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WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 (Xbox 360) artwork

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 (Xbox 360) review

"Well, another year brings another game in the SmackDown! vs RAW series -- and this time it's going hardcore by featuring ECW. Like they always do, THQ has polished up the graphics and made everything look a bit better than they did before. Unfortunately, they also made good on their other yearly tradition: taking a step backwards for every step forward they make. While there are many new additions this year, there are things that were good about previous SmackDown! titles have been removed. Than..."

Well, another year brings another game in the SmackDown! vs RAW series -- and this time it's going hardcore by featuring ECW. Like they always do, THQ has polished up the graphics and made everything look a bit better than they did before. Unfortunately, they also made good on their other yearly tradition: taking a step backwards for every step forward they make. While there are many new additions this year, there are things that were good about previous SmackDown! titles have been removed. Thankfully the gameplay is not one of these things, and it's still fun to step into the ring as a WWE superstar.

The framework of the game has been changed to now include different fighting styles. Styles include Brawler, Hardcore, High-flyer, Powerhouse, Submission, Technical, Dirty and Showstopper. Each of the wrestlers in the game have two styles which greatly affect how they'll wrestle. The styles that are picked affect what type of moves they can do as well as what type of special techniques they can do in the match. This is an exponential improvement on the horrendous weight system we saw last year. No longer will guys like Gregory Helms hold their fist in agony after attempting to punch Batista. Obviously he won't be able to powerbomb him, in 2008, but the styles system allows him to fight in his own way. It allows everyone to fight in their own way. For example Dirty superstars can push the ref into people, Hardcore superstars can use weapon grapples and do all sorts of cool tricks, and Showstoppers can steal their opponents finishers. Each style has their own pros and cons, which make playing as different wrestlers rewarding.

Another major addition to the gameplay is the new Struggle submission system. In this system there are many types of submission moves that allow you to torque and bend your opponents body by using the right stick. You'll feel the controller vibrate as your opponent begins to break your hold. You then have a choice. Do you put as much pressure as you can, to try and make him tap, or do you ease up and try and regain control over him? When you add in several other factors to the submission system it really becomes clear how refined this system is. Technical superstars, for example, will not be cought so easily in a submission hold. You'll have to work their limbs first. You then have Submission wrestlers. If they store a style icon, they can make any submission maneuver dangerous. The screen goes bright red as you twist and pull on the opponent's limb, and the damage done in this time is incredible. Submissions are taken a lot more seriously in this incarnation of the series than they were in the past, and that has made for a large improvement in gameplay.

There are various other tweaks to the gameplay as well that you're bound to notice if you've been with the series prior to now. For one there's no more stamina bar. No longer will punching your opponent a few times cause you to stop, gasping for breath. And no longer will your big comebacks be interrupted by your wrestler randomly falling to his knees as if he were having a heart attack. To be sure, your character will show signs of fatigue of you run around too much or you go a little crazy with the strong grapples, but it's a far more realistic and enjoyable implementation of the stamina concept. Another change is that you can no longer store finisher icons. This is a bit of a bummer; it makes matches far more competitive, but it removes the ability to be able to hit a finisher from out-of-nowhere. And if you are a wrestling fan you know that those look really awesome. There's a reason fans mark out for the RKO even if they don't necessarily cheer for Randy Orton otherwise.

The technical aspects of the system aside, you have several modes to play from. You have the Hall of Fame mode, which is this year's replacement of the Challenge mode of previous years. It'll give you some challenges to clear (such as defeating the Hardy Boyz in a TLC match, or defeating Mick Foley in a TLC match with the Undertaker), and you'll attempt to do them. It's not the most exciting mode, since there's relatively few challenges and some are tedious and boring. It makes one wish that the challenge mode makes a triumphant return in 2009. Another mode is the Tournament mode, which is basically just a series of matches one after another. It seems relatively useless, but the fact that a Beat The Clock Sprint is incorporated into it makes it nice to have. That's a match type -- if you can call it that -- that has been missing from previous games. The major game mode, however, is the new 24/7 mode.

24/7 mode is a mixture of previous years' Season modes, and 2007's General Manager mode. This sounds like a very nice idea at first. The ability to play as either the GM booking shows or a wrestler climbing up the ladder towards championship gold and status as a legend sounds quite appealing. However you'll have to decide which you'd like to do first, because they are both rather long game modes, and you only have one save slot between the two of them. It's a ridiculous concept that never should have been incorporated. On top of this horrible idea however, you'll find that Season mode is pretty weak anyway, so it's not much of a loss. It's good for a playthrough but most likely only once. Between the facts that your status on the Power 25 seems almost random at times, and that bizarre turns that don't make sense keep being tossed at you, there's not much room for enjoyment. The first angle I was put in, on RAW, was to fight my way towards a number one contender's slot. I did that, and was told I would be given a title match. I was then tossed into a feud with Carlito over who would star in a movie, and I never heard of that title match again. I eventually did get the WWE title, but it was entirely disconnected to this, making me question the point of it. The point of this anecdote is thus: The selling point of the game is the Exhibition mode. Season mode is no good.

Assuming you do play in Exhibition mode, things can be quite fun, as this is apparently where THQ focused all of their efforts. First and foremost, a new match type "ECW Extreme Rules" has been added. As you can imagine this is a hardcore based match, though it employs a unique style. Reach under the ring and a wheel will appear on screen with many weapons on it. Use the left stick to select which one you want, and pull it out. You have access to tables, chairs, guitars, ladders, barbed wire boards, crutches and several more toys. Play an ECW match with a Hardcore superstar, like Edge, and you'll see another really nice change that has been made to the game. You can do all sorts of interesting stuff with the weapons. You can set the guitar or the table on fire, and you can set up a chair to jump off of onto the ropes ala Sabu. However the most interesting addition is the fulfilled request of many fans: A real conchairto. Place your opponent's head on one chair with a grapple, and then use a second chair to scramble their brains. Doing this for the first time was one of the most fulfilling experiences that a game has given me, though I am an Edge and Christian mark.

Just as important, if not more so, than a new match type is the tweaks and fixes that have gone into the old match types. They've finally fixed the infamous "teleporting ladder" glitch where you can use a finisher at the bottom of a ladder to suplex someone off of the top. You now have to actually climb it. They've also made a large change to how Ironman matches work. After a pinfall or submission now, the wrestler that was put away will have his limb damage removed. At first one may not see the logic in this; and in fact it is rather unrealistic. However it makes for more enjoyable matches than before. I don't think anyone liked the system that allowed us to score upwards of 30 points by spamming a bearhug. That no longer works. It should also be said that custom entrance music is finally possible. Allowing your created wrestlers to come out to the music on your hard drive may not affect the gameplay mechanics, it quite simply makes all match types more enjoyable. It adds an X-factor of sorts -- no pun intended.

As was mentioned earlier on, THQ has a bad habit of removing good things for no reason; and so far this review has been fairly positive. Now is the time to mention some questionable actions of the development team. For one, despite a large roster, only 19 wrestlers can be used in 24/7 mode. There's no excuse for that, it's way too low of a number. And there's no reason for it, considering the actual superstars didn't even supply their own voices this year. Smaller quirks that are still rather annoying include not being able to do an ECW Rules match in any arena besides ECW, despite you being able to play it elsewhere in 24/7 mode. The Elimination Chamber faces a similar anomaly -- you can only play in it at Wrestlemania or Survivor series. This doesn't even make sense. There's never been a chamber match at Wrestlemania. There has, however been one at three other venues, all of which are included in the game. It's strange, though truly not a big deal. There is then the fact that you can't put designs on create-a-wrestler's trunks, even when not playing online. That is a big deal, and one that THQ has been ignoring for years now. Whether it shows laziness or poor judgment, this is something that needs to be addressed. The roster is also rather... interesting. Though it's nice guys like CM Punk and Elijah Burke are included, where is Shelton Benjamin? If Gregory Helms, who has been injured for many months, and is not expected to return for another half-year is there (which is not at all a bad thing), Shelton definitely should be as well.

Despite many flaws, however, SmackDown! is a good game, and a staple franchise as far as wrestling games go. It should keep you entertained. The achievement system is, for the most part, put to good use and there are some rather fun ones to go after. There's still a few unrealistic ones, such as win thirty times in a row online, but the offline ones are enjoyable, and they should increase the game's length. I can safely recommend this year's game, but hopefully effort goes into fixing its shortcomings for next year. And let's also cross our fingers that Tazz is brought back as a legend.

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Community review by sayainprince (November 25, 2007)

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