Release Date: November 13, 2007
I'm a wrestling fan. It's one of my hidden loves, much like my Stryper albums and collection of horrible movies. Every week, I sit down in front of the TV to enjoy the soap opera-esque adventures of my favorite wrestlers. I know that most of it is faked, but that doesn't change the fact that I enjoy it. Of course, anyone who knows me will tell you that it's something I could never do because I don't have the build or the athleticism to even try it. Fortunately, Yuke's and THQ bring us Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, a game that allows even the most non-athletic of us to journey into the "squared" circle. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a pretty mediocre journey with a lot of frustration, slow matches and boring fighting styles.
The game lets you step into the shoes of either a preexisting WWE superstar, or a wrestler that you create, to compete in a wide variety of matches. In fact, the variety of match types in the title is definitely one of the stronger points. You've got ladder matches, hardcore matches, last man standing matches and no disqualification matches, just to name a few. You have ways to change up the mode, such as tag team, triple threat or even a Royal Rumble, which sees 30 wrestlers trying to throw each other over the top rope. On top of that, you can go in and edit the specific rules of each mode to create hybrid modes. In terms of variety, SvR2008 has more than enough to keep you busy.
Unfortunately, that's where it begins to fall apart. Let me emphasize that I don't think SvR2008 is a terrible game because a lot of times, it can be really fun. If you're playing multiplayer with someone, it can be even better. Unfortunately, Yuke's decided to implement some major changes that seem to limit the game, rather than enhance it.
The first of such changes is the new fighting styles. While SvR2008 boasts an impressive roster of over 40 wrestlers at the outset, but it pigeonholes all of them into two distinct fighting styles. The fighting styles range from Brawler to High Flyer and from Dirty to Showman, and the fighting style you choose dictates which moves you character can do. Each style also has a set of special moves attached to it, such as Hardcore-style wrestlers getting the ability to draw their own blood with a chair to gain a strength boost.
The problems start after you realize that each fighting style quickly loses its fun after the third or fourth match. Since the fighting styles dictate which moves your character has and each character has two styles you can choose from, you basically end up with a total of eight characters. Yes, the stats may change from wrestler to wrestler, but there's not enough of a real difference to make up for a feature that essentially loses its shine after a few hours.
Another bad change they've made is with the struggle submission system, which sounds good in theory. The player uses the analog sticks to control how much pressure is put on the opponent during submission holds. In practice, however, it's not quite as refined as you'd think. Most of the time, it doesn't matter how much pressure you put on the hold because your opponent will still break it. You often just crank the sticks to the max, hoping to do as much damage as possible. The controls are also simplified from previous years, leaving you with fewer overall moves to perform. Couple this with the boring fighting style mode, and it really limits what you can do in the game.
SvR2008 combines both the Season and the General Manager mode from the previous games to form the WWE 24/7 mode. After selecting this mode, you get to choose whether to play through as a wrestler or a general manager. The Wrestler mode is extremely flawed, as the storylines are jumbled together and twisted with no rhyme or reason. One week, you're fighting for a title shot, and the next week, you're fighting for a part in a movie. It really makes no sense. Also, if your player gets injured, you'll get a doctor's note telling you to take a certain amount of time off to let it heal, but the game doesn't let you skip any matches. My first playthrough of this mode had my character injuring his ankle in one of the first few matches. As I continued to wrestle because it wouldn't let me take time off, I got more and more notes from the doctor telling me to stay off my ankle. By the seventh or eighth week, my character could barely walk around the ring and lost the match quickly.
The General Manager mode is considerably better, playing more like a simulation than a wrestling game. You take over one of the three brands, Smackdown, Raw or ECW, and you get to choose how you want to build it up. You get a certain amount of money to draft wrestlers, put together the event card and even buy certain storylines for your wrestlers. Your goal in this mode is to generate enough cash for the WWE to be named Manager of the Year. The better you do, the more options you have the next year and so on. This mode is a lot of fun, as you get a chance to see a bit of the backstage action of wrestling. And if you get bored, you can even control the wrestlers in the matches that you put together.
The major problem I had with the WWE 24/7 mode is that you can only have one game at any given time in either mode. It just seems odd that I can't play a Wrestler mode game and a General Manager mode game at the same time. I would have liked the option to leave one mode and continue a game in the other.
To be fair, SvR2008 has put in a few good changes. ECW joins the action, with a good portion of their roster; the ECW championship also comes over to add yet another title belt for which to fight. It's a nice addition, but because of the problems with the fighting styles, it doesn't really make that much of a difference.
Another cool addition to the game is the Hall of Fame mode, which gives you a set of goals and challenges that have been achieved by real superstars in the past. One challenge has you enter the Royal Rumble as the first wrestler and win the whole event, exactly like wrestler Shawn Michaels did in 1995.
Of course, all of these new modes and changes would mean nothing if the gameplay weren't solid. Unfortunately, SvR2008 leaves a lot to be desired, as the game seems determined to make the player upset all of the time. If your wrestler is knocked to the ground, the words "Press Buttons Quickly" appear on the screen. Now, you would think that if you pressed the buttons quickly, your wrestler would get up. Not in this game. Your wrestler will roll on the ground, writhing in pain for about 45 seconds, as your thumbs get incredibly tired from pressing the buttons quickly. It should probably be said that when your opponent gets knocked down, he gets up almost immediately.
So, you may be saying to yourself that it should be an easy problem to rectify — don't get knocked down. Of course, then another problem enters the fray. The game has a really hard time letting the player win. You can beat your opponent senseless, turning all of his body parts on his "health meter" red and he will still kick out of a pin. You can do your special "finishing move" three or four times, and your opponent will still kick out of the pin.
Now, both of these problems are in the game because that's the way real wrestling is. A lot of times, wrestlers will spend a minute down on the mat before getting back up. A lot of times, wrestlers will continue to kick out of pins, despite how much damage they've taken. If you want realism in your wrestling game, then SvR2008 is for you. Unfortunately, for me, it really slows down the matches and leaves me wanting to restart the whole thing.
Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is not a horrible game. It can actually be really fun most of the time, but the title is haunted by slow matches, boring fighting styles and overall frustration. If you're a WWE fan, you'll be impressed by everything you can do in the game, as well as the General Manager mode, but only the most stalwart of gamers will be able to see past the flaws to find the small nuggets of joy contained within.
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