Release Date: November 14, 2006
How do you make a yearly sequel to what is often considered the pinnacle of your franchise?
It's never an easy task, and for Yuke's, after the stellar Smackdown vs. Raw 2006, it got a whole lot tougher. That didn't stop them from trying, however, and at the very least, they get an A for effort.
SvR2007 builds off of SvR2006, almost to a fault. In fact, if you don't look deep enough, you won't find much that differentiates this game from the 2006 version, even with the gorgeous graphics that the Xbox 360 version sports. Said graphics, in fact, are the first and most obvious thing one will notice. If you thought SvR2006 on the PS2 looked good, wait until you see SvR2007 running on a high-definition set. You'll never want to go back. There's no reason to go back. The character models and animation actually stack up to the target render trailer we've been seeing for months now.
Along with these graphics comes slightly better collision detection, though sometimes, character models and scenery still don't match up. Rope breaks, for example, are still unbelievable as all heck (the character's hand never quite actually grasps the rope — an artifact from the old engine). At least ladder matches are somewhat playable now, and overall, the engine upgrade suffices.
With such improved graphics, you would think that the sound would up its game to match. Sadly, it's a mixed bag. While the menu soundtrack is better than before (then again, the Wu-Tang Clan can spice up anything), the in-fight sound is exactly the same. You've got the same crowd noise and the same referee. Moreover, unbelievably, most of the announcer lines have been directly recycled from the 2006 game. While overhauling graphics engines takes time, you would think that Yuke's would have also taken the time to have all-new announcer lines recorded. There are a few new ones, but nowhere near enough for anyone who's played SvR2006 not to notice.
On top of this, it may just be me, but the voice acting for the Story Mode seems nowhere near as well-acted as last year. The WWE is full of people with great mic talent, so why does Mick Foley sound like a simpering wimp instead of the loveable hard-ass he was last year? The same goes for many more wrestlers. Many (though not all) of the cinematics sound rushed and phoned-in this year, detracting from the immersive experiences that took last year's single-player game to great heights.
Speaking of the single-player, the voice acting isn't the only thing that takes away from the fun. Enough about aesthetics; let's talk about the much-lauded new control system a bit.
The big thing about said control system is that the right analog stick is now used for grappling. You can flick it in any of the directions for an array of light grapples, then flick it again for follow-up grapples. Heavy grapples are done the same way, except you hold the right bumper beforehand. This gives instant access to the "grapple tree" from previous games, except now it's at the speed of thought. Even better, you can use your Stamina to power custom and situation-based grapples by clicking the right thumbstick after connecting a heavy grapple. Prepare to spin your opponent in the air, bounce him on ropes, cause mayhem in the audience, or just hold him up for intimidation. It's sort of like Street Fighter's custom combos in a way — for a cost of stamina, you can tailor your style of damage to your liking, and really show off for the crowd at the same time.
Yuke's gives you the option to turn off these features, but I see absolutely no reason why one would. It's an excellent addition to the game engine, and to the series as a whole. Now, instead of learning strange and asymmetrical button combinations, people can jump into the game with a setup that is easy to grasp after only minutes of play, yet still provides the depth of a Smackdown game. This new play system alone is worth the price of admission.
What detracts from the game, then? That would be the mappings of the other buttons now that the new stick-based grapples are in place. Counters were a matter of skill in previous installments, but here, they're almost impossible. Why? They're placed to the triggers this time. Triggers and fast-based timing moves have never meshed well together, and this is no exception. In an average match, you have but a split-second to counter a strike or a grapple before it actually lands. With triggers, you never know whether or not you've pressed hard enough for the game to register. It seems that the counter trigger buttons must be pressed all the way, and even for someone with large hands like myself, that's just not possible. Combine this with the fact that even on Normal difficulty, the computer approaches insane levels of cheapness (it will counter every strike combo you try, and half of your grapples, easily), and it's easy to see why SvR2007 just became a multiplayer game.
Outside of the gameplay, however, there's little else to talk about. The game's extra features haven't been so much added to, as they've been shuffled around (well, so long as you're not a Fire Pro junkie or anything). You've still got every match type, arena and create-a-wrestler option of which you could dream. The addition of new WWE Legends is great — the fact that some previously default wrestlers are now Legends that must be unlocked (I have to unlock the Rock, Stone Cold and Mankind now? Phooey!) is not so great.
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 is a good game in the sense that WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006 was a good game. However, that's about where it stops. The new grapple and action system is wonderful, but everything else either stays the same or ends up falling flat in its execution. If you can learn the trigger button counters and deal with the fact that this isn't SvR2006, then there's a good game in here. Most folks, however, will wonder whether or not upgrading was worth it.
Rent this first to see if it's for you. If you've followed Smackdown this long, though, it probably will be.
More articles about WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2007