Wrestling fans that chose to follow the Microsoft path in the past generation were pretty much hamstrung from the starting line. The Raw titles did not live up to the hype built, with the original Raw lacking a story mode being particularly gutting. Wrestlemania 21 being released filled with more bugs than there will be consumed in the latest “I’m A Celebrity” affair did it and the Xbox owners no favours. But I have always been of the feeling that if someone was to take the good aspects of the previous Xbox titles, we would lead to something that could very well challenge the likes of the Days of Reckoning titles on the shamefully neglected Gamecube, and a certain Smackdown series on the Playstation.
So to get right to the point and move away from a David Starkey style prologue, I was slightly disappointed when THQ took the step of releasing their Smackdown franchise across formats. I have always been of the opinion that despite their faults, that if someone was to take the more interesting ideas of Anchor and Studio Gigante and comprise them into one singular title, a third franchise worth a gander would be added to the fold. Akin to the return of ECW under a WWE mantra, instead of something new or a return of a past glory (cough No Mercy) we are instead getting more of the same in a new outfit. Whether this title will stoke your interest beyond the allure of a wrestling title for your 360 console is dependant on where your feelings lie with the previous titles in the Smackdown series. For what has been added to this edition, the series is still creaking from a tiring engine in need of a complete rejig, and it does not hit the peak of the Smackdown series in ‘Here Comes The Pain’. Despite this, SD VS Raw 2007 is still a very good game both for Wrestling fanatics, and those new to the mat antics as it brings some new features that add more variety and depth to proceedings that have been long overdue in the Smackdown franchise.
There are differences between this ‘next generation’ Xbox 360 title and the PS2 version; the spit polish of the graphics engine, the reduced loading times (while still irritating) and more layers to be toyed with in ‘Create a Wrestler’ mode; but they are minimal at best and says a greater deal for the effort put in by Yukes to obtain the highest potential from the aging PS2, than taking the ‘next generation’ by storm. But there lies the problems with the PS2 side story; the push to reach the maximum has lead to some creaking and overly long loading screens that just emphasise the aging format. For these reasons the 360 version quite rightly wins out as the definitive version of the title, but not to the extent that it is pushing the boundaries as far as I would have liked. Of course there is always the next instalment, but the argument must be raised as to why should the consumer wait when this title could have been delayed and honed as a real showpiece of the 360? The animation’s hung over from previous titles in the series and the poor AI both of opponents and partners are even more glaring on this 360 outing as they are things that need to be eradicated if the series is to move forward on the new format.
One thing that must be mentioned that has made the progression is the exceptional entrances, particular highlight being Ken Kennedy’s entrance. While as I already mentioned the graphics engine is more of a spit polish of the exceptional graphics engine on the PS2 version (in respect to the aging PS2 format), they are enough nuances added to the 360’s engine to make it intriguing enough, if not pushed to the extent that it should have been. For example the new sweat system which a nice added touch and purely cosmetic, but that’s not to slight what it adds in terms of realism. The problem I have is that the graphics overhaul is mainly seen in the entrances, something that after viewing a few times soon becomes something the player skips in eagerness to reach the match. Just seems a cosmetic that they could have spent less time on to instead hone on things that greatly need a retouch such as the animations. I appreciate wrestling fans (including myself) greatly enjoy frequenting websites to enjoy the hype built for the release of these titles, to see these entrances, but when that polish isn’t reflected in the rest of the title on a system as advanced as the Xbox 360 one can only be left disappointed.
While still available on the PS2 online service, one key joy of the 360 version of this years title is the inspired Online play this year; benefited by the ease and accessibility of Xbox Live itself. Not needing a Multi-tap, and the wireless pads just add to the 360 experience. Every match type is available for play apart from the Elimination Chamber and the Royal Rumble. This year again offers the chance to defend your created titles online, and the ability to trade created wrestlers between systems as well as the obvious multiplayer aspect. One slight on this is that when matches reach up to four online players the game can hit to a slog, but it is nothing that can not be patched in the future. While I should knock this, as we should expect games to be in prime condition when we part with our cash, the sheer fun that is to be had online more than covers for any grievance. The many Achievements linked to online play, such as winning 50 odd matches, make it something the player will persist with at the start just for this niche but once the first match is under your belt I promise you will be hooked.
One big risk Yukes have taken this year has been to rejuvenate the control system. Introducing a system following a similar vein to the Fight Night series from EA, quick grapples are now assigned to the right thumb stick. It doesn’t quite get near the representation of movement achieved in EA’s title, but when the player adjusts to the change it adds a whole new feeling of control. But for those who can’t get used to the new system can change to control type D in the options menu, to play with a system more in the ilk of previous titles. Holding the RB button alongside moving the right thumb stick accesses strong grapples. The direction you move the thumb stick decides which style grapple you will use, for example a submission grapple. Another new addition to this years control system is the ability to perform ‘Ultimate Control Moves’. After achieving a strong grapple, instead of choosing a direction with the thumb stick to activate a move, clicking down the right thumb stick your chosen competitor will set his opponent up for a move, only that instead of a prefixed animation the player controls how, when and which way the rest of the move is performed. For example, the UCM could be a set up for a Powerbomb, and in the hub a menu will appear indicating actions that can be performed with the right thumb stick, such as spinning the stick to rotate with the opponent on your shoulders, or moving the stick down to complete a traditional Powerbomb. Four UCM’s are available for each wrestler, corresponding with the four choices of strong grapple. But performing a UCM is a drain on your chosen wrestler’s stamina, so this ensures that zealous opponents do not over exploit them. Taunts are accessed via the D-pad.
Another new addition this year is the new Hotspots. Players after initiating a strong grapple can drag their opponent to one of these hotspots; whether it is the steel stairs, the top rope, or a newly accessible area with the crowd, and perform a new variety of moves controlled by the right thumb stick in the same manner as the Ultimate Control Moves. Stamina depletes as the player slams their opponent’s head into the steel stairs for example, but their addition adds a whole new depth to the ring area and more feeling of control and interaction.
The Stamina and Momentum bars make their return after being introduced in last year’s release. Yukes seem to have not tweaked the Stamina bar itself to right evenness, as the stamina seems to shoot down at such a rate that a prolonged bout becomes more of a question of how long you can keep your opponent pinned to the mat in order to regain some breath. It makes the bouts more of a game of chess, which is good in some ways but I feel the rate stamina depletes needs to be tweaked with for the next version to ensure it becomes a more interesting aspect rather than a hindrance. The opposite can be said about the Momentum bar, which rises as the player performs moves and when it reaches its peak allows the player to perform a finishing move. Yukes seem to have got the balance of how long it takes to fill the bar right (for example by slowly eradicating it if the player continually repeats moves), making it successful. Finishers themselves are performed by using the LB button after a move has been stored following a filled Momentum bar (clicking the Left trigger and LB together when prompted in the Hud) or during the period in which the Momentum bar is flashing as long as the opponent is in the right position. Storing a finisher and filling the bar again until it is flashing enables the player to steal their opponents finishing move by holding the left trigger and then clicking the LB button.
Performing moves obviously damages your opponent, and remaining in this years release since debuting in ‘Here Comes The Pain’ is the damage meter, again situated in the Hud. The grievance I raise with this years damage meter is that it seems Yukes like with the Stamina bar, have not settled on the right balance. The ease at which the player is able to damage different body parts seems quite unreal, and while damaged parts do slowly heal if the opponent can protect themselves it still seems that it is relatively too easy to injure a certain body part quickly. Coupled with how quickly the stamina does deplete it can make prolonged bouts more of a chore.
THQ and Yukes seem to be caught at a catch 22 as they try to please both those who want primarily good gameplay, and those who wish for the game to feature more match types, unlockables and frolics. This years release makes a good compromise offering a dated but still strong roster, some new Legends added to the fold as unlockables including the likes of Mr Perfect and Dusty Rhodes for the first time, and a rejuvenation of frequent match types, Tables and Ladder. The debuting Match type this year is the Money in the Bank match; essentially a six-way Ladder match for those not in the WWE loop. Rules for each match types can be tweaked and toggled to the extent that you’ll spend ages just trying all the different permutations, and with all match types albeit the Elimination Chamber and the Royal Rumble available for online play, there is a shed load of variety available here especially for multiplayer antics.
The Story mode, the Challenges, The GM Mode, the Create A Wrestler Mode, and Create A PPV mode all make their returns and albeit some early hype and fanfare do not differ that greatly from previous years, but that is not to diminish the fun that is there to be had toying with them. The Create A Wrestler mode adds more depth for creation with the ability to utilise 60 layers, and a new edition of being able to preview your created entrances on screen as you adapt them is inspired. While there is no feature to have Custom Entrance themes, the many options to tweak both the CAW’s and their entrances hides their departure. The Challenge mode is split into a series of Superstar Challenges, and Legends Challenges (when Legends are unlocked) and offers enough variety to add length to the game.
The GM Mode’s additions make it more accessible than last years but again it isn’t yet on a par with one of Grey Dogs titles. The new tab system makes flicking between menus easier, and a central window for feuds eases some of the irritancies that rose last year when attempting to book rivalries and maintain them. Both these changes couple with the addition this year of Writers, each with their own specialities, allowing the player to buy storylines for which to base their rivals feuds around. Again it can be played either two player or singular, and makes a worthwhile side show to the main crux of the game.
The Season Mode this year while not echoing the heights of some of the previous WWE titles, is a good enough affair to keep the player entertained. Voiceovers have been recorded particularly well, and capture the nuances of each wrestler. They add much worth to the cut scenes and make them more gratifying to watch; seeing Shane McMahon singing along to his entrance theme is an experience that is too great for words. This is an appropriate time to mention the pretty woeful commentary on the title, merely a rehash of last year’s effort and completely disjointed with mentions of wrong moves and of wrestlers not even in the ring. Must do better from Yuke’s. The different set pieces and scenarios are real to the WWE product (barring an infamous storyline involving Candice Michelle’s wand) and there are enough different storylines to make the mode worth playing through multiple times. Which is a good move, as the Season mode is an essential haven to unlock the Legends and other goodies from the Shop accessed via the Locker Room. Some storylines are bland generic affairs, there is some repetition and the much-vaunted opportunity for multiple paths is overstated, as there is never a real option beyond two rather obvious routes. But despite this it is accessible enough, and the addition of the ability to play some matches multiplayer helps to keep even those bored from the get go ploughing through. Winning PPV matches again wins trophies that unlock new fancy unlockables for purchase in the shop. This year the Season Mode does not last only a year, with player able to continue on past their victory at Wrestlemania, which again is a nice touch to add depth to affairs.
The Pin Count
Overall this year’s version is again more of the same and while that’s not something to overly criticise, as there is a good ground base that has been passed on through from each new Yuke’s Smackdown release, it just feels that the ball has been dropped briefly in an attempt to achieve a multi-format release rather than a title that excels on each format. The PS2 version pushed to the hilt so that it struggles on its format, while the 360 version not realising the capabilities of the new format couple together just emphasises this. Whether this is Yuke.s, THQ’s or Microsoft’s fault for insisting upon a Multi-format release is unknown, but doesn’t make it any the less disappointing. Really the overall score for this title reflects on how you feel personally. If you are happy to be continually fed more of the same with a few polishes here and there because you enjoy the SD series as it is (some titles like EA’s Fifa get criticised for this on occasion) then this title will be closer to the ten mark. If like myself, while you still enjoy the SD series you feel that it is resting on its laurels too much, and this opportunity to restart from the ground up to couple with the changes made in the control system, you will result in a mark between a high seven and an 8. But whichever side you stand, there is no question that this title still remains the definitive Wrestling title easily available in Europe and the USA for the current formats, and if you wish for the title of this genre for your new console then you can not go wrong with SD Vs Raw 2007 if you accept the problems. The Online play is the primary positive to be taken this year, it has honed this year and isn’t the tacked on affair that is seem in many other similar titles. There is so much fun to be had with SD Vs Raw if you are willing to seek it out, and are prepared to part with your cash for something that is more familiar then a unique new take.
Score: 8 / 10