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Review of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 for the XBOX 360

Review of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 for the XBOX 360
 
October 20, 2009
 
 
 
WARNING THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
 
 
SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 for the XBOX 360 is the video game equivalent of a generic indy wrestler. It has a ton of great spots, but tries to jam them all into one package that would have been better with less. The visual presentation of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 has taken a huge leap forward from the previous year's game. The grappling system and many other gameplay elements are better then ever. However, in an apparent attempt to innovate, the game changes many things that were not broken and shoehorns in elements that detract from the product. The game also has some significant negatives that do not reflect so much on the quality of the game, but that need to be examined in this review.
 
To begin, the wrestlers in this game look better then ever. Last year, I criticized the wrestler's hair in the game for looking rather unnatural. The wrestler's hair in the game still does not look perfect, but it is much improved over last year. This is key, because for the first time in the history of WWE games their is a Diva's storyline starring Mickie James. With a part of the game devoted to characters with long hair, it is very important that their hair behave properly. There is only 1 truly cringe worthy moment with the women's hair animation. That is in Maryse' animation entrance. The signature move of Maryse' entrance is when she throws her hair back on the apron. In the video game, Maryse throws her head back, but no hair goes flying. Also during the course of matches, wrestler's hair will not go flying when they take bumps or their heads fly back when they are selling strikes. Still seeing the wrestler's hair move close to naturally in the cut scenes is a huge improvement.
 
The only real significant visual improvement left to make is to characters' faces. They still do not quite have the definition expected of top of the line current generation games. The game is still lagging behind when comparing the facial features and animations displayed by a character in SmackDown! vs. Raw, even in a cut scene to a character in a game like Dragon Age: Origins that comes out on November 3.
 
SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 has borrowed liberally from the recent THQ release, UFC 2009 Undisputed to create a much more realistic looking damage. In UFC 2009 Undisputed, if a player targeted a body part, that opponent's body part would turn red. For example, in the UFC game if a player in kept throwing leg kicks, their opponent's leg would turn red, like in real life. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, a series of backbreakers will redden a wrestler's back. If a player goes after their a opponent with a series of Ric Flair style chops, their opponents chest will turn a deep red.
 
In a very pleasant surprise with a current ban on blading in WWE, THQ has greatly improved the look of the blood in the game. There is the typical blood from the forehead. The only forehead cuts are above the left eye and do not bleed to the degree that have created some of the most unforgettable moments in wrestling history, but what is there looks better. The more impressive thing is that finally blood can be drawn from somewhere other then the forehead. That series of Ric Flair chops will have the crowd screaming woo and the opponent dripping blood from his chest, like in real life. It is quite satisfying to finally be able to see the effect from something other then a strike to the forehead.
 
This year's game has incorporated the havok physics engine that THQ licensed to make the UFC game. (It also provided a lot of the horse power behind the visually impressive Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.) The addition of the havok engine has drastically cut down on the amount of times characters go passing through the ropes and other wrestlers. There is still one huge exception to this, though. The game still visually breaks down with wrestlers passing through each other when a large wrestler faces a small wrestler. When big wrestlers face small wrestlers in WWE, the small wrestlers are forced to switch to a hit-and-run style of offense consisting of strikes, because someone like Rey Mysterio is simply too small to put a standing side headlock on Great Khali. In WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, any wrestler can put any move on any opponent. To get a virtual grappler able to go after the Cruiserweight Championship in Career Mode (yes it is still there, and so is the Hardcore Championship) I created a 5' 7" wrestler in the Create-A-Superstar mode. Much of Omega's (Omega is the name of the wrestler I created in CAS mode) body had to pass through Khali to lock in the Tazmission.
 
Additionally, last year's game had huge issues with wrestler's being warped across the screen in order for a "canned" animation to work properly. There is still some of that in this year's game, but it too has been greatly minimized. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, if a player wanted to execute a wrestler's special move they simply needed to press the button while standing in the correct position in relation to their opponent to initiate the move. For example, in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, for a player to execute John Cena's 5-knuckle shuffle, they needed to only have a special move stored and be standing at the head of their downed opponent. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, a player still needs to have their special move ready and be standing at the head of a grounded opponent. Except this year, the grounded opponent needs to be in the middle of the ring, otherwise the move will not execute. (There is an on screen indicator for players to know when the positioning is correct.) The game will still make a minor adjustment of the downed opponent for the canned animation to work. However, this seems somewhat necessary in a wrestling game, where virtual wrestlers cannot be told in advance what position to be in for the next move. The thing is, this minor adjustment results in a huge visual improvement over previous years. There are no longer the jarring transitions that took players out of the game, where wrestlers would leap across the ring from against the ropes to the center of the ring so someone could get their big spot in.
 
This year's version of SmackDown! vs. Raw has taken the grappling to a new level. In previous years, wrestlers could only initiate strong and weak grapples to a standing opponent from the front and from behind. That gave players a limited choice of 16 moves. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, players have the ability to execute more moves from the standing position then many wrestlers coming out of WWE developmental probably know. The 4 weak grapples from the front and rear are still there for 8. There are still 4 strong grapples from the front and back for 8 more, but now players can hit "X" to execute a strike out of a strong grapple and if a player presses down on the right analog stick in a strong grapple they a execute a struggle submission. There is still more. The game has added 2 new strong grapple positions where all of these options are available. Players can now execute moves with their opponent in a side headlock or top wristlock. With the addition of struggle submissions and if the player wanted to equip 2 different holds in their special and finisher spots, players can now execute 36 different moves from a standing grapple position.
 
The game has also greatly improved on the special and finisher system from last year. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, a player could store a special more, but that cost them the ability to hit their finisher as it used up their momentum. This year's game works far more like a real wrestling match. A wrestler builds up their momentum to be able to hit a special move. Then, when a player hits their special move, their momentum meter jumps up so they can hit their finished. This allows the game to more resemble the wrestling matches fans see on television.
 
The matches in this year's game are also much closer to what fans see on television then in previous WWE games. In Legends of WrestleMania, there was an achievement for beating 10 WWE Legends in under 10 minutes. (Every game for the XBOX 360 gives out achievement points. For a full retail title, there are 1000 achievement points available. Players compete to unlock the most achievements and amass achievement points, because Microsoft has found has established achievement points as the undisputed quantifiable way for people to compare their value as human beings. That makes them as addictive as crack. To see my achievements, my XBOX Live gamertag is listed at the bottom of this article and I post it on my facebook page, occasionally.) Defeating 10 Legends in under 10 minutes was a relatively easy thing to accomplish in that game, even though it was a gauntlet that usually included a few wrestlers that had at least a 1-year unbeaten streak in singles matches. In fact, doing it under 7 minutes was not that hard. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, the computer is not going down without a fight. Winning most matches is not necessarily the hardest thing, especially since the player always plays a main eventer in the story mode, but doing it quickly can be quite a challenge.
 
The Royal Rumble match is the top drawing gimmick match in WWE. However, in WWE video games it has not worked well for many years. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, the elimination system was radically altered to include a new button pressing mini-game that required players to rapidly press "A" to avoid elimination. This system was a huge improvement over previous year's and took a lot of frustration out of the match. In WWE Legends of WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble match got another makeover. This time it was a mini-game that required a timed button press. This system worked even better. For SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, the Royal Rumble match got a third makeover in 3 games with 3 mini-games. Two of those are enjoyable, and the other is not. This is where the game starts to show the problem of simply having too much stuff jammed into it. The 2 good mini-games are variations of what worked in the Royal Rumble match from the last 2 WWE games. Players can attempt to eliminate opponents by throwing them into a turnbuckle then doing a series of timed button presses to force them out of the ring. This works fine. Players can also force a wrestler against the ropes and initiate a button-mashing mini-game, where this time they have to mash different buttons as directed on the screen, instead of just mashing "A". Here, three wrestlers can team up to work to eliminate an opponent and it works really well. The third mini-game, does not work well at all. This min-game is initiated when a wrestler will is thrown over the top rope and lands prone on the apron holding onto the bottom rope. In a real Royal Rumble match, wrestlers are rarely eliminated in this position. Therefore, the game gives players a mini-game where it is extremely difficult to eliminate that wrestler. It requires the player to press "A" when a moving icon is in the center of a meter. It is pretty much the same mini-game used to take down the "X" in the Ultimate X match in TNA iMPACT!. It was frustrating then and it is frustrating, now. It punishes the player for executing a good offensive move of getting a wrestler outside the ring. If the point of the mini-game is so that wrestlers in that situation cannot be eliminated, the mini-game should have just been eliminated and the wrestler should simply roll back into the ring. If the goal was to create an enjoyable third mini-game it failed. The game's Royal Rumble match would have been excellent with the 2 mini-games, but by throwing in 1 more thing the product was weakened.
 
The Royal Rumble match was not only match where the game got worse, because the developers felt a need to throw in more mini-games. The beloved cage match that is a traditional fan favorite, has been largely wrecked by the addition of mini-games. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, cage matches follow old school WWE rules. A cage match can only be won via escaping the cage over the top or through the door. There are no pinfalls or submissions in a cage match in this game. Traditionally, players escaped the cage by pressing "A" rapidly. It was not a great system, but it worked fine and players had been conditioned to accept it for more then a decade. This year players must endure a joyless mini-game to escape the cage. To escape players must hit several button presses at they key moments as an arrow goes back and forth dictating how fast their virtual grappler either climb the cage or tries to escape through the door. Again, this is pretty much the same mini-game that ruined the Ultimate X match in the TNA game. No matter how badly a player has beaten up their opponent, it is impossible to escape unless virtually acing the mini-game. A player can hit their opponent with 60 finishers, and they will always catch the player trying to escape due to these ridiculous mini-games. However, there are 2 cage matches in the story mode (Road to WrestleMania mode) that work under different rules and will not make the player want to quit playing the game out of frustration.
 
The story mode for SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 game, like SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, is broken down into 6 episodic stories. Last year's game proved this is a much better way to tell a story then WWE games had done in previous years, but in this year's game the stories are plagued by the same problem of trying to throw too much into too small a space. The goal of an episodic story is to keep things simple. This year's stories try to introduce new elements into the game, develop complex plots in too short an amount of time, are unoriginal, and generally leave the player disappointed.
 
First, this year's game introduces a "Brand Warfare" storyline. This storyline is a complete and utter failure. This is not entirely the fault of THQ, though. This can be played with 2 players and replaces the tag-team storyline from last year. That is a disappointment to start. The tag team system in the game has gotten much better over the last 2 years to the point it is actually enjoyable. Tag team matches in wrestling video games have historically been awful. Partners rarely make the save at the right time or cut off the opponent from breaking up a pin. This means the player is competing in a glorified handicap match. However, starting with SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 the AI functioned properly in a tag team match in a WWE game. Partners broke up pins when they were supposed to and it was possible to execute double teams like in a real tag team match featuring top tag teams. Calling this Brand Warfare story a 2-player storyline is generous. Players only form a tag team twice throughout the story.
 
The story is based around the champions of all 3 brands wrestling for a new "Champion of Champions" title at WrestleMania. That will be decided in a 20 minute Iron Man match under 1 of 3 possible stipulations: Falls-Count Anywhere, Hell in a Cell or a Tables Match. That is a good start. Of course, the 3 wrestlers the 3 champions that will be feuding for the Champion of Champions title doom this story from the outset. Players can play as John Cena the Raw beltholder. Players can also take the part of Triple H the SmackDown! beltholder. The ECW beltholder is Big Show, who is not playable. In the story, Big Show was a SmackDown! roster member and decided to retake his place as champion on ECW, after winning the Royal Rumble match. The game pretty much bypasses explaining how Big Show got his title shot before WrestleMania. (Of course, John Cena tried to use his at the Raw after Royal Rumble and eventually used it at No Way Out a few years ago. That was another match against Randy Orton and threw away so much money, because Triple H needed to get into the title match at Mania it is best forgotten.) At the time this article is being written all 3 wrestlers involved in the Brand Warfare storyline in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 are on the Raw roster. It sure builds up that rivalry. In fact, the annual WWE draft was moved up from its traditional June date to April to get Triple H to Raw faster. In fairness, Triple H and Big Show were on SmackDown! when the story for this game was written.
 
As a positive, the inclusion of Big Show as ECW Champion in this game means ECW has a presence in the story mode. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, ECW had its own storyline featuring CM Punk, Tazz, Elijah Burke and Tommy Dreamer, but it was the only story mode to not be deemed worthy of any achievement points. (The Triple H story mode was worth twice as much as the other normal story modes.) This act of charity means that the ECW announcing team of Matt Striker and Todd Grisham get to call 2 or 3 matches in the entire story mode. Of course, Grisham got moved off ECW in April. Striker is great, though. He does an excellent Dusty Rhodes impression at one point, and channels the all-time great Gordon Solie calling a "suplex" using Solie's trademark pronunciation of the word. (Speaking of broken-up announcing duos, Jim Ross and Tazz handle the announcing duties for the SmackDown! matches in this game.) The only planned ECW talent that appears in this storyline is Miz and John Morrison. Both of the guys were also traded off the show in April. During this story, John Cena was forced to wrestle on ECW in a match without the ability to run. Cena was matched against Umaga, who was never a member of the ECW roster. There were more ECW brand matches called in the story mode of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 by Joey Styles and Tazz, and there was barely an ECW a brand in that game. To show how early the scripting process for these games are done, the main ECW angle in that game involved December to Dismember, which had been canceled months before that game ever came out.
 
The story mode in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, is filled with numerous challenges to unlock extra items, and of course earn more achievement points. Many of these are brutally hard time challenges, that the game makes harder by throwing in an additional element. The first of these pops up in week 4 of the Brand Warfare storyline. As John Cena, the player is asked to put Kane through a table in less then 2:30 of a no disqualification match. That is not easy on its own. The game then makes it more difficult. Around 2:00 into that 2:30, Chris Jericho comes out to interfere. This is a no DQ match, so that is not an unreasonable encumbrance. The problem is that Jericho comes and gets on the microphone at the top of the ramp to announce he is going to interfere. This cut scene takes about 10 seconds, while the clock is still running and the player is unable to do anything. Had Jericho talked over the public address system, then run down to interfere that would have been fine. Instead, the player is left to helplessly watch as the clock runs down and Jericho talks. Unfortunately, this is not the only time that same thing happens in the game. In fact, it seems to only happen when players are in these timed matches.
 
The Brand Warfare storyline further breaks down in the 4 weeks leading up to WrestleMania. The player is asked to compete in 4 challenges against the other 2 wrestlers in the Champion of Champions match, where the results generally do not matter. Additionally, 3 of the 4 challenges do not appear anywhere else in the game. When a gimmick match appears in the story and does not appear in the rest of the game, there is usually a reason for it. It is the same reason that people have not done the majority of the "innovative" new matches introduced in wrestling over the first 100+ years of the sport. They are generally not good ideas. If a reverse battle royal leading to a regular battle royal leading to a regular match leading to a tournament to crown a number 1 contender had been a good idea, someone would have already done it.
 
The first of the 4 challenges players are put through is a "Hype Meter Challenge Match". The player is required to get the most excitement out of the crowd possible. This requires the player to hit a bunch of their big moves in combination. The thing is the player has to do this quickly, because the crowd is not going to pop as big for the fifth Attitude Adjustment as it did for the first 2. Of course, this appears no where else in the game, because the match is not enjoyable. If it were something players would actually like to do, it would be in the game as a stand alone match. There are not supposed to be elements in a game that make players unhappy they are there.
 
The second challenge is a "Finisher Marathon" and also does not appear anywhere else in the game. Players are asked to hit more finisher then the other 2 wrestlers in 2 minutes. This match is contested against 3 opponents in a ring surrounded by flames. The Finisher Marathon highlights the games one horrific gameplay flaw. It is nearly impossible to target the proper opponent in multiple man matches. In tag team matches, the gameplay holds up fine, because there is only 1 person in the ring at a time. In 3-way matches, the targeting can is only a bit problematic. However, with 3 opponents in the ring at the same time a player is left guessing at who they are targeting most of the time. The game primarily uses an auto targeting system. The thing is in a 3-on-1 handicap match, the player is constantly being struck from all directions. The computer will target whoever landed the last strike. To land a finisher, a player must stun an opponent and press "Y". This auto targeting frequently directs players away from the stunned opponent. Players can manually target opponents using the right analog stick. The problem is the right analog stick is also used to grapple. This means players can be accidentally stuck grappling with one wrestler when they are attempting to turn and face another wrestler to hit their finisher. With the addition of flames surrounding the ring, players cannot throw 1 or 2 of the superfluous opponents out of the ring to isolate 1 opponent so the games controls would work. The game puts players in handicap matches that do not work frequently, but no match in the story mode plays as poorly as this one.
 
The third challenge is also a match that appears no where else in the game. Here a player must defeat an opponent faster then the other 2 wrestler in the Champion of Champions match with a random handicap. The handicap can be anything from a player being stripped of the ability to use their finisher, to in my game the loss of the ability to run. A player is supposed to need to win this challenge to gain another unlockable, but luckily this match is functionally broken. First, the match does not work like a beat the clock match should. In beat the clock matches in WWE, the first wrestler establishes the time to beat and if the next wrestler doe not beat it the match ends without a decision. Big Show went first and put up a time of 2 minutes. I went second against Umaga and did not beat that time, but my match continued to a finish. Then despite failing to win the challenge, I got the unlockable anyway.
 
The fourth and final challenge was at least a match used in other parts of the game. It was a beat the clock gauntlet match. The game has several other gauntlet matches, but no other beat the clock gauntlet matches. This beat the clock match had the same problem as the beat the clock match in the third challenge, in that it kept going after I failed to beat the time. At this point, the winner of all of these challenges got to pick one of the three stipulations for the match at WrestleMania. I had lost all of them, but there was no penalty. It was just hours of frustration trying to restart and win matches that ultimately meant nothing. The WrestleMania match ended-up being falls-count anywhere, which is what I wanted anyway. With the stipulation I wanted in place, I took the Champion of Champions match on my first try after countless failures at the challenges for what turned out to be no reason at all.
 
The next storyline is another new addition to the game, the Create-A-Superstar storyline. This is both a good innovation for SmackDown! vs. Raw and somewhat disappointing. First, it is a great mode, because it forces players to utilize more of the features in the game. To even begin the mode, players have to use the Create-A-Superstar mode. After that, they would be wise to go into the Create-A-Move Set mode to craft a wrestler that fits what they want to do in the ring. The list of moves has been greatly expanded this year and in a nice feature all the moves that are new to the game have the word "New" listed next to them when you scroll over them. Many of the moves that wrestlers have started using as finishers, but did not have names are in the game making them a bit tricky to find. For example, Dolph Ziggler's Zig Zag and Miz' Skull Crushing Finale are in the game under different names. Even moves that have been in the game for years, but have gotten new names have the word "New" attached to them to make them easier to find. For example, the Thesz Press has been in WWE games for a long time. However, in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 they changed the name to the "Lou Thesz Press" and tagged it new.
 
Speaking of struggle submissions, this game has continued the pattern started in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 of burying submissions. On the positive side it is now possible for all wrestlers to get submissions in this game, which was not true in last years game. On the downside, many established submission holds are not submission holds in this game. For example, the ankle lock is a wear down hold. So is the Tazmission. The game also has tried to innovate the submission controls in a way that does not work. To apply pressure during a struggle submission, players are required to rapidly toggle the right analog stick side-to-side. Players attempt to break out of submission holds in the same manner. That system does not work well. For years, the submission systems in wrestling games have consisted of players mashing the "A" button. It is not great, but it is simple and works a lot better then this new system. It is another example of where the game tried to stick in 1 more new idea, that it really did not need.
 
As for the report in my E3 preview of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, (which can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/18/preveiw-of-wwe-smackdown-vs-raw-2009.html and here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/20/follow-up-to-e3-preview-of-smackdown-vs-raw-2009.html) that many prominent independent wrestlers' moves would appear in 2009 that report was correct based on what I was told. The moves had been motion captured, animated and were in builds of the game back at THQ. They actually had multiple versions of Kevin Steen's package piledriver in the build they were showing off to the press at the time. What happened was WWE management reacted to the news of that story getting out the same way they reacted to the story of Shelton Benjamin winning Money in the Bank at WresleMania XXV getting out. Since, the internet wrestling community knew about it, WWE management decided to change everything. Of course, the result was a worse game and whatever the expense was to get those move motion captured and ready to be included in the game originally. A few new indy moves have managed to sneak their way into this year's game. A particularly interesting one was Daizee Haze' heart punch. However, it appears cattle mutilation is not going to be in the game until Bryan Danielson hits the main roster.
 
After a player has created a wrestler with a move set that suits them, they are still not ready to begin this story. The player will only have created a wrestler with an overall rating of 40. They can try and begin the story with that character, but are likely to quickly find themselves in a world of hurt bringing taking that wrestler into competition against the real WWE wrestlers. That means players are going to need to enter Career Mode to level up their virtual grappler, before attempting the story.
 
Then they are ready to begin. When the player selects this story they are greeted whenever they start up a new storyline, with a tremendous live action video package putting over the importance of WrestleMania. (However, it may include too many clips of Undertaker's dive at WrestleMania XXV where Sim Snuka missed the catch.) The story then starts for real as players face off against Santino Marella, who with a 73 overall ranking is the lowest rated male wrestler on Raw. That way the player can judge if they have leveled up their wrestler enough. Marella has just made a successful defense of his Intercontinental Championship against Kofi Kingston, then in a copy of the "Milan Miracle" when Marella initially won the Intercontinental Championship, he calls you out of the crowd. Without the help of Bobby Lashley, you defeat Marella and the story starts in earnest. (There is no particular reason in the story for why the player is sitting in the front row of a show in January in Denver, Colorado in his wrestling gear. A person might want to be walking around in more then a pair of trunks in that situation.)
 
Unfortunately, from that point on the story is lackluster. The player will proceed to compete in matches that will level up their wrestlers stats. It has an unique match that you win by ramming Vladimir Kozlov and Ezekiel Jackson into 5 hot spots in Vince McMahon's office. It is not nearly as frustrating as the unique matches in the Brand Warfare story. In fact, if a player knows what the hot spots are the match is very easy. The player can be matched up with Kozlov and Jackson earlier in the story in a backstage brawl that requires the player to knockout both members of William Regal's Ruthless Round Table. That is far more difficult to do.
 
At another point in this story, players are required to use the Create-A-Finisher mode to come up with a new finisher for their wrestler. It is another good way for players to be forced to use all the features in the game. However, this story is more of a tutorial to force players to explore the features of the game, rather then an entertaining story to play through. It tries to cover for this with embarrassingly bad comedy. This is even more disappointing realizing this could have been the standout story in the game. The protagonist in this story is not locked into a preset WWE character. That should have allowed for the creative freedom to make a great story.
 
Edge is the protagonist of the next storyline and it is by far the strongest storyline in the game. That is because it is pretty much a direct rip-off of the Edge-Vickie Guerrero storyline that made SmackDown! so great. In this story, Maria plays the part of Guerrero. This is such a direct rip-off of that story that it even has a scene where Maria in the ring is shown a tape of Edge being kissed on the cheeks by Maryse and Eve. Maria freaks out. Edge then tries to explain himself and fails. It is a shadow of the greatness that was Guerrero being shown the video tape of Edge making out with Alicia Fox, but still very good. The real criticism of this story is its episodic nature. To tell the story in the short amount of time allotted, a lot of the story had to be rushed in the video game. What made the story great in real life, was the slow build. Still, this story had an unique ending that made a player wish it went on longer. Also, for those keeping track this is the only SmackDown! story in the game.
 
Then comes the Mickie James storyline, where the game clearly tried to do way too much in the terms of story. This is the first time there has been a woman's storyline in WWE video game, which is a huge step forward for the series. It seems like the developers have been thinking about doing this for a long time. Now given the opportunity to put a women's storyline in the game, they tried to jam all of the ideas they had for the last however many years they have been wanting to do a women's storyline into this one. In a short episodic story that is supposed to be about simplicity, this story has 3 different storylines, 2 of which end up going no where.
 
The first storyline probably had the most potential. The storyline starts out with Miz attempting to host a bikini contest by calling out Candice Michelle. (Candice Michelle is not even in this video game.) James comes out and interrupts to talk about how the women in WWE compete as hard as the men. It is the usual stuff they are supposed to say. Then fans realize the ECW general manager got hired because she was in Playboy. James is then in then interrupted by Maryse, who was also only hired, because she was in Playboy. Maryse then delivers her usual spiel about being better looking then everyone else, which works here. Even in a video game, it seems like she genuinely means it.  Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler then tease that the Miz/Maryse combination will be the main heels in this storyline, while apparently trying to set a record for the number of times mispronouncing Maryse. (Much more on the commentary and audio in the game in general later.)
 
The Miz/Maryse combination was a potentially exciting arrogant heel duo, featuring 2 people who it appear clearly think they are better then everyone else. Unfortunately, due to Maryse getting injured and Miz getting buried by Cena that duo will probably never materialize in WWE. The chance to face them in a WWE video game was generally interesting, though. Unfortunately, the game blows off this angle in 2 weeks for 2 angles that do not work. The next week on Raw, James pins Maryse clean in a tag match ending that feud. Later, there is a cut scene backstage, where Miz insults James and Brian Kendrick nobly interferes on James' behalf. That blows off the Miz part of the angle. It also meant the first 2 weeks of this story were a complete waste. They appear to have only been there to get in the ridiculous speech by James. For comparison purposes, it is about as endearing as the speech Cena gave about supporting the troops in last year's game. Cena really does believe in supporting the troops and James probably believes that many of the women in WWE work hard. The problem is the wording of these speeches is so bad and the forum is so wrong that it generates go away heat. Supporting the troops and the fact that women work hard has been a message that has been effectively communicated in other video games. The thing is this game goes about it so poorly as to be counter-productive.
 
There is another key element to the backstage scene between Miz and James, it initiates the first bad storyline. Kendrick is badly miscast a heroic babyface, and the game is quite open about that. Kendrick's arrogance in the way he interferes to help James against Miz immediately telegraphs a heel turn. This is not an accident. The James storyline has 2 possible outcomes, and in one of them Kendrick turns heel. The thing is in the storyline where he does not turn heel, he is largely wasted. The game knows he is a terrible babyface. It telegraphs his heel turn, and then leaves players with the option to not turn him, even though the right thing to do is to turn him. That leaves the story pretty much unresolved. There is a reason that players may not to choose Kendrick and it is another part of the reason this whole story does not work.
 
At the same time the Maryse/Miz storyline is being blown off and the Kendrick storyline is being started, the game starts a third storyline. This storyline features Natalya as an obsessed stalker. (Natalya is in this game, but not the rest of the Hart Dynasty. However, they are assuredly coming as part of a DLC pack. THQ needed to leave out some wrestlers that people would pay to put in the game. This year that was the Hart Dynasty.) It is a recreation of the storyline James debuted with stalking Trish Stratus. Natalya is an established heel in WWE and if WWE is going to turn either her or Beth Phoenix, based on her performance in this game, they should go with Phoenix, who was funny in the past with Marella. This is another case where THQ knows they have a heel miscast as a babyface and telegraph their heel turn the moment they are introduced. The problem is that players are left with the option to never turn her. That makes this portion of the storyline a complete waste if she never turns.
 
The only way this could have worked is that if Natalya and Kendrick had turned as a unit on James. Instead players are left with 3 incomplete stories that take time away from what could have been 1 developed story, had the game chosen to focus on 1 heel or set of heels. This results in a story that is all over the place and at times painful, because of the realization how it very easily could have been much better.
 
The Randy Orton story is uninspired, but there is nothing really wrong with it as a story. The game has anticipated WWE creative with Legacy turning on Orton, but misses the boat at times in attempting to make Orton a somewhat sympathetic heel. Legacy are portrayed as the bad guys for turning on Orton, not the heroes for finally standing up to the guy who pushed them around for years.
 
The Orton story also adds an interesting new dynamic to the game. The player has a match with Rey Mysterio one night on Raw. The match is not especially difficult. However, Orton is the champion in the match and after the match runs into the thing that has ended 5 title reigns. Matt Hardy comes out and cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase. The player then has a tired and worn down Orton to face an inspired Hardy. They are required to win the match, but it will not be easy.
 
The storyline also tries to stick with the idea of Orton as the "Legend Killer". There is a cut scene where Orton RKO's Bob Orton, Jr. on the hood of a car to prove he is still ruthless. For people who suffered through those seemingly never ending self-serving vignettes Dusty Rhodes booked himself in at TNA where Johnny Fairplay, Trinity and Traci Brooks competed to be his assistant, (or went through WWE developmental) they can enjoy facing the "American Dream" in 2 matches that can only be decided by knockout and give him the Hall of Famer an RKO for good measure in another cut scene. Of course, players could avoid confronting Rhodes at all in the game. (That passes up the opportunity for the achievement, though.) They can have 1 of the knockout matches against Cody Rhodes. Then they can choose to deliver the RKO and have the other knockout match with Ted DiBiase, Sr. (Players have to have a knockout match with both Dusty and DiBiase, Sr. to get the achievement.)
 
This was a story that sounds good on paper, but in execution does not work. A part of this is bad voice acting (again, more on that later) and because the game does not have the facial animations to convey a story that way. The methodical pacing is what makes Orton a great heel. In this game, he was largely just a guy doing stuff to be a jerk. There was none of that malevolence. The fact the game tried to make him somewhat sympathetic played into that problem. When Orton is brawling with Dusty backstage, he is just another wrestler not the cold calculating "Viper". A story about a heel overcoming the odds to remain champion simply does not work in wrestling. The result was not something that would drive players to want to rush through the story. It was merely an excuse to have matches, but at least it did not detract from this episode.
 
The sixth and final storyline focuses on Shawn Michaels. This was another storyline ripped off from an actual WWE storyline. Luckily, it got tweaked, so it worked much better here then in WWE. However, it was another storyline that was merely, there. This storyline was built on Michaels putting his career on the line against JBL in a career vs. career match at WrestleMania. It was largely a rip-off of the angle where Michaels became JBL's slave, because he was broke. Except this time they cut out the part where Michaels was broke, so it made a lot more sense.
 
It started off solid enough with JBL being mad at Michaels for getting a title shot that the Wall Street millionaire wanted. The game has some great moments as JBL goes for revenge. When Michaels gets his title shot, JBL interferes in a cut scene and hits Michaels with a cow bell. The game features interference and guys getting laid out in cut scenes all the time. However, this cut scene was special. It was relatively long as JBL put a tremendous beating on Michaels with the cow bell. In the game, Michaels' knee is injured and he is forced to miss Raw the next night selling his injuries. At that show, JBL plays a fabulous mock tribute video to Michaels. It lists the day Michaels debuted in a WWE video game and the day SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 was released, to mark the beginning and end of virtual Shawn Michaels' career. All of the footage on the screen is from old versions of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010. In a game filled with bad voice acting, JBL shines as one of the best talents in the game. The one thing this really needed to make it perfect was the song "Leave the Memories Alone". Had this video mocked Michaels to that extent it would have really added to the impact. This is soon followed by was another bright spot in the storyline. JBL does an interview with Kendrick (whose voice acting in this game is also superb) talking about how the high flier was poorly trained by Michaels (which is probably true).
 
Then the game threw in a match that had the same flaw as the Cena-Kane match in the Brand Warfare storyline. Michaels gets his rematch challenging Orton for the title in a no disqualification match. The player needs to win in under 4 minutes, which is doable. However, JBL comes out to interfere 2:00 into the match. Again, the game cuts away from the action for 10 seconds leaving the player helpless as the clock runs. The player has just lost 10 seconds of time when it is a singles match in a timed encounter. This can lead to numerous failures and frustration.
 
The game picks up a little as the player's next match is versus JBL in a steel cage. This match is played differently then the regular steel cage matches in the game. That means it plays very well. There is even a good story telling element added to the match, as Michaels feels the need as champion to steal the show. Therefore, the player must execute a dive off the top of the cage in the match. This re-injures Michaels knee. There is another very good cut scene of Michaels refusing help and hobbling up the ramp.
 
In response to this new setback, JBL offers $250,000 to any wrestler that can end Michaels career. (That is a great deal. It was $100,000 for Goldberg. It was $50,000 for Abyss. It was $30,000 for Eric Young.) Logically, Michaels is then immediately jumped by Cryme Tyme in the locker room, since they are always looking for money.
 
Michaels is animated very well in this game, so that does a great job conveying the gravity of the situation. The problem is whenever Michaels talks in the game. At this point, Michaels' great talking is probably more from the great facial expressions he uses when he speaks then from how the tone of his voice when he says things. The game has stripped Michaels of his great facial expressions and left him a rather monotone boring speaker. It actually makes the game less interesting. The next week in the game, Michaels goes to call out anyone looking to collect the bounty in the ring. The scene looks right, but Michaels seems bored during this scene cutting a defiant promo without his fired up facials.
 
The story then completely falls apart from a logic standpoint at the conclusion of this scene. After Michaels with the aid of CM Punk has beaten off waves of attackers, JBL offers to call off the bounty in exchange for a retirement match with Michaels at WrestleMania. This would make perfect sense, but JBL is not challenging Michaels to a modified career vs. title match. Instead, JBL is challenging Michaels to a career vs. career match. Why JBL is putting his career on the line too is a mystery and a moment that takes players out of the game to think about the fact it makes no sense. The player has the option to decline the match, but the game eventually forces the player into it. The story then culminates with either JBL or Michaels getting retired at WrestleMania. Depending on some of the options the player chooses throughout this story, there can be an illogical heel turn thrown in at the end. There is no real good reason for it. It seemed like the developers simply wanted to have this character be a heel in the game and the last match of the Shawn Michaels storyline was the only place they could come up to fit it in the game. In reality, they would have been best off holding back on the idea for next year. They also would have been best off just having Shawn Michaels career on the line at WrestleMania. The thing is the match is an "I Quit" match so they felt obligated to make it a career vs. career match. It is all part of the same story that the developers wanted to get a lot of stuff into this video game, and did not have the room. The storyline did not properly build to an I Quit match. Therefore, they weakened the story and hoped no one noticed. They wanted to turn 1 character heel. Then they were so eager to do it in this storyline that it did not make sense. THQ is going to make WWE video games until at least 2014. They are going to get 5 more chances to turn this character heel and put an I Quit match in the game. However, they felt the need to put it all in this one, even though it did not work. The scene of JBL getting unwillingly retired at WrestleMania was entertaining, though. Again, the story would have been substantially improved if the game had the song "Leaves the Memories Alone" in it here as JBL went walking up the ramp. Unfortunately, based on the material this storyline was never going to work. The inherent problem of copying a storyline that did not work in real life is that it is not the way to get a good storyline in a video game. Though as noted, it was a lot better here then it was on television.
 
Now to address the issue of voice acting in this game. It is abysmal. As Jim Cornette noted in the outstanding interview he did with Oliver Copp and Mike Sawyer, wrestlers are in this profession based on their athleticism, not their acting ability. For as bad as many of WWE's wrestlers are at acting, they are unbelievably worse at doing voice acting for a video game. When people do voice work for a video game, they read off scripts into a microphone in a small sound booth. Good voice talent does not let players know that is what they are doing. With many of the talents in WWE, players can hear unnatural pauses as the wrestlers eyes shifted to the next line or they had to turn the page. It is comically bad. Jim Ross is the best announcer in wrestling, but he might be the worst person in the game with these frequent and noticeable unnatural pauses. People in WWE are required to memorize promos for every taping. To expect the talent in WWE to become good at reading lines into a microphone is unreasonable at this point. A simpler solution, would be to have them memorize the lines. Wrestlers in WWE memorize promos all the time, this should be the same thing. It should at least eliminate the unnatural pauses in there delivery.
 
Additionally, the game then seems to highlight the bad script reads, when players turn on subtitles. Frequently, the words being said do not match the words appearing in the subtitles. If this were an occasional mistake, it would be a minor complaint. However, this happens in almost every cut scene. Since, it seems like such an easy thing to fix, the fact that the dialogue and captions do not match up makes a lot of people look really bad. The talent looks bad, because it appears they botched their lines. Then the developers look bad for not fixing the captions to make allowances for the bad voice acting.
 
There is another problem with the promos in that they "sound wrong" in that they are too quiet. The WWE talent is recording these lines in a tiny recording booth and seems to feel the need to be quiet to match their surroundings. To create the proper sound of a wrestling game, they need to act like they are talking to a crowd of 15,000 people. That means yelling or at least projecting when they talk. They need to sound like they do in the ring, not they like do in a library.
 
Also, the announcing in this game continues to be bad. Striker is the best of the bunch, but he is still hit and miss. The commentators are all scripted to say exact lines. Many times, this leads to them shoehorning in catch phrases that do not work or are delivered with no enthusiasm. The commentary for UFC 2009 Undisputed was great. (The review of UFC 2009 Undisputed can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2009/6/3/review-of-ufc-2009-undisputed-for-the-xbox-360.html) For that game, THQ put Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan in a studio and had them call matches from the video game non-stop for 3 days and took the audio from that. There is no reason that same thing could not work for the WWE games. The commentators would clearly need to get a few scripted lines into some matches. In those instances, they could have the opportunity to work them in naturally, instead of saying it out of context into a microphone while looking at a piece of paper. It would be hard for this approach to produce worse results then the current commentary.
 
While the graphics in this game have improved, the physiques are still ridiculous. CM Punk looks decidedly not straight-edge in this game. If JBL had the physique in real life that he has in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, there is no way he would have retired at WrestleMania. The reason I had to create a 5' 7" tall wrestler was to get him close to the cruiserweight limit. The game has taken away the ability to adjust the weights of created wrestlers. Therefore, Omega weighed 217 pounds. That was probably about the size Eddie Guerrero was when he passed away, which is the reason there is a wellness policy in WWE. A lot of the wrestlers look like giant hairless gorillas, because their chests are so huge that their arms cannot hang properly at their sides.
 
Next, it is probably not the best idea for someone running for the United States Senate to have their husband appear in a video game looking jacked to the gills on steroids. That is probably an even worse idea if he is actually jacked to the gills on steroids. Especially, when that person recently gave testimony to Congress on why he should not be drug tested in a company that says it is trying to end the use of performance enhancing drugs in their sport.
 
Finally, this game probably should not be called SmackDown! vs. Raw anymore. The name was originally created to go along with the launch of SmackDown! in 1999 and just got over as the accepted brand name for WWE video games. It is similar to how Madden is now the accepted name for EA's NFL video game. It is actually Madden NFL, but no one calls it that. John Madden's involvement in the game is minimal at this point, but his name is synonymous with the brand. Therefore, his name will appear on the game long after his death, because people expect Madden football not NFL football. EA keeps trying to put out other NFL games and they all fail.
 
The idea of competing brands in the SmackDown! vs. Raw games was dropped years ago. This year's game barely features ECW in the story mode and SmackDown! is getting pretty close to being dropped, too. In the Brand Warfare storyline, the Raw commentators called WrestleMania. This game made Raw look like the major leagues at the expense of ECW and SmackDown! This game either needs to go back to being called WWE Raw, which is what it was called on the original XBOX or create a product that acknowledges WWE produces more then just 2 hours of bad television on Monday nights.
 
 
 
SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 for the XBOX 360 does many things far better then its predecessor. However, it simply tries to do too much. This is a fine game and could be a good purchase when the price comes down in a few months during the summer video game drought. As for how it stacks up to the last class of wrestling video games it falls a little behind SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 (The review of that game can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2009/1/22/review-of-smackdown-vs-raw-2009-for-the-xbox-360.html). The potential days of gameplay put it solidly ahead of WWE Legends of WrestleMania (The review of that game can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2009/4/16/review-of-wwe-legends-of-wresltemania-for-the-xbox-360.html). This game is better by leaps and bounds then TNA iMPACT!, but so is chicken pox (The review of TNA iMPACT! can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/9/29/review-of-tna-impact-for-the-xbox-360.html). SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010 for the XBOX 360 gets a 3/5.
 
 
 
News and Notes: It will be very interesting to see what happens with the next Legends of WrestleMania game. Legends of WrestleMania 2 faces 2 key challenges. To begin, the first game was built around Hulk Hogan. It pretty much had to be with him holding or being in a match for the WWE title at 7 of the first 9 WrestleMania's. With Hogan having started his own promotion, WWE is either going to have to accept building the game around a guy who is in another promotion or produce a game without him that will be very hard to market.
 
Additionally, assuming that 1 WrestleMania is added to every addition of the game WrestleMania XVI should be added next year's game. WrestleMania XVI was great. The last several years had been over booked and generally awful. WrestleMania XVI started the run WWE is currently on of always producing a great WrestleMania. That show featured 2 great matches and another good match that belongs in the game. Unfortunately, none of them can be in Legends of WrestleMania 2. The first great match was the triangle ladder match for the WWE Tag Team Championships featuring Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz. With the Dudley Boyz in TNA, that great match cannot appear in the game. The next match that will never ever be in a WWE video game was a true wrestling masterpiece. It was a 2-Fall Triple Threat Match for the Intercontinental and European Championships featuring Chris Jericho vs. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit. With Angle in TNA and Benoit involved that match will never appear anywhere. The third match from that card that would be perfect for Legends of WrestleMania 2 is the main event from that show. The Fatal-Four Way for the WWE Championship with a McMahon in every corner featuring Triple H with Stephanie McMahon vs. The Rock with Vince McMahon vs. Big Show with Shane McMahon vs. Mick Foley with Linda McMahon. With Foley in TNA, that match will not be appearing in a WWE video game anytime soon, either.
 
In fact, there are only 2 matches from the 8 match WrestleMania XVI card that could possible be put in the next Legends of WrestleMania game. All of the other matches involve talent that is currently signed to other promotions. However, there are good reasons not to put both matches in the game. The first is an easy 1 to get in the game, as far as signing everyone to licensing deals. In a Catfight it was Kat with Mae Young vs. Terri with Fabulous Moolah. The point of a Legends of WrestleMania game is to recreate historic matches. The fact that match was horrible is not a problem, many matches that were far worse made it into the original game. The problem is how that match could be recreated in a video game in today's family friendly WWE.
 
The second match is clearly the better choice, but presents its own unique problem that will probably be tougher to overcome then the problems presented by putting the cat fight in the game. That match is a six person tag team match of Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn vs. Chyna, Scotty Too Hotty and Grand Master Sexay. The problem here is that it is doubtful anyone can find Saturn to have him sign a licensing agreement to appear in the game. It is pretty scary looking at the names in that match and thinking of where they are today. Actually, out of these 5 matches there are a lot of scary stories. In the 3 matches not listed above on that card, 2 other wrestlers are dead in Test and Big Bossman.
 
Finally, here is a new stat to put in perspective how bereft of features TNA iMPACT! was. There were fewer total moves in that game then playable characters in UFC 2009 Undisputed. The UFC game had 85 playable characters. The TNA game had 80 different moves.
 
 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Jereme Warneck
number1contender.net
Boxing and Video Game Correspondent for f4wonline.com
Hidden Valley Lake, CA
 
I can be reached for feedback and comments at ZurRoadie@aol.com or as JeremeW on XBOX Live. I read everything.
Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 05:02PM by Registered CommenterJereme | Comments17 Comments | References90 References

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