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World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation, has been captivating wrestling fans for more than six decades. With household names such as Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker, over 15,000 supporters turn out each week to watch live wrestling events known as Raw and Smackdown, with millions watching at home on TV. A multi-billion pound organisation with millions of fans worldwide such as the WWE appears to be the perfect foundation to build a successful game franchise around. The company THQ have taken the opportunity to capitalise on the WWE's huge success over recent years, and try to lure gamers by letting them play as their favourite superstars, and repeat events and matches they see their heroes perform on TV week in week out. THQ's franchise, named WWE Smackdown vs RAW, first launched in November 2006 with the title Smackdown vs raw 2007. One year later, THQ present to us Smackdown vs Raw 2008. With Smackdown vs Raw 2007 becoming a big hit, the 2008 title being released was inevitable. So, have THQ introduced enough new features to convince gamers to part with their 2007 wrestling game and purchase Smackdown vs Raw 2008? There are many sports game series which release new titles yearly. These series' include FIFA, Madden and NBA games. The only additional features the game developers seem to add on each year are one or two extra game modes to help add new gameplay, and also slight adjustments to the graphics in order to keep up with other games released on the market. With this in mind, I was not expecting a huge amount of difference between Smackdown vs Raw 2007, and the new wrestling title Smackdown vs RAW 2008. Little difference is exactly what I found! Once again, a few more game modes have been added to offer something different to the gamer, and a slight increase in the graphics department has occurred. The main difference between the 2007 and 2008 version of the game is the addition of the Superstar Fighting style. When you create a superstar to play with, you can decide from 8 categories which he/she will fit into; these 8 categories are Hardcore, High Flyer, Submission Artist, Powerhouse, Brawler, Showman, Dirty, and Technical. Each fighting style helps to differentiate gameplay, and therefore if you experiment and play with characters from each style, you will be playing the game for many hours. The way certain fighting styles changes gameplay is due to each style having its own unique advantages and disadvantages. An example of this is where a Powerhouse superstar will be able to perform many strong attacks which will weaken the opponent quickly. However, due to the Powerhouse superstar being an impressive specimen with mountains of muscle mass, the characters movement will be weakened due to this. The speed you will be able to move around the squared circle is decreased, and the chances of pulling of those high risk moves and weakened immensely. In contrast to a Powerhouse, you can also be a wrestler with the specialised fighting style of a High Flyer. The High Flyer will not be able to weaken his/her opponent with few blows, but will be able to move around the ring with great speed and agility, and have the ability to perform stunning high risk moves from the top turnbuckle. You may think that surely the wrestler assigned with the Powerhouse attributes would come out victorious of a battle between the two, but if the High Flyer cleverly uses his/her abilities then he/she will be able to outwit the Powerhouse superstar and claim what they came there today for, gracious victory with the millions of fans cheering their name, as they stand proudly on the top turnbuckle, posing to their screaming followers; either that or being able to taunt their friend they just whooped over Xbox Live! Many hours of fun and experimenting could be done with just the Powerhouse and High Flyer fighting styles, but with another 6 styles, the gamer has access to a total of 8 different fighting styles to mix and match against each other. Countless different situations can occur due to this situation, resulting in many hours of gameplay added, and therefore an excellent addition to the Smackdown vs Raw series. An example of the extended gameplay would be over Xbox Live, where you could challenge yourself to win a certain amount of matches with a character from each fighting style. Whilst still on the subject of fighting styles, not only can you assign a superstar you create from scratch with a fighting style, the wrestlers already present in the game and possibly your heroes from real life have already been accurately assigned their most relevant fighting style. For example, the fast paced Rey Mysterio is classed as a High Flyer due to him being able to perform moves propelling himself through the air, whereas the fan favourite Batista is classed as a Powerhouse due to his powerful frame and ability to execute high impact, back-breaking manoeuvres. With your favourite superstars already assigned a fighting style, you do not have to keep guessing who to use to suit which style you wish to use, and it also takes the pressure off you creating a wrestler to use for each different style. THQ have ensured a different gaming experience from the 2007 game by implementing a new fighting system in to the 2008 version of the game. Formerly, when grappling an opponent, the right thumbstick was moved in a certain direction and a move completed. However, now when the right thumbstick is moved, there are two dimensions to a move. Firstly, the superstar will be lifted up in a certain way, and this is where change occurs; the gamer can now rotate the right thumbstick in a certain direction or move it upwards or downwards, with each different direction creating another move. This system results in more moves being available to each character, and therefore more ways to punish and cripple your opponent. The new analogue system is surpringly fun to use aswell, and helps to make the gamer feel more involved within the fight; instead of just simply moving a thumbstick, you now have to complete a larger combination of moves, which if completed successfully, make you feel like you've accomplished something. The grappling component of Smackdown vs Raw 2008 is not the only change in the control system, as you will find the way submission moves are completed has also been improved. When you have your opponent in a submission hold, instead or formerly tapping every button in sight as many times as possible, you now wrench your opponents joints open via rotating the right thumbstick left or right. If you're being held hostage and near submitting, you also rotate the right thumbstick to try and break the hold and have freedom once again. As you rotate the thumbstick, you can see the wrestler's facial expression change as he tries his/her hardest to put pain on the opponent. This, along with the new submission system, is a nice new addition to Smackdown vs Raw 2008 and helps to add enjoyment during fights. The single player experience has totally changed since the 2007 game, with a new and improved 24/7 mode, a WWE Hall of Fame mode and the WWE shop. The 24/7 mode, where most gamers will spend their single player time has had a drastic makeover. The first scene you'll see as the mode starts is where the wrestler you choose and Vince McMahon, wearing his famous yellow suit, are standing in the ring at wrestling's biggest event, the reason wrestlers put their bodies on the line 300 times a year, Wrestlemania. "This is where you want to be next year?" Vince asks as you hear the 80,000 fans chant your name. "In order to do this, you're going to have to beat the best in the business, from Raw, Smackdown and ECW" Vince proclaims, as horror approaches your wrestlers facial expression. This sequence is a nice introduction to 24/7 mode, and clearly explains that you'll have to defeat the best in the business to obtain your goal, reaching the main event of Wrestlemania 23. Throughout 24/7, you have a wide variety of story lines to complete and different fighters to conquer. The different storylines will help keep you entertained through 24/7 mode and avoid boredom; however, I doubt you will have much motivation to play through 24/7 numerous times again after you've completed it the first time. There is a nice twist that 24/7 mode offers, as you are able to play through the year leading up to Wrestlemania 23 in the perspective of a General Manager of Raw or Smackdown. This is where you take control of one of the hugely popular shows each week, deciding what superstars will appear on your show, and what matches will be performed for the millions of fans every week. Your main aim in this mode is to keep the fans as happy as possible, attract new fans to your show, and most importantly, have a better show rating than the General Manager controlling the other show. This mode is a nice change from the main modes of the game, as you do not actually compete in any matches; your tactical abilities are put to the test as you battle to outwit the other manager. This mode may become a very popular addition with you, as it allows you to see whether you can successfully direct an extremely popular wrestling event for a whole year, and try to make it better than the real life experience which many fans never fail to miss on TV every week. While this mode is enjoyable to play through, those of you who played Smackdown vs Raw 2007 may find it tedious, due to it being very similar to 2007's version. The other main new mode added to Smackdown vs Raw 2008 is the Hall of Fame mode. The WWE Hall of Fame is where every superstar aims to end up one day, as it shows great dedication shown to the WWE, and that you have entertained screaming fans for many a year. In this mode, you have to complete a certain amount of events to prove you are worthy of entering the Hall of Fame. With every event you win, your "Hall of Fame" meter will rise; once this is full, you can join other legendry superstars and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Events in this game mode include famous matches from certain years such as the Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock bout in 2001; you battle as Stone Cold, and must win to improve your meters status. Other matches will have you playing as D-Generation X and other WWE Legends. Every match you win will not only progress you towards the Hall of Fame, but also unlock wrestlers and move sets for you to purchase in the WWE Shop. When you enter the WWE shop you will find a large amount of wrestlers and new moves, among other items to purchase. The wrestlers you buy in the WWE Shop include recent superstars such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, to former superstars from decades ago such as Bret "The Hitman" Hart. To buy such items, you will use the money you earn from winning matches in 24/7 mode; another reason why it is valuable to play through this mode. The WWE Shop provides an incentive to play through the game and something to aim for, but also has its negative points. For average gamers who just want to pick up the game and play with former superstars, they will not be able to do so. Stone Cold and The Rock are still very popular wrestlers to this day, and therefore many players will want to use them when they first purchase the game or when they have some friends round; this is not possible, due to needing to earn money and winning events in the hall of fame to unlock the superstars. Smackdown vs Raw 2008 also includes Tournament modes, which lets you play through and become the King of the Ring, a famous tournament which is held yearly within the WWE. "Beat the Clock Sprint" is a new addition, which is a time trial based tournament where you aim to finish the tournament as victor in the quickest time possible. If neither of these takes your fancy, you are also able to create your own tournament to participate in. Choose what title to challenge for, what matches to play, and what superstars are involved. If you do not feel like playing on your own, you have the option to invite a few buddies round play one of the many exhibition modes available to you. These include playing One vs One, Two on Two, Triple Threat, Fatal 4-way, 6-man, and also participate in a Royal Rumble. Within these modes, you have the option to battle your opponent in a normal match, buried alive, first blood, hardcore, hell in a cell, and ladder match, among others. To my disappointment, an Elimination Chamber match is not available to fight in; the Elimination Chamber has become very popular within the WWE in recent years, and therefore would have been a nice addition to the game. If your friends can't come round, or you simply have no friends, venture onto the online world of Smackdown vs Raw 2008. This is very similar to the online features of Smackdown vs Raw 2007, where you are able to participate in all the events you can in Exhibition mode, such as hardcore matches, and also defend and challenge for Championships that you or your opponent have created. Putting your championship title on the line helps to add a lot on tension to fights online, as you obviously will try your hardest to defend your prized possession. If you lose your title after a well earned winning streak, expect disappoint and heartache to mourn upon you for the rest of the day. Winning titles online is a great feature of the game, but fails to add anything new to the Smackdown vs Raw Franchise as this feature can be found on the 2007 addition of the game; nonetheless, it's still a fun experience. As you would expect with a highly anticipated and branded wrestling game, many superstars are available to use and torture in many different ways. You will be able to find all your favourite superstars making appearances throughout the game during the story mode or exhibition modes as you use them, such as Batista, John Cena, The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio. As mentioned earlier, legends of the WWE also make an appearance in the game, but unfortunately you have to earn the right to unlock them first; a nice incentive to work towards. The female gamers may like to use their favourite Diva, as they are all present in the game; Torrie Wilson being my favourite! All of the WWE superstars are superbly done, looking near photo realistic to their real life counterparts. Each move they complete is animated extremely well with each wrestlers finishing move being identically performed to the real one. As you perform a Batista Bomb or the Stone Cold Stunner, you can see how much effort has been put into the game, and jump with joy as you pin your opponent for the 3 count and win the match. If you have played the 2007 title, you will be able to tell that 2008 game has slightly improved graphics. These are only slight though, due to 2007's graphics already being highly impressive. The character models look more realistic, and also the crowd seems to have been improved and more animated. The graphics in Smackdown vs Raw 2008 are beautifully done, but also have their flaws. An example of this is when you have your opponent is a choke hold; on occasions, your arm will appear through your opponent's neck, instead of chocking them like it should be. Little glitches like these help to spoil the experience, but overall, the graphics look great and are well done indeed. The game unfortunately suffers with long loading times, just like its older brother Smackdown vs Raw 2007. Waiting inbetween matches and cut scenes can take a few minutes a time and may get extremely frustrating; you want to be in the squared circle beating the crap out of someone, but you're looking at a picture of them instead of the loading screen. However, you can not moan when a beautiful Diva's picture comes up for you to look at, and you may be thinking please carry on loading! Fortunately, Smackdown vs Raw 08 features a solid play list which isn't too painful on the ears. No famous songs will be found, not that I've come across anyway, but they seem impressive nonetheless. No soppy music will be found, as most tracks appearing fit into the indie/rock genre, that which most people playing this game will probably prefer; who wants Britney Spears anyway when there psyching themselves up to break some bones? To go along with the solid soundtrack comes the games commentary during matches. The commentary is well done by the real voices of Michael Cole and JBL, and feature them arguing during matches which can also be found on the real TV shows. As with most sports game commentaries, it can become repetitive quite quickly, but fortunately the matches will usually not last any longer than 10 minutes a time, and therefore the commentary is very bearable. The achievements in the game are challenging but fun at the same time, and are quite unique from other sport games. Individual tasks have been set for you to complete in order to gain achievements, such as the challenging "Powerbomb your opponent onto the steel steps" or the easier "Argue with the referee 4 times in a match and win the match". A 350 point achievement is present in the game, which will wet the lips of the achievement whoares. This is achieved when you play as the General Manager in 24/7 mode and obtain the General Manger of the year award; a task which does not take a huge amount of talent, and therefore a generally easy 350 gamerpoints. Overall, the 1000 gamerpoints in Smackdown vs Raw 08 are very achievable, but expect to take a while due to some being challenging. On your route to the 1000, you are sure to have fun unlocking them all.
'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.