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Wrestling games are sparse on the Xbox 360. It's hard to relieve nostalgia of playing No Mercy on the Nintnedo 64 when the only thing on the 360 is Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 and the porn game Rumble Roses. If you read my review of Smackdown vs. Raw 07, then you know I didn't love it, nor was it terrible. It was just annoying that it didn't fix the A.I. and clipping problems from the previous games. In the end, it didn't live up to the game before it. Now, another year comes around and we are getting the 9th game in the series with Smackdown vs. Raw 2008. While less than a year to develop a game might not be enough to work out all the kinks, the fact that Yuke's have yet again changed things that didn't need to be changed instead of working out the A.I. and clipping problems is just lame.
The 360 version of 07 had a better control scheme because the right bumper and the right analog stick are closer together than the R1 button and the right analog stick on the PS2 controller. Most of the scheme is the same as the previous game. You do light grapples by moving the right analog stick in a direction and strong grapples by moving the right analog stick in a direction while holding down the right bumper, you strike with the X button and counter grapples and strikes with the triggers. What's different is that you do specials by pressing the Y button and do superstar style moves by pressing both the left bumper and pressing the right bumper and Y. Also, during submissions you use the right analog stick to either apply pressure or escape. The problem is that while the game has tutorial movies showing you the superstar styles, it doesn't tutor you on the changes to the controls, meaning you're going to have to look in the manual if need to know the changes. A thing that should have been abandoned when the PS1 died.
Upon starting the game, you'll notice the roster is very dated. Wrestlers who have been released from the WWE are here, including Sandman, Booker T (or King Booker), Chris Masters and Marcus Cor Von. There are also some wreslters here who aren't in the business at the moment due to long injuries. ECW are here too, but there aren't that many ECW wrestlers here. The legend roster isn't exactly legendary. Stone Cold, The Rock and Bret Hart return to join other legends Sabu, Ravishing Rick Rude, WWE owner Vince McMahon and more. No offence to the legends here, but some of these wrestlers I wouldn't call legends, and some of the legends have been appearing in the legends list since the game first had legends. The game seriously needs to change its legend list a bit. You can't blame Yuke's for this though, as not only is the WWE quite unpredictable, but they have to select a roster before the game even is finished.
What is their fault is the fact that they have change things not needed to be touched and left the problems from previous games untouched. Plus, some things have simply been reused in 08. The A.I. is still very sloppy. If you're on easy they sometimes stand around like zombies, waiting to be hit, and if you're on hard then they will just keep countering and countering you, as if they're psychic. Plus, there are so many other A.I. problems. If there's a ladder, yet nothing to grab by climbing it, the enemies will still keep climbing it as if there was something up there. If you're in a tag match then the partners may forget to help you, if you're in a match with weapons they will keep flailing around with a weapon and hoping for the best. On top of that, with the new wrestling styles, wrestlers just keep constantly using these moves if you don't go on the offensive, which is ridiculous. Other problems like sloppy collision detection and clipping are still here too, which is just unacceptable for a game on a next-gen console. You can tell this is a multiplatform game.
What's new then? The biggest change is the superstar fighting styles. This is like a class for each wrestler, which each give unique abilities to each style. There are eight in total, from the buff and strong powerhouse, which come under wrestlers like Batista and The Undertaker, to the high flyer which is those crazy Lucha Libres and charismatic wrestlers like Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy. Each wrestler can select from two, meaning there's some choice. Each style has one special ability which can be activated by pressing the right bumper and Y. These can range from being able to steal someone's special move to being able to block punches and have irreversible grapples. Secondary abilities include healing up when you do a submission and being able to steal an enemies taunt. You can do special abilities by building up enough momentum and storing a style icon. Unfortunately, these styles are actually quite unbalanced. If you have to choose between Rey Mysterio and Batista, you'd be better off choosing Batista. Not that you can't win with the smaller guys, but you would do better with other styles like Powerhouse. Powerhouse people can win be using Rampage and destroying the opponent. Possum Pin, the special move of a High Flyer, can surprise your enemy but won't guarantee a win.
Aside from this, there's not much new here. You can do light grapples for quicker moves, or do strong grapples for more power, but more chance of being countered. You can do stikes like punches, kicks and more. You counter moves by using the triggers, and this is helpful as knowing when to counter is helpful, especially finishers. The ultimate control moves are back here too, which still tie into the environmental hotspots. Basically, you move the analog sticks in a direction indicated in the corner of the screen to do different moves. Except this time there aren't actually that many ultimate control moves on offer here. You can do a powerslam, a backbreaker...and that's it. Oh and you can punch and headbutt someone in the face, which is good times. Though you can still use the environmental hotspots too, which are cool. It's disappointing that you can't do many more ultimate control moves as it is a good idea.
The season mode has been revamped into a new mode called 24/7. This is a combination of the stellar career mode and the not-so-stellar GM mode which makes for an incredibly lame mode overall. You can play as a WWE wrestler or a General Manager. When you're a wrestler you're doing your matches, but when you're a GM you're planning an entire nights worth of events. You are given a 12 month calendar, a cell phone, a laptop and a magazine and set off into a world of WWE wrestling. You can choose to play through all the days or skip a few along the way. When you're not wrestling at an event, you're choosing what to do with that day. You can invade a show if there is one on, star in a hero or villain movie or even have a day of R&R and rest. What you do will effect your popularity and fatigue. If you tire yourself out, you're going to have to sit out of some days, which means you'll lose popularity and money. The problem with this mode is that all the style from the previous game is gone. The cutscenes are generic, lame, repetitive and sometimes don't make much sense. The game contradicts itself constantly, as one moment you're getting hate mail from a rival wrestler, and the next he's shaking your hand backstage before your match. It doesn't make sense, and the mode itself feels half-hearted.
The create-a-modes return here too, but they are pretty much unchanged from the previous game. Create-a-character remains the same, with not many new items to clothe your character. You can create some crazy designs, but if you've exhausted the previous game's create-a-character then you will be disappointed. You can create-a-move set and stable, but there's not much point as there's not real benefit. Create-a-championship is still where you spend big bucks to create a dream title which is decent because you can show off and compete for the belts online. Create-a-entrance is limited as you basically use preset animations to create your own entrance. Most of the modes are useful for the online mode, which is unchanged from last year. You can play in all the modes available for up to four people as you fight for create championships or for fun, using created and non-created wrestlers. There's little lag, but you probably won't bother because of the gameplay issues.
The wrestling match types are pretty much identical to the previous game. The match types are all standard, from standard one-on-one matches to money in the bank matches where you must get a brief case to get a championship shot. The new match type is ECW Extreme Rules match where it's like a hardcore match, except more, well, EXTREME! I found it hard to tell the different between hardcore and this mode. You can play these modes in either Exhibition or Play Now. Exhibition is where you choose everything, from wrestlers and match types to rules and the arena you're fighting in. Play Now just throws you into a random match. If you've been playing these games for years, you'll probably be tired of these modes by now.
There's also tournament and Hall of Fame mode. Tournament is where you can join either King of the Ring or Beat the Sprint mode. King of the Ring is like a standard tournament mode, where the winner becomes king and you choose a babe at your side. If you pair these two up, you'll be treated to a special entrance showing your wrestlers Kingliness. Yay. The Beat the Sprint mode is more interesting, as you have to win in the quickest time, then beat a champion to win. It's tense trying to win quicker. Hall of Fame is a little stale. Basically, there are a set of matches you must complete on Legend (the hardest difficulty) and if you complete them all, you are a legend. Some matches you can simply jump right into and play from the Hall of Fame menu. Some you have to set up yourself, which is annoying as you have to change the difficulty to legend first. And in the end, these aren't particularly engaging, and the gameplay problems don't help.
The game is rated 16+, which has been the rating of the games for quite a while now. Nothings changed here, there's the odd blood, a lot of violence and some sexual and drug themes. That said, I've always found that these games could be played by much younger people. I'd say that anyone who even watches the TV show could play this, as it's not much different except it's not real. Plus, it's really the younger people who will enjoy this game as older people will notice the clipping, collision detection, A.I. and other problems.
Graphically, 08 is lacking. It does not look like a next-gen game. Some of the character models look like plastic figures, hair animation is awful, there are noticeable jaggies, clipping is still very noticeable (don't be surprised when you see John Cena's head go right through the ring rope), the crowd looks ugly and the game actually freezes at points for a few brief seconds during gameplay. That said, there are some good points to the graphics. Some of the character models look scarily real, the areas look accurate, the animation is decent, even if it's mostly take from the previous games and the pyro effects look nice. It's just a shame there are more ugly things that there are pretty things.
Like last years game, the sound is mediocre. It's mainly because the sound has mostly been recycled from the last game. The commentary is not only mind numbing repetitive, but it's also been mostly reused from previous games. It's also dated as you hear JR (the guy who compliments the good guys) talking nice about Carlito when he's actually dirty and being booed by the crowd. The effects have mostly been reused from the previous games, and some of them sound dated. Some even sound out of place, like a gunshot sounding effect when you do a finisher. The music is mostly thrash rock, though there's a catchy rap song that goes 'Go hard or go home' which sounds suitable to the game. What's really disappointing is the voice acting. While it has been decent for the past couple of games, the acting here is atrocious. It's either corny, dull or just annoying. On top of that, the dialogue doesn't exactly help too. To be simple, the sound in 2008 is lame.
-(The Replay Value)-
Like before, there is a good amount of content for your money. The problem is if you are like me and didn't get much enjoyment out of the game, you will probably move on after a few hours with it. But if you can get over the problems, there is a good amount of content here. The career mode is infinitive, meaning you can replay through the twelve month calendar as much as you want, though you probably won't simply because it gets repetitive. There's the online component to keep Xbox Live players busy, the exhibition mode for people who want to set up their own matches and more. It's just a shame you're going to have to get over a lot of problems to enjoy all this stuff. The achievements aren't inspiring, as they are pretty much the same as 07. Plus, you have to be on Normal difficulty to get any achievements, and sometimes harder, meaning that if you're on easy don't expect to get many achievements.
-(The Ending Comments)-
Another year, another Smackdown! game and just like Smackdown vs. Raw 2007, 2008 doesn't fix the problems that needed to be fixed and changes things that didn't need to be changed. Yuke's ignored the A.I. and clipping problems from the previous games and changed the things that didn't need to be changed, like some of the controls, the season mode and other things. The superstar fighting styles are a nice attempt at making superstars unique, but they are unbalanced and cause to hinder the game even more. The graphics are underwhelming for a next-gen game and the sound is yet again lacklustre. There may not be many wrestling games for the system, but there is no excuse for this dated, underwhelming wrestling game. But if you can't get over all the problems I've just mentioned, you may get some decent fun out of the game. If Yuke's continue down this road, then this series will soon become completely defunct.
-(The Extra Info)-
This was published by THQ and developed by Yuke's.
This was released on November 9th and is also on PS2, PS3, PSP, DS and Wii.
This is available from Amazon for £22.97
Thanks for reading. Stunt 101
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008' lets players take the fight into their own hands with the debut of Superstar Fighting Styles. The game features eight unique styles, each having its own strategy and exclusive attributes. A brand new Struggle Submission System gives players intuitive and natural control over their WWE Superstars by using the game's popular analogue controls.