Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii: November 9, 2008
Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii: November 12, 2008
Another year, another WWE game. With every passing year there is hope that THIS time we will get a wrestling game that truly defines the art of big, sweaty men in pants, pretending to fight. With their biggest rivals TNA releasing a game earlier this year, the pressure may be starting to mount on WWE and THQ to produce top quality wrestling games one again.
WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 is very much what I have come to expect from a WWE game. It is more like a strange fighting game than a wrestling game in that professional wrestling is actually (gasp!) fake, yet the games portray all of the acts as if they are actually fighting. In ‘real’ wrestling, the matches are a constant back and forth with the match nearly always ending with a finisher. The problem with this latest SmackDown! game (and the majority of them) is that the match will nearly always be the player decimating their opponent and hitting them with a few finishers before they end the match. So the game ends up being unrewarding and unfaithful to the source material which is really disappointing.
Yet with that being said, the game will undoubtedly appeal to certain people, avid fans of the WWE will really get a kick out of taking this guy, and making him beat the living crap out of this other guy. With a total roster number of 67 superstars / divas, there is plenty of opportunity to create your favourite dream scenarios, but it’s still a shame to see matches that are nothing like real-life wrestling bouts. The roster is a big improvement on last year’s 48 characters although there still seems to be a few ‘throw-aways’ in there. About ten percent of the characters will have to be unlocked by playing through one of the six Road to WrestleMania storylines.
The Road to WrestleMania game mode is replacing the classic story mode this year with six stories written exclusively for the characters involved. The mode sees you in the two months running up to WrestleMania with one of the following superstars: Triple H, John Cena, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, The Undertaker or Batista & Rey Mysterio. The stories are even more unrealistic than the real-life storylines (if you can wrap your head around that) but for the most part they serve their purpose and it fits in better than having [insert Superstar here] partake in [insert random storyline here] everytime. The same problems remain though, with horrendous voice acting and character movement not helping the less than impressive storylines. The presentation has been improved slightly, but the character run-ins and interaction is still a long way off from looking like anything on TV.
The other major update is the career mode, which has the player choose a superstar (or a CAW), choose a title to chase and then partake in a number of matches before challenging the title holder. In order to wrestle for the #1 contendership, the player must take on their choice of five superstars and earn a predetermined amount of stars in these matches. The only problem with this is it’s hard to get a high-star rating just by beating your opponent senseless, so you will find yourself purposefully breaking up pins and letting yourself get beat up a bit to get the stars. Without any actually story or cut-scenes in between matches or even title-wins, the mode grows pretty stagnant pretty quickly and you will be hard-pressed to find a reason to try and complete all nine titles trees.
In terms of the actually wrestling gameplay, it is almost exactly the same as previous instalments in the series, with a few new character specific moves added. New to 2009 however is the use of signature moves when using a stored ‘finisher’ which stops ‘finisher-fests’ and helps to differentiate between the characters as the announcers actually call the signature moves this time. The signature moves are all pretty good, but there is no indication before the match of which position you must be in to execute them so there will be a bit of trial and error gameplay when rooting them out. Tag Team matches have also had a bit of a re-hash, with a new ‘hot tag’ meter which is ridiculous. At any point the player on the apron can start some crowd clapping and unleash a hot tag, which involves a small quick time event after a tag. The whole point of a ‘hot tag’ in real wrestling is that the player making the tag has been beaten to a pulp and is crawling for his life to make the tag, but in the game it can be made at any time which makes no real sense and look as stupid as it sounds. Besides these changes, there is still a large amount of clipping and animation issues, with players taken no notice of the objects around them and jerking in and out of movements without any fluidity. It’s still incredibly aggravating to me that THQ STILL cannot seem to make a good, fluid wrestling simulator.
The exhibition modes are very much the same with a large range of different match types available including the all new Inferno match which is fun once or twice and then the novelty kind of wears off. Exhibition matches are kind of fun if you enjoy making your own title matches between different opponents in various match types, yet playing against the COM is too easy and unrewarding so the only other real place to try is online. Unfortunately the majority of online players are incredibly good at the game and due to some incessant lag issues, once someone has the upper hand it is nearly impossible to counter your way out of it.
The creation modes are back again and one of the only redeeming parts of SmackDown! Vs. RAW 2009. There is still a huge range of customisable character models and move sets to suit the player. A brand new addition the creation tools is the Create-A-Finisher mode which allows you to chain together up to ten movements to create your own unique finishing move. The moves flow together nicely although there are a few hitches when linking certain moves with each other but aside from that, it is pretty fun to create your own finishing moves to use on opponents.
The soundtrack only features about ten licensed songs, but wrestlers’ themes will now play on the menu screens as well which is a nice touch. The sound effects however, are not quite as nice though, as wrestlers will be slammed down to the mat with a rather disappointing ‘tap’ rather than an aggressive ‘THUD’ which draws away from the visual aspect of some of the more violent moves.
The Final Word
WWE’s SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 is another disappointing wrestling game that tries some new things but ultimately does not focus on the things it needs to change such as wrestler animations and TV-style presentation. An in-depth creation mode and some semi-engrossing story modes are all that save this game from complete failure, but it’s still not passable.
– MonsterVine Rating: Mediocre
By Andy Jackson