WWE Smackdown 08 (360)

I know nothing about Wrestling. I was offered a promo copy of this game to review for a site, despite them knowing about my lack of wrestling knowledge, so couldn’t say no. Funnily enough, it has never been published on the site so maybe it’s terrible :p

A perennial fixture in many console line ups, the WWE (formerly the WWF) series has sold many thousand of games since the old days of WWF Wrestlemania, and has attracted both wrestling fans and games fans. So we come to the latest incarnation, WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2008. Published by THQ and featuring a number of new additions compared to its previous edition, does it manage to address old problems and become the greatest wrestling game available? Well, yes and no. The problem is it seems that with the addition of new features, the developer Yuke’s forgot to fix the problems that were already there. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game, just a flawed, great game.

WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2008 (SvR) offers plenty of options that are appealing to both gamers and wrestling fans alike. As soon as you load up the game for the first time, it offers you video tutorials to view to explain how to perform any one of the eight different fighting styles which are new in this year’s edition. This greatly helps the novice player but it is a pity that there’s no option to practice the moves that you see performed. The styles offered can affect a match quite significantly, so it’s handy to pay attention during this tutorial. The styles essentially classify each wrestler so that they have a particular specialty, for example one fighting style will eventually lead to the wrestler being able to perform irreversible grapple moves. After you’ve had a brief look at the tutorial and got to grips with remembering the buttons, you get to the main menu screen.

On offer is quite a wide range of match types as well as competition types. There is the ‘play now’ feature, where you can instantly get into a quick match. Ranging from regular one on one, hell in a cell, or even a 30 man royal rumble, the possibilities are vast. This is also the mode you’re most likely to play if you want to play local multiplayer, simple but serves the purpose fine.

The real meat of this game lies in the 24/7 mode. This mode is extremely familiar to anyone who has played through the superstar mode in Madden NFL07. You can either play it as a superstar wrestler or as the general manager for one giving it a slight difference in both aspects. Essentially you need to set up your superstar(or superstars as you can manage more than one) for things like training exercises ranging from charisma to strength; as well as improving their skills in other factors such as how to make a crowd like them, to autograph signings. You can simulate pretty much anything in this mode as well as participate in the majority of it. It’s an extremely fun mode to play through as you can see the superstar develop and attempt to win whatever championship your superstar is eligible for. It’s also extremely handy for any achievement whores as much of it can be simmed for one particularly highly scored achievement. The only real disadvantage is the lack of any story within this mode so you can feel a bit detached at times, and wonder what the point is in needing to balance autograph signings with training. Strangely, the roster available within the game is also smaller, with around 50, unlike the previous game having 70, despite the acquiring of the ECW label to this game. One annoyance within the general manager part of the 24/7 mode is if your superstar becomes injured, there’s no way of resting them despite being told by your medical staff that they need to be rested. This means they just get worse and you lose more often. It seems such a petty fault, that it’s odd why it hasn’t been resolved before being released. Sure, you can turn off injuries but that’s hardly realistic!

Elsewhere, there is a tournament mode which is fairly standard stuff that you probably won’t touch often; as well as a Hall of Fame mode. This mode is quite enjoyable for any wrestling fan. It allows you to enter classic matches such as Bret hart vs Shawn Michaels in an iron man match or a TLC match against the Hardy Boyz. For any fans of wrestling, this would be great fun.

Other than that, there is the create mode but it is extremely similar to last year’s create mode; allowing you to create belts, movesets, stables, entrances and of course your own superstar; which you can then trade online with your friends. One nice feature exclusive to the 360 is the ability to add any song, currently on your hard drive, to your created entrance which is a nice touch. It’s a pity there’s not more bonuses over SvR 07 though.

Graphically, SvR08 is looking pretty good. Unfortunately its collision detection, much like the previous game, is pretty buggy. Body parts regularly warp through each other, and animations look clunky and stiff. It looks like the engine needs a total overhaul as it’s obviously still using the same engine that was built for it on the PS2. It’d be great to see the next game using a proper next-gen game engine. The cut scenes let the in game action down too, it’s a pity they don’t look more realistic because it would certainly be possible now. They also tend to repeat themselves after a while, especially within the 24/7 mode making them a waste of time to watch.

The sound is also somewhat dubious. It has a fantastic rock soundtrack encompassing amongst others Puddle of Mudd, Nonpoint and Hell Yeah. However the voice acting is extremely poor, for the most part badly delivered and the commentary is repetitive and uninteresting. They also don’t seem to line up with the action you can see, which is a huge problem amongst any sports game.

The achievements on offer aren’t bad, certainly not a quick 1000 but also not too challenging either; more a case of persistence. With quite a number of 20pt achievements, it won’t be hard to unlock these while playing through a regular game. Perhaps the easiest (depending on how you play it) is to win GM of the year, which with a few tricks can easily be simmed and gaining you a relatively simple 350 points. There are also some quite difficult ones such as winning a 20 minute Iron Man match on legend difficulty without surrendering a point to your opponent, so it’ll certainly keep you busy to earn those 1000 points. It’s a pity there aren’t any achievements for completing Hall of Fame challenges though.

It’s a shame really as the game overall is great, and the perfect wrestling game for fans. However it is in some dire need for an overhaul. It’s obvious that features keep being added without old features being fixed first; and it feels like the SvR franchise needs a new game engine to truly progress from its PS2 roots. Even the loading times are slow and reminiscent of a PS2 title. Perhaps it would be wise to just scrap the engine and start all over again. Then finally, SvR might have the game it deserves once more, as THQ and Yuke’s certainly have the right idea, they just need to implement it a bit better next time. For now though, if you love wrestling, this is the game for you; for a gamer if you enjoy fighting games, this is still worth a bash.