Fans of the Smackdown! Series of games were met with disappointment last year with the release of Smackdown Vs. Raw. The game was a step back from it’s excellent predecessor, Here Comes the Pain, and left many fans understandably hesitant about future iterations of the PS2’s wrestling juggernaut. Well children, gather round, and let Ryan assuage your fears. Simply put, SVR: 2006 is not only the best game in the series, it may just be the greatest WWE game of all time.
First things first, this game is pretty. In fact, it is the best looking wrestling game to date. The character models are spot on, and the detail in the facial structure has to be seen to be believed. Wrestlers faces are dynamic, changing expression depending on their situation or level of exhaustion. Entrance pyro explodes off the screen, and the lighting effects are phenomenally done. There are some mistakes in the entrance system, for example Batista’s entrance has some timing issues, but they are minor details at most. Arena’s are modeled with incredible detail. Character animations are fluid and natural. Everything from the way moves look to the way they characters sell the impact is spot on. Even the crowd is a step up from past versions, they actually look like a group of individuals reacting to the action instead of a multicolored, waving mass.
As you can tell from the 2006 suffix, THQ is leaning towards the sports side of “Sports Entertainment” and making sure their game has more of a sim feel rather than the fighting game style the early titles in the series had. I cannot stress enough how much this helps the overall presentation of the game. Matches are presented as they would be on TV, including the pre-match “vs.” graphic. The menus are intuitive and well designed. The camera really helps to make the game feel like an episode of Raw or Smackdown!, especially during entrances. As they say, the devil is in the details, and the little things like the fact that your opponent actually stands at ringside during your entrance (rather than mysteriously disappearing) are a welcome addition.
Not content to just make a great looking game, Yuke’s really went out of their way to make sure you have plenty of stuff to keep you busy while you’re staring at the pretty textures (on Trish Stratus, no doubt–oh yeah-.we know you do it). The amount of modes in SVR:2006 is dizzying. There are over twenty different types of matches, and that isn’t counting the endless variables for rules and number of players. Everything from old favorites like cage matches to newer additions like the Elimination Chamber is included. Several new game types have been added this year, including Fulfill Your Fantasy matches (once again, we know you play it), Backstage Brawls, and (my personal favorite of the additions) the Buried Alive match. The ability to defend both created, and WWE belts in Exhibition is a welcome (and long overdue) addition as well.
Also returning is an Online mode, which I am pleased to say is head and shoulders above last years sub-par, tacked on mess. Every match type save the Royal Rumble is playable online. You can also defend created belts, and even trade Create-a-Wrestlers using the online service. Thank God for the end of long, confusing CAW formulas.
What good are great matches if you don’t have anywhere cool to play them though, right? Well lucky for you Yuke’s likes you, they really like you. This year contains a great assortment of arena’s. It even includes such favorites as the ECW: One Night Stand arena, and the Wrestlemania IX arena (unlockable, of course. It would be too easy for them to just give them to you).
The wrestler selection in SVR:2006 is second to none, providing over 60 wrestlers, including legends like Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart, and Jake Roberts. While there are some notable omissions from the roster (MNM, Tyson Tomko, Rosey, Simon Dean) they are mostly minor. There are also quite a few wrestlers on SVR:2006 that are no longer with the company (thanks to the fire sale that WWE had this past summer), however that is understandable. There is a nice balance of talent in the game, from the lower card wrestlers to the main event, so you can find an even match for any superstar you pick.
Every wrestling fan worth his or her salt knows that you can have great graphics, great wrestlers, and great presentation all day long, but without great gameplay to back them up you may as well toss it (see Wrestlemania 21 for proof of this). I am glad to report that SVR:2006 plays like a dream. Control will be instantly familiar to veterans of the series, although some of the new additions radically change the way the game is played. Perhaps the biggest, and best, addition to the gameplay is the Stamina meter. This system, first made popular by the Fire Pro Wrestling series of games, means that your character will tire from repeated actions and sprinting around the ring. Gone are the days that you could string together one combo after another, and endlessly kick a downed wrestler. Now you have to conserve your energy, either naturally through slower movement and taking breaks from the action, or by pressing the select button to gradually let your superstar “catch his breath”. Limb damage returns, and once again the importance of how well the superstars sell moves in this game cannot be stressed enough. If you attack a superstar’s legs, expect him to limp around the ring at a slower than usual pace. Both of these features really add to the natural feel of the gameplay, and make for a more realistic, “sim” oriented experience.
Another great new addition to the control scheme is the Hard Irish Whip. This new move allows a person to put more power behind an irish whip to launch your opponent out of the ring, or into the turnbuckle. The impact on a hard irish whip to the turnbuckle is incredibly satisfying, and the animation is spot on. Another great addition that even the Hot Rod would be proud of is the new sleeper hold system. When an opponent’s head is in the yellow, and they are in the seated position, you can put them in a sleeper hold. If the hand drops three times, the match is over. Of course, if you’re on the receiving end, your goal is to stop it before three and make a miraculous “Hogan-esque” comeback (complete with uncontrollable shaking and pursed lips, no doubt). Several returning features, including the pre-match tactics and innovative submission system round out an incredibly fine tuned gameplay experience.
The A.I. Behavior is, for the most part, solid. However you will run into some situations where superstars will just stand around not doing anything, or (in an even more annoying practice) the referee will get in the way of the action and result in an unintentional DQ. This things don’t happen every match, but they do happen enough that it should be a priority for next year, especially considering how finely tuned the rest of the game is.
Of course, two of the biggest draws of this years game are the Season mode, and the all new GM mode. In the season mode, you take the career of a superstar of your choice in your hands and try to guide them to the main event of Wrestlemania. The season mode storylines are actually quite good this year, with several character specific storylines. Even legends like Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan, and “Mrs. Foley’s baby boy” Mankind are eligible for season mode this time around. My personal favorite new addition this year, GM mode breaks ground that no WWE wrestling game has attempted. You control a brand of your choice for one year. You pick your roster, you pick your champions, you pick the feuds. You are responsible for attracting and keeping viewers by putting on highly rated matches and building intriguing feuds. Your wrestlers will get injured, will become unhappy with the quality of their push, and will ask to be released or traded. This is an incredible addition, and I imagine that many of you will spend a great deal of time building your respective brands. The only thing missing from GM mode is the ability to pick the winner of matches, ala Extreme Warfare Revenge, but that is a moot point for people who enjoy playing their own matches.
In the Audio department, the game is just what you’d expect. Sound effects are excellent, and the entrance music is present for all the superstars, including licensed themes like “Metallingus” by Alter Bridge. The Superstar voiceovers are well done, and don’t sound as canned as last year. Commentary is adequate, if a bit repetitive. You will probably find yourself turning it off after a dozen matches or so.
I strongly recommend Smackdown vs. Raw: 2006 to every wrestling fan with a Playstation 2. It is easily the most complete, innovative, and accessible wrestling game since Aki’s incredible No Mercy. Whether you are fighting for the Heavyweight championship, or fighting for GM supremacy, there is something here for everyone. If Yuke’s can improve the SVR series this much in the last year, I can’t wait until SVR: 2007.