WWE SmackDown! Vs. RAW 2006
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-12-01 PS2 Fighting T (Teen) THQ / Yuke's

I'm not a big fan of wrestling mostly because the whole thing is like watching a soap opera now. Too much drama, not enough realism in the fighting, it's less of a sport than it is acting. In fact, I only watched it now again and mostly because of The Rock - I liked him, he was a good speaker.

However, the TV ad for WWE SmackDown! vs RAW 2006 was such a jaw-dropper that I couldn't help wanting to at least see it.

The likeness of the characters is unbelievable, and you're sure to recognize all your favorite (and not so favorite) wrestlers in a split second. The high-res textures are nearly flawless, which is especially impressive for a PS2 game. Realism is definitely the most spectacular asset and it certainly shows in the motion capture as well. Of course, the voice acting is done - and very nicely done - by the original stars and commentators.

You can create and customize your own wrestler to your own image if you wish: hair styles and color, tattoos, clothing types and color/pattern, facial hair, chest hair, back hair, hair everywhere... Then you can customize your character's entrance with music, lights and smoke, plus a spiffy title bar with his/her name.

Gameplay is far from the traditional button-masher. Well, you still have to do some furious button pressing in certain occasions, but for the most part there is a moves system resembling any fighting game you may have played. You also get a powerful finishing move to use on your opponent when the momentum bar is full and flashing. The momentum bar slowly fills up by striking or grappling your adversary. In the meantime, you also have to keep and eye on your stamina meter and recover between beatings, which adds a need for strategy in the gameplay.

Character progression is done in the locker room, a 3D environment where you can increase a wrestler's stats (by redeeming experience gained in matches), view your belt and trophy cabinets, even decorate and furnish the room as you unlock new goodies.

The General Manager mode will please those who enjoy Championship Manager type of sports games. This is where you take control of either Smackdown or Raw and put together the best matches you possibly can, with the most popular stars. There are many things to keep your attention on: star's fatigue, injuries, show costs, profits and ratings. It's a different and interesting idea that takes you away from the main game, and it will probably keep WWE fans entertained for long periods of time.

If you are a PPV viewer, you'll be happy to know that all your favorite events are in the game as well, including Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania 21, No way Out, Backlash, Judgement Day, New Year's Revolution, Vengeance and Taboo Tuesday. A few new events include the Buried Alive match (where you literally try to place your opponent in a casket) and Fulfill Your Fantasy for the divas (a bit like the Bra and Panties thing, it's more of a teaser than a real match).

Ladders, chairs, tables, 2x4's wrapped in barbed wire, the ring bell, even a shovel, all are possible "weapons" to beat the hell out of your opponent with.

Should you own a PS2 modem, you will want to use it. The online features will let your create your own WWE championship and challenge other players to some thrilling competition matches. You can even design your own belts.

The A.I. could have used a bit of work though, since sometimes you will see characters stuck in a move loop or just standing around for a while doing nothing. I've found a few graphic glitches as well, such as really long hair going through a character's chest and back, or a wrestler supposedly grabbing another but their hands are barely touching. The saving process in the locker room is especially tedious... Do you want to save your game? Now saving. Still saving. Saving again... geez, are we done yet? But these are some minor quirks that we can overlook in favor of the rest of the game though.

The soap opera drama is still there, in the cut-scenes with the stars threatening each other and in the manager speeches. But the fights look a lot more realistic and less choreographed than if I were watching a real match on TV. Playing General Manager is a real treat. You can join in and play or just watch the win/lose end result, but the best part is that you can sit back and watch the characters beat the crap out of each other without worrying about timing your moves right.

WWE SmackDown! Vs. RAW 2006 is not just another wrestling game. I like to think that perfection doesn't really exist since it's an abstract ideal, but if it does, this is as close to it as a wrestling game will get. And you don't even have to be a fan of wrestling to enjoy it.

Special thanks to Spencer Franklin and THQ for providing a copy of this title.