Smackdown vs. Raw '09 is a VAST Improvement Over SVR '08
Pro Wrestling fans are a rare breed—a rabidly faithful, loyal and demanding bunch whose passion is, I believe, greater than any other “sports” fans on the planet. Yes, one could make plenty of jokes about sweaty men in tights beating on one another or snidely remarks that wrestling is fake but I’ll forgo that discussion because I too am one of the rabidly faithful fans of pro wrestling. Personally, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the men and women who go out night in and night out to put their bodies on the line for the sake of entertaining others. I fully realize that many people simply don’t get pro wrestling but for those of us who watch it week in and week out, it’s the best form of entertainment there is. There’s drama, action and even comedy. Yes my friends, pro wrestling is something I hold near and dear to my heart. That’s why last year when THQ and Yukes released the very sub par Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 fans and game reviewers alike were incredibly disappointed.
Before I continue, let me take a step back; for pro wrestling fans, the yearly release of Smackdown vs. Raw is equal to that of Madden or NBK 2K or an expansion for World of Warcraft. You see, for a decade now the Smackdown series has been the standard for pro wrestling games. But last year fans were quick to acknowledge that Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 was by far the worst game in the series history. For starters, the games problems such as collision detection were not addressed at all and the new “fighting-styles” only introduced a new slew of problems. Combine that with other small glitches both online and offline along with the lackluster WWE 24/7 and GM modes and you had some very pissed people who were out $60.00.
Enter TNA, the second largest promotion of pro wrestling in the industry and Midway games. This year saw the release of TNA Impact – The Video Game. Obviously, THQ knew they were going to have to step it up with the new competition and in order to redeem themselves. Thankfully for THQ, TNA fell short of being the spectacular wrestling title fans had hoped for but it did show promise for future releases.
So, now that it’s finally here, does Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 warrant a $60.00 purchase or is it just more of the same?
THQ and Yukes have been trimming the fat from the Smackdown series. Gone is the 24/7 mode from last year, replaced with the “Road to Wrestlemania” mode. In this mode you pick from the Undertaker, CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Triple H, John Cena or the tag team of Rey Mysterio and Batista. Unlike last years 24/7 mode which recycled stories throughout the entire years over and over again no matter what character you picked or created, Road to Wrestlemania provides a separate storyline for each of the wrestlers you choose. These stories total up to nearly 30 hours of play. The stories themselves are actually pretty good, particularly Triple H, Chris Jericho and CM Punk. While John Cena and Undertaker… not so much. The voice acting is strangely well-done, particularly from Chris Jericho and Triple H. Fans of the WWE product will without a doubt appreciate this mode and its very obvious that Yukes have gone to extra mile to make up for last years 24/7 mode. Going through Road to Wrestlemania mode also unlocks various items, move sets and characters.
The career mode allows you to take a created superstar and level him up as you quest for Championship gold. The way you level up actually depends on how you play each match. For example, if you want to make a high flyer then jumping off the top rope and springing to the outside onto your opponent will help you to level up that ability faster. The career mode allows you to go for all the current WWE Title Belts and eventually become the ultimate champion, holding every title.
New this year is also the improved tag team mode which includes a variety of new double team moves and tag team finishers. Perhaps the most fun new feature of the tag mode is the hot tag. While your partner dukes it out with his opponent you rally the crowd from your corner to build momentum. Once the meter is full and you get the tag, you charge into the ring, smacking the opponent down and knocking his partner off the ring apron. From here, your Smackdown meter instantaneously full and allowed you a chance to finish your opponent off. All of this is a nice edition and really adds a LOT to tag team play that has felt stale for a number of years.
Perhaps the greatest new addition to Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is the Create-a-finisher mode. As stated, it literally lets you create your own finisher by selecting from some 500 mostly new animations. While the mode does have some quarks such as moves not looking impactful enough and the ability to only execute a move from the standing-front position, there is no doubt that players can easily spend hours creating various finishers for both their created wrestler and modified finishing moves for their favorite WWE Superstars. We were easily able to create all of the moves we had been wishing for such as the Cradle Piledriver, the Package Piledriver and the Canadian Destroyer…. Yes, I do like piledrivers.
Also new this year is the Highlight Reel. This mode allows you to replay, save and edit 30 seconds of a match. Want to take your character and beat the holy hell out of Triple H? Awesome! You can also add custom effects and change the camera angle to make The Game’s beating look even more brutal. Once done, you have the ability upload your clips and share them with other fans via XBox Live or Playstation Network. Other users can rate clips after they’re online. Already entertaining clips have surfaced such as Barak Obama vs. John McCain and we’re sure that this is only the beginning. While I don’t anticipate this being the most used mode, it is a cool addition and yet again, a mode that players can lose themselves in for hours at a time.
Another new addition to the game is the Inferno match. While the novelty is cool, most players are probably only going to play this match-type once or twice. Honestly, it would have been nice if THQ had taken the time to improve other match types such as Hell in the Cell and the ECW Extreme Rules Match.
Commentary has thankfully been updated and while not perfect it’s far better than it has ever been. Announcers actually call moves and when a match is over, the commentators acknowledge it instead of rambling on and on like last year’s game. There’s no doubt that Jim Ross and Jerry the King Lawler deliver the most natural dialog with Joey Styles and Tazz coming in for a close second. Michael Coal and The Coach are however, not so conceiving…
The create a wrestler mode is largely unchanged from last year. However, that’s not such a bad thing. Yukes has obviously taken the time to touch up some of the items in the game in order to make them look even better. There are also some new editions such as capes to your wrestler and new jacket types.
The online mode is virtually unchanged from last year. Yes, sometimes you will get lag but all in all, a majority of the matches we’ve played have been fun and competitive. You’re still going to encounter the occasional cheap or rude player but nothing beats the feeling if winning a match online whether it be in singles or tag team competition.
Smackdown vs. Raw plays and feels great. Honestly, the gameplay hasn’t actually changed much from last year but little tweaks have been made to make the game feel much more smooth. The new targeting system, while not perfect, also greatly improves gameplay in tag matches.
The graphics are simply amazing. Though it seems to be said every year, it’s scary how close a majority of the wrestlers look to their real-life counter-part. Long hair could still use some work and yes, there are still problems with clipping. Even so, Smackdown vs. Raw ’09 is a pretty game though it doesn’t look as good as TNA Impact. The sound is pretty good though we do wish Yukes would take a hint from TNA and go for ring sounds that are just a bit more realistic sounding. Superstars have their appropriate music and as we said before, commentary has been vastly improved.
The last few iterations of the Smackdown series have been rough. But finally THQ has rebounded and released a game that is well-worth its $60.00 price tag. With all the improvements and the vast amount of content, Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is a no brainer for any WWE or Pro Wrestling fan. Future downloadable content promises to keep the game up to date and fresh throughout the year. In our opinion, Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 is the best pro wrestling video game to ever hit the market and that’s saying something.
-Yuen Fei Lung of Rare Drop Radio (www.raredrop.com)