Wrestling video games have had a long and storied past on video-game consoles. There have been
quirky and fun titles from Japanese developers and publishers as well as
licensed titles from several different North American third-party pubs. Some of
these titles have been ridiculously fun and addicting, while many others have,
well, not been. However, things where looking up for the genre with THQ’s WWE
SmackDown vs. RAW series.
quintessential wrestling series of the past several years, the WWE SmackDown vs.
RAW series has been a success for THQ both critically and commercially, offering
some big improvements to the series’ mechanics each year that it’s been
released. Therefore, it can be somewhat of a surprise to note that the latest
incarnation of the franchise, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008, feels somewhat
stagnant despite some key additions to the series as a whole. While new elements
like the new fighting styles for each wrestler are a nice touch, the whole
experience lacks overall polish in terms of the gameplay mechanics.
One of the main
key additions to the game are the superstar styles, of which each wrestler has
two sets. These vary a great deal, allowing your wrestler to become very strong
after filling up the superstar meter or pull off a variety of dirty tricks,
depending on which direction you decide to take your wrestler in. These are
pretty well implemented and give you a great deal of choice when it comes to
playing the game. Another aspect added to SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 is the
inclusion of the ECW extreme rules match, which allow you to bust out a variety
of weapons like 2x4s and chairs to take your opponents down.
game’s controls are almost exclusively analog. Taking a cue from EA and their
sports franchises, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 utilizes the right thumbstick for
a variety of different moves, with grapples and submissions among those mapped
to the analog stick. While the analog controls were used for grappling last
year, they feel a bit more fluid this time around and are quite easy to pull
off. Ultimate Control moves are also easier to do this time around, requiring no
more than a press of the bumper and a flick of the right thumbstick.
WWE SmackDown vs.
RAW 2008 carries the series’ yearly tradition of offering updated rosters and
nuances like ring anthems, as well as offers some new game modes. The new 24/7
mode is among the new additions, taking the single-player story and general
manager aspects and putting them together in the same package. Unfortunately,
this new mode makes the experience terribly convoluted, trying to create a
complete mode that encompasses both elements, but ultimately turns each of them
into a convoluted rehash. The 24/7 mode is supposed to be the main single-player
capstone of the game, but feels so rushed together that it might as well have
been an afterthought.
detection has always been an issue for wrestling games, and unfortunately
SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 isn’t much different. Punches will still frequently go
through an opponent’s chest and unless you hit the exact spot, you’ll miss and
leave yourself open for a counter-pummeling. This can be extremely frustrating,
as the controls are a bit on the stiff side, letting your opponent rack up tons
of moves as your wrestler writhes around unresponsively on the canvas.
there are still some problems with targeting in big fights with more than two
wrestlers in the ring. This can be extremely frustrating when you start getting
attacked from behind and your character won’t turn around, only punching around
in one direction. The AI also leaves a bit to be desired, much like in last
SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 has a lot going for it, with realistic-looking character
models and some good animations. The Xbox 360 version moves along at a solid
clip as well, with minimal bouts of slowdown.
The sound is a
mixed bag. While the rock soundtrack is typical of the series, there is the new
ability to import ring entrance themes from your personal music library, which
is a great addition for Create-A-Wrestler hounds. However, on the negative side,
the voice work is pretty weak, both in the 24/7 story mode and the commentary.
While 2008 tries
to implement some new elements, they come across as half-baked more often than
not, and most of the main problems that have been prevalent in the series for
years now are still rearing their ugly heads. Like a few current franchises
battling with crippling stagnation, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW is one of those annual
series that would benefit from a couple of years hiatus to get the creative ball
the improved analog controls and superstar styles are a nice touch, a lot of the
big problems from last year’s game have gone untouched. The new 24/7 mode is a
dog, with convoluted story elements and a general lack of polish.
Graphically the game looks very good, with the wrestlers looking like extremely
accurate representations of their real life counterparts. The Xbox 360 version
moves along at a pretty smooth clip.
the custom ring entrance songs are nicely implemented, the voice work
(particularly in the 24/7 story mode) and the tepid commentary leave much to be
desired. The soundtrack is your typical blend of metal and hard rock and a few
of the new additions lack a great deal of polish, while the features that have
carried over still have the same old problems.
Exactly the same as last year.
SmackDown vs. RAW 2008 does a few things right, but doesn’t really bring the
game to a whole new level like it should. Hopefully the developers will take an
extra year or so to make the next entry the game that wrestling fans would want
to look forward to.