Release Date: November 14, 2005
SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 contains the greatest Season Mode ever featured in a WWE game.
It is the best. The finest. It doesn't get any better than this — so far, anyway. Seriously, this review's a week late just because I couldn't stop playing the blasted thing.
For said mode, Yuke's has built off of their Day of Reckoning games, where the cheesy-yet-lovable storylines of the WWE were brought to life by authentic writing, and eventually, voice-acting. With this game being a full DVD instead of a GameCube disc, Yuke's was able to go all out, and insert full-on promos, rivalries and storylines between and sometimes during matches, with commentary on them to match. It really does look, feel and sound as if you're interacting in a WWE storyline (get ready to cheer and boo for your chosen wrestler and those around them), and said storylines are long to boot. The only sad thing about these storylines is that there're only two of them, and once they're over, they're over. But they're one heck of a ride while they last. Hats off.
Of course, even the most well-put-together story mode would fall flat if the actual wrestling weren't fun. Fortunately, it is. Yuke's has added lots of little touches and features that transform a simple grapple-fest into a test of psychological and tactical skill. Just before a match begins, you can stare your opponent down or lock up with them for a gamble towards an advantage right out the gate. Stamina is a factor in matches — no longer are wrestlers robots with infinite drive and energy. Go too gung-ho on your opponent and you'll have to rest in one place to recover, potentially leaving you vulnerable. The counter system's been tweaked so that it's perfectly possible for a human to counter anything, but not simply by jamming on the counter button all the time — timing is everything. Finally, an ultra-cool Possum Pin maneuver has been added that allows a downed wrestler to "fake injury" until the last second, thus allowing him to turn the tables on his foe and go for a surprise pin.
All of these additions lead to slower, more thoughtful matches, which you would think would get old fast, but they don't. With all the odds stacked against a quick win, the challenge to actually get one merely becomes all the more enticing.
There are a few glitches, though — especially in ladder matches. Heck, those are almost unplayable due to the fact that if a wrestler and the ladder collide in a certain way, the ladder stars warping all over the ring. No lie. Also, to preserve the showmanship of some wrestler's moves (Stone Cold, et. al), wrestlers on the receiving end of said moves will instantly be taken to the middle of the ring, no matter where they currently happen to be. Still, it's a short list of nitpicks on an otherwise solid wrestling engine that covers everything from submissions to knockouts to just plain old pins.
Create-A-Wrestler is back yet again, with so many options you can probably get lost. Now you not only choose from different face types, but you can morph them to your liking. Hundreds of clothes, moves, and attributes are here for the tweaking, and of course, you can even fine-tune your wrestler's walk down the ramp. Other creation staples such as stables as championships make a return as well, and you can take man of your creations online.
Finally, Yuke's has included a General Manager mode, a nice diversion from people who don't simply want to wrestle all the time. Here, you take control of one of the two brands, Raw or SmackDown!, and assume the role of the person who actually books fights. Your goal is to steal as many fans from the other brand as possible — it means you're doing a good job picking matches/starting rivalries/creating PPVs that will "electrify" the crowd at every turn. Since this is the GM Mode's first time out the gate, it can get a bit confusing, but it's not hard to get a hang of, and it can get surprisingly addictive if you're not careful.
Yuke's seems to have taken something from its tenure on Rumble Roses. This is easily the best-looking WWE game on PS2, giving even the GameCube's Day of Reckoning games a run for their money. Put this bad boy on S-Video or above and you'd be hard-pressed to know you weren't watching a real broadcast. No progressive scan support does hurt, however, especially in this case, where things already look so wonderful without it.
The ambience, the sound… is the WWE. I have no idea how else to put it. Everyone's theme music is present and accounted for. Every punch, kick, toss and slam is delivered to your ears with impressive results, enhancing the experience. The announcing still tends to repeat itself, but it's a lot more varied than it was last time around. Lawler, Ross, Cole and Tazz do more than say generic things about the wrestlers in the ring now — they'll also talk about the different moves made, talk about the brand they represent, and even smack-talk on each other.
The rest of the voice-acting is a double-edged sword, however. Just about everyone managed to record their own individual voices for this game, but the ones that weren't available simply can't be used in the story modes. The Rock wasn't available for voice duty. Guess what this means, folks? Yeah. I'm disappointed too.
However, I digress. If you like the WWE, this is pretty much the most complete package you can find. There are some glitches, but the tuning of the gameplay, combined with new wrestling features, expansion of staple game modes, and addition of some cool new ones ensures that there's plenty of substance to go with the style. You get so much bang for your buck in this title it's not even funny — don't be afraid to pay full price for it.