A rough estimate of sales for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 suggests that it sold around 500,000 copies in the U.S. The lowest-rated WWE shows are watched regularly by about 900,000 people who probably represent the most die-hard of WWE fans. Essentially, we're at a point where about half as many people who regularly watch WWE programming also go out to purchase the annual Smackdown vs. Raw release. This isn't really the place for speculating on why or how this state of affairs came to be, but it explains much about what sort of game WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is.
The last game in the series I played personally was SvR 2007, which felt like a game trying to reflect the appearance and actions of the featured wrestlers as accurately as possible. In SvR 2010, the emphasis is completely on improving features related to the game's Create-a-Superstar mode. There are new features concerning the "WWE simulation" aspect of the game, but none of them are as interesting or well-implemented as the features that related to user-created content.
Now players can not only design wrestlers with more sophisticated appearances, but also with actual modeled clothing items to wear, as opposed to textures masquerading as clothes. Each wrestler can wear up to 48 points of items and can support up to three alternate appearances, allowing incredible freedom. You can still create your wrestler's very own finisher, but you now have deeper tools that can be used to create a more personalized move. Best of all, you can actually sit down and book your wrestler through your own original story mode consisting of up to of 500 segments, up to 450 matches and 50 "scenarios."
Matches can stretch across Raw or Smackdown episodes and even PPVs. You can use a huge variety of gimmick matches that include pretty much every stupid crazy thing the WWE has ever tried. Some of the gimmick matches feature unintuitive controls as a result of the sheer wackiness involved in the rules, particularly the Ring of Fire match type, but the ones you'll really want to use regularly are note-perfect simulations of famous stuff, like Hell in a Cell and Royal Rumble matches. There are definitely more match types on offer in SvR 2010 than in poor, humble SvR 2007.
Scenarios are best described as the not-so-professional part of pro wrestling, the sequences where a wrestler monologues in the ring, dramatically confronts a rival backstage, or perhaps dives away from a mysterious car that tries to run him down in the parking lot (yes, this is a recurring WWE motif). While there's no way to include original voice data in a scenario, the current system uses silent pantomime animations that are remarkably evocative of watching wrestling with the sound turned way down. The ability to input text lets you actually make your story coherent.
You can place any of the game's 67 characters (once unlocked) into a scenario and determine what sort of emotion you want the character to express. You can change a character's emotion over time, letting a happy guest announcer explode into rage after a cowardly sneak attack. You can even add in music from the disc's limited selection and control camera placement. You can plan the way scenarios evolve in segments, using a flowchart-like menu to determine the flow of events. When you're done with your original wrestler's story, you can upload it for others to use. While this feature couldn't be tested on our review build, early reports indicate that it works just fine and provides an avid fan with a steady stream of wonderfully ridiculous content.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 deserves some credit for improving the controls. From the moment you boot up the game, you can enter an extended tutorial called Training mode. This is pretty much like going into the practice mode of a fighting game, with on-screen button prompts to show you how to pull off various feats with your wrestler. The controls are very responsive, and your wrestler always seems to do just what you want him to. You can't really ask for more out of a wrestling game.
Training mode is in part necessitated by what appear to be drastic changes to the traditional Smackdown vs. Raw HUD display. Instead of HUD displays letting you know the status of yourself and your opponent in the corners of the screen, a very stylized HUD appears as a ring around your wrestler. Your opponent doesn't appear to have any sort of HUD at all, which can sometimes make it hard to figure out how well you're doing in a given match. Wrestlers are supposed to indicate their condition through their behavior, but many of these contextual clues simply aren't very clear.
In theory, the ring HUD change lets you spend less time looking at little meters and more time looking at your cool wrestler. In practice, the new ring-shaped HUD is extremely confusing compared to the more traditional HUDs I recall from the 2007 edition of the game. It is simply not clear when you're winning or losing, when you should be doing a finisher, or what certain parts of the HUD even mean. Icons are very small, and it's hard to tell when you've built up momentum. While the older HUDs were certainly artificial, they were also very clear and imparted a lot of information. There's some potential in the ring HUD, but it probably won't be realized until future iterations of the game.
A complaint about certain previous titles in the game was that the move sets of varying wrestlers were far too similar. This problem has been generally addressed in Raw vs. Smackdown 2010. While all of the wrestlers are easy to control, John Cena's move set is not excessively similar to Rey Mysterio Jr.'s, even when moves are triggered by the same basic button presses. As in most modern wrestling games, a variety of moves emerge contextually while grappling or running around the ring. It neatly avoids the usual benchmark of a poorly designed wrestling game, which is the ability to backhand chop or lariat the opponent until you win.
There's a rather neat feature in SvR 2010 that helps make wrestlers feel distinct in more ways than just their move sets, too. Each wrestler has up to six abilities, and abilities give the wrestler a new passive trait. You can also assign abilities to created wrestlers, too, from a master list of 21 that you'll have to unlock in the course of playing through the game. The abilities reference some of the really fun quirks that set apart different wrestlers: a wrestler with Referee Shield can avoid a move by having the ref soak it up instead, while a wrestler with Move Thief can steal his opponent's finisher to add insult to injury.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 does improve the series tremendously from a depth standpoint, especially if you're big on the Create-a-Wrestler scene, but it falls prey to certain traditional problems of the wrestling game. As usual, the 2010 roster lags ridiculously behind what's going on in the WWE right now, to a degree that's almost embarrassing. The game prominently features Jeff Hardy, for instance, who as of this writing has both left the WWE and been arrested on drug trafficking charges. Surely THQ could have removed him at the last minute? Having to face Hardy in matches is extremely uncomfortable at best. It's not quite as bad as if, say, Chris Benoit had been included in the game, but it verges on that level of unpleasantness.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is ultimately a game made for an audience that already knows what it wants. On that level, it's a fine entry in the Smackdown vs. Raw series and die-hard wrestling fans will probably have a lot of fun with it. Devoted fans of wrestling games may find it lacking next to your average Fire Pro title but will probably appreciate the new depth offered by the Create-a-Wrestler features. What's offered now is limited in some respects but less ridiculously limited than the features of previous Smackdown vs. Raw titles.
Where Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 seems to stumble is in crossover appeal. A truly great wrestling game can, on some level, be enjoyed by anyone who likes action gaming. Whether it's the vague new HUD or the inevitable tedium of unlocking characters, there's something about Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 that's just not very interesting. Most attempts to keep groups together for multiplayer action fizzled. Getting together with friends to make wrestlers and story lines was great fun, though actually playing through these creations was far less interesting than making them. Perhaps the WWE is simply past the point where it can sustain annual wrestling titles, or maybe there's something about this game that Yuke's just didn't get quite right. Either way, Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is by no means a bad game, but it may be one that's strictly for folks who already schedule their Mondays and Thursdays around the WWE.
More articles about WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010