"In one section of the career mode, it even made it look like Bobby Lashley had an ounce of charisma! You know technology has advanced when it achieves the impossible."
Chris Masters may very well be little more than The Narcissist Lex Luger v2 (which, in itself, isn’t the best gimmick to revisit), but he not only has the necessary muscle-adorned looks, but more than enough arrogance to tide the persona over. When you and he are thrown together at random to make a run on the tag belts, each win you rack up seems to push Masters further into the spotlight while you're left to watch from the sidelines. Even though it was you that finished off Lance Cade with a hanging shooting star press from the top buckle while Masters stood on the apron, you wouldn't know it reading about the match on WWE.com the next morning. "Winning that match was great for me", quotes Chris, "And having a good friend on hand to watch on makes it all the sweeter." Sure, he'll leave a voice message on your mobile saying he was misquoted, but as the weeks go on, all the media attention is on him.
It's enough to make you forget your hunt for tag championship gold and smack him around the back of the head with a steel chair And, bah gawd, that's just what I did. One even-flow DDT later, and Masters is laying in a pool of his own blood and it's me back in the spotlight where I belong!
Smackdown vs. Raw has come a long way from its initial release on the last generation of consoles in a number of ways. For one, the career mode is no longer a linear, flat single season with very little interaction, and instead offers the player multiple storylines with branching avenues for the player to take. When you're screwed over by Shawn Michael’s new stable of Gregory Helms and Shelton Benjamin, trying to calm the situation down with mere words earns you a super-kick to the face. When apologies are later offered, you can either be a stand up guy and accept them, demand revenge and challenge Michaels to a Cage Match or take on the entire faction in a Fatal Four Way.
Personally, I accepted the apology and took on Helms and Benjamin in a tag match with HBK as my partner. Then opened up his skull with a sledgehammer I found under the ring, and left him to be destroyed by his former faction members.
How you fight the good fight (or backstab anyone you dislike) has undergone several changes too, and for the better. Smackdown vs. Raw is still very much about finding a balance and wearing down your opponent before you break out the big power moves, just as much as it is about reversing their attacks and applying countermeasures. This year gives you quick grapple attacks that are hard to counter, but provide moves that do relatively little damage, such as an arm drag or knee to the gut. While these will never be enough to finish off an opponent, they're great for breaking momentum or softening up your in-ring foe.
The wealth of moves available to you from the heavier grapples have diversified, also. Lifting an opponent onto your back could let you launch into a simple elevated fireman's carry takedown (or an F-U, if you like to laugh at Cena's 'offence', too) or a swinging TKO neck-breaker. Carry the prone body to certain sections of the arena you can use the ring to your advantage: snap face-first into the top turnbuckle in an impromptu snake eyes, or slingshot their throats into the ring ropes. Then stomp on their heads as they roll around in agony! You can also access a new heads-up menu from a heavy grapple, allowing you it hold your opponent in a choke hold or reverse headlock and chose from a number of options. Hold up your foe in a power bomb position, and you can move him around the ring until you’re in your preferred spot, then drive him to the mat, flick him over your head or Razor’s Edge him over the ropes and onto the concrete floor.
To highlight this, the environments are made a lot easier to interact with thanks to the placement of hot spots littered throughout the arenas. You can slam doors on foes backstage, bounce skulls off the steel steps outside the ring or drive opponents through the Spanish announcers' table (don't be rude -- they expect you to!). The only thing limiting your offence is a constantly-draining stamina bar that, should you not take the chance to catch your breath, will leave you an exhausted wreck after a little too much strenuous activity.
I found this out by picking William Regal up in a suplex and them parading him around the ring, held above my head. My character didn't appreciate it after his stamina gave out; he dropped Regal and collapsed, gasping for air.
But while the series has picked up hugely from the very first offering, there’s really not a great deal new from last’s year’s offering. There’s scripted lines from the actual wrestlers this year coded into the career mode, and a huge variety of clever little touches, like the announce team getting nervous and moving away from your wrestler should you approach them, and the Create A Wrestler mode has been both enhanced and simplified enough for my WWE look-alike (his name is El EmP, and he‘s one bad mofo) comes down to the ring with a hybrid cut-and-paste of Chris Jericho’s and Christian’s entrances moulded together into something somewhat unique, but the roster just isn’t as strong. There’s a Divari, but no Paul London? Useless Diva’s aplenty, but barely a cruiserweight to be seen. ECW’s only mention is that Angle was transferred there, but there’s no Dreamer, no Sandman, no Mahoney -- even RVD and Big Show ply their trades outside of the third brand, despite the obvious fact that it was halfway worked in. At least Birchill in pirate mode is included...
A lot of the other features carry over from 2006; the general manager mode, the Pay-Per-View creation, the legendary wrestlers that you can unlock throughout the game are all still there -- and with the graphic update you would expect from a series being upgraded to a new console -- and, although the customisable move-set has followed trend of being more limited than previous titles, there’s still a lot to work with. As a series, Smackdown vs. Raw has come a long way since its humble roots on the PS2 where we’d all groan and wish for a better-looking version of the WWE games Yukes usef to make on the N64, but as an sequel to last year’s product, the steps forward simply aren’t as impressive. Had you not bothered with 2006’s model, though, or simply need a new career mode to sink you teeth into, there’s no reason not to beat John Cena’s next-gen model non-stop in the hopes that he’ll stop making continuous gay jokes and toilet references on air to try and show he’s edgy and hip.
In one section of the career mode, it even made it look like Bobby Lashley had an ounce of charisma! You know technology has advanced when it achieves the impossible.
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