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WWE: SMACKDOWN VS RAW 2006 (PSP)
So, what is it about wrestling, and more specifically World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), that makes it such a winning and durable formula for audiences to watch? Big sweaty men in leotards pretending to hit each other with the Clothesline from Hell is not ideal viewing for a regular twenty-something guy. Indeed, it is as far removed from bikini-clad Valkyries stripping each others clothes off in a mud-wrestling contest as Id care to think. Yet there is something to the ridiculously absurd storylines, pre-match melodrama and the characters involved that provide the atmosphere for a thoroughly amusing watch. Besides, when you look deeper beneath the veneer, you soon realise that its not all fake: The Undertaker throwing Mick Foley sixteen feet off the top of a Hell in a Cell to the Spanish announcers table below is likely to hurt a fair bit (if not dislocate a shoulder in the process). Thus, as the regular WWE announcement of dont try this at home reverberates in youngsters ears, clever parents instead placate them with the now annual WWE computer game that ventures onto the market. Well, thumb-blisters from pretending to put Chris Benoit in the Angle-lock is a much more desirable injury than two broken ribs from leaping from the garage roof as though it was the top turn-buckle
Normally, the annual WWE game release means little more than a slight update to the previous instalment. The basic format of facing off against opponents in the now obligatory square ring, fighting in either singles or tag-team action, with any number of stipulations, is a well travelled path by the games producers THQ that little tweaking is required to the main game engine. So, with each subsequent release you get the main changes new characters from each brand and their respective finishing move, new move sets, more refined graphics, some new arenas and a few extra types of matches (the Buried Alive and Back Room Brawl match take their bow in this addition) all are very much present. However, rather than simply make the 2006 addition the stock update and then charge £30 for pretty much the same game as the 2005 version, THQ have actually added to the basic fighting element that makes this game refreshingly different to all prior WWE escapades.
Indeed, the stamina and momentum system bring a whole new element of strategy to the tried and tested simplicity of this style of beat em up. No longer can you keep on attacking your opponent unreservedly with power slams and DDTs until you get the pin to do so would render your player knackered and at the mercy of your adversary as you attempt to regain your breath. The stamina meter ensures that you think more tactically about your method of attack and, appropriately, when to back-off and recover. It plays more like an actual WWE televised wrestling match master the stamina system and youll be the Triple H styled cerebral assassin of the PSP, dodging out of the ring for a breather instead of going toe-to-toe with an opponent after youve been humbled by a bit of a kicking. The momentum metre has a similar style effect, which is at odds with the stamina metre. Stay on top of the match for long enough and your moves will begin to do more damage - but do you go for such a tactic when its equally liable to tire you out quicker and make you more vulnerable to a counter attack?
Such an addition to the basic fighting gameplay is more than welcome and subsequently makes Smackdown vs Raw a more involving and rewarding gaming experience. Added to this is the superb presentation of the game. Everything is crisp and looks good on screen, just like Vince McMahon creates with the television format, ensuring everything has a pristine gloss about it. The in-game graphics, for the PSP format, are nothing short of stunning. From the quality loading screens, to the wrestlers introduction down the ramp, to the excellent in-ring action, it all moves at a swift pace with barley an inch of slowdown and is adoringly detailed. The audience backdrops may be an eyesore, but when youre concentrating on the frantic, fast-paced action of the lithe character movements pulling off chokeslams, rock bottoms and pedigrees, you barely notice. When you consider that the UMD is also packed with a range of in-game colour commentary and talkie segments between characters in season mode, you start to come to terms with just how much content THQ have packed into the game. Its rather impressive stuff.
Soon enough youll be featuring in a Triple Threat TLC match for WWE gold against Edge and Kurt Angle, or attempting to climb out of a Steel Cage until Shawn Michaels pulls you back in to give you some Sweet Chin Music, or undertaking a complete season on either brand that brings about numerous storylines and twists to keep you involved indeed, youll be having a lot of fun. When you also consider that if you get bored of the thumb-bashing action (or you need to give your thumbs a rest) that a PSP specific management game has also been included, where you take control of either brand as general manager and book matches, pick wrestlers from the draft and start feuds in an attempt to out-do the opposing brand, the fun just about hits the stratosphere. As lightweight as the WWE is, it is entertaining and this is reflected in this game. THQ have captured the essence of what is appealing about WWE, have made the in-game elements more tactical and interesting to make it more like the WWE and, from that point of view, this is one of the best uses of the license yet seen.
So, on the surface youve got what looks like a pretty top notch PSP title on your hands. Well, thats certainly what THQ would like you to think. However, a game featuring such a vast amount of content, detail and graphical wonder, all packed onto a UMD is liable to creak somewhere. And, unfortunately, here is where The Undertaker chokeslams Mankind from the top turnbuckle and Mankind is counted out - loading times take for ever. No
To get from one section of the game to the next is more like a test of your patience, which, for a handheld games machine, is one serious flaw. Whilst on the toilet or looking for a sneaky game on the tube you will be spending more time twiddling your thumbs than any thumb bashing, spending more time gawping at the loading screens (which soon gets tedious) than actually kicking some arse! Its seriously
and no matter how the game plays once you finally get to the wrestling action, the loading time means that you no longer care for that part of the content especially when youve got to endure extraneously painful loading times to get to a second match. Gah!!
Whilst the 2006 version of the brand may look and sound great, this is very much a case of THQ going for quality over functionality, a hideous error given the platform involved. Spending more time waiting for the game to load than actual playing time is a cardinal sin and no fun at all. More so in season mode where the option to turn-off character entrances does not apply so if your about to enter a tag-team match you have to wait for four character entrances to load-up before the match even starts. Seriously annoying! Sure, Smackdown vs Raw does have numerous qualities and the management of your own brand side game is a quality and thoughtful addition, but youll need the patience of a saint if youre willing to invest any real time on the standard wrestling match which of course is the real reason anyone will be buying the game.
As it stands, the loading times turn an otherwise entertaining and fun four-star game into a two-star nightmare. If you have the patience of a saint and the time to endure loading that makes my old C64 multi-load tape-player blush with embarrassment then you may get something from Smackdown vs Raw. For the majority, there are many better developed games out there that utilise the PSP much more appropriately and are, therefore, more worthy of investment. One, despite its inherent qualities, to avoid!
Overall An otherwise stupidly fun game is ruined by the ridiculous loading times, meaning Smackdown vs Raw is likely to be propping up the rest of your PSP games at the bottom of the pile shortly after purchase. Disappointingly disappointed
Usually available for under £20 now! £20 better served buying Pro Evolution Soccer 5, Burnout Legends or GTA Liberty City Stories on the PSP instead. If you really want to purchase this game though, pick up the PS2 version instead, where the content doesnt over-burden the disk access and loading times are not a distinctive problem.