A Prime Example Of A One Year Development Cycle
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is the 9th game in the long running smackdown series, and recently the series has seen far better times, and so has the WWE its self, thankfully though THQ and Yukes have managed to bring the series back up to a respectable level. However, that doesn't mean to say that Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is a complete overhaul from SvR 07, the game does have a handful of new features, but still, the game does has an incredible amount of bugs and visual glitches, such as clipping, pretty much all the same stuff from the last game. Again thankfully most of the irritating glitches from the last game have been touched upon.
Right off the bat the first thing you will notice is how streamlined the menus have become, for one thing when setting up an exhibition match, the matches are no longer categorized to the actual match type, instead its all been grouped under the amount of players that participate in the match, while this is certainly more user friendly, it does seem just a tad too messy how some of the match types have been placed into categories such as "6 man", also it's a little hard to find exactly what you want. The first new addition to the menu is the play now option, which essentially is just a standard quick play mode, plus you have your standard "game modes" which take up the main core of the game, and of course, your always welcome "create modes" The major new core game mode this year is the 24/7 mode which acts both as a season mode and the every popular GM mode, the season portion of the mode is pretty basic, you can either select a created superstar or one of 19 (sadly only 19 due to voiceovers) available regular superstars, the more well established the superstar, the higher in the "legend" status you will be, when playing a created superstar you start at the very bottom of the ladder and Your basic aim in this mode is to make it to "legend" status, but its not easy, your superstar has to train stats, such as stamina and strength along with quick challenges, train skill, such as camera skills and pain management, and perform daily activities such as autograph signing, these new additions along with the possibility of injuries add something interesting to the board, but look a little deeper and these features seem a little tacked on.
The Story lines them selves are the usual rivalry type of affairs, in between matches a standard cutscene will appear to try and help create some atmosphere, but these scenes are little to be desired, they usually feature your superstar strolling down a corridor bumping into other superstars who may be participating in your current story line, or just walking away from the ring in a bad and battered state, trouble is it usually makes no sense what so ever, you will see your superstar occasionally show good sportsmanship to your rivals for no reason, and the next, show disrespect to your partner, its clearly a rushed and flawed system. Other than that the 24/7 mode is somewhat enjoyable, its still no "Shut Your Mouth" kind of season, but it is at least a more free from ordeal.
Once again with the credits you earn-from 24/7 mode in this case-you can purchase a select few items such as legend wrestlers and alternate attires, moves sets and new to this year, fighting style "kits" that train your created superstars stats the easy way. Sadly once again, there's hardly anything interesting to buy, just the usual list of legends and slightly adjusted attires. The challenge mode from previous games has been given a makeover as the "hall of fame", here u can take a select few "direct challenges" and achieve other activities such as getting a created championship belt to maximum prestige, once you complete one of these challenges a small section of the "hall of fame" logo fills up, again this mode is nothing entirely new or interesting and feels, again, tacked on.
However probably the best new addition to the game modes this year is the tournament modes, here you can partake in various tournaments such as, of course, the King of the Ring, Beat the clock sprint, Road to Wrestlemania and you own custom tournament, the best part about this mode is the freedom of choice, there's a bunch of variations to choose from, and with the custom tournaments specifically you can choose from a lot of the gimmick matches for just that match, its most definitely the best new mode in the game, especially for people who love multiplayer tournaments modes.
The Create modes are pretty much the same as last year, which in some regards is a little disappointing, the create a superstar has had a little makeover with some of the categories, for instance things such as mask designs and tight designs have now been categorized to make things somewhat easier, sadly, crotch blurring is still in there. Create an entrance remains the same, but with some good improvements, for one thing the music isn't on loop when previewing the final product and timing fireworks and camera angles has been made easier with a new time bar at the top of the screen. Create a belt hasn't been improved but it never needed be, however, making title matches with created belts has been made far easier and thus, making created belts is far more enjoyable.
The actual gameplay this year is almost identical to last years, its still pretty much the same stuff, but the main new crux is fighting styles, each superstar has 2 different fighting styles, whether it's a "high flyer", "powerhouse" or "showman" is all down to the superstar, before each match, you can choose which primary fighting style you want, but you do still thankfully get the secondary abilities from the second fighting style to mix things up. The fighting styles themselves are diverse in ability, but aren't completely overwhelming in the amount, of abilities, "high flyers" can do a wide array of aerial moves, "showman's" can steal taunts and finishers, and "powerhouses" can activate a brief moment of invulnerability, if it wasn't for a second fighting style, it would be pretty bare. That said, you don't entirely want a lot of abilities that alienate other superstars more than it already does, no other superstar than a "dirty" superstar can remove the turnbuckle padding and no other superstar than a "high flyer" can perform "special" plancha moves from the apron, those may be small niggles, but to die hard fans who are used to being able to anything with anybody, it can alienate them as well.
Major props go out to Yukes and THQ this year for improving upon the hardcore element of the WWE, which appears to be dead nowadays, even with ECW as a sub brand, its still appears to be dead, but that's not the case with SVR 08, certainly not with new addition of the ECW Extreme rules match, here, things get very hardcore indeed, and rightly so since last years game, and the 2 iterations before it, had hardly any hardcore elements at all. This is where, for me, SVR 08 really shines, and especially if you are using the " hardcore" fighting style, before each match your able to choose which 4 special weapons you want to be in the match, this consists of chairs, kendo sticks, guitars, sledgehammers and the like, as well as tables, ladder, trashcans and barbed wire 2x4's that come with the match as standard. No longer is it a case of a specific weapon from under the ring, now a new radial menu appears when reaching for a bone shattering tool of destruction, allowing you to choose what you want and when you want, on top of that, this match also features the ability to set 2x4's and tables on fire!, and overall, that's just awesome. Sadly this does leave the hardcore match feeling slightly redundant. Speaking of match types, many of the old classic match types such as "Hell In The Cell" have still not been improved, and are beginning to look really dated, which is a real shame.
Of course this is a smackdown game, and a smackdown game with no bugs and visual errors would have to appear in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" because its just not going to happen, that said things have been improved…slightly. The collision detection is way off once again and there is still a lot of clipping here and there, but still, there is some noticeable improvement, even if its not a lot. The AI this year is still abysmal, even on legend difficulty, the AI will still often stand there, or when ladders and tables are around, pick them up and mess around with them like a crazed child. Even when THQ said Yukes were working on it, its still hard to believe that, as with every year.
Visually the game looks fairly impressive, its no overhaul from last years game, but for a game that is made under a year it looks somewhat better, there is some great depth of field work in there, and some really good detailed player models, the flame effects look exceptionally impressive as do some of the pyro effects, the game runs super smooth on the 360, on the PS3 there is some serious framerate issues on a SD TV.
A few other things to note are the achievements, soundtrack and the roster, the achievements this year are a step above last years, stuff like making every ECW Superstar bleed at least once is a real neat addition to the list. The roster this year is probably the worst one yet, with the WWE releasing talent left right and centre, the roster is incredibly out of date and short, its even missing a lot of crucial superstars who are still in the WWE, mainly tag teams, which can be a little irritating. The soundtrack this year is superb, it's the usual rock/metal-core mix up of a soundtrack, with the occasional hint of hip hop, but the actual songs are great this year, and luckily, none of them are irritating bar the rap tracks.
Overall, Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is a major improvement over 07, but not a major improvement in the series, it still has its irritating nuances, glitches and tacked on features, and has a long way to go. While its no "Fire Pro" its still a really fun enjoyable experience for any wrestling fan, fans of the series however may be left a little disappointed.