Smackdown vs Raw 2011 has a lot to live up to, given the 2010 version's quality; yet THQ has somehow managed to surpass it, with a bunch of new features and enhancements.
The two major modes in SVR2011 are the new mode, WWE Universe, and Road to WrestleMania. WWE Universe is a career/exhibition hybrid and the beefier of the two. When you wrestle in an exhibition match the result will affect the wrestlers involved. Once your match is over, it will show up as the first match in the season. As you play through the year, you will get the chance to challenge for, or defend titles. Feuds will form and competitors will interfere with matches accordingly. In some cases, matches may restart with new stipulations or an injured wrestler may bring someone out to wrestle in their place.
If you have a heel (villain) fighting a face (hero), the heel will attack the face before the match begins, potentially leading to an easy win. This is quite a big balance issue as the heel is ready to pull off a signature move straight away. The exploit can even make winning triple threat matches a matter of Irish-whipping the uninjured opponent out of the ring, before finishing the other.
Where SVR2011 really shines is in the small details; chairs and ladders end or break differently, depending on how they are struck or strike an opponent. There are also about three more ladders available in the ladder match - little enhancements across the board. Wrestler models look fairly accurate, although Yuke's has taken some liberties when needed. Smackdown! fans will notice that Matt Hardy looks fit, compared to his final days WWE.
On the commentary front... well, bad commentary is an ongoing issue, with reference to wrestlers who aren't even in the match and calling tag teams matches as solo. You can turn it off, although it's strange not hearing Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole tossing repetitive sound bites. Unfortunately, it also silences the wrestlers in the Road to WrestleMania.
When it comes to jumping in the ring SVR2011 has the largest roster seen in a wrestling title. There are over 70 wrestlers on hand, some of whom (on the main roster) no longer wrestle in the WWE. Given the size of the roster you could be forgiven for thinking you'll end up scrolling through a huge list to find Jake the Snake Roberts. Fortunately, Yuke's has used an avatar page to display most of the in-ring competitors, while the divas, downloaded and created wrestlers have the old scrolling list.
In addition to the large roster, SVR2011 features an enhanced version of 2010's creation system. It was great to create and modify your own created wrestlers. However, now you can modify other player's creations. Other big improvements to the creation system, include the ability to create a turn-buckle finisher. SVR2011 also features a new create a match mode, where you can customize the stipulations - as long as they don't contradict each other.
The new creation system ties into the expanded online functionality. Its multiplayer modes include one of the most intriguing new match type, the online Royal Rumble. Up to 12 players can compete in the event. Another big feature is the WWE Shop feature, where you can purchase DLC. At the moment all DLC is paid, however there is a 'free' section so it's safe to assume they will be releasing some sort of free DLC. The best deal to be had here is the Fan Axxess for 800 points, it's a one-time purchase to get all future DLC. You can also unlock everything in the title (wrestlers, moves and alternate attire) for 80 points.
The Road to WrestleMania mode has taken on a sandbox/RPG style. You can run around the building interacting with other superstars and cutting promos. Depending on what you do, or who you talk to, you can end up in a backstage brawl. Unfortunately, the interaction aspect is let down by terrible lip-synching, so starting a fight is usually the better option as at least you'll get experience points if you win. In addition, the camera is slow, cumbersome and twitchy in small rooms. Despite those issues, the stories carry the mode - you'll also need to play them to unlock the Legends.
Vs. Undertaker is the stand out story in Road to WrestleMania. It puts you on the road to end the dead man's legendary WrestleMania winning streak. This is essentially a replacement for the CAW Road to WrestleMania. However, it also allows you to use one of the real stars. Between collecting souls and fighting a Royal Rumble against druids, this is one of the strangest stories in a WWE game. Ever.
SVR2011's weakest point is the Championship Scramble. The point of the match is to crown a random wrestler, but unless the title is vacant you can't crown one. Unfortunately, once a title is claimed, there's no way to vacate it, making the Scramble redundant.
While it lacks in a few areas, Smackdown vs Raw 2011 has raised the bar with the unpredictable WWE Universe mode, Road to WrestleMania and Match Creation system. This is like a sandbox wrestling title; the WWE is your playground, do with it what you will. Give Zack Ryder a push for World Champ - I did.