Release Date: November 14, 2006
If you're a wrestling fan with an Xbox 360, thus far your choice of pro wrestling games has been limited to Rumble Roses XX, a title that appeals more to a prurient interest in grappling females than love of the athleticism and spectacle (and also grappling females) inherent in sports entertainment. Fans of the WWE are about to get something a bit more to their tastes with the upcoming release of SmackDown vs. RAW 2007. Although it is a multiple platform game, the 360 version is no mere port. Its features are identical to the PS2 version, and Xbox Live aside, it boasts graphics that are profoundly more advanced. This is one title where the 360 is playing host to the "true" version of the game, and all others are simply watered-down.
The preview build is an extremely early one, with only one playable game mode (Exhibition), five available wrestlers, and managers, in addition to graphical and audio options, have yet to be implemented. This is only a tiny slice of a game that, in the tradition of the SvR series, is going to be truly massive. All of the features of the 2006 edition are returning, which means a wide variety of singles and tag-team competitive modes for quick match action, and longer Season and General Manager modes available for players who want to develop a more in-depth campaign.
The action in every mode includes all the accoutrements of a proper pro wrestling match, including interfering managers, international objects from beneath and around the ring with which to hammer an opponent, and elaborate ring entrances and other moves that play to the crowd's emotions. By the time you read this writing, an Xbox Live Marketplace demo that likely has more features implemented should be available for download, so if what you read here sounds interesting, then be sure to check it out.
The five wrestlers playable in the preview build were Triple H, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Shelton Benjamin, and hilariously, Kurt Angle. This is only a tiny segment of the total basic roster for the game, which will add in Batista, Big Show, Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, The Undertaker, and over 30 additional wrestlers. In addition, there are seven divas available as managers or for a little girl-on-girl action: Candice Michelle, Jillian Hall, Lita, Melina, Mickie James, Torrie Wilson, and Trish Stratus. Finally, several major personalities from the WWE's two brands appear in non-playable form to add authentic atmosphere to the game: Jim Ross, Jonathan Coachman, Lilian Garcia, Michael Cole, Mike Chioda, Nick Patrick, Stephanie McMahon, Theodore Long, Tony Chimel, and Vince McMahon.
Last but certainly not least, an assortment of "legends," great wrestlers who've either retired or passed away, are available to let you set up dream matches in your game of SvR: Bam Bam Bigelow, Bret Hart, Cactus Jack, Dude Love, Dusty Rhodes, Eddie Guerrero, Hulk Hogan, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Jim Neidhart, Mankind, Mr. Perfect, The Rock, Roddy Piper, Shane McMahon, Steve Austin, and Tazz. No, I'm not sure why Shane McMahon is considered a "legend," either, but there he is.
SvR 2007 implements a new control scheme that emphasizes the analog sticks over the d-pad, but the overall core of the game engine is much the same. You win matches by wearing down an opponent's stamina and weakening target parts of his body with a traditional array of power moves, submissions, and outright brawling. Once your opponent is weakened enough, you can gain victory by pinfall or by forcing your opponent to tap out to your submission hold. You can also win by count-out, or by letting the ref catch your opponent doing something thoroughly illegal like using an international object in the ring.
Each wrestler has a personal selection of moves that reflects his real-life style, and personal stats that reflect their personal strength, speed, agility, and other factors. A wrestler's total overall effectiveness is represented by a figure out of 100, with bigger stars usually having higher total stats than mid-carders. Obviously, wrestlers with higher stats execute more powerful moves and suffer less from being hit by an opponent's moves. The analog control scheme ties execution of moves to your current in-ring context. If you call for a strike when running, you get a dropkick; call for a strike when an opponent is on the ground, and you might do an elbow drop.
Grapples work much the same way, with different moves keyed to different grappling strengths, relative location in the ring, and which direction you're pushing. When grappled or struck at by an opponent, you can opt to counter it with a tap of the appropriate trigger button. Submission moves are now essentially timing games, where you're rewarded for rapidly pressing a button, or pressing a button at a certain time. When you've filled your wrestler's meter by performing moves on an opponent, you gain access to a super-powerful "superstar move" executed with the left analog stick. You can opt to store this or use it immediately.
The control system appears to be largely similar to the system from SvR 2006, and veterans of the series will probably take to it easily. If not, then you can opt to use a control option to set the analog portions of the control back to the d-pad. As wrestling games go, this isn't one of the more transparent control systems mustered up yet in the genre. While there's obvious depth and strategy to matches, there's also a lack of precision to the proceedings that can be very frustrating. The game grows more fun as you study the wrestlers and begin grasping the system, but it's a significant time investment to do so. It's still not the most responsive system in the genre and can sometimes feel outright slow-paced given the pre-set animations required for Superstar moves and any submissions. There's also some troubling balance issues when playing the CPU in the current build; in particular, it's easier to win with a ring-out or submission than by pin-fall, which flies in the face of typical wrestling choreography. These balance issues may be resolved by the final version of the game, or even the demo.
As always in these titles, the storyline is dragging considerably behind what's going on in wrestling as of this writing. In SvR 2007, Rey Mysterio is still the Heavyweight Champion, and Kurt Angle hasn't yet jumped ship to rival promotion TNA. These minor issues aside, there's a wealth of wonderful details in SvR 2007 that really bring the game's WWE feel to life. Every wrestler could opt to "Fight Clean" or "Fight Dirty," which basically amounts to picking whether you'll use a good guy or a bad guy version of a given character. This changes the character's move set and animations slightly, and may outright change the way of character handles completely. Kurt Angle, for instance, uses different counter-moves in Fight Clean mode than in Fight Dirty mode. John Cena's introduction features him shouting and arguing angrily with the crowd in Fight Dirty mode, but in Fight Clean mode, he simply walks directly down the aisle and then plays to the crowd once in the ring. Triple H handles roughly the same when Fighting Clean or Fighting Dirty, but he's also a wrestler who tends to behave the same whether the crowd is with or against him. Rey Mysterio's Fight Dirty mode appeared to not be implemented yet, possibly because Rey Mysterio rarely ever wrestles as a bad guy.
The graphics for SvR 2007 are simply amazing, with each wrestler's model composed of 20,000 polygons and accurate down to tattoo placement. Some wrestlers appear somewhat more muscular in the game than they are in real life, but otherwise, their movements are incredibly convincing and the animations remarkably smooth. Each match has play-by-play commentary from one of two sets of possible commentators, depending on whether you select a Raw or SmackDown! venue. Raw venues receive commentary from the classic JR/Lawler team, while SmackDown is Tazz and Michael Cole. Audio appeared only partially implemented, so commentary lines were limited. There was convincing crowd noise, and most wrestlers had their authentic WWE entrance music implemented. Right now, there's no music to listen to during matches, making this an excellent candidate for a custom playlist.
The main feature that information is scarce about in SvR 2007 is, of course, the most highly anticipated, the Create-A-Wrestler feature that lets you make and use your own original wrestlers in the game. There's also relatively little information about the Xbox Live functions. Still, the graphics alone are enough to make SvR 2007 worth looking into. There has never been an official wrestling game with animations so detailed or visuals so authentic. Even the crowds are now far more convincing than the usual arena full of static blurs. The only potential tumbling block is the counter-intuitive control system, but this seems like an obstacle that a dedicated wrestling fan could easily adjust to and even overcome.
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