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Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Jakks Pacific
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 6 with Multi-Tap / 2 - 4 Online
Genre: Fighting/ Sports (Wrestling)

Graphics & Sound:
Player models again look brilliant in what may end up being the last World Wrestling Entertainment title to grace the PS2 (with PS3 around the corner). The crowd and the arenas sometimes look a bit on the rough side, but then again, who came to see that when the wrestlers look so damn good. Their faces are spot-on, and the general body textures are outstanding. The entrances are pretty good, but I was hoping for more.

As far as the audio goes, in-match commentary is pretty good, as always. J.R. and Tazz keep the action interesting, and the ring announcer sounds great too. The music is, of course, integral to the WWE, and Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006 has got great sound. In fact, youíll even be treated to Hoganís old music... letís sing it together: "I am a real American..." And finally, the game has voice-overs for all characters, including created wrestlers. While not the greatest voice-over sessions, they still add a lot to the soap opera of Season mode.


Gameplay:
I felt like I got punched in the nuts by a cheap shot from Ric Flair the moment I first entered the ring. The gameplay of Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006 is horrific. The entire time you play, you have to concentrate on stringing reversal moves together more than actually performing basic wrestling moves. The computer seems to reverse almost every attempt you have at an offense, yet timing your own reversals is very difficult. I have to say that I miss the old game, where reversing a move wasnít the only way to win a match. Added to that is the fact that when a lot of wrestlers are in at the same time, the power meters, reversals, and other on-screen icons block way too much of the view, making it hard to see the action in the ring.

There are some good improvements with the gameplay too. Thereís now a stamina system that plays into the strategy of wrestling a little more, as youíll have to work in some much needed rest time between ass-kickings. You can also use immediately, or store your finishing move for later, only with a little less bang for the buck. The submission meter is simple, yet effective. It has a sliding bar that, with a single, well-timed button press, releases you from the agony of the figure four leg lock or other historic submissions. If you misjudge it, however, the pain will last even longer. But even with these (and more) great improvements, the core mechanics of SVR2006 just arenít that fun.

There are a lot of great improvements in the way of presentation for the single player campaigns, as well. The wrestlers all have voiceovers now, so thereís no more reading text at the screen in your best Booker T voice to impress your friends. The developers did an outstanding job of recreating TV-style camera movements during the cut-scenes that enhance this male soap opera we call the WWE. Itís almost like youíre really watching Raw on Monday night. Well, okay, itís not that good yet, but itís a great improvement! Youíll also see that the entrances have competitors both on-screen, and the amount of match types is staggering. If thereís ever been a mode in the real thing, then the game seems to have it!

The stars of Smackdown! and Raw collide in an onslaught of sucker punches and quick attacks all of the time, but now you also have the choice of which story path you want to take... that of Smackdown!, or that of Raw. You can also bust out the new GM Mode, in which you manage one of the factions, trying to earn the title of GM of the Year by setting up matches and promotions, as well as keeping an eye on the budget. Another absolutely great feature is in the Create-A-Title section of the game. Yes, now you can create your own title belt, and show it off to your friends. Just donít get too cocky, or you may end up with a big boot to the face and notice that when you wake up, your newly-created championship is in the hands of another wrestling superstar.

Youíll also now be able to take Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006 online. Finally, fans have gotten what they want, and can partake in up to 4-player goodness via the Internet. So does it live up to the hype? Thatís up to you, because I canít handle the pain that is the gameplay of SVR2006.


Difficulty:
There are four difficulty settings in SVR: Easy, Normal, Hard, & Legend. But considering that on the Normal setting, the computer tends to reverse every move you send his or her way, youíll quickly find out that Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006 has a very steep learning curve compared with its predecessors. It will take a lot of practice to be able to compete with the legends that make up the WWE.

Game Mechanics:
L2 or R2... take your choice. Guess correctly and you may enjoy the gameplay of Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006. But if youíre like me, I was hoping for a little more depth than constantly trying to reverse the two types of moves (strikes and grapples). Sure, defense may win championships... but offense is much more fun! So where is the offense in this game? Guess what... it lies in the defense. Seriously, it sometimes felt pointless to learn any of the other buttons on the controller, because the gameplay relies too heavily on reversals.

Other than that, the new additions mentioned earlier are great for the gameplay. I just wish the overall gameplay itself was more fun than that punch in the scrotum that I felt earlier in this review. Do yourself a favor... rent this game first to see if you like it. Itís just too bad that the gameplay is not to my liking, because there really are a lot of other good things happening in Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2006.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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