I've been playing Smackdown vs Raw 2011 on the PS3 on and off again recently, although to be honest it's been more off than on. Although it's still a fun game, it just seems like a game that hasn't evolved since the PS2 days, and even then the PS2 games seemed to take something away for every small enhancement it made to the game play. Although the season is more open and gives you more freedom about how you arrange your matches and with who it just feels like playing a series of soulless singles matches with the occasional ring invasion by an enemy rather than a fleshed out storyline. Also I'm convinced Yukes/THQ used the PS2 character models and just uprezzed them a bit by giving them better skin textures, giving the game the look of a slightly more polished version of a PS2 game rather than being on par with other games such as Fifa 2011 or the sumptuous looking Enslaved.
So this got me thinking, rather than just sitting whining about it, why not write an article saying how I think it could be improved and refined by borrowing techniques/ideas from other game engines? There are a lot of simple things that should be fixed such as the poor collision detection that the series still suffers from, a greater list of moves to draw from, a bigger selection of clothing and parts for your created wrestler, and less of an emphasis on constant reversals of moves. However the biggest two issues they need to address are the graphics and how to reinvigorate the season mode and make it fun to play. The graphics are an easy fix, they just need to actually make the effort rather than just reusing the same engine they've used since the PS2 days. I'd love or them to use something like Unreal 3 or something of equivalent power that can make the game not look last-gen. I think the best way to achieve this goal is to stop making Smackdown games an annual release. I know THQ makes money off it each year, but let's face it: annual releases are what killed the Tony Hawk franchise(for now at least), and the same goes for the Guitar Hero games. The point being annual releases of a franchise can make people fatigued and fed up, as for the most part they're just getting an expansion pack of the previous years game with a few negligible add-ons. This would help them refine the graphics and also give them enough time to work on the season mode, which brings me to my next point.
The reason I play Smackdown is to make my own ridiculous created character and cut a swath through all the greats and the jobbers in the WWE roster, getting them to tap out with a well-placed Hellsgate or Crossface can be immensely satisfying. But aside from facing off against other people's wrestlers it's the season mode that's the bread and butter of the game. Smackdown 2 on the PS1 still has one of the most satisfying season mode I've ever experienced in a WWE game, which is pretty damning considering the amount of Smackdown games that have came out since. You'd start off at the lowest rung, going against random low carders like Billy Gunn or Road Dogg, and work your way up the ranks to dethrone the current champions, and then spend the rest of your time defending your championship. In that time you'd make alliances and enemies and have some measure of choice in who you'd help and who you'd hurt. It also had an ingenious way of unlocking moves and costumes, in which you fought wrestlers called “Unknown A” who looked like wardrobe disasters, being composed of costumes and body parts you could unlock, and sometimes having that one killer move you had to have.
This is what I propose should be done: Year One of our season you are an up and coming rookie on Tough Enough, the season acts as a tutorial on how to pull off the moves as well as starting off your character. Your wrestler would start as a complete and utter noob with only basic moves such as arm drags and dropkicks and would be extremely underpowered. The aim of the first year would be to face off against the trainers/fellow contestants and prove your mettle. At the year's end if you'd progressed enough you'd win a WWE contract and be hired to either Smackdown or Raw and start off at the bottom of the ladder against a series of jobbers, proving your worth one fight at a time.
However, if you fail the season doesn't end, it just goes a different route. Imagine, your character is knocking a few back in the bar, a miserable never-was dwelling on what could have been. Your character is approached by a heel, say Jericho, who says he sees your potential and thinks that you were screwed out of the chance to get hired. How would you feel about getting even and proving the WWE they were wrong at the same time by interfering in a match? You'd say “yes” and it'd jump into the match in which you're in the crowd and you jump in and interfere in Jericho's match to much controversy. You're hauled into Vince's office by security and he demands an explanation, and this is where I'd offer branching dialogue options. Depending on what you'd say in this occasion Vince will either be pissed off, impressed or amused, either way Vince will put you in a different match dependant on your answer. i.e., if you pissed him off he may put you in a Triple Threat match, if amused he might put you in a singles match against Jericho suspecting it was him who got you to interfere in his match giving you approval with Vince but negative points with Jericho, and if he's impressed he may enter you in King of the Ring for a minor title like the Intercontinental title or the European title.
The option for branching storyline and dialogue has a lot of potential to be well implemented in a WWE game, and RPG elements have proved to have a successful fusion with the FPS and third person shooters such as Fallout 3, Bioshock and Mass Effect. We can only hope in future installments that Yukes and THQ don't just settle for evolution when they should be shooting for revolution.