Release Date: November 13, 2007
If there's one thing that wrestling game fans can probably agree on, it's that the last version of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw for the PSP was pretty bad, mostly because of the really horrible load times that plagued the title. Smackdown vs. Raw '08 doesn't fare much better in this area, but from what I've seen, the loading times are on par with the console titles, and it's really not that noticeable in the long run.
Smackdown vs. Raw '08 attempts to switch up a few things, including the controls, some of which work out just fine, while others are a complete mess. Not only has the roster been pared down from the console versions, but clocking in with only 55 wrestlers, the roster is also shorter than last year's PSP lineup. This spans the roster of all three shows — ECW, Raw and Smackdown — along with a smattering of Legends from previous years in WWE history.
The character creation has also changed a little bit, but a lot of the stuff you'll see available in '08 has been recycled, and certain selections have been pared down, while others have seen additions. The series still boasts the best character creation options you'll get out of a mainline wrestling title (TNA Impact certainly does not come close), but it would have been nice to see a few new additions instead of all the recycled stuff we ended up with here.
Along with the ECW roster, you also get a particular style of ECW match, Extreme Rules, which is a long-running standard for that group. It's basically a no-disqualification, no-count-out style of hardcore match-up, with pin falls only counting in the ring. Instead of handling like previous hardcore-style matches, this time when you reach under the ring for a weapon to bash against your opponent's skull, you'll be introduced to a wheel system that takes away the random aspect of what you'd draw and allows you to select from eight different tools. You can even specify which weapons you'd like to see featured in the fight more often than others, which is pretty cool indeed, but at the same time, I liked the randomness in previous titles, when you didn't know if you were going to pull out a chair or a kendo stick.
Also available in Smackdown vs. Raw '08 is the 24/7 mode, which was basically a season or franchise mode for the sports fans out there. In this mode, you act as a general manager, select your brand, and then set up your matches. You take on particular goals outlined by the game and advance your standing by completing them. If you'd prefer a more hands-on approach, you can choose a wrestler, but the selection here is incredibly limited compared to the total roster size. In this mode, you'll take on a few similar tasks to the GM selection, but instead you'll actually be participating in all the matches, training before shows, and performing a variety of other backstage functions, all in an effort to make your wrestler into a legend. The biggest gripe I have with this mode, outside of the small roster selection, is that when you're playing as a wrestler, you can get injured but have no real way to bounce back from this injury. Instead, you become instantly gimped for the rest of the career, and you're always forced to wrestle a match with some type of handicap. At least in GM mode, you can rest a superstar until that injury subsides, and you're able to keep your roster relatively fresh. The introduction of a Four Horseman-like stable or even a steady tag-team partnership would have helped to alleviate the issue of giving your player-controlled guy a break, but hopefully, this concept can be tweaked in the next offering.
Another disappointing aspect for Smackdown vs. Raw '08 is how it looks. I'm not sure that it's a step backward from the prior title, but it's definitely not as sharp as I remember. While the main character model for each wrestler is instantly recognizable, the facial models are all pretty bland and lack much expression; the rest of the body seems to animate a little stiffly, with certain details being omitted that big-time fans will most likely notice. Also, the crowd for each venue is laughably bad, with the same four or five horrible cardboard cut-out models repeated over and over again. You'll see pink shirt girl with her hands on her hips, yellow shirt guy, skinny shirtless guy, and so on. These guys are often repeated right next to each other, almost to the point of becoming distracting due to how little attention has been given to making the arena feel real. It's a really poor spot of work on the presentation, and it really bugged me.
There is some decent variety to the modes in Smackdown vs. Raw '08, most of which are standard ones that fans have come to expect, but at least the developers didn't skimp out on the portable version. You have favorites like Ladders and Chairs, Money in the Bank, Tables, your standard Tag matches, and so on. The variety of matches is sure to keep fans busy, but there are also a few exclusive wrestlers included here, such as the late Eddie Guerrero and Sgt. Slaughter (apparently in his prime), which are solid additions to the roster. However, they don't make enough of an impact to make me want to choose this title over the home console editions.
One other complaint is the control scheme, which uses an odd hybrid of the d-pad and analog nub. Like previous versions on the PSP, most of your movement is still controlled with the d-pad, which isn't always a good idea if you're going for corner turnbuckle moves, but it's usually serviceable. However, this time out, the analog nub is used for a few more different functions that have you switching your thumb from d-pad to analog nub on a frequent basis, and it's easy to get mixed up and pull off something you'd rather not do, flub a pin or submission by getting mixed up, or just not switching between the two fast enough. I don't remember having much trouble with the control scheme in previous editions, so I'm not entirely sure why the devs felt the need to fix something that wasn't broken.
There are multiplayer exhibition matches you can take part in, but once again, it's ad-hoc only, so the lack of an infrastructure mode hurts this edition. Thankfully, Smackdown vs. Raw '09 is right around the corner from THQ, and I hope they take the time to get it right because I'd love to have a solid, portable wrestling title, which Smackdown vs. Raw '08 for the PSP definitely didn't deliver. The odd control changes, some pretty bad graphics and presentation, and problems in half of the 24/7 mode, make the PSP iteration the bottom feeder of every available version. Avoid this, and wait to see how SvR '09 turns out.
More articles about WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2008