Release Date: November 14, 2006
It's an age-old story. Boy meets girl. Boy meets girl's boyfriend. Girl's boyfriend punches boy in the face. Boy clocks girl's boyfriend upside the head with a chair. Boy and girl's boyfriend fight until they're finally put in a match with tables, ladders, and chairs. In a steel cage. Okay, so it's not "age old" as much as it is "overly hokey," but this sort of thing is the bread and butter of the professional wrestling business. Regardless of whether or not the wrestling itself is real, the storylines themselves are the stuff of cheesy soap operas, full of ham-handed acting and predictable plot twists.
Naturally, this sort of drama is the meat and potatoes of a game like Smackdown Versus RAW 2007, a game so chock-full of testosterone and well-oiled men pinning each other down that it may in fact grow chest hair if you aren't careful. This year's rendition has been released on both the PlayStation 2 and the far more technologically advanced Xbox 360, but today we're going to touch on the PS2 version.
The differences are minimal; the graphics are going to naturally be less impressive, but when it comes to the two (or three, or four, or six) wrestlers sparring in the squared circle, the visuals are amongst the best you can find on the PlayStation 2. The individual character models are as polished as they'll ever get, and while some of the faces are less than accurate (many of the wrestlers look more like some sort of sketch artist's rendering than the actual stars themselves), it's difficult to tell the difference during actual gameplay.
On the other hand, it all falls apart when you look away from the wrestling ring and look toward the stands. The audience of every single match appears to consist of two or three simply rendered models to hold up signs, with every other seat filled by cardboard cutouts of people. It's not too hard to ignore in the matches, but it's particularly noticeable during characters' entrance animations, where many "fans" have that Parappa the Rapper paper-thin quality about them.
That's not the only thing that's skin-deep with Smackdown Vs. RAW 2007 — the sound is just as hit-and-miss. The music is fairly inoffensive, consisting of the typical entrance themes for each wrestler, as well as a few tracks that play ad nauseum throughout most of the menus and non-match instances. Most of these songs actually have little to nothing to do with the WWE, though at least one was used as a theme at a previous pay-per-view event.
The problem isn't the music, however; no, it's far more sinister. Since the stars of wrestling themselves are too busy and a few of the Legends are rather deceased, the voice acting is instead done by a cast of sound-alikes that range from "passable" to "ear-splittingly hideous" to "did they actually hire sound-alikes or sound-nothing-alikes?" In a classic show of irony, the most exceptionally bad voices are those you'll hear the most often. The color commentators sound barely accurate, and in addition often glitch up and start talking about the wrong moves or wrestlers that aren't even in the match. In addition, the voice acting for Lillian Garcia, the ring announcer for the RAW brand, is done by an actress who obviously took lessons from a pine tree in the middle of puberty; the only time her voice isn't wooden is when it's cracking hilariously.
Online play is simple fare, but due to the complex nature of this form of game, lag isn't unheard of. There's also an option to trade created wrestlers online, but as nobody was around with whom to trade, there was no way to test that feature. Not to worry, for the create-a-wrestler mode, while not as in-depth as the GameCube Day of Reckoning titles, is still quite extensive and allows a wide amount of customization. Sadly, it too is imperfect, lacking some options for accessories and headgear which would have likely seen use, while including others simply too gaudy to use. Particularly confusing is the inclusion of a Dragon Ball Z-styled scouting device and cat paw gloves and boots.
Probably least-flawed in the package is the gameplay itself; while some fans of the original SvR2006 might call the change from the earlier control scheme to the new one a bit radical, there's no mistaking how easily a wrestling novice can pick up the analog-based grappling system. As a matter of fact, use of the right analog stick to pick holds and throws works seamlessly, and the only problem truly visible with the controls is, as it is with many wrestling games, in the use of a contextual button. In this case, the X button is used for almost every action, including digging under the ring for weapons, entering and exiting the ring, climbing to the top rope in a corner, and so on, and so on. This makes ladder matches particularly painful, as you'll try to pick up a ladder and end up climbing uselessly atop it.
The General Manager mode, a throwback to the original Smackdown Vs. RAW 2006, has been expanded and tweaked. While the form of micromanaging and juggling numbers and popularity and what have you isn't for me, it's easy to tell how streamlined it's been made. The Season mode, on the other hand, is kind of shaky; there's a multitude of storylines for your chosen wrestler to go through, and unlike other wrestling games, the plot can take different directions depending on whether you win or lose, but they're all chosen from a strict pool of few; repeat playings get less and less desirable as you restart the mode.
The wrestlers included are also slightly lacking; all of the big names are there, but some of the lower-tier wrestlers (including ones who have come into the limelight since then, such as current World Tag-Team Champions Paul London and Brian Kendrick) are sadly absent. Rosters on sports games are typically backdated, but this one dates back to somewhere roughly right after this January's pay-per-view Judgment Day. Kurt Angle is not only still with the WWE, but still on the RAW roster, Edge is the WWE Heavyweight Champion, and the June acquisition of the ECW brand is totally ignored.
Yet, for all the flaws this game holds, one thing cannot be denied: Smackdown Versus RAW 2007 is simply fun to play. Maybe the simplicity of the in-match controls brings back memories of the flagship GameCube party game Super Smash Brothers Melee, or maybe Jakk's Pacific and Yuke's figured out how to lace the game disc with crack cocaine; either way, Smackdown Vs. RAW 2007 just kind of grabs you and sucks you in, especially if you play it with friends.
Smackdown Versus RAW 2007 is living, breathing proof that sometimes a game is greater than the sum of its parts. Flaws are plentiful and at times glaring, yet somehow, the game is so shamelessly addictive that once you actually play it, you can't be pulled away. SvR2007 is the kind of title that is best enjoyed in a large gaming group, of course, and if you have and enjoy last year's edition, you may want to approach with caution and perhaps rent this first. The typical caveats apply as well. Get the PS2 version if you don't have an Xbox 360, but be well aware that the PS2 version is simply a port of the other game to a less-powerful system — things will be watered down and made less dazzling, even if it's not much. In addition, the multitude of overwhelming loading screens gets suffocating at times, even so far that the developers included additional loading screens as unlockable extras. If you can handle all of that, then Smackdown Vs. RAW 2007 is a worthy stocking stuffer for any wrestling fan.
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