The tag-team champions of wrestling games THQ and long time wrestling god's Yuke Media Creations return in 2007 to defend their belts in the latest Smackdown vs. Raw wrestling game.
The 2008 edition of Smackdown vs. Raw continues down the new path of in ring excellence. If you haven’t totally accepted that Yuke's has moved past Know Your Role, then you better smell the roses. SVR08 (Smackdown vs. Raw 2008) is the latest updated analog stick wrestling action. The roster has been updated, the controls have been tweaked, and a new character structure has been laid down. The new content should be enough to bait the average WWE gamer into heading into the ring for bragging rites. You better be ready to fight because also included in 2008 is a selection of the EC’Dub boys and girls and they only play one way, hardcore. Smackdown vs. Raw is a multi-platform release and for the first time the series will hit the Nintendo DS and the Wii. The other platforms featured are in the form of the PS3, Xbox 360, PS2 and PSP which will be our focus here.
Unlike other sports games, the WWE wrestling products seem to change year by year, sometimes for the better of the franchise and sometimes for the worse. In Madden, you’ll get subtle changes that usually help the game expand. In Yuke’s case they throw a good portion of the previous build out the door and start fresh creating an ever changing career mode and combat system that never finds its groove. For me, "Here Comes The Pain"n in 2003 was the pinacle of Yuke's efforts which nailed a lot of aspects perfectly from the career mode, to the customizability and roster line-up. In the new "Smackdown vs. Raw" era of gaming which starting in 2004, it seems like Yuke's is caught in its own steel cage battling with itself. Four years later In 2008 things are changing again.
The most impactful change in 2008 is the addition of different fighting styles. The fighting styles are classified in categories according to each wrestlers in ring style giving each superstar a unique advantages over their opponent. I can make the difference and give each wrestler an unexpected edge making an upset win like Rey Mysterio over the Undertaker believable. The new styles are Powerhouse, Technical, High-Flyers, Brawlers, Submission, Hardcore, Showmen, and Dirty Players. It’s easy to attribute a lot of these styles to a known wrestler and you’ll probably have most of them pegged. Its obvious Mark Henry sports the Powerhouse and Brawler tags and not the Technical marker. Other wrestlers like Jeff Hardy will be under the Hardcore and High-Flyer style, MVP with the Technical and Showman styles and The Rated-R Superstar “Edge” as Dirty, and Hardcore. These styles will help bring the best in each wrestler giving them special temporary abilities.
Adding styles to the wrestlers in the roster help personalize them besides statistics and a move sets. Dirty wrestlers (Mr. Kennedy, Legend Roddy Piper, and Ric Flair) are able break the rules that include throwing the ref into your opponent, or taking the padding off of the turnbuckle leaving the steal post exposed. Hardcore wrestlers (Mick Foley, Sandman, and Sabu) can use foreign objects and gains an advantage fighting outside of the ring. Submission experts (Bret Hart, CM Punk, and Finaly) come in short supply by have an advantage when locking an opponent in a submission mode. High Flyer (Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, and Sabu) gain high rewards for pulling off aerial moves and generally have an advantage with speed and have access to the Possum Pin which is directly related to an Xbox 360 achievement. Powerhouse wrestlers (Batista, Kane, Umaga) are the most common and get an advantage not only by being powerful but they can activate Rampage which makes you invulnerable to strike attacks or use a strong Irish Whip which sends your opponent over the ropes to the outside.
Only two more to go...
The Technical style (Matt Hardy, Bret hart, Mickie James) excels in reversing moves and can use the Technically Sound ability that automatically reverses all your opponents’ attacks. You can also use out of the ring dives, fake Irish Whips and Pit Manoeuvres which lets you quickly move behind an opponent for a strike or grapple. Lastly we have the Showman attribute (Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton, Steve Austin) these showman, and ladies (Candice Michelle and Torrie Wilson) can steal an opponents finishing move, gain extra momentum with taunts including your opponents taunt. The Showman doesn’t sound like much, but one stolen finisher could set you up for the big 1-2-3.
The fighting styles is one good aspect in SVR2008 that I would like to see continue into future editions of Smackdown. Yuke’s has also made rethought the use of the analog stick given the player more control over performing moves with the analog stick which lets you adjust your position and change up your timing. I for one still would go back a few generations to the popular PS2 controls; however I am ready to face the change and have adapted to the new control scheme. It’s not bad, it’s just seems like you can as diverse in the ring with a cut down move set. There is freedom to control your moves now, but not the freedom to select from a large list like before. If you’re looking to the pint sized PSP version of SVR2008 expect much of the same experience except you’ll be dealing with the control scheme of the one along stick and d-pad which can be tricky navigating and fighting.
Submissions have been changed into a tug-of-war style where each player uses the analog stick to apply pressure to the hold, or wiggle free. This addition is fun, but lacks the impact of feeling the move. Keeping things fresh, ECW is acknowledged and added to the Raw and Smackdown locker room. This gives players the chance to lock it up with some great ECW 'Extremists' in an ECW extreme rules match which includes the weapon wheel that comes up when you look under the ring apron. If you’re not happy with a 2x4 wrapped in barbed wire, well now you can set the wood on fire and unleash total devastation. So far these changes all make WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 a better game, although it’s no where near what it could be and this leads us into the season mode, one major issue with SVR08.
The season mode this year is a 24/7 mode which incorporates the new GM mode from last year with the normal cinematic driven storylines. This is a disappointment for sim-fans of the last years GM mode. It certainly had a lot of a promise and added a nice touch like a franchise mode in a football game, but now it’s all jumbled up and infected the season mode like the NWO. This effort to combine both modes hurts the delivery which really shows in the games story mode. Believe it or not, the story mode at one time was fairly in depth with multi-branching storylines over multiple seasons, now its one scene to another without any continuity. One minute you’ll be feuding with a superstar then you will be shaking their hand in the hallway as you head to the ring. This totally destroys the credibility of any storyline in the game. What tries to mask its lack of continuity is a bunch of new aspects that will have you training, going on dates, and shooting films on your days off. Like other sports games you will now have a calendar that you can skip, or do other activities on your day off. This part is fairly cool, but its the same thing over and over and then we have the generic out of context cut-scenes that mess up any progress you’re feeling backstage getting into the 24/7 season mode.
Beyond the story mode there are an enough modes to keep you if you’re interested without the drama. The have included a few tournament modes, the normal exhibition matches which include speciality matches like the classic TLC, Hell In Cell, or Ladder match. One cool addition this year if the Hall of Fame mode which puts you into the roles of wrestlers in classic matches. This is like the challenges from last year and feature some memorable matches like the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels Iron Man match. If that wasn't enough you can go online with Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. The online side of SVR08 hasn’t received any updates from last year and offers up to five players in ranked or unranked matches. You can trade wrestlers and put your created titles online. The PS2 version is the only console version that doesn’t offer online play.
Plaguing the franchise one more year is the roster cut off date which adds a number of wrestlers to the roster who are no longer with the company. In Yuke’s defence its hard to keep up with the ever changing revolving door of WWE talent, however if they made more than enough wrestlers, then they could sub one in or out even if its The Miz for Booker T. In the no long active roster we have the tag-team Cryme Time, Booker T, Chris Masters, and Sabu along with others. If THQ wants to stay on top of this situation they should offer new wrestlers as downloads in the future to plug up the whole between releases and help keep gamers interested in the game with amount of new talent the WWE gathers year by year.
What does Yuke’s need to do in the future to remain on the top of the mountain as the TNA wrestling game is scheduled for release is lay the Smackdown on their artificial intelligence. The A.I. in SVR08 is weak and it should have been improved by now. Matches with multiple characters like tag matches are still a problem and it’s rare to find yourself in a match that would resemble anything thrown at your on TV. The A.I. seems cheaper then ever taking advantage of the new fighting styles abilities a little too much. Throw that ref at me one more time and I’ll.... uh never mind.
Smackdown vs. Raw continues giving players extensive create modes which include creating new wrestlers, stables, entrances, move sets and belts. The create modes can be explotided to help resolve your problems with the roster, or in active belts. A lot of the wrestlers that didn’t make into the game, or past superstars can have their likeness rebuilt into mirror masking likenesses. The internet is a good source if you’re looking to create a few past legends, or new superstars who have just joined the ranks of the WWE. Custom soundtracks are supported into the 360 version, so if you’re heavy in creating your own superstars, the 360 will allow you to complete that perfect entrance. In 2009 you would think Yukes could include all the previous data from the last game, but it seems like we get more items like hair styles and a cut back in others. If you have a look for your own superstar every year, hopefully the loss of items won’t impact your created genetic freak.
In the graphics and sound side of SVR2008 we have the good and the bad, and it’s the same points that I make every year on this franchise. The characters models are the highlight of Smackdown vs. Raw being realistic capture the motions and little details on each superstar. A good 80% of the roster really looks the part aside from a few needed makeovers. This has always been Yuke’s strong point and it continues to be. If there is a new focus I hope they change up the presentation and work on more content to add to the cut-scenes, there is so much potential and it seems like Yuke's only focuses on one part.
For the bad, collision detection is still a problem with weapons and other objects and the audio takes a hit with the constant and rough commentary. The commentary is slightly improved, but gets awfully repetitive quickly with the same tag lines being used over and over. It will be an amazing feat when the really get their heads around the audio because it is vital to the product, if you don’t believe me see the WWE live and see how much you loose because you can’t hear J.R. calling someone “tougher than a two dollar steak”. Audio issues have always been a problem since the series started adding commentary, it almost impossible to recreate the magic of the broadcasters live, but I know they can do better then this recycled lines, and dated information.
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 pushes the series marginally forward with a focus on creating a more personal touch with the unique fighting styles and updated visuals. This doesn’t mean Yuke's is out of the clear, the really buggered up the merger of the 24/7 and GM modes in this edition which causes the season mode to feel out of synch and unfocused. Everything else is done right with the online and create modes intact, so you can still made your own fun outside of impressing Vince in the season. The WWE franchise continues to stay in the mid-card without much hope to get into the upper ranks. Changes will need to be made, if this true legend wrestling franchise wants to be re-invented to capture the gold.
Gameplay: 7, Graphics:8, Sound:7, Innovation: 7, Mojo:8 Final: 7.4 / 10