Retro Respawn – WWE SmackDown! vs Raw

Yes, I know I said we’d be taking a break from wrestling games a couple of weeks back, and that was my intention, but I decided to pop SmackDown! vs Raw recently with the intention of having a quick play of my copy to check if it still worked as it had been a while since I played it, but I ended up enjoying myself and decided to keep at it so I could write an article on it. That’s kind of how things go sometimes. However, I have a special feature planned following this, and I’ll explain all in next week’s Retro Respawn. But that’s for next week, this week it’s time to get our wrestle on once more as we play SmackDown! vs Raw.

Backstory

Developed by Yuke’s, SmackDown! vs Raw was published by THQ in the West and was released in the autumn of 2004, whilst the Japanese had to wait for Yuke’s themselves to publish it in the early months of 2005. This was interesting, actually, as WWE was quite popular in Japan and actually toured the country in February of 2005, so it could be that Yuke’s waited to publish the game in order for the release to coincide with the WWE’s tour of the country. SmackDown! vs Raw had a pretty difficult act to follow as the previous release in the series, Here Comes the Pain, had been very successful both critically and commercially, and it didn’t help that the WWE’s roster had gotten significantly weaker in the preceding year prior to its release.

Not only had big stars such as Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin said adios to WWE in early 2004, but the game came out before fresh blood like Carlito Caribbean Cool and Paul London could be entered into the game, leaving the overall roster feeling thin and drained of star power. Perhaps realising this, Yuke’s instead decided to push WWE’s “Brand Extenstion” to the forefront and use that as a way to hype up the game. For those not au fait, with the death of rival company WCW in 2001, WWE found itself as the only game in town when it came to mainstream American wrestling. For lack of having any real competition, WWE decided to create its own by splitting its roster in two and assigning wrestlers to its flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown.

In effect the two brands were to act as warring teams, not unlike two franchises in the NFL or NHL. Both Raw and SmackDown would hold their own events, and the two brands would only come together for rare “Super Show” events, such as WrestleMania or Survivor Series. By the second half of the 00s, the brand extension had been minimised, and the brands would regularly interact with one another, but in 2004 the brands had still mostly been kept separate from one another outside of rare occasions, so when situations called for Raw and SmackDown to do battle with one another, it was an interesting diversion from the usual WWE storylines. Thus, Yuke’s decided to make SmackDown! vs Raw all about the war between the two brands, and the series would keep the name going forward for quite a while.

Gameplay

SmackDown! vs Raw plays a lot like Here Comes the Pain, although there are a few additional tweaks to the gameplay. The grappling system is exactly the same as pressing circle and a direction on the D-pad will see you grab an opponent, at which point you can then press circle and a direction again in order to perform a move. Pressing left on the D-pad will give you the option of performing one of four signature moves, pressing up will set you up for power moves, right will allow you to perform speed-based moves, and pressing down will give you a chance of locking your opponent in a punishing submission hold of some kind.

SmackDown! vs Raw’s grappling system is pretty instinctive and walks the line between simulation and pick-up-and-play pretty well. It’s both accessible and easy to understand whilst also having additional less obvious elements that can lead to a deeper playing experience for the more detail-orientated player. One new aspect to the game though is the Clean/Dirty match tactics, which plays into the theme of wrestling being a morality play between the forces of good and evil. If you decide to play as a good guy, then you will aim to wrestle clean, whilst the more villainous amongst you can decide to fight dirty.

Depending on which style you choose, you will have either a Clean or Dirty meter that will increase or decrease depending on your actions in the match. For instance, if you decide to fight clean, then you will be able to fill your bar by doing exciting crowd-pleasing acts, such as taunting, jumping from the top rope and kicking out at two from big moves. However, if you talk back to the referee or use illegal moves, like chokes, then you will see your Clean bar dwindle. If you manage to fill the bar completely, then you will be momentarily invulnerable for a short period of time, and your signature moves will be more powerful than usual.

By comparison, you fill your Dirty bar up by being a disgusting, villainous cheat who rips off protective turnbuckle pads and even attacks allies when the opportunity arises. If you manage to fill your Dirty bar all the way, then you can unleash a devastating cheat move, such as a big low blow that will drain your opponent of their health and leave them open to a big attack. Which wrestler you selected will determine how difficult it is to wrestle a certain way. For instance, high-flying masked Luchadore Rey Mysterio Jr. uses a slew of exciting moves and practically kisses babies on the way to the ring, so trying to play it dirty with him presents an uphill battle. However, Ric Flair has a never-ending collection of reprehensible eye gouges and back rakes that make him perfect for playing the game dirty. Ultimately, it’s usually easier to be bad than good, but then again, isn’t that an analogue for life itself?

Also added into SmackDown! vs Raw are mini-games that play at the beginning of singles matches. These can be tests of strength where you have to press button combinations at the right time to win, or they can be shoving contests where you have to get a golf game-styled swing meter lined up correctly in order to shove your opponent down to the mat. Honestly, these can get a bit annoying sometimes, and they don’t really have much of an effect on the match itself other than giving the winner a brief advantage for the opening stages. Ultimately they don’t really add much to the game itself, but it’s nice that Yuke’s were making an effort to bring something new to the table.

Graphics

SmackDown! vs Raw is generally a decent looking game, especially when it comes to the arenas you wrestle in, although more effort has been made on the likenesses of some of the wrestlers rather than others. For instance, Bret Hart makes his first appearance in a SmackDown! game as a guest Legends character, and he looks utterly fantastic, whereas poor old Christian has been done really dirty when it comes to his likeness, affixed with a constant pout and an unreasonably big nose for some reason.

This is nothing new, of course, as the supporting cast sometimes gets less attention paid to it in these games in comparison to the big hitters, as poor Hardcore Holly in SmackDown! 2 shows. The wrestlers are at least animated well, and the crowds have been improved considerably in comparison to previous releases. For a sixth gen game from 2004, SmackDown! vs Raw looks good, for the most part, with the Title belts in particular looking really nice. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s not an eyesore either, and in some cases, the game looks great, especially when it comes to the character models for the major stars. Some wrestlers do have outdated looks and attire, but that’s to be expected sometimes when you can’t patch a game up after release and have deadlines to meet.

Sound

SmackDown! vs Raw introduces recorded audio to the Season Mode for the first time, with actual voices playing over the action in the cutscenes. This was a really fun inclusion at the time, although some of the voice acting is better than others. Eric Bischoff’s audio always seems to sound like he recorded it in an airport bathroom stall, although his actual delivery isn’t bad. Vince McMahon reads his lines so fast sometimes that it reminds you of Krusty the Clown recording his lines in The Simpsons. Kurt Angle absolutely nails his contribution though, as do Kane and JBL. It’s not perfect, but it’s also a nice addition to the Season Mode and mostly holds up.

Aside from the voice acting, the game includes the entrance music for every superstar in the game, including real versions of Rob Van Dam’s “Breaking Point” entrance music, as well as Kane’s “Slow Chemical” theme. In addition to that, the game also includes a full original soundtrack that plays during the cutscenes and in the menu screens, featuring tracks from the likes of Powerman 5000 and Breaking Benjamin. My personal favourite is the track “Riot Time”, which was recorded exclusively for the game and doesn’t even show up on Powerman’s official Spotify page. “Firefly” by Breaking Benjamin is also great and remains on my personal track list to this day.

Longevity

SmackDown! vs Raw has the usual selection of match types for both singles and multiplayer play, along with Season Mode and the ability to create your own Pay Per View events. The latter is something that hadn’t been seen since the second game in the series, and it was a very welcome return for me. I ended up spending a lot of time in that mode, and the only thing that would have improved it would have been the option to fight for WWE Title belts in it. Sadly, that option wouldn’t be introduced until the next game in the series, although you are given the option of creating your own Titles, should you wish to.

One issue with that, though, is that making any kind of a decent belt costs lots of money, which means you either need to grind in Season Mode in order to be able to afford to make a decent belt or settle for a lesser one just so you can have one to defend on the Pay Per View events. It’s still nice to be able to put together your own events though, and there’s a reasonable amount of options when you make them, including choice of arena, match number and even which announcer team is sitting at ringside calling the action.

Season Mode is trimmed down considerably in comparison to the ones found in both Shut Your Mouth and Here Comes the Pain, with it being limited to just eight months with four shows per month. This does mean that sometimes you will jump from May to July after completing a Pay Per View event, meaning either an entire month took place without you knowing or SmackDown just decided to take June off. Season Mode will see you take part in storylines, with the goal being to win matches so that you can get yourself into contention for the Title belts.

Usually, you will be given the choice of acting either villainous or righteous at the start of each storyline, which will then decide whether your wrestle is Clean or Dirty. For instance, in my recent playthrough, I won the United States Title on the SmackDown side, which led to a storyline where General Manager Kurt Angle refused to book me in Title matches because he was afraid that I might lose it, thus affecting the show’s ratings. I was given the choice of either telling Angle I disagreed with this and wanted to defend my belt or instead suck up to him about how good an idea it was. The former would have kept me a good guy, whilst the latter would have made me a weasel villain.

One good thing about SmackDown! vs Raw when it comes to Season Mode is that the balancing is much better, meaning that playing as weaker wrestlers from a stat perspective doesn’t utterly cripple your chances. For instance, fighting as someone with stats in the 60 or 70 range in Here Comes the Pain would put you at a huge disadvantage, especially against the super overpowered guys like Brock Lesnar and Triple H. However, in SmackDown! vs Raw the game is weighted much better, meaning that if you want to play as a slightly weaker guy, like Garrison Cade or Hardcore Holly, in Season Mode, you aren’t so wildly outmatched that it becomes overly difficult.

The creation suite returns also with the option to create your own wrestlers and teams. The created wrestlers don’t ever look quite as good as the in-game wrestlers, but the creation suite is one of the best yet, and I found a reasonable stab at Hulk Hogan amongst the created wrestlers saved to my memory card. There are actual Legend wrestlers that you can unlock, such as Brutus Beefcake, a classic early 90s version of The Undertaker, and The Road Warriors, which you unlock by completing challenges in Exhibition Mode or by earning money in Season Mode.

As a result, there is a lot to do in SmackDown! vs Raw before you unlock everything, and because of the improvements in the levelling between the wrestlers on the roster, there isn’t anyone who it essentially becomes impossible to complete the Season Mode with, thus leaving the door open to finish the mode more than once so that you can see how each storyline plays out, depending on whether you intend to wrestle with valour or vindictiveness. Pay Per View mode is a huge addition for me, and I still have very fond memories of putting my own cards together, so that wins SmackDown! vs Raw plenty of brownie points.

Would I Recommend It?

It’s a yes from me!

You can get the game for less than a quid over on eBay, which is an absolute bargain by any measurement. SmackDown! vs Raw might not have as exciting a roster as Shut Your Mouth or Here Comes the Pain, and the Season Mode may have been trimmed down in comparison to those two games, but it still plays well and brings back the much beloved Pay Per View mode to offset it. It’s an easy recommendation for me when you consider how little it costs. Here Comes the Pain is the better game overall, but SmackDown! vs Raw is still a solid grapple-em-up that should provide you with plenty of value for your money!

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