I must say that when I first started playing Smackdown!, I wasn't very impressed. Like Dale mentioned, the graphics and animation aren't really anything to write home about. I was also surprised that there wasn't any play-by-play audio commentary. What furthered my dismay is when I tried to create my own wrestler and realized how horribly inadequate the appearance customizations were. Still, I pushed myself to continue for the sake of the review and came to a compromise of creating my wrestler, Ultra Yes Man (think Power Ranger in a working-class shirt and tie).
After completing the appearance, I started to allocate the points to the various attributes and went on to change a few moves here and there. I was then set and ready to start competing in my preseason. From here on in, this is where the game really took off for me. Not only was the quick gameplay (matches wouldn't endlessly drag-on as they did in Wrestlemania 2000) and control dead-on, but I was further amused at all the backstage antics and politics that took place. But the thing that really grabbed me was the ability to build and develop my character through out the preseason. Anyone who's ever read my reviews on role-playing games knows I love character development. So in Smackdown!, the ability to grow my character and further adjust his arsenal of moves with choices that only become available after I've reached certain levels of ability really caught my attention—hook, line and sinker. I simply couldn't stop playing there after, and Smackdown! became just plain smack for me.
There are a few negatives that I will highlight. As Dale and I have both already mentioned, the graphics look a bit aged and are far from the main selling point of the game. I also had a few issues in the process of creating and editing my own wrestler. For one, selections can't be previewed unlike Wrestlemania 2000 for the Nintendo 64. That means when you are selecting moves or taunts from the list of hundreds, the non-descriptive or obscure titles provided for each move will leave you guessing as to what exactly they are. This is further compounded in my selection for a final move. Not only did I not know what the maneuver looked like, but also I wasn't sure how it could be executed because certain moves are position dependent. Secondly, certain choices aren't changeable—for example, the entrance video on the Titantron. So if you ever get sick of the same entrance video after watching it dozens and dozens of times and want to change it, forget it. If you ever decide you want to change your wrestler's name and appearance (as they so often do in real wrestling [there's an oxymoron if I ever saw one] like Ringmaster, AKA Stone Cold or Cactus Jack, AKA Mankind), you can forget that, too.
One other major thing that bothered me was the dynamic of the relationships built between the other wrestlers through out the season. The friendships and rivalries are decided by choices made in the preseason. Once these relationships have been established, they are pretty much set in stone. In other words, all the alliances and grudges are essentially predetermined in the preseason and aren't dynamically altered through out the regular season. Another thing is control over these relationships. Players aren't really given a choice of being able to storm another match or ambush another opponent. All these situations pretty much take place randomly and outside of user control. This set-up is fine early on, but appears far more lacking after numerous seasons and isn't reflective of real wrestling in that friendships and rivalries change faster then the time it takes Debra to flash her assets.
Still, these complaints are only minor quibbles and their corrections would only make a great game even better. Like NBA 2K did for basketball games, Smackdown! opens new avenues of possibilities, and chooses to accurately represent more of its real-life counterpart more than any other wrestling game. For this, I give Smackdown! extremely high praise.