WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw 2008 Review (Xbox 360)
Next-gen graphics are one thing; a wide variety of interesting modes is another. But a wrestling game’s fun factor? That’s a whole other animal. And with Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, it’s a dead possum on the interstate, and it’s been getting ripe for a couple of days.
Every year, we expect franchise games to evolve, and correct problems from past offerings. This year’s SvR title not only fails to correct past problems, but it even goes as far as to ruin some of what made last year’s game great.
Read on after the jump to see why this year's version of Smackdown falls short of expectations.
Last Year’s Problem: Gameplay
Last year’s SvR dazzled us with next-gen graphics and an in-depth and unique story mode. But it fell short in the gameplay department, and felt tragically last-gen. Even though the thumbstick grappling system added a level of fluidity, the game’s controls ultimately felt largely like lack-there-of. There was a certain level of unresponsiveness and unpredictability with the controls that made the game unnecessarily difficult (especially in gimmick/specialty matches). In fact, the actual matches took a back seat to the cut-scenes in the Career Mode in many instances.
This year, very little has been added to the gameplay, with the exception of unique fighting-styles, a wider array of environmental grapples, ultimate grapple reversals (which are a crap-shoot at best), and a slightly tweaked submission system. Now that may sound like a lot, however, don’t be fooled, you will barely notice. The same clunky problems still exist, and it seems like reversals are even less scientific than before. Take away the bells and whistles, and the gameplay has actually taken a few steps back.
It Gets Worse…
So big deal right? At least there’s a great Career Mode to complete, right?
This year’s storyline-driven feature is a mishmash of last year’s Career and GM modes, called WWE 24/7. The result? An utter crapfest.
It’s a shame, because in theory, it's a fantastic idea. Controlling a wrestler’s day-to-day activities, strengthening his abilities, and defining his role in the business all sound magnificent. However, the execution of this mode is abysmal in SvR08.
The RPG-like attribute and ability structure of the 24/7 mode is probably the most disappointing. Attributes are increased by vaguely defined in-ring challenges, which are independent of actual story-line matches, mind you, that are overly difficult, and lack logic. Special abilities are achieved by "purchasing" training things such as: microphone skills, or audience heat training, none of which are actually shown. Thus, each week, you must complete four of five days worth of attribute/ability activities, none of which are ANY fun. And all this prior to competing in an actual match.
The coup de grâce of 24/7 is a complete regression of interesting storylines. While last year’s game did not always present the most realistic storylines (I believe there was one in particular when your wrestler was magically changed into a woman), but the cut-scenes were at least enjoyable and unique. There is a lot of repetition in SvR08's cut scenes, and despite some nice PPV preview sequences, you will leave WWE 24/7 feeling largely cheated.
Not a Complete Loss
Now, contrary to my ranting, SvR08 is not completely disappointing. The gameplay does provide some menial enjoyment, and some cheap initial thrills from move animations and some ECW bloody goodness.
One of the game’s major high-points is the Create-a-Wrestler (CAW) feature. While largely unchanged, this year’s game does allow you to import music from your Xbox 360 hard drive, and use it as wrestler’s entrance music. Although it's a minor touch, it is no less excellent. I have been waiting a long time to have my digital WWE likeness saunter down the ramp to STP’s "Down." My wait is over.
Even the CAW feature is not without its flaws. Because you are forced to earn attribute/abilities for your created superstar through 24/7 mode, you begin as a 36 overall rating. This makes it nearly impossible to initially compete against normal superstars -- ironically, you will find yourself in the thick of a #1 contender feud very early on.
Also, there is a rather low number of available moves and finishers from the outset. This forces you to move your CAW through career mode with a weak arsenal of maneuvers, and an even weaker finisher. I’m all for in-game achievements and rewards, but such a severe limit on CAW from the get-go is a huge downer, and it sucks the life from one of the game’s biggest assets.
All in All
Metaphorically speaking, the best way for me to describe SvR08 is like this: It’s an unbaked cake with two extra cans of frosting globbed on. There are some severe shortcomings at the game’s core, which developers attempted to mask by padding it with unimpressive and empty features. It’s disappointing, but let’s hope THQ puts this game back in the oven for a solid couple of hours before SvR09. Or if the developers fail at that, start from scratch. Maybe even add some coconut next time.
Smackdown is one of those games that make you want to love it several times over. I unfortunately never could figure out a way to really love the game. As a member of the wrestling business in some form or fashion over the past couple of years I really take a different look at the game. It's really hard to simulate wrestling because that would really take a lot of the "gameness" out of wrestling. However, you have to look no further than the N64 versions of WWF/E to really understand that it can be done. Smackdown suffers from far too many flaws to really give it any sort of a high score. I just think that the game itself feels unpolished as a whole and the career mode is terrible, just plain terrible. The gameplay is barely passable and the create a wrestler mode should give us more freedom taking into consideration how good our created superstar is.
The commentary is atrocious and you can begin to see why there are very few redeeming qualities about this title after a relatively short time of playing. The only positive is that it doesn't look half bad when you are in the ring. All in all though, I really believe the Smackdown series needs a good kick-wham-stunner and then a good tombstone to finish the deal because this series is going nowhere. I hate to say it, but the WWE license needs to be in better hands.
Presentation: Is this the Atari or 360 trying to load this game? The whole package feels generic too. In all honesty..I could design a better game in my sleep. It's just all adequate but kinda bland, kind of like the whole WWE product.
Graphics: Now this is the strong point of the game and you can almost bet that usually means bad things. Guys look how they should but really, there's still a lot to be desired through the whole package namely the animations which seem just a bit off overall. But the characters themselves LOOK excellent.
Gameplay: No no no. This is not a good playing wrestling game. Many times you wonder why we've gone backwards since the 32 and 64 bit days of gaming. This game doesn't do anything fun at all, it's just there and is barely workable. Just a blah feeling all around.
Lasting Appeal: No really why would you want to play this more than a few times? Once you realize that the career mode sucks and the gameplay is just bleh you'll be trading this thing in for something else pretty quick.
Intangibles: It is still the WWE and the entrances and such aren't terrible and you really can almost feel it. But then you get sucked back into reality and realize you are playing a game that will be fun for awhile but really isn't worth $60.
Overall: The whole game just seems to be adequate and nothing more. My opinion? Give this game a rent and have some fun with it and then take it back and move on with your life. It will be fun for that long but afterwards you'll be shaking your head as to why you spent so much money on an absolute average piece of software.