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WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2009

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Sports
Publisher: THQ


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PS3/X360 Preview - 'WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009'

by Alicia on Sept. 23, 2008 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 will unleash a new tag team experience, allowing players to build momentum and attributes, eliminate opponents with high impact double teams and finishers, as well as get the “hot tag” for the win.

Genre: Sports Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke's
Release Date: November 11, 2008

Hopes were high for the recent TNA Impact title. I'm not the wrestling fan I used to be, but my housemate was willing to rent the game in hopes of finding something he'd like to buy. What he got was a crippled character creation system, bad controls, and a skimpy roster. I was pretty disappointed myself, as the pre-release build I played at Midway's Las Vegas event promised far more than the game ever delivered.

My housemate was understandably upset. "You know, I could probably make a better TNA game by getting an N64 and an old wrestling game and going into create-a-character mode …."

"Hey, my preview build of Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 showed up today," I said. "We could try making the TNA roster in that."

So we settled down with the game, and within a few hours — with no bizarre unlock system to wade through — we had created terribly convincing copies of Sting and Kurt Angle that looked better than the official TNA Impact models. Creating a character in Smackdown vs. Raw took longer than it did in most wrestling games because the creator was so full-featured, with numerous options for details as fine as face paint and your wrestler's finisher. You could copy move sets from other wrestlers or create custom sets, which made it easy to duplicate Sting's Scorpion Deathlock and Stinger Splash finishers.

Still, the point of all of this is that the underlying engine, controls, and character creation options in Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 are so good and so deep that you can use that game to create a better TNA game than the one that Midway tried to develop from scratch. While wrestling fans are clearly growing disenchanted with the Smackdown vs. Raw series's bad habit of cutting features in the name of advancing graphics or other experiments from year to year, what remains offers more than enough depth to keep a wrestling fan occupied for the next 12 months.

While the average Smackdown vs. Raw title contains a plethora of gameplay modes and other options, the preview build that THQ provided unlocked only two features: the glorious create-a-character mode and an exhibition mode that let you see and use what appears to be the full roster of wrestlers intended for the game's final version. That means this preview couldn't test any of the game's promised online features or any of the rumored game modes, like the replacement for GM mode.

This also means that this preview will not have any new coverage to offer on the controversial changes to Story mode in Smackdown vs. Raw. Where once you had a generic story through which you could take any character, even created ones, now you instead play through pre-written storylines crafted specifically for Chris Jericho, CM Punk, John Cena, Triple H and the Undertaker. There is also a tag-team story line written specifically for Rey Mysterio and CM Punk. While the tag-team plot has the cool option of being played through in full online or offline co-op mode, a lot of fans who came back to Smackdown vs. Raw primarily for the character creator are going to be upset that their creations can no longer have their own story lines. On the other hand, Yuke's and THQ are promising that the new plots will be far more entertaining and authentic than previous wrestling game story lines, which didn't capture the true feel of professional wrestling's curious sense of storytelling.

Exhibition mode made the following roster of wrestlers available: Batista, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, John Cena, John Morrison, Matt Hardy, The Mix, Mr. Kennedy, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and the Undertaker. It's unknown whether or not this is the full game roster. Exhibition actually makes up a tremendous variety of different gameplay modes, which can be further customized with a variety of rules and other options. There are rules for one-on-one, tag-team, three-way, four-way (tag or singles), six-man (tag or singles) and ultimately 10-man Royal Rumble match types.

Within each broad match type, there's anywhere from half a dozen to roughly two dozen sets of special match rules and gimmicks that you can select. There are Inferno matches (where you set your opponent on fire), table matches, cage matches, locker room brawls, hardcore rules matches, handicap matches where you run a gauntlet through multiple opponents — nearly anything you've ever seen on wrestling television or Pay-Per-View can somehow be modeled with Smackdown vs. Raw's expansive move sets. What's nice is that there are tooltips that remind you of the win conditions for nearly every special rules match type, and some alter the HUD with extra meters or indicators to help you better track when you're likely to win, such as a temperature indicator for the Inferno match.

The controls are simple and fairly elegant. For the most part, they've changed little from the controls available in previous games. Left analog moves, right analog grapples, and then your face buttons control strikes and the moves you can perform, contextually depending on the location of your opponent. The shoulder buttons appear to control finishers, while the triggers allow for defensive options. There are a lot of nice little graphical and other touches that make matches feel very authentic. Entrances are more detailed than they've ever been before, with long TV-style walks down to the ring, authentic entrance music, and little moments where wrestlers try to interact with the "crowd." The crowd puts up the correct types of signs to encourage the wrestlers in the ring, and the announcing voice clips say very specific things about the wrestlers. The character models look better than ever, authentic down to the last tattoo, and the props and various locals are also recreated meticulously.

The create modes appear more obsessively detailed than ever before, you can opt to create a finisher, a Superstar or a Move Set. On a basic level, creating a Superstar (or "wrestler") consists of selecting a head/face combination, editing the body through a series of sliders, editing the character's clothing (both entrance costume and ring attire), and then tweaking some other miscellaneous options. This makes the entire process sound much simpler and less detailed than it really is. For instance, in the course of editing your wrestler's eyes, you can deal with four different sub-options altering eye color, shape, and even the shape of your wrestler's eyebrows (by use of four separate sliders that control the thickness, depth, angle and protrusion of said eyebrows). There are 71 hairstyles to choose from, all of which can be further customized by altering hair color and adding other options. There are 89 face paint options, which can be layered in a variety of color combinations to create effects that feel unique, even if they aren't. You can customize selected head shapes by using sliders to sculpt the shape of your wrestler's brow ridge, cheek bones and head curvature. There are separate sliders for controlling the proportionate jutting of the upper and lower lips, on top of roughly half a dozen sliders that affect both lips. When you select the boots to put on your wrestler, most can be stylized in around three or so different ways, in addition to the selection of colors.

In short: There are hundreds, thousands of options to select for every character. There is going to be precious little you can envision or a wrestler that the character creator can't handle, male or female, and that's before you customize your creation's moves and finisher. Both Create-A-Moveset and Create-A-Finisher have their own editors, simple at the surface and then increasingly deeper and more detailed and you begin exploring their possibilities. Creating a move set for a character lets you customize his repertoire of moves down to which strikes he prefers, while customizing a finisher lets you chain up to 10 different moves together, editing the sequence together frame by frame if you so wish.

In just the two modes available in this preview version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2009, this iteration has proven itself a deeper and more responsive game than the full retail version of TNA Impact that streeted not long ago. The possibilities are overwhelming, to a degree, and sometimes I wander into a room to find my housemate or my husband has been running the Create-A-Superstar mode for literally hours, working on carefully customizing a created wrestler's tattoos or face paint in truly meticulous fashion. While the Exhibition matches are fun and easy to play, for this year's Smackdown vs. Raw, it really is the Create modes that make the game a worthy investment. As the WWE itself continues struggling to find a place for itself in the post-Attitude era, fans can take comfort in knowing that no matter how dull the official WWE material gets, they can always turn to the licensed games to let their imaginations run wild.

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