Nearly everything you could ask of a WWE sim is in this game.
When you begin the game for the first time, you have several options in front of you right off the bat. There's a season mode, a general manager mode, and numerous options for different exhibition matches. There's also an extensive "create-a" mode and an option to take the game online. You're also given an extensive roster of wrestlers from the current WWE, and the option to unlock several "legends" by playing through different parts of the game.
It's rather dizzying how many different options the game throws at you in just exhibition mode. You have the option to play in over a dozen different "main event" matches alone, including "First Blood" matches, cage matches, "Hell in a Cell" matches, Ladder matches, TLC matches, and so on. You can customize even these matches even further by turning them into tag matches or involving another singles competitor. Beyond that, you have the option to play those matches at almost any WWE event that you could possibly wish for, from Wrestlemania to Sunday Night Heat. You can have an Elimination Chamber match on Velocity if you so wish, the game leaves that option open to you.
Season mode requires you to play through the game on either the Smackdown or RAW brands. Whichever one you wind up on depends on which brand the superstar you select is affiliated with. Season mode generally just runs you through a long series of matches on your way to the WWE Title. However, there are a few branching paths that seem to arrive randomly that can change just what direction the story takes. Most notable about the season mode is the inclusion of cinema scenes that are fully voiced by the WWE wrestlers themselves. The story is excellent for a game like this, which is all the more surprising when you consider that it was written by the current crop of WWE writers. The acting is also impeccable, which does an incredible job of improving the season mode just that much more.
Of course, the most important part of this game is the wrestling itself. In it, you have two different types of attacks: striking moves and grapple moves. With those, you have the ability to counter either striking or grapple moves by pressing either the left or right shoulder buttons, depending on which type of attack you're facing. Thusly, the entire game revolves around performing as many moves on your opponent as possible to wear them down while doing your best to counter their moves. Damage in this game is kept track of by a figure of a human body that's placed next to your character's momentum bar. This figure has four different parts to it: the head, chest, legs, and arms. As each of these takes damage, they go from clear to yellow to orange and finally to red. When a body part takes more damage, it becomes more susceptible to stronger attacks and a possible pinfall or submission.
The momentum bar dictates how well your character is doing at whatever point in the match you've reached. Generally, staying on the attack and keeping your opponent down will increase it. However, being beaten up and thrown around the ring will cost you momentum. There are additional ways to gain momentum, depending on weather your character is "clean" or "dirty." Clean characters gain additional momentum by playing to the audience, performing high-risk moves, and generally just doing good-guy stuff. Dirty wrestlers, on the other hand, gain extra momentum by cheating, arguing with the referee, beating up the referee (one of the best parts of the game) and using weapons and so forth. Filling a momentum meter once will allow you to perform a finishing move. However, you have the option to store a move instead of using it immediately. Filling your meter twice will afford you a few new options, such as stealing an opponent's taunt. Clean stars will gain the ability to steal an opponent's finisher with a full meter, while dirty stars will gain the ability to perform a "super dirty" move.
Finally, there's your character's stamina meter. Performing moves in the ring or generally just running around will deplete this meter. As it gets lower, your character slows down and will eventually collapse. Stamina can be regained by either standing still or by holding the select button. It's hard to get used to this system at first, because a new player's first instinct will probably be to go for the gusto and not let up. This usually leads to a person's character being worn out and unable to recover as an opponent beats them up. However, eventually it becomes second nature to keep your opponent down long enough to regain stamina and keep up the attack long enough to control a match, and this system actually benefits the game a great deal.
The game's artificial intelligence can be somewhat frustrating. On the easiest difficulty level it's almost unbelievably stupid, standing in place for long periods of time and generally not doing much. However, even then, and on the more difficult settings, the computer will counter nearly every other move you do with increasing regularity. It becomes immensely frustrating to see every move you perform turned around on you for no apparent reason, even under some rather ludicrous circumstances. There's no apparent way to stop this, and eventually it gets to the point where it becomes almost unbelievable. But it's usually possible to live with it, even if some of the more absurd counters end up costing you a match every now and then.
With the excellent season and exhibition modes, there's also a brand-new "General Manager" mode. This basically allows you to take control of one brand and book it as you see fit. You'll create matches for a weekly television program, be it RAW or Smackdown, and then sit back and wait to see how well these go over with the viewing audience. You'll also have to manage your financial resources to make sure that you have enough money to budget your shows and keep your wrestlers under contract. At the same time as that, you'll need to keep your wrestlers happy by putting them on television constantly and occasionally giving them title shots or making sure that they don't go on an extended losing streak. Being an almost entirely menu-based game, General Manager mode feels a lot different from the rest of the game, and frankly it doesn't work quite as well as the rest of it. Making constant menu selections gets old fast, and there's no action at all unless you choose to play through the matches you create yourself. Combining this with the sometimes arbitrary-feeling nature of the fan support, you may get tired of General Manager mode very quickly.
Creating a wrestler in this game is an incredibly involving experience. You're given control over almost every aspect of their body and what they wear, and are allowed to fully customize their move set. It's all more than a bit overwhelming at first, as you're just given that many options. Once you spend a little time with all the options and play-test your character a bit, you start to get the hang of it though. You also have the option to customize their entrances as you see fit, and even create a stable of created wrestlers to use as you would like. It's also very nice that you can use your created wrestlers in any other game mode that you would wish, including season mode, where your character can be assigned one of five different voices for the dialogue spoken during the different cinema scenes.
The game's graphics are incredibly good. The character models for the wrestlers are incredibly lifelike, even if they look just a bit jerky when they move. There are some weird animations as well, some of which don't make some any sense whatsoever and contribute to the occasional annoyances that the worst parts of the game's A.I. creates. Most of the sets for the different events that you'll compete at look a lot like their real-life counterparts as well, which is also a very nice touch. The audiences are a bit of a letdown though, as there are apparently only a good half-dozen different character models to make up the hundreds of different crowd members. Furthermore, they all repeat the same animations at the exact same time, which can make the crowd look a little lifeless. But this is really small potatoes compared to the way that the rest of the game looks.
The game's audio is up to par with the graphics. Most of the sound effects sound exactly like one would expect them to during an actual WWE match. On top of that, as mentioned before, the game features an incredible amount of voice acting from the actual members of the WWE. Among them all, you'll hear the voices of the announcers the most since they talk during nearly ever match, so of course you'll begin to notice just a bit of repetitiveness in what they say. Each wrestler has some specific dialogue from the announce team assigned to them, which helps to keep things a little more interesting. However, some of the events that are supposed to be a little more "rare" (such as the announce table breaking) only have one or two specific lines for them, meaning that they get old faster than some of the other dialogue. Still, there's enough incredibly well-written and entertaining dialogue in this game to keep it all interesting for a very long time.
Smackdown Versus RAW 2006 is the wrestling game that people have been waiting for since the start of the current console generation. It includes nearly every option that a wrestling fan could want from a WWE game, and combines that with a gameplay engine that works incredibly well. The developers clearly went all-out to cram just as much stuff into this game as possible, and luckily, most if it is a lot of fun to play around with. There's so much to see in this game that just playing through it all once may take most players weeks, while enjoying it can last for months. So, to put it simply, this game is very highly recommended to almost anyone with a flair for wrestling.