Over the course of this past weekend, THQ was gracious to invite Gaming Nexus, along with numerous other media outlets, down to Dallas, Texas to take an early look at their upcoming WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 video game. Those in attendance got to go hands on with both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game as well as attend the WWE’s Hell in a Cell PPV event. THQ and Yukes are going all out this year in an attempt to bring gamers the best wrestling experience to date on a gaming console. There are plenty of changes in store for this year’s installment of the annual franchise, so perhaps it would be best to take a look at things piece by piece. Hopefully I can paint a pretty vivid picture of just what is in store for Smackdown vs. Raw fans at the end of this month when the game launches.
Gameplay / Controls
THQ has made numerous tweaks to this year’s game in order to make the game better in the gameplay / control department. These changes work to accomplish two different goals: make the game more accessible to all players and to help improve the flow of in-game matches to make the experience a lot closer to the actual wrestling we see on television. The biggest change returning gamers will notice is the removal of the grapple modifier. The gameplay system, as a whole, is still based heavily around grappling with your opponent using the right analog stick. In previous years, players would have to press a trigger button prior to engaging in a grapple with your opponent in order to initialize a strong grapple, that isn’t the case anymore. The type of grapple that you engage in is based on the condition of your opponent; at the beginning of a bout, engaging in a grapple will trigger what has traditionally been known in the game as a “light” grapple. As the match continues on, and you wear down your opponent, you will then engage in heavier grapples which will give you access to stronger follow-up moves. The new method of grappling truly gives the feel of an actual match; no longer will players, or the computer for that matter, be pulling off devastating moves right out of the gate. The end result is a more dynamic and well-constructed matches, in pretty much every mode of the game.
The other major change in terms of the controls is the mapping of both the pin command and the “lift up” command to the right analog stick. When your opponent is lying on the mat, regardless of the direction that they are facing, either of these moves can now be triggered with a simply flick of the right stick. This, once again, just plain “feels” better and more natural. The same up and down stick controls work in the ring corners as well; following up on an irish whip into the corner, flicking the right stick upwards will cause your character to lift the opponent up onto the ropes and set them up for a maneuver from the ropes, like a super-plex. On the other hand, flicking the stick down will place the opponent in the infamous “tree of woe”, inverting them and placing them in a precarious position in the corner which allows you to inflict some major damage on them.
There are many other subtle changes that players will discover throughout their experience with the game which all add up to a more player-friendly experience. For example, your opponent no longer has to be in a “groggy” state in order to initiate a finishing / signature maneuver. Once you have earned your finisher, it is yours to perform when you see fit; THQ stated that they no longer wanted to make the players work even harder after earning the chance to do the move to get to a point where you can pull it off. Once you earn the move, you can use it at your will. Players are also able to control the direction in which they throw characters. This is particularly handy in positioning your opponent in a particular point in the ring, perhaps setting up a top rope maneuver or positioning them for a table. Now, when you hoist an opponent up in any sort of throw or hold which will propel them back to the mat (think bodyslam or suplex), pressing the left analog stick in a given direction will dictate which way the move flows. Struggle submissions, which were introduced in last year’s game, can now be initiated from any offensive position with a simple flick of the right stick. This includes being transitioned into following a counter; if you happen to block and opponent’s puch or catch their leg during a kick to the midsection, you will be able to trigger a struggle submission.
There have been some alterations made to pin combinations in this year’s game as well. In the past, moves that concluded in a pinning-maneuver afterward were automatically initiated by the computer. This didn’t translate well in cases where perhaps they occurred early in the match or perhaps during match-type where pinfalls weren’t acknowledged. In this year’s game, when the player executes a maneuver that can be combined or transferred into a pinning maneuver, the will receive an onscreen indicator which will allow them to flow into the pin, but only if they hit the listed button. One of my biggest pet peeves with the game in the past was this exact issue; the AI often forced you into pinning predicaments when they weren’t necessary or desired, interrupting the flow of the game. That won’t be a case anymore thanks to the new changes instituted by Yukes and THQ. Overall, thanks to all of these changes, I would say that the control scheme for the game feels a lot more intuitive than it has in the past and I found myself participating in matches that flowed and felt a lot closer to actual wrestling matches than the series has offered in the past.
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