The once-popular Smackdown series of wrestling games has become progressively weaker as the years have passed. While the original titles from around a decade ago focused mainly on fast-paced arcade-style action, the more recent offerings have become bogged down trying to be realistic and were much worse for it.
After last year's effort, which was the worst of the lot (we gave it a 5), it looked like the series was set to die a slow and lingering death. Yet this year, we don't know how they've done it, but developer Yuke's has somehow turned everything on its head and produced not only a better game, but one of the best in the series to date.
Simply put, almost every problem from the previous couple of years has been addressed. The controls have been made a lot simpler (there are no more silly mini-
games dotted throughout), and beginners can play with on-screen tutorial prompts to help guide them through the control system for the first time.
The action is much faster and less frustrating than before: when you get knocked down it no longer takes an age to get up. The ridiculous loading times have been greatly reduced. And the annoying "fighting styles" gimmick from last year - which promised to give each wrestler unique moves but instead just limited access to other ones - has been scrapped.
On top of this, there's a brand new Road To Wrestlemania mode, which features six different unique storylines starring the likes of Triple H and Chris Jericho. After choosing the one you want, you follow that wrestler's path to Wrestlemania through a series of fantastic cut-scenes (all voiced by the actual wrestlers themselves) and events that feel more like the actual TV broadcasts than ever before.
There's also a co-op tag team story for the first time. Of course, the normal Career mode also remains if you want to choose a different wrestler (or a created character) and try to take them to the top, though the cut-scenes aren't quite as linear and well-scripted as in the other mode.
We'll be honest, after last year we approached Smackdown vs Raw 2009 with fear and trepidation, worrying how the developers would mess it up this year. As it is, we were greatly surprised at how the developer has clearly listened to all the criticism doled out previously and delivered one of the best wrestling games for years.
Being a wrestling game, it certainly won't be to everyone's tastes, but for the first time we can safely say that this is a title that fans of the sport can really grapple with and, ultimately, love.
For once, a must-have for wrestling fans
- Controls are far less complicated
- Greatly improved loading times
- Six fantastic story modes
- Extensive creation modes
- Cage and ladder matches are fiddly