Friday, November 12, 2004

Smackdown v. RAW (2004)

by THQ and Yukes
for Playstation 2

The things I do for Top Five. I get up early to finish a season to play another season to do stuff. Yeah. Anyway, let's talk "Smackdown v. RAW!"

Last year's entry in the series, "Here Comes the Pain" set a benchmark. It was probably the first true improvement to the game, adding four sets of moves and even more depth with the specific limb damage. This year, they no doubt had a tough act to follow. Previews started to look promising, but I still wondered if I should get my hopes up that much.

Let’s start with the meat of this thing – the game. We still have the four choices for grapples and area-specific damage. The gang at THQ have cleaned up some of the moves. For example, if you reverse a headlock with an elbow, you no longer send the guy a foot in the air vertically. You deliver a deliberately paced elbow, and the wrestler just stands and doubles over. Weapons have gotten a similar “reality check” – if you grab the steel stairs, you’ll notice a lot more time and effort spent picking them up. Now try to swing them. Same thing. They also added some more reversals, so you can’t always tell if the hold is broken just by the start of the animation.

Submission has been altered this year. In addition to moves with no meter, and the “tug of war” model from last year, now we’re treated to what I call the “pinball” submission. An icon bounces back and forth on a line. If the submittee stops the ball in the middle blue area, they escape the hold. If they stop it in two lateral red areas, they reverse the hold. These are much much smaller, so there is risk in trying for them. The person delivering the hold can also tap X repeatedly to add pressure with every missed attempt at an escape/reversal. This is a welcome meter in my opinion, adding a true submission reversal in a lot of cases, and adding to the realism already zeroed in on by the new move animations.

If you’ve read any previews or reviews, you’ve certainly heard of the new “pre-match mini games.” Before a singles match, you and your opponent engage in a contest usually, but not always, revolving around a meter stolen from a football game. You set the power and accuracy and watch the fists fly. Other contests involve button pressing – press the right one first, and you get the advantage in a test of strength for example. I disagree with the current online consensus – these aren’t that intrusive, and are another bit of realism the game has lacked for years.

Another place where you see the field goal meter is in the chop battles and spanking…uh…occurrences. Let’s forget I said that. Chop battles are really fun, I usually enact them in every other match.

Still more – the new “tactics” meter lets you shape your wrestler’s personality in a match. In season, it’s chosen by your decisions, either good or bad. In exhibition, you can make it whatever you want. Basically, if you do bad things and you have it set to “dirty” you gain towards a super “dirty” attack you can enact when its full. Dirty wrestlers can argue two counts, hold on after a “rope break” and do other dastardly deeds to raise theirs. Clean wrestlers need to wow the crowd with off-the-top-rope attacks and taunts, and stray from the dark side. When full, clean wrestlers can use the right analog stick to become invincible for about 15 seconds. All moves do more damage, and they can never be reversed. The dirty wrestler gets a low blow attack. On any grapple, they perform a damaging dirty attack such as a choke or groin shot. You can see who got the low end of the stick. As a clean wrestler, you’re pretty well screwed in any match with weapons. For a dirty wrestler, forget about jumping on the guy from anything.

More meters! Yes, in the Royal Rumble, now you can experience some more realism. The “ringout” meter determines your status in the ring. If you’re whipped to the apron, an opponent can strike you to lessen it, or grapple with you. By getting in a button mashing fest, you can lower their “ringout” or defend your own. This makes the matches time out at 30 minutes (give or take) and a lot more fun. Among friends, you develop rivalries against those that just won’t go out. You start to get creative when it comes to ways to avoid the apron. Fun stuff.

Match types are pretty dull this year, with only one new addition – Parking Lot Brawl. A few cars are around you and your opponent, and you can use them in your trek to a pinfall. There are a few cool spots, such as slamming a limo’s door on your opponents leg, but otherwise nothing to see here.

Oh yeah, they cut out basically all of the backstage stuff. There’s one semi-spacious area with a craft services table, ladder, chair, etc. in it – but it’s not as fun as the vast backstage of years previous.

Now that we’ve pretty effectively covered what new stuff will pop up on your screen, let’s cover season mode. HCTP had arguably the best – fully customizable rosters, heel/face lines, title lineage, etc. This year they cut a lot of it due to the new voiceovers. The voiceovers are pretty hit and miss. No matter what the delivery, each clip sounds as if it were taking place in a public bathroom. Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and a few others sound like they do on TV, but most of them sounds as if they’re reading a story to children. Meaning it’s awkward and stilted.

Additionally, no character has lines when you’re playing as them – meaning the storylines often repeat themselves no matter who you choose. For a create-a-wrestler, this pretty much means you go through the same story every year. When titles get involved, there are more places to go. But this year, you only have two. For RAW, the I-C and World title, and Smackdown the U.S. and WWE championship. No carrying over of title lineage and changing brands. With a new season you set back to the game default champs. For RAW, Randy Orton has the World belt to begin with.

So basically season mode sucks. The good news is there’s a few things you and your friends can do still that are fun. Create-a-PPV allows you to make up to 8 matches under the PPV title of your choice. You can pick the arena, brand sponsorship and commentary team. This is where you can put up your own belts. Belts? Yes! The new create-a-belt gives you the chance to make and defend your own belt against your friends. You just plug in memory cards and watch it all happen.

Create-a-belt contains all kinds of pieces; every belt shape, every emblem that you want. They have included many real belt pieces such as the base to the Attitude-era World title and the WWF title worn by Hulk Hogan in the mid-80s. These can run a lot of money to make a decent one. A good replica of the I-C belt can run above $100,000. Good news is, the more you defend it, the more it’s worth. You can cash it in for all the overage – any dollars more than it cost to make it. In practice at a party just the other day, this was an incredibly fun feature.

Create-a-wrestler is a bit more user friendly this year, but missing some outfits from times previous. You can differentiate easily between entrance attire, cut scene attire and in-ring wear.

Oh, before I forget. The legends. This time around they’ve been beefed up, with their own entrances and yes – music! You can use their music for CAW’s after its unlocked. Andre has no music of course, but the L.O.D. and Roddy Piper have facsimiles of their old music. Better than nothing.

They’re unlockable at the ShopZone, where this year too, you can buy experience points for wrestlers. Money can be gained playing season or in “Challenge Mode.” There are 60 challenges in all ranging from “beat Undertaker in less than 3 minutes” to “use Tajiri’s green mist on three opponents” and to the very difficult, “beat an opponent without using the X button.” These give you a reason to play exhibition, and they’re fun as well.

Whew! Okay, so there’s about everything I can remember. I haven’t tried online yet, but if you’ve read the articles, it’s only singles & bra-and-panties matches. So no big deal. Overall, this year made a lot of good things happen, but in this proverbial car, it’s missing a back window. It’s replaced by a plastic bag. Season mode isn’t horrible, it’s just really disappointing compared to the past. If I could choose, I’d love for there to be no voiceovers, and go back to the world of customizing & storyline branches.

Out of the regular five, “Smackdown v. RAW” gets...


I consider HCTP to be a five-star game. With season mode off, they lost a lot, but create-a-belt and the as-fun-as-ever multiplayer bring you back. Pick it up if you like the series, if not, rent it at least before you dive in with a purchase.

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