Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations / Publisher: THQ Inc. || Overall: 5.0/10
The SmackDown Vs. Raw series has been around for a while. With its long-since forgotten relatives WCW/nWo World Tour and WCW/nWo Revenge on the N64, THQ’s wrestling formula hasn’t changed all that much from those days. It may have a new coat of paint and an updated roster, but SmackDown Vs. Raw 2008 can’t hold a candle to the original wrestling games that fans played to death when they were released.
SmackDown Vs. Raw is basically a 3D fighting game in its core foundation. While it’s not exactly “traditional” in that there is a life bar, the concept is still the same – beat the crap out of your opponent and make him wish he was never born. Wrestling games are a lot slower than normal fighters, because they try to mimic “real life” wrestling, whatever that may be. In SmackDown Vs. Raw 2008, you take control of wrestlers with practically no personality (that is, if they had any in the first place) and typically win by submission or three-count pin-fall.
In the game, you have some basic moves. You can punch, kick, smack, slap, run, weak grab, or strong grab your opponent to lay the hurt down on them. If you’ve played any wrestling game by THQ, most of it has remained unchanged over the years. The only thing worth commenting on if you haven’t played one of these games for a long time is that once you grab your opponent, you can execute a move by flicking the right analog stick in a certain direction to perform a specific move in your current character’s repertoire. While it isn’t as straightforward as pressing a button, it seems a bit more intuitive since you are mimicking a move as your character does it, in a way. If you get a hang of the fighting system, you might be able to have a good time with the game, as there is a lot of stuff to do if you really put your mind to it. If the system doesn’t really appeal to you, it’ll be hard finding your money’s worth if you’re a newcomer to wrestling games. You’ll also be furiously hitting on all buttons way more than you’d probably like to, so get ready to give your fingers a workout.
SmackDown Vs. Raw 2008 is the first game in the series to appear on the PS3. The 2007 version was canceled, to WWE’s major dismay, and you can see that there are still many kinks that didn’t get finished or optimized to a satisfactory standard. At the top of the list are the loading screens. Holy crap, there are a ton of loading screens in this game. Every time you start a match, there’s a loading screen. Before you even get to PLAY the match you just waited through the loading screen for, you have to go through three forced loading screens, even if you don’t want to watch the opening entrances of the wrestlers. It is so annoying to sit through what seems like five minutes of loading just to play a match – and worst of all, you can’t even turn the wrestler’s entrances off so you can avoid all that extra loading. Or if there IS a way to turn it off, they didn’t make it easy to find since I couldn’t find it in the Options menu at all.
As far as game modes go, there is a very barebones “career”-type mode called WWE 24/7, which is new to the series. In WWE 24/7, you can take a WWE Superstar or a created wrestler of your choice through a bunch of shoddy barely-thought-through storylines (and you thought the actual storylines you see on TV were bad?) with canned animations, e-mails that have voice-overs, e-mails that don’t have voice-overs, and spending money to unlock opening entrances (goody, more load times!). Online is also horribly laggy, and I always seem to be at a disadvantage against other players online because they somehow mastered the non-responsive controls in online mode and take advantage of the lag people get to absolutely dominate you. That’s probably beside the point, though, which is that it’s completely not worth playing against a human since there’s barely a difference in the satisfaction you may get from pinning an AI player. I guess it’s also worth mentioning that practically every wrestler you’d want to wrestle with is included in the game, as well as the ECW roster, making its debut this year.
Graphics are “meh” at best. Horribly annoying canned animations give absolutely no personality to any of the wrestlers you see, even though there are unique entrances for all the WWE Superstars. A limitation in WWE 24/7 mode seems to be that there can only be four characters on screen at the same time, and often there is no continuity between the story and what you see in the animations between characters. They are just replaced randomly with other wrestlers, so you’ll see the same scenes over and over. It might also be a boon that some of the models in the game look like the real wrestlers, but some of them look very off, like Edge. The sound is okay at best as the music can get kind of repetitive. The voice-overs are done by the actual wrestlers and personalities from WWE, so credit should be given for actually getting the real people to come in and donate their talents towards the project, although you might get sick of just about everyone’s voice by the time you’re through with WWE 24/7 mode.
In the end SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 is probably not worth your time. If you really commit to putting time into the game, you’ll be able to find a lot of content to busy yourself with. However horribly executed it may be, there is still a lot of playing time to be had. If you’re a long time fan of the series and you’ve stuck with it this far, you’re probably getting what you expect from a yearly “sports” title, but don’t hold your breath if you expect to find something redeeming in this year’s edition of SmackDown Vs. Raw. Maybe the 2009 edition of the game will have a fleshed out WWE 24/7 mode that will actually be worth playing, as it did show promise of becoming an interesting play mode.