It Might Be Time For a Break
THQ and Yuke's is back, yet again, with their annual installment of SD v RAW, a series I have enjoyed less on an annual basis. THQ is constantly changing their engine (a lot more than a lot of critics want to give them credit for), but it seems that they are making oddly BAD choices in their changes. They have managed to eliminate one of the major annoyances of the franchise, but left other ones that are BIGGER annoyances and have been horribly annoying for longer periods of time.
THQ further dumbed down the control mechanism, basically making it feel like you have a paucity of moves you can perform in a match. The commentary has amazingly gotten worse, which is no small feat. They improved HITC matches, but the ladder matches, which are still prevalent, are still tedious to play with special mention going to Money in the Bank, which might be the single most unenjoyable gameplay experience of the year. 20 minutes or so, usually, of getting a tug at the briefcase here and there while the computer knocks you off the ladder once and takes you from perfect health to the verge of death. In tag matches, you still have a hard time changing your focus to your opponent's partner and the AI is really, really bad at cutting off interference when you're trying to win a match. Tables still break poorly in matches when propped against the corner and backstage brawls are still borefests. Visuals are pretty much untouched and the audio is still really bad.
But how about the non-core gameplay stuff? How about the game part of the game?
We'll start off with the Road to WrestleMania mode, which returns after its debut last year. This year, you get to control Christian, Rey Misterio, John Cena, Chris Jericho, and an opponent of the Undertaker as they seek to go from the Royal Rumble to the main event of WrestleMania. The problems in this mode are apparent early on as you now control your guy in the backstage area. There is really nothing much to do backstage, You can have impromptu --- yet tedious --- backstage brawls with random dudes backstage or engage in incredibly poorly performed trash talking. Otherwise, you poorly run around in a bland environment that is the same in every single arena you visit for no apparent reason.
I suppose a major benefit of the writing of these storylines is that it makes you realize that the WWE writers aren't the worst writers on the planet. Heck, it makes you realize Vince Russo isn't the worst writer on the planet. Whoever writes THIS nonsense, however, is committing an atrocity against the English language...and that isn't easily forgiven. Rey has a long-standing question of who to trust: Evan Bourne or Jack Swagger. Now, this is annoying as anybody who will play this game has an idea about the product and is aware that there is literally no reason why any writer who has ever seen the product would have Swagger and Rey on the same side for any reason. It makes the shocking plot twist, well, less than shocking. Yes, that was a spoiler...get over it.
Christian's story is probably the best of the bunch as it does seem to contain some semblance of continuity. The worst, yet again, is the one involving the Undertaker which involves collecting lost souls in the locker room and avoiding evil caskets while fighting druids. That actually is a spoiler as well for the storyline, but the idiocy is so deep here that nobody will actually care. Cena's storyline is dull because Cena is terrible to play as and Jericho's is so lackluster I have a hard time naming anything about the story.
This season's big addition is the Universe mode, which combines exhibition and the old GM mode into a not-terrible package. The computer generates all of the events for a year, both TV and PPV and you can work any match you want or even add one of your own. It's actually not bad at all. Not all that compelling as there is no actual plot or storyline to it...but given what happens when they try to have a plot or storyline in this title, it's for the best.
Online is a mixed bag. You can download a huge list of things from the community (these guys hit the CAW scene hard), which is really good and a nice addition. But the online Royal Rumble tends to be unplayably laggy once four people are playing. It is supposed to handle up to eight, but you will then enter the ring and be eliminated before you're aware you were in the match in the first place.
At this point, I'd love to see TNA Impact 2 actually hit the market to hopefully spark a fire under the THQ product (AAA Heroes del Ring sure as hell isn't going to be the one to challenge the dominance of the SD v RAW titles). I know it won't...it was specifically left behind by Warner Bros when they bought the rights to most of Midway's stuff...but we need something to improve this product. THQ made a disappointing sequel to their amazing UFC title and now have managed to do little to improve their annual WWE franchise. Maybe a year off wouldn't be a terrible idea. It might give Yuke's a chance to develop some new ideas.
Otherwise, this series could go the way of Tony Hawk...whose games were better than the WWE games (even at the end) and had far more mass appeal before becoming completely obsolete once somebody figured out a better way to do the skating genre.