WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006 Review
Platform: PlayStation 2
- Absolutely packed with options
- Excellent voice acting from real WWE stars
- Appropriately overblown presentation
- The actual wrestling still isn't that great
- Irritating commentary
In the WWE, wrestling is all about overkill. Other titles from the WWE series have traditionally taken the same approach, but none have gone as far as WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006. For the time being, this is the wrestling game. It offers more modes, more characters, and more options than any grappler before. And if it doesn't feature actual wrestling that's more impressive than before, well, so what?
There's Two of Them!
Typically, we'd call the story mode of any game the centerpiece, but there's so much to do here that the term doesn’t fit. Regardless, SmackDown! features two storylines; one for the RAW circuit and one for Smackdown. It's all in the style of the TV show, which is great, as are the vaguely branching plotlines in each narrative. The playable character list for each is limited, but the tradeoff is that developer Yukes roped actual WWE stars into doing voice work. That fact more than cancels any complaint about not being able to play classic Hulk Hogan in the story mode.
A Cast of Thousands
Besides which, there are so many other basic match modes in which you can play that vision of Hogan, or one of dozens of other characters. The rosters are a little out of date, and next year we'd really appreciate online updates. But while embroiled in backstage brawls, ladder matches, buried alive or the good, old-fashioned hell in a cell, it really doesn’t matter. With options to cram up to six players into a match, including unbalanced sides, it's all too easy to focus on the action on-screen rather than the guys that didn't make the cut.
The create-a-player mode also returns with as much depth as before. Actually, there's a bit more depth, in the form of more detailed style breakdowns. For created characters, grapple categories can be defined by styles like old school, martial arts, and brawler. The effect, once you're on the mat, is more specialization than before. And better yet, created players can be traded online, to compete in matches with up to four players.
With all that detail, something is bound to be off, and unfortunately it's the series' visibly aging grappling engine. A new momentum consideration seeks to limit players repeating the same moves over and over. Drop the same backbreaker more than twice and the support of the crowd will falter, which could lead to a last-minute comeback by the opponent. But in practice, the same old punch, punch, counter, throw deal still works fine.
The one concession to a more realistic wrestling engine is the way in which these sluggers reel after a hit. A little stamina gauge displays how much oomph a star has in him, but you won't need it; it's easy enough to see in the reeling stance and the fact that your paltry homemade superstar is having a really tough time getting on his feet. Holding the select button will build stamina, but good luck finding time to do so, at least in a heated bout.
Be the Grand Poobah
While mostly leaving the actual grappling alone, the developer has obviously been paying attention to EA's sports line, because SmackDown! finally features a full-on general manager mode. It's exactly what a fan would want; a chance to manage each brand, deal with finances, tweak rosters, and create feuds with other brands. As GM, all the cards are open for the player to write, and for anyone who's longed for the chance to create a pay-per-view event, this is as close as most will get. The GM mode doesn't go as far as it should--no underhanded options--but it's a great start.
Visually, SmackDown! is in the right place, with some rock-solid beefcakes that actually seem to have weight and mass. The mapped faces add a lot to the story mode, and even created characters can look fantastic, so long as players are willing to pour some time into fine-tuning every last element of costume and physicality.
The audio isn't as hot by a long shot. Respectable sound effects and the requisite bombastic introductions are undercut by a gratingly irritating commentary. If we hear the word "superstar" one more time, someone's going down. The saving grace is that all of those story mode characters are voiced by their real-world counterparts. The irony is that most of them are far better than your average videogame voice actors, because this sort of performance is just part of being in the WWE.
Looking at the list of options and features, WWE Smackdown Versus Raw 2006 seems to have everything. With a better wrestling engine, it would. Even so, it's impossible to resist the range of options on offer, and the stamina element does add something that the series has long been missing.