WWE Smackdown vs. RAW’s inaugural offering of spandex-wearing grappling action celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and impressively, despite a recent attempt by TNA Impact! to muscle in on its patch, remains unchallenged, satisfyingly reaping in the cash benefits of being the undisputed world champion of the pro wrestling genre, a title that it’s held ever since the days of WWF SmackDown!
Without any real competition, and knowing that thousands of wrestling fanatics will probably still go out and buy it anyway, Japanese developer Yuke could have easily sat back and made very little improvement on its latest title. Commendably though, it has taken on board the criticism targeted at last year’s effort and in WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2009 has added a host of worthwhile new features and game modes. Customization and user-created content also returns to play an important role, with an overwhelming amount of options available, affording us with the luxury of being able to tailor the experience to suit our own needs, whilst getting a mouth-watering taste of the complete WWE experience (as seen on T.V.)
The overwhelmingly deep and much criticized ‘24/7’ mode from 2008 has now been ditched in favor of a more streamlined, simplified and focused story mode. ‘Road to WrestleMania,’ offers several branching story-lines as you step into the underwear of one of seven WWE superstars, including the likes of John Cena, Triple H, Chris Jericho, CM Punk and Undertaker. Each star boasts a unique plot that is voiced by their real-life counterpart and penned specifically with the brand and character’s personality in mind. Although some fans may be disheartened to see that their favorite wrestler has been omitted, the whittling down of the roster list has allowed the developer to focus on quality rather than quantity. The desired result has been achieved with each character’s storyline told with typical WWE flair and impeccable presentation. Bolstered by some impressive cut-scenes, there’s plenty of unpredictable and over-the-top action to get stuck into and also mid-match goals and tons of unlockables to gain along the way, including but not limited to new environments and bonus match types.
Aside from a couple of very surreal moments that threaten to push your sanity a little too far- for example, Santino turning into a zombie immediately springs to mind – the multiple story-lines are outrageously entertaining enough to warrant playing as all six characters and are short enough – approximately 2 hours each – to keep you interested and still ensure that the action stays fresh, varied and enjoyable.
The inclusion of Rey Mysterio and Batistia’s cooperative career path is a welcome addition to the series and one that nicely demonstrates the new “Hot Tag” feature that can be used, only once, to tactically gain an important advantage during fights. Whilst your teammate in the ring takes a battering, you can work the crowd up using the d-pad to clap your hands. In turn, this fills a “Hot Tag” meter, which when full gives you the power to launch yourself into the ring and drop your opponent spectacularly by following a series of on-screen prompts. If you pull off this short quick-time event successfully you get rewarded with a full momentum meter, which gives you a significant advantage in the fight. The beauty of the new “Hot Tag” feature is that it can turn the course of a fight instantly, something that we found particularly handy when we were losing badly. Serves us right for playing on the higher difficulty setting!
If you did play WWE SvR 2008 then you’ll be instantly familiar with the control scheme and you’ll also recognize many of the animations that have been ripped from the game. In the ring, it’s pretty much an identical experience to 2008, albeit with a few new moves added to the list and some subtle enhancements that have made fighting more visually arresting and certainly more fluid and responsive.
WWE SvR is certainly not aimed at the casual player. Sure, you can pull off a few simple moves easily enough, wiggle your thumb-stick, mash a few buttons and occasionally execute a how-the-hell-did-I-do-that maneuver, but fight against anyone who really does know how to play, or ramp up the difficulty, and it can be a frustrating experience. Care to spend some time getting to grips with the vast array of moves, however, and WWE SvR offers a satisfying fight and one that rewards you through its visually outstanding and brilliantly realized move set. Aside from some poor camera angles and some clipping issues that occasionally threaten to hamper the experience, if you do know what you’re doing in the ring, then fights can be very exciting and tactically compelling.
There’s also enough variety in the game modes and match types to ensure that there’s always something new to try out. It’s this variety and choice that makes WWE SvR such an addictive experience. There’s an exhaustive amount of match types on offer, including the likes of Triple Threat, Fatal Four-Way, Six-Man, Ladder matches and Royal Rumble. The roster editor and create modes, where you can alter everything from attributes to brand affiliation, also lend a hand in broadening the whole experience and adding extra replay value.
Create-A-WWE Superstar mode is one of the features that offers a comprehensive list of editing tools, the highlight of which is being able to create your own ‘finishers.’ Every move and animation is at your disposal, allowing you to mold an impressive finishing sequence consisting of up to 10 sections. The move list is huge, but the user-friendly mechanic, in which moves are broken down into sub-categories and then demonstrated on-screen, is ideal for those who don’t the difference between a Missile Dropkick and a Pumphandle Slam. It’s an excellent new addition that has been implemented extremely well and therefore will probably appeal to hardcore fans looking for an even deeper WWE experience.
For the show-offs out there, there’s also the new ‘Highlight Reel,’ a feature that offers the option to upload footage and share moments in the ring with other like-minded players. You can pause the action in-game and can capture the last 30 seconds of gameplay, using the comprehensive editing tool to add your own music, move camera angles or add effects, such as slow motion. It’s another feature that will probably only appeal to hardened wrestling fans, but it’s a nice inclusion that shows that the developer has took strides to move with the times and offer gamers more for their money’s worth. YouTube integration, however, would have been a really nice inclusion.
Graphically, WWE SvR looks impressive. Signs of pain emerge on the character models’ bodies in the form of scars, whilst blood and sweat drips down the wrestlers’ backs and six-packs. The crowd animations have also been improved and they effectively add to the feeling of a big fight night as they wave banners for their favorite stars, jump up and down with excitement, clap, cheer and encourage the wrestlers to perform their signature moves. Overall, Yuke has also done a fine job at capturing the whole razzmatazz and glamor of the WWE scene.
The audio on the other hand doesn’t fair as well, with cringe worthy commentary that often doesn’t even fit in with the action in the ring, whilst out-of-synch moments, demonstrated crudely when we smashed a chair over Shawn Michaels head only to hear the crashing sound arrive a few moments later, indicates that more effort was undoubtedly put into the customization features and wealth of game modes and match types rather than ensuring that the game was totally up to scratch before release.
Nevertheless, as an overall package, WWE SvR 2009 offers some worthwhile improvements from 2008, most notably its entertaining ‘Road to WrestleMania’ game mode. Whilst the deep control scheme can feel awkward at times, especially if you’re coming into the franchise for the first time, if you have the time or the inclination the rewards are there for the taking. With a impressive list of game modes, match types and editing tools, WWE SvR 2009 is as good as it gets for grapple fans, and with plenty more downloadable content planned there should be more than enough to keep you going until 2009’s upgrade.