To a guy, there’s just something about the beauty of a steel chair to the face that goes beyond description. It is a widely known fact that violence solves everything, and this has never been more true than in the world of professional wrestling. The WWE Smackdown series has pretty much cornered this market, with its digital headlocks and pile-driving pixels, but this year’s outing, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, seems to try to appeal only to fans of the WWE and not anybody else.
Being tied to the WWE, every game in the series has a gimmick, and a mere glance at the cover will reveal this year’s theme. It’s time to prep the stretchers in 2008, as the pain-loving ECW boys are here to join the party. The ECW brand (which in WWE code translates to “a disappointing four or five guys”) is ready and willing to go toe-to-toe with its Raw and Smackdown rivals. The ECW Extreme Rules Match is a very pleasant addition, and it will probably be your most played — if not only — online match of choice.
The controls are mostly the same they’ve been since the birth of the Smackdown vs. Raw franchise. The right stick engages in grapples, and the left stick moves your superstar around, while the right bumper (on Xbox 360) is combined with the right stick to attempt more-complicated maneuvers. The triggers are used for reversals, X for strikes, B for pimp-like whips to your opponent, Y for activating finishers, and A to picks up weapons. Finally, the D-pad is used to pour the salt on the wound through various taunts. In case you’ve been DDT’s a few too many times, the game will help you remember all these maneuvers through tutorials and loading screens.
Outside of the controls, though, several things have changed that fans of the series may or may not like. The roster is “all right,” with unlockable Legends added to spruce things up. However, since it takes a while to make a video game, gamers will notice many now-fired superstars filling roster spots. The weight class system of yesteryear has mostly been dropped, and Rey Mysterio can lift the Undertaker. Depending on personal taste, this can vary in appeal. After a long time of hate mail and sleepless nights of whimpering in pain, the running system has been assigned to the Left bumper, and stopping in mid-run — a dream that has been out of the grasp of modern science for centuries — is now finally possible.
The biggest change this year, however, is the addition of wrestling styles. Every wrestler has two styles assigned to him, and the player can pick the dominant one before the match. The dominant style’s super power can be activated by pressing right bumper and Y at the same time. The styles and powers are: Powerhouse (can do double grapple damage), Brawler (double melee damage), High Flyer (with the sneaky possum pin), Submission (breaks out of all submissions), Technical (reverses everything), Hardcore (heals limb damage using blood craze) and Dirty (the low blow).
The graphical resources have once again been mostly spent making the wrestlers look as real as possible, and that has definitely been accomplished. The fans, too, look less and less like moving cardboard, and that is always a good thing. The “Create” options are immense, and you can make your wrestler very unique (or wrestle as the incredible Hulk). Even your created athletes will look spot-on, and there’s not much to complain about graphics-wise here. Unless you like diverse environmental effects, that is. Tables, chairs, the steel cage, etc. will always break the same way every time, and that could be upsetting to a few Havok-spoiled people.
Unfortunately, what’s really spoiled is “everything else.” WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 stops being fun after a body part falls to the red damage zone. You’ll spend most of the time mashing buttons to try and get up with the computer not having this problem at all. Even on Medium, the computer will reverse 75 percent of the time and shake off chair shots like they were bug bites.
Playing online doesn’t make things any better. People will constantly use 100 overall created wrestlers and dominate the real wrestlers like they were kindergarteners. Turning user-created wrestlers off will result in someone picking Jeff Hardy and abusing his many strengths. If none of the above occurs, then someone will most likely quit early, ending the match for everyone, as there is no punishment for doing so or any failsafe against it. Combine these troubles with lag and connection issues, and you’re really better off sticking to playing online with friends, or even better, on one console.
With some great new additions, an outstanding creation mode, fun offline Achievements and the attempted use of ECW, the game strives to be a Hall of Famer. However, unresolved frustration and performance issues keep this game from getting the title shot.
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- Score: 7.5
- Vince McMahaon may not be dead, but the Smackdown vs. Raw series is just barely avoiding life support. Hey, THQ, some serious gameplay balancing needs to occur for 2009, or WWE fans “will run wild on you.”
— John Dempsey