Release Date: November 13, 2007
THQ's WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 has clearly caught whatever sickness the Tony Hawk franchise has. What do I mean by this? The franchise has not changed much over the years and has become a game of little innovation; more or less, an updated roster is all that differentiates the title from the series' previous installments. This virus has been affecting licensed games for years, and unfortunately, it has claimed another victim.
As a huge fan of wrestling, I've seen the programming have its ups and downs, but I have played the games nonstop since the early NES days, featuring wrestling greats such as Hulk Hogan, Ted Dibiase and the Ultimate Warrior, just to name a few legends. Anyone who has played a majority of wrestling video games knows that WWF No Mercy was by far one of the pinnacles of wrestling game history. SvR 2008 tries to bring back the simplistic gameplay from No Mercy, and interestingly enough, the Wii controls are one of the better features of the title.
Usually we complain about developers trying to do too much with the Wii motion controls, but SvR 2008 does a fine job of mapping out all of your various strikes, grapples and other moves to a controller scheme that is easy enough for anyone to pick up. Strikes are executed with a wave of the Wiimote, Irish Whips are performed by waving the Nunchuk and one of the new features, the taunt system, actually allows you to motion the taunts that the wrestlers perform. There's nothing quite like telling your opponent to "Suck It!" by motioning the taunt made famous by Degeneration X.
Countering and reversing moves is not very easy since you have to execute the same move in order to counter or reverse any move. The timing is hard to figure out if you want to be good at reversing; otherwise, you can just wave the remote around and try to push the correct grapple button in order to counter moves. It seems like more of a step backwards and has always been one of the main crutches of WWE games.
So we were fortunate enough to receive a controller scheme that works, but the problem with simplistic controller schemes is that there is a possibility of sacrificing depth in gameplay in order to make the title accessible for everyone. SvR 2008 suffers from this mainly because every wrestler has a very limited move set with no option to customize it (unless you create your own wrestler). Most wrestlers have their finishers and signature moves that they are known for, but they also have their own wrestling styles, and SvR 2008 does not give individual wrestlers enough moves to make them unique.
I began noticing this as I played with various wrestlers who, while in different weight classes (light heavyweight, heavyweight, cruiserweight, etc.) utilized the same moves. It became extremely frustrating when half of the wrestlers that I played with executed a spinning neck breaker every time I wanted to do a running grappling attack. Running attacks are performed by swinging the Wiimote toward an opponent in the distance and holding either A (normal grapple) or B (strong grapple). While doing this, I assumed that if I were to swing the Wiimote in different directions, I would be able to pull off different attacks, but that clearly was not the case. Across the board, male and female wrestlers alike, there was no variety in moves.
The lack of moves carries into the gameplay and hinders most of fun that can be had in a match. Since most of the wrestlers wrestle the same way, there is no need to be strategic during your matches because they all become so repetitive. There is also severe unbalance and unrealistic gameplay as well. Never in a match should I be able to play as Candice Michelle and power-bomb a 7-foot 1-inch, 400-pound man such as The Great Khali, it's absolutely absurd.
Previous SvR games featured a life bar for each wrestler and a body icon that showed where most of the damage was being inflicted on the bodies, but this version does not. If you wanted to focus on the legs of a faster wrestler to slow him down, or a bigger wrestler to make him submit, you knew exactly what you were doing; but this version does have that depth of gameplay during a match at all. SvR 2008 only features a standard life bar that can be revived by taunting.
SvR 2008 is also a disappointment because of its lack of game modes. As most of us were getting used to backstage, ladder and weapons matches, the Wii version only features single, tag, triple threat, hardcore, and KO matches. The only weapon featured in the game is a steel chair, but you can perform interactive grapples and attacks with steel stairs and commentary tables.
There is also a tournament mode that features The King of the Ring tournament and a Beat-The-Clock gauntlet mode. You can also create your own tournament if you want to. It is not as if the Wii doesn't have the technology or anything because previous wrestling games on the current-gen consoles were able to have these matches and more, so not having these modes in the latest version is inexcusable if you're trying to make the best wrestling game possible.
The create-a-wrestler mode in SvR 2008 is good enough for you to try out, and it's probably the best alternative when considering who you want to play as during the game's story mode. The create-a-wrestler mode gives you a good amount of options to choose from when customizing your superstar and, as previously mentioned, allows you to create his move set. This is the only way that you can remedy the problem of seeing your wrestler execute the same moves over and over while battling someone who is basically mimicking your move set.
Even though there is not much in gameplay or matches, you get to look at some solid visuals of wrestlers, as SvR 2008 features great visuals for the wrestlers themselves. A lot of work was also put into the entrances, as each wrestler's Titantrons and signature entrances are here. I was surprised (but pleased) to see that even Mr. Kennedy's patented entrance, which involves a microphone being lowered into the ring just to yell his name to the thousands of people in the crown, is there. Too bad the crowds themselves look awful — SvR 2008 brings back the cardboard cutout fans that we mocked years ago.
Aside from the visuals, the audio is extremely lacking. There have not been too many wrestling games with commentary that is somewhat decent and reminiscent of an actual WWE telecast, and SvR 2008 does not break this trend. I understand that Jim Ross is known to have coined the term "slobberknocker," but I do not have to hear it every five seconds. While each of the commentary teams is represented for the WWE's three shows, the usual charisma and flair of the color commentary is not embodied in SvR 2008.
The story mode titled "Main Event" is anything but, as it is one of the most shallow story modes I've every played in a video game. You basically choose a wrestler and accept or decline challenges from other wrestlers, or you make your own. You can gain rivals, female valets who help you heal with massages and tag team partners, but there is really nothing exciting about the mode. You communicate through a cell phone that allows you to send and receive messages from the unlocked wrestlers and your special diva.
You also have a locker room that becomes more lavish as you work your way up the ranks, but you'll find yourself fighting the same wrestlers over and over again until you work your way up. As you proceed up the ranks, more wrestlers and pay-per-view venues are unlocked, letting you challenge or be challenged for different championships.
It is a different approach from the traditional storylines that previous SvR games have had, but it just doesn't work. In no way does it tie you into the struggle to the top that your wrestler is facing. There are no interviews or in-ring verbal spats with other wrestlers, no anticipation of an upcoming PPV (mainly because they are accessible at all times once they're unlocked), and no real urgency to duke it out with another wrestler as if it's going to be your last chance for a while. Aside from challenging a few wrestlers here and there for titles, you could practically wrestle the same person throughout the entire story mode. In no way does the career mode capture the uphill battle that wrestlers face, and that is by far the biggest disappointment about SvR 2008.
While WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is the first WWE game featured on the Wii, it can only be viewed as a baby step into the squared circle of wrestling games. Overall, it is a defining step backwards in regards to the SvR franchise. The controls work great for the game, which was a pleasant surprise, but the lack of modes that we've become accustomed to, along with the displeasing story mode, make this game painful to play as a wrestling fan. The door is definitely open for a newer game (TNA Impact) to step up and take the belt.
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