitive. For example, every single table match starts off with the commentators noting that, "We've got a table set for two…the only question is, which superstar is going through it?" Real wrestlers lend their voices to the Road to Wrestlemania mode, which is nice, but even they can sound flat at times.
Overall, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010 is a great wrestling game. The gameplay is more of the same, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's all of the new creation tools that really make the game shine. The story designer is just plain fun, and if the community really embraces it, will introduce an unlimited amount of replayability. The new paint tool helps make this year's create-a-superstar the most customizable yet, and there is definitely no shortage of content to be enjoyed. If you're a wrestling fan, then you won't be disappointed with this year's Smackdown vs. RAW.