Here, in 2017, we find ourselves inundated with daily news and updates regarding the latest video game escapades which wrestling companies have on offer. There are daily posts across varying forms of social media, looping in current day wrestlers performing a range of cringe inducing acts to promote and, hopefully, make people buy the latest wrestling video game. For those who still play the games, the urge to purchase a new WWE video game release is dwindling as the years roll on. It now feels like you are just buying a re-hash of the same game but with new superstars. They seem to be going to way of the FIFA series, where the mechanics, graphics and gameplay stay the same and the only thing that is altered is the superstars who appear.
With that in mind, I decided to delve into the WWE video game archives and explore one of their finest creations, WWE Smackdown! vs Raw. The video game that revolutionised the wrestling video game world as we know it!
Firstly, WWE Smackdown! vs Raw demonstrated a massive graphics overhaul compared to its predecessor, WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain. Since the early 2000s, THQ and Yukes had formed a partnership where they would produce yearly instalments of the WWE Smackdown! franchise. The series improved year on year, with graphics and overall gameplay improving as technology advanced.
WWE Smackdown! vs Raw, saw a nearly complete overhaul in gameplay from the previous outing. There were in-match minigames which would determine who got the upper hand when the first bell rang, the most frequent of which would be the stare down contest which determined who got that all important first punch in. There would be an exact copy of this when you got your opponent in the corner and initiated the chop battle. Here, the meter would fill up and you would have to tap X at just the right time to chop your opponent with the right amount of power. Failing to do this would result in your opponent getting the upper hand and the chance to chop you!
New meter systems were introduced. These new systems would act as a way of enhancing your specific character type and give the character the advantage of playing the match with their specific fighting style. You could either play as a face or a heel and in line with the moves you used that would fill the special meter bar. A good guy would play to the crowd and taunt their way through their match to fill their meter, a heel would cheat, use eye pokes and argue with the referee. Heels were also boosted by using weapons whereas faces were punished for doing so, which was rather annoying when it came to being a face in a stipulation match. Maximising your face / heel bar would allow you to gain a special skill for a short amount of time. For a face, you would gain a damage boost and become somewhat invulnerable for a short amount of time, heels would gain a special low blow move which would do nearly twice as much damage as your normal finisher.
The meter also comes into play when you choose to compete in a Royal Rumble. Previously, you would just throw your opponent at the ropes and punch them to cause an elimination. Now, you had to push and furiously tap the controller buttons to cause a damage meter to decrease and allow your opponent to fall from the ropes, causing an elimination.
Season mode returned once again and provided a very in depth model for your superstar to progress and advance through the ranks of the WWE. Naturally, some of these advances came rather quickly. Win every match for around a month and a half and you could go from the lowest rank to challenging for the World Title. The voice acting was a tad ropey* but was a great addition to the game. It was great to hear the likes of Renee Dupree and Tajiri having a go at you for trying to woo Torrie Wilson, Tajiri even spoke in Japanese. There was nothing funnier than seeing Torrie flirt with the likes of A-Train or Rico before pulling them into the shower with her.
There was a challenge mode which brought a huge amount of longevity to the game. You would complete a set amount of challenges which would increase in difficulty and allow you to earn more cash to spend on superstar points or new characters. Create-a-wrestler mode remained as well and became more in depth than ever before.
The roster size was a shadow of the former games though. Legends included, there are barely over 40 characters in the entire game. Lower card characters who were on the active WWE roster at the time missed out on their chance to be in the game. These included the likes of: Billy Kidman, Orlando Jordan and Eugene. The old school superstars were fun to play as though, these included the likes of Bret Hart, 1999 Rock, Masked Kane, Jimmy Snuka (no comment), The Legion of Doom and Brutus Beefcake.
The match types remained the same as Here Comes the Pain with the addition of the parking lot brawl and the more structured backstage assaults. Overall Smackdown! vs Raw showed the capability of the Playstation 2 and the advances in gameplay took it leaps and bounds ahead of Here Comes the Pain. Gameplay wise, it was a step towards the more realistic style we are used to today, Here Comes the Pain had a more arcade style which was loved and is the reason it holds its place in so many people’s hearts to this day, but Smackdown! vs Raw was fluid and ran smoothly. It’s a great game and I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy and play it!