For those not in the know, professional wrestling is as much about ridiculous storylines as it is about fighting. There is backstabbing, extortion, romance and drama – kind of like an incredibly exaggerated version of EastEnders where everybody plays the Mitchell brothers and any situation can be easily sorted with a quick scrap. With the fights being so orchestrated, it can be difficult to imagine exactly how it could become an interesting interactive experience. However, wrestling games have been around since the 8-bit days and in recent years have become increasingly refined, namely in the THQ published titles for the current home consoles, including the GameCube’s WWE Day Of Reckoning series and the Xbox’s WrestleMania 21. The latest of these titles to hit the PlayStation2 follows in the SmackDown! Series, SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006. With the previous PlayStation2 titles receiving a lot of praise from fans of the show, will the 2006 edition live-up to expectation?
Being an official product of WWE, no expense has been spared during the production of SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006. The presentation is good during Menus and the game features all the official artwork and music from the show. SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006 features several different modes, the most prominent being Exhibition Mode, Story Mode, General Manager Mode and Online Play. Exhibition Mode is just a single match based on your own preferences, and there are loads to choose from; a Cage Match to the slightly bizarre but very interesting Fulfil Your Fantasy Pay-Per-View Match. Story Mode allows you to fight through a season as one of the WWE Superstars. Story Mode changes dramatically depending on which show your chosen wrestler is featuring on. For example, the SmackDown! storyline features a mystery for you to investigate, which predictably involves you fighting in matches, whereas Raw involves a Superstar world tour, which involves? More fighting! New to wrestling games, General Manager Mode allows you to attempt to gain more fans for your show by scheduling fights and organising advertising in events along the season timeline. General Manager Mode is a game mode that could be loosely compared to the management mode in the FIFA series in that, although not incredibly detailed, is a competent game in its own right. Online Play is also a new addition and allows players to compete against other gamers around the world as well as allowing the trading of user created Superstars.
Create-A-Superstar is probably to best loved part of the recent wrestling titles and SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006 is no exception to this. There are literally millions of possible wrestler designs available as almost every possible element can be edited; from facial features and hair styles to clothing and accessories. These wrestlers also have statistics that can also be edited through the acquisition of Experience Points earned by winning matches in Story Mode, preferably with the official Superstars. The created wrestler starts with low statistics and it is very difficult to play the story through without resorting to the easiest difficultly setting, however as long as experience earned through one of the show’s story is invested wisely, you should have no problem using you very own wrestler for the alternate story.
SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006’s wrestling system is based mainly around grapples and strikes – executed by pressing a direction on the D-Pad and either Circle or Cross respectfully – and their counters. Most moves can be countered with a swift press of the L2 and R2 Buttons and although challenging at first, becomes almost second nature after a few hours of play. Square and Triangle are used to negotiate the climbing of ladders etc. and the whole system is simple to use and works well. But to stand any real chance of pinning an opponent, you must perform one of your characters Signature Special Moves. In order to unleash these, you must fill the Momentum Meter by successfully landing blows and grappling with your opponent, as well as taunting your adversary and playing to the crowd – then storing the Special Move. However getting hit and having your moves countered reduces the Meter meaning only by playing well will you stand a chance of pulling of one of these powerful attacks. This system also works exactly how you expect it to and fits in well with whole system. The actual wrestling seems fine in general, however, when you are knocked to the ground, your character will lay there for what seems to be a very long time. This allows a competent opponent to rack-up almost minutes of combos without any user interaction and can become frustrating as it detaches you from the experience.
As well as selecting the show of your wrestler you can also select their morality. Being bad allow you to use dirty moves but incurs boos from the crowd, however, playing good allows you to fill your momentum meter quicker by getting the crowd behind you. Knowing how to play each wrestler in this way is essential to victory as using a dirty move with a good wrestler incurs a penalty as does playing to the crowd with a bad one.
In general the graphics in SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006 are in general very good. The wrestler models look very polished as do the backgrounds. The crowd is also animated well enough to create to illusion of it being all 3D. However, the models do suffer from polygon cross-pollination when performing certain moves a little more than they really should in a title of this calibre. But in general the graphics are above the average PlayStation2 standard. SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006 also features very good sound, with most wrestlers voice-acting being done by themselves. The intro-music is also the official tracks and really does give the game that genuine polished feel. The fact that SmackDown Vs. Raw 2006 is an official product of WWE is evident during play and will appeal greatly to WWE fans.
Because THQ have almost conquered the console wrestling title market, this game succeeds. The game developers knew exactly what they wanted to do after the last edition of SmackDown!, and they did it well. From some angles this title does seem like a remake of the original SmackDown! Vs. Raw more than even a simple refinement, and non wrestling fans may not find this title to be particularly interesting, but the level of modification of the accepted system is so great, that to a WWE fan, SmackDown! Vs Raw 2006 is unparalleled as a wrestling simulator.