Even if you’ve avoided the Smackdown Vs. Raw games for the past few years, this year’s version is reason enough to come back to the fold. Like hardcore Madden-ites, only the most discerning WWE fans tend to notice the additions and subtractions in each iteration. Not so this year: Everything in WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2010, from the opening live-action introduction to the easy-to-navigate menus to the pause screen, is rendered with tremendous panache and vitality. This game lives and breathes like few other sports (well, “sports”) games ever do.
The game features nearly 70 wrestlers, including John Cena, the Undertaker, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio. Each one has a leisurely trademark entrance. Music soars. Fireworks fly. It feels like it takes hours for The Undertaker to stop menacing people with his Alice Cooper eyes, and start wrestling. Fans of such theatrics will be in their glory with this game. Non-fans can skip them altogether and get right into the rasslin’ action.
The game’s facial animations and motion capture are some of the best ever seen in the medium. While the wrestlers themselves, with their makeup and outfits and personas, are all affect, the human beings underneath the getups feel real and alive. Blame Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, but you’ll swear there’s intelligent pathos in those virtual eyes. It’s eerie at times.
The matches themselves feel more tense and dramatic than they have in recent years, thanks in part to much-improved controls. The sluggishness that vexed earlier games in the series is gone. Grapples, strikes, and the more over-the-top moves like piledrivers and elbow-drops now feel crisp and tight. You’re always in control of your character.
Everything in Smackdown Vs. Raw 2010—wardrobe options, ring entrances, the wrestlers’ storylines—is more customizable than ever before. You can literally spend hours tweaking the game, leaving your own thumbprint on the entire WWE organization. Those who found UFC 2009: Undisputed (also developed by Yuke’s) a little too complex, or EA’s Fight Night Round 4 too tedious, should put their self-consciousness aside. There’s no shame in playing a wrestling videogame.