Just as professional wrestling's legitimacy as entertainment has always been debated, so have its namesake games long been slapped together and rushed to market. The graphics have improved over the years, but fundamental flaws remain unaddressed.
WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006's graphics are fairly solid, with faces, costume elements, and venues looking better than ever. The thin audio elements still fall far short, though, with simple meat-packing slaps and insipid, contradictory commentary urging you to mute the whole affair.
The high point doesn't lie in any element of presentation, but rather in the wealth of gameplay options available to you; everything from steel cage, parking lot, and "buried alive" matches to girl-on-girl pillow fights and royal rumbles are represented. The abundant bells and whistles go on and on, right through to online title matches, unlockables, and the new General Manager mode. The contestant roster includes more than 70 past and current superstars, and you can even create a brawler, complete with his own entrance sequence.
The negative aspects come when you actually get down to the business of playing any one of these options in particular. Your success hinges on little more than knowing precisely when to hit one of the two reversal buttons, and then pounding your enemy to putty with some brutal attacks of your own. The plethora of match types simply blur together as you find yourself constantly just staring at the screen, waiting for another fleeting moment of conditional control.
Hardcore wrestling fans will find the deepest reservoir of variety ever available, and may even forgive the feeble fighting system long enough to enjoy some theatrics. If you've been frustrated by the clunky and almost unresponsive controls of wrestling games' past, however, you'll just have to wait and hope that next year's edition at least takes a shot at improving them.