Giant Bomb Review

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WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 Review

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  • X360
  • PS3

SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 has a lengthy list of features and modes, but none of them truly capture the excitement of watching WWE on television.

Nothing settles your differences quite like fighting in a burning ring.
Nothing settles your differences quite like fighting in a burning ring.
Professional wrestling might not be for everyone, but it's hard to argue against the level of passion and excitement generated by its fans and participants alike. By employing a careful balance of theatrics and athleticism, pro wrestling at its best can be engaging and really fun to watch. But when that balance gets off-kilter, the whole thing heads south in a hurry. While the WWE has been hit and miss lately on television and pay-per-view, the televised spectacle is still worlds more entertaining than its video game counterparts. THQ's latest installment in the WWE SmackDown! series builds on last year's game in ways that fans of the series will probably appreciate, but it fails to capture most of the thrill of the real deal.

Most of the blame for the game's lifeless vibe falls on audio and the animation. The game's speech is completely flat, and it all sounds like it was recorded in some quiet sound studio, not in some arena full of screaming fans. Without any of the live arena energy flowing, the wrestlers and announcers alike turn in sleepy performances that sound like they're reading from a script and can't wait to be finished. The deliberate pacing and pauses for shouts, boos, or applause that you hear from wrestlers on television aren't present, and the announcers are repetitive and often non-specific. Actual wrestling commentary goes all over the place, talking about the match at hand, the dramatic events that led to the current confrontation, upcoming matches appearing later on the show, and, if you're lucky, barbecue sauce. SmackDown! 2009 attempts to cover these bases in fits and starts, but it usually boils down to Jerry "The King" Lawler "oh, did you see that?" followed immediately by Jim Ross with "he dropped... the elbow!" Maybe I'm just elbow-crazy, but it seemed like I was hearing that exact exchange four or five times per match.

The character models in SmackDown! look really sharp and, at times, lifelike... at least when they're standing still. In motion, the game becomes a series of triggered animations that don't transition very well, so you'll stutter around the ring in a weird manner, then trigger a move that takes the control out of your hands for three seconds or so while your wrestler delivers a suplex, chains together a few punches, or argues with the referee over a slow count. Those canned animations look nice, but they just make you wish that the rest of the game looked that good while you were actually in control. It's also worth pointing out that the game has a fair amount of full-motion video in it for entrances and setups for the story modes. Most of it is the same slick, well-edited stuff that the WWE uses on television, but it's so blocky and artifact-filled that it looks like an old Saturn game or something. This is especially weak in the PS3 version, considering there's probably plenty of space on the Blu-Ray disc for better in-game video compression.

Anything's legal when the ref's back is turned.
Anything's legal when the ref's back is turned.
Actually controlling the action in WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 (featuring ECW!) will be a snap if you've stuck with the series as it's developed. If you've skipped a few, though, you'll probably find things to be pretty arcane, especially in some of the more-specific match types. The game offers page after page of control notes in the pause menu, and it will occasionally pause here and there to tell you about the controls for getting out of the ring, tagging a partner, or other new concepts when they first pop up. But it still isn't always clear how to put your opponent onto (or through) a table, and getting in the right position to pick up weapons also seems more mysterious than it should be. The game attempts to focus more on tag team wrestling this year, which is strange when you consider how meaningless tag teams have become in the WWE. Regardless, this leads to a new "hot tag" mechanic that lets the man on the apron build up strength and burst into the ring to execute a quick time event that leaves both opponents on the mat and his momentum meter filled and prepped for a finisher. Overall, the gameplay still doesn't do much to make you feel like you're participating in an actual WWE match. It just feels like a bad fighting game.

It took me a couple of hours to get the hang of things and start really tearing apart the AI competitors, but I didn't feel like any of that was preparing me to face human opposition. Online or with local compadres, the game becomes more about properly timing reversal attempts and knowing your opponent's range and recovery time. Filtered though a haze of network-induced latency, timing your movements becomes pretty frustrating. While I normally get very low pings in online games, the on-screen meters in both the PS3 and 360 versions of SmackDown! showed all my opposition as having the worst possible network conditions. So either the only people playing SmackDown! are doing so in faraway foreign lands, or there's something up with the network code.

The different modes and features of SmackDown! dress up the basic wrestling action in a number of different ways. You can go in and string together different animations to form your own finishing moves. You can piece together your own wrestlers out of a collection of clothing, body types, sliders, and move sets. You can get online and view, rate, and share screenshots or video clips, which is great if you want to see upskirts of the game's female roster.

Deadman choking.
Deadman choking.
You can also engage in a lengthy, but generic career mode, or play a more focused "Road to Wrestlemania" mode that attempts to inject some storyline stuff into the proceedings. But this option is only available for Triple H, CM Punk, John Cena, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, or a tag team storyline with Rey Mysterio and Batista. Road to Wrestlemania is probably the best thing about the entire game, since it most closely resembles what you see on TV. CM Punk's story takes him through a set of struggles to capture and retain the ECW championship by fighting off the likes of Elijah Burke while also dealing with roadblocks put up by Stephanie McMahon and Tazz. John Cena's story opens at the Tribute to the Troops show and has him defending American pride against opponents like MVP, Umaga, and William Regal. Triple H's story branches to allow for him to reform the old Evolution stable or re-team with Shawn Michaels to reform D-Generation X yet again. As you move from week to week in this mode, the announcers are also given more specific things to say about your situation. It all comes together much better here than it does in any other part of the game.

Over the years, the list of match types available in SmackDown! has become absolutely out of control. At this point, the differences between the different types feels smaller and smaller, with things like regular tag team matches, tornado tag matches, ladder tornado tag matches, table tornado tag matches, and so on. But the big, marquee match types you'd want to see, like tables, ladders, and chairs matches, the Money in the Bank match, cage matches, Elimination Chamber matches, and the Royal Rumble are all present.

I won't deny that there are some people out there who will be able to completely ignore everything that stuck out to me about SmackDown! 2009 and have a great time creating wrestlers that look like other wrestlers and editing together crazy highlight reel clips. But to me, the entire game feels lifeless and old. The presentation fails to capture the excitement of the real thing. The gameplay doesn't match the product it's attempting to emulate. And the layers upon layers of plain-looking menus feel like they were ripped out of a PlayStation 2 launch game. Something as dynamic and as ridiculously over-the-top as the real-life WWE deserves better.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+

39 Comments

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Thrawn1

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Edited By Thrawn1 • 

pretty much how i expected this game to go

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mech4399

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Edited By mech4399 • 

Who are these games being made for? They are hard too control and play, at least for me.

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GrandMachismo

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Edited By GrandMachismo • 

Wow wasn't expecting a 2 star, being that I've heard pretty good things about this from a large number of gamers.  Infact a lot say it's the best since Bring the Pain.

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Pazy

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Edited By Pazy • 

I think im still going to buy this. I love creating wrestlers with all the cool moves (stats be dambed!) and pitting them against my brothers. And its never bothered me before how the menu's were crap, the announcers werent even watching the match and or how sometimes I go to crab but because hes in the middle of some taunt-come-punch I cant actually grab him.

Though ill probably wait until its cheaper since I can get a lot more mileage out of the 2008 edition yet and pick this up cheaper. Although I did see the Ps2, Wii and DS version for £17.99 in Game. Might be the worst version but ive yet to try them and it sounds appealing to wrestle on a bus :)

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Xander51

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Edited By Xander51 • 

Every year I think that this game might be awesome and fun, but then it lets me down horribly. The whole reversal system has always felt too difficult and random to me. It gets in the way of the fun.

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fresh2deafbill

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Edited By fresh2deafbill • 

i have and always will buy this game. even though i know it will suck 

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addictedtopinescent

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Edited By addictedtopinescent • 

I haven't played a wrestling game since the first one on PS1. Maybe I'll try it out, if only for the road to wrestlemania thing. 

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logson

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Edited By logson • 

I still play the old AKI engine N64 wresting games once or twice a year, and that pretty much satisfies my annual wrestling game craving. Inject the crazy into these games, and I might be in.

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Superchris129

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Edited By Superchris129 • 

Fuck dude, Giantbomb hands out 5-stars like candy man... wait. Never mind.

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Cirdain

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Edited By Cirdain • 

N64 wrestling games were the best of them all.

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YT

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Edited By YT • 

I would give it 3 stars. It can still be a lot of fun despite the flaws. Just need to find the part of the game that's right for you.

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Death_Burnout

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Edited By Death_Burnout • 

whoa im surprised it even got a review.

Smackdown is Smackdown, and for what it is, its not great, but for a smackdown game, this game is pretty good, these games are straight up fighting games based on wrestling...and if you like this sort of thing, then you'll be able to look past the things that some people can't. The animations NEED improvement theres no doubt about it.

As far as commentary is concerned, its way improved this year, call it what you will, but compared to last year and the year before...and the year before...all it was, was 2 dudes talking to themselves, at least now they comment on you're moves.

I hate it when people create wrestlers to look like other wrestlers, i make my original wrestlers, flashy attire and all, now they're actually worth it in comparison.

At the end of the day, we need a new AKI wrestling game, END OF DISCUSSION!

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HTTenrai

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Edited By HTTenrai • 

I'm not a wrestling fan. You could pin me down and make me watch WWE, but hand me an SvR game, and I'm giddy. I'm actually GLAD it doesn't emulate the TV show so much, or all my matches would be BORING. Honestly, this iteration is the best I've played since '06, which is a good return to form for the series.

2 stars and WWE TV programming be damned, this game is fun.

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TwoOneFive

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Edited By TwoOneFive • 

wrestling sucks. 

i liked it when i was a kid, but come on, it stopped being excited after i was like 12
whats with the headline jeff? you still actually find this sill business exciting?!
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RHCPfan24

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Edited By RHCPfan24 • 

I don't care AT ALL about wrestling, so this seems like a fine review to me.

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hanktherapper

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Edited By hanktherapper • 

There was a wrestling game on the Commodore 64 I played decades ago. It was fun. I haven't played a wrestling game since.

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Ping5000

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Edited By Ping5000 • 

Mr. Hardy has gotten really goddamn fat.

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Double0hFor

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Edited By Double0hFor • 

"but none of them truly capture the excitement of watching WWE on television"...........who actually watches this and still thinks is exciting?

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ep_driver

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Edited By ep_driver • 

GiantBomb finds watching WWE on tv entertaining? Boooooo for rednecks.

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Kohe321

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Edited By Kohe321 • 

Wrestling is something I really, really, REALLY have _zero_ interest in. Nicely written review, though, as always.

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Media_Master

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Edited By Media_Master • 

Yeah, I never get wrestling games anyway

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PremierOctopus

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Edited By PremierOctopus • 

I bought a wrestling game once, it was a bad decision and could never see why anyone would continue to come back to it again and again. But they'll still haul in truck-fulls of money for them, so there's nothing anyone could do to stop them.

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Daniel_B_Demented

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Edited By Daniel_B_Demented • 

Personally, I haven't been able to play this series with the same enthusiasm I once did.
Ever since they changed the control scheme to the clumsily executed version of the past couple of games, I've pretty much found this series unplayable.
I doubt they even reinstated manual targeting for this new version, something that was sorely absent in last years game. After all, how are you expected to fight your opponent/s if you can't choose who you want to attack?

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Leadcat

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Edited By Leadcat • 

I'm quite surprised by the review as I had also heard from a lot of people that this game was a return to form.

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Snail

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Edited By Snail • 

Watching WWE on TV is not exciting. There, I said it.

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Alex_Murphy

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Edited By Alex_Murphy • 

I haven't played a Smackdown v Raw game since 2007, and other than the announcers commentary, which hasn't really come that far in any game since joe montana sports talk football in 1995, the biggest problem with wrestling games is the health bar. If you're into wrestling then i'm sure it's really exciting when one guy is getting choked out and the ref raises his hand and drops it to see if he's he's still concious. Then on the third time the guy's hand stays up and he starts getting stronger on the ground, before breaking the hold and becomming nearly invinciable. But in a game when you're either trying to pin somebody with no health and they keep getting up, or when you're knocked down and you have to just keep hammering on the buttons for muinettes at a time to trying to get your wrestler to wake up, the fun is just complettly zaped from the game.

Either they need to make these things straight fighting games or totally re-boot the whole genre and build the game around having a good match and entertaing the croud. Something like, if you have a good match you get paid more and can spend that money on better traning to get flasher moves or a better costume.

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GCOKemuel15

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Edited By GCOKemuel15 • 

Are you for REAL? Come on, this game is one of the best wresting games I have played in along time. It should have gotten 4 stars.

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nestlekwik

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Edited By nestlekwik • 

The series has gotten extremely stale, definitely, and while this version didn't scream "must buy," I still thought it was the best THQ has fumbled out since 2006.  I would have given the game three stars instead of two, personally, but this review is by no means off the mark.

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agentboolen

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Edited By agentboolen • 

I have really enjoyed the Smackdown games over the years but I think I agree with Jeff, when I had the chance I picked up Gears 2 instead of this years Smackdown just because I played last years a lot.  The one thing I would like to be fix is the targeting system that has never work the way I would have liked it to work.  In the end if I'm going to buy the same game over and over I wish they would just fix the broken parts too it.  When it comes down in price I might pick it up but at the moment I'm just not crazy about it.  And this week I'm going to get Left 4 Dead, next year RE5, so that to me proves that there is just too much out there and coming out to stay with the same game for another year.

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Retrogimp

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Edited By Retrogimp • 

Overall, I'd say the review is fair. Although I would disagree on the commentary - I think it's actually an improvement. And Alex Murphy has a good point too.

Has anyone tried Road to Wrestlemania on the legend setting? I can honestly say it'll be the most frustrating experience of your life.

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vgmkyle

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Edited By vgmkyle • 

Don't agree.

Three is more understandable though..

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WinterSnowblind

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Edited By WinterSnowblind • 

The commentary is definitely better.  It's still pretty badly done, but at least it's play by play now.  In the older games they would just talk about random crap right through the match, it made no sense.

But other than that, there's very few improvements.  Why were GM mode and create a belt completely removed?  They both needed improvement, but they provided good alternatives for people who didn't like season.  Removing them completely is totally ilogical, as it was the only reason many people bought the games..  Caw mode is virtually untouched, which is a shame as again it's almost worth playing these games just for that.  And why are we able to record and edit videos, yet not use them for the entrances?

It's a step in the right direction, but you'd have to be crazy to buy this game if you've played the last few.

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daniel_beck_90

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Ottosmann

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Edited By Ottosmann • 

These WWE game are more like fighting games, not wrestling games.

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jediknight52501

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Edited By jediknight52501 • 

i disagree with this review, this year's Smackdown1 is so much better then ;ast year, this game deserves a 4/5 Stars, it is no wonder why the guy who reviewed this game was fired by Gamespot. this game is a lot better then Kane And Lynch.

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headcase

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Edited By headcase • 

@Death_Burnout: Oh, they always named the moves, it was just hilariously bad the way they did it.  "Stone Cold... does a good... STONE COLD STUNNER!"

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dudewinsitall

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Edited By dudewinsitall • 

i was really disappointed when i bought this game because i figured they would actually have a story mode, but of course, they make some stupid road to wrestlemania challenges

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fulloverdrive

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Edited By fulloverdrive • 

It is cool in the wrestling department, but it needs a serious engine upgrade. The engine has been largely the same since the first smackdown game. In fact, everything has...

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Jerr

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Edited By Jerr • 

I smacked down on my willy so much it got raw