Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations | Publisher: THQ
I had the opportunity to go to THQ’s offices in Agoura Hills recently, braving three hours of traffic and the possibility of being burned alive (not really). Traveling from safe Orange County, into the middle of a triangulation of raging fires in the canyons, I was able to play an early build of WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 for about an hour.
After my somewhat scathing review of 2008, I am very glad to say that the game has been improved quite a bit, with nearly all of my concerns addressed. Personally, the ranking on the the fun-gauge has increased from “Annoying” to “Could Be Fun.”
If there was one thing that I’m most excited about, its that the loading times have been drastically cut down. Load times aren’t nearly as excruciating to wait through anymore. Not only that, there is a simple way to turn entrances off — right before each match you can select On or Off, resulting in even less possible load times, and more getting right into the action.
Unlike the former WWE 24/7 mode, the new Road to Wrestlemania tells scripted stories for particular superstars rather than a bunch of generic ones for your selected wrestler. As a result, you feel like you’re playing through an actual storyline, the likes of which you’d see in the actual TV show. This alone alleviates a majority of the problems I personally had with the WWE 24/7 mode, as this revamped mode will definitely be more appealing to play and finish. There is still a “career” mode in the game, but it’s a little different than what you may have seen before. Instead of going through the day-to-day aspects of WWE 24/7, you can have your wrestler fight his way up to a particular title that you select. You can also reassign titles to make the roster reflect the current WWE champions. However, even though there are many features being added, that doesn’t come without cuts, as Create-A-Championship mode will be left out this year.
Frame rate has also been stabilized, and the biggest improvement can be seen in matches with more than four wrestlers, which is a welcome improvement for those Battle Royale fans or six-man “Money-In-the-Bank” marathoners. The graphics are about the same, but since the frame rate has been improved upon, the game visually feels better for it.
There are a few new features that will be good additions, provided they don’t get dropped before the game’s release. The massively improved user interface allows you to get into the kind of match you want to play faster and easier, with at least as many options as have been offered before. The Inferno match will make its first appearance — the ring is lit on fire and the goal is to beat up your opponent and raise the temperature to 300 degrees and throw him out of the ring, setting him on fire. Some additions to Tag Team modes have also been made.
Controls remain mostly unchanged, but there are a couple of things to take note of. The most significant addition to the gameplay is the recovery button. When you take a hard hit and are about to come up, you can defend yourself by pressing a shoulder button and block any incoming attack from the other player, allowing you to get back on your feet and perhaps swing the match back in your favor. In the Wii version, opening entrances have also become a little more interactive, with the option of getting the fans riled up by doing certain expressions at the right time.
There were no online capabilities shown, but there will be a feature called the Highlight Reel that allows you to record certain matches and share them online in a YouTube-like fashion. The capability allows you to put reels together with a video-editing tool, and add in graphics or sound from the effects provided. The clips can be up to a minute long.
Another interesting addition is the Create-A-Finisher feature. A “Finisher” can consist of up to ten different parts. Depending on which move you input when doing the finisher, you are given yet another list of animations to continue it. You can have the resulting combo be one part or ten parts, its all up to you — on top of that, you can speed up or slow it down in certain parts. Something that I found humorous was if you picked up someone you could keep flipping them back and forth on top of your back over and over before you actually did anything harmful to them. You can assign your Finishers to any superstar or created wrestler.
Since this is Yuke’s second try at the game on the PS3, you can definitely notice the improvements. Toss in some user interface enhancements, as well as some new modes, and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 aims to be the wrestling game you should own if you’re a fan of the WWE.