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WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 Review

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Developer: Yuke’s Publisher: THQ
Release Date: November 13, 2007 Also On: PS2, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360

THQ and Yuke’s put together the best wrestling game year in and year out with their SmackDown! vs. Raw series. I got a chance to play SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006 for the PlayStation 2 and found myself very surprised at how much I was enjoying myself as I played the game. The same can be said about this year’s WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw, but it is clear that some of the typical wrestling flaws have kept the series in a stationary position in terms of improvement.

24/7 Mode combines a General Manager and Career Mode into one big hybrid and it’s a very rewarding, entertaining way to play the game. Much like you would in other sports simulation modes you’ll train an individual wrestler and fight your way through week after week of training drills and media events, working to live the life of a WWE superstar. You have to monitor your wrestler’s health while keeping up with your SmackDown or Raw duties. For the casual gamer, the option to simulate the different events is available. However, as in any other sports game, this is not the best way to play.

One grating flaw in the 24/7 Mode is the lack of an ability to rest your brawler. Even though THQ and Yuke’s included health reports from trainers and medics via in-game e-mails, when injuries happen due to fatigue, you are still required to jump in the ring every week. Oh, and media events like acting positions in films and dates with models—those tire your wrestler. Without a rest ability injuries can’t be properly tended to, increasing the risk of furthering the problem.

The new fighting styles keep the wrestlers from feeling too similar, but I found that certain ones were definitely more helpful than others. My preferred wrestlers were usually Brawlers, for example. There are other styles, like the Showman and the Powerhouse. Certain styles allow special abilities like temporary invulnerability and inescapable grapples. Some might think these are cheap additions to the game; I felt like they brought out the style of their individual wrestlers quite well. Don’t be surprised, though, to notice one style being obviously superior to another.

The sluggish wrestling controls of years past return, but I will admit that I had less trouble in a few areas. Still, the learning curve resembles rocket science. As always, movement is incredibly slow. Of course, in thought, moving around a hulking mass of man such as The Undertaker should predictably be difficult to pull off smoothly. At least connecting on a big hit feels as crushing and satisfying as it should, and after a few matches, most gamers should not have a problem playing the game well enough to put up a good fight against the CPU or a friend. The Struggle Submission System lets you apply force manually during a submission, and grapples are generally very easy to pull off with the right analog stick.

A few other wrestling staples reappear in this game; the deluge of different match styles will keep hardcore WWE fans busy for quite a while. The uber-violent ECW fighters have been added to the game, so brutal Extreme Rules Matches involving guitars and flaming tables are included in the package. Creation modes are deep and allow for some truly interesting characters; my 24/7 warrior greatly resembled a bloodthirsty tribal warrior, sporting nothing more than a loincloth, face-covering curly long hair, and dozens of nasty scars.

SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 certainly will not disappoint HD gamers, but its graphics do not jump out of the screen quite like I hoped they would. I remember Yuke’s wrestling titles being some of the best-looking titles at any given point in time last generation; SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 hardly compares to last year’s Fight Night Round 3. Still, it doesn’t look bad. Wrestlers animate slowly and look quite like Bigfoot when they walk around, but the over-the-top brutality of the sport is definitely captured visually.

The commentary is something I usually dread in sports games. WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 features none other than the most annoying, bickering idiots I have ever had the misfortune of listening to. They like to bash each other as much as the wrestlers they both adore so much, and they do so in a repetitive way that will have you racing to in-game volume settings. The crowd is disappointingly quiet, far from the rowdy entity that it is in the real-life sport.

Online options are also available, but the lack of balance in the fighting styles did something I did not like to the multiplayer mode. Imagine if you will a first-person shooter where half of the weapons scattered on each map were essentially useless, while others were overpowered or far too easy to use. Apply this to wrestling and WWE superstars, and you have a multiplayer mess. I am a fan of balanced games that give me a fair and equal chance against an opponent. This is not one of those games.

In the end SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 is the only real wrestling option for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gamers. Still, it is far from a bad one. Improvements made to the game still do not take away some of the typical flaws of the genre, sadly. Movement is sluggish, and the fighting styles (despite nicely accenting each fighter’s actual tendencies) are just far too unbalanced. It is about time that Yuke’s and THQ’s annual wrestling title revolutionizes the genre for which it is, at least lately, the sole figure.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 7.5
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 7
Written by Cliff Review Guide