Wrestling has been a part of videogames for a long time and like other sports games (ok loosely applied in this case) its major revolution in game play came from the shift from 2D to 3D. The N64 and the PlayStation saw many great, and some not so great, wrestling titles in their days and every year several titles come out for multiple systems. The genre obviously has an audience that knows what it likes because aside from improvements made over the years the basic control scheme for many wrestling games have been very consistent. So rather than pick apart the basics lets go ahead and dive into what makes SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 unique.
Features that allow the player to make their own wrestler and customize every single part of the move sets and even create their own finisher will give some players hours of tweaking and turning to create their own unique wrestler or recreate legends from the past. This creative control goes even deeper with the ability to record and then edit wrestling matches by adding sound effects, changing the filter, adding stickers, or just cutting out all the embarrassing stuff like your wrestler being thrown from the top of the ladder during a ladder match. Of course me favorite is the create a finisher which was so intuitive and relatively simple and had a feature where you could give the move one of 30 plus names that the announcers would actually call out when you performed it.
Of course no matter how much you work own your created wrestler there is no way you can get them to the icon level status of today’s superstars. That may be one of the reasons THQ ditched the generic created wrestler career mode and changed to a career mode that focuses on some of SmackDown and Raw’s most loved (or hated) superstars. There are six different career modes and each plays like a marathon of wrestling shows telling the story of that superstars struggle to be the best. Of course there are still more traditional career modes like the randomly generated career path and tournament mode but the real action take place in the Road to Wrestlemania story careers. The cut scenes while not fantastic or life changing were so in tune with what you see on TV that I think many fans will dig ‘em. The facial animation isn’t bad and the wrestlers moves are very fluid but there was one thing about this game’s graphics that I couldn’t overlook. The crowd looks like the mega block’s zombie set from hell. That’s an exaggeration obviously but when your playing as a superstar you want to feel like a superstar and not like your playing with some action figures with a bunch of Lego people for the audience like when you were a kid.
Besides the blocky crowd animations there are two other complaints I have about this years SmackDown vs. Raw. The games detection of button press to interact with weapons or objects like tables, chairs, and ladders force the player to stand in a precise spot in order to perform an action. This can be maddening when your trying to pick up a ladder with your opponent beating you in the back of the head. The second complaint is that the prompts for the counters were on the screen for only a split second making countering very difficult early on in the game. I must say though that because it is so difficult to rely on the prompts it does force you to pay attention and anticipate your opponents moves in order to perform counters. I would prefer the single button counter system that the Wii version implemented though, because it allows for more mindless brawling and less strategic thinking, which let’s face it, is not something that wrestling videogames are traditionally known for.
One very entertaining and fun part of the game is multiplayer. Because of course many of us wrestling fans graduated from just watching it on Tvs to wrestling with our own friend’s in the backyard or basement or wherever we just happened to be. I can remember one time me and a buddy wrestled on top of this concrete pedestal near our houses at a local high school. Sure it was dangerous but being able to test our skills and knowledge against someone else is what makes wrestling a sport. Of course I would recommend playing a videogame over play wrestling on concrete any day and if you had to play a wrestling videogame with your friends I would recommend SmackDown vs. Raw 2009. The different modes including the Royal Rumble can mean hours of entertainment with your best bud and a rematch is as easy as hitting the A button at the end of a match. The online really shines though with surprisingly stable performance and minimal lag. When I was playing online I couldn’t tell any difference than when I was playing with Chuck at his house. Beware though, two players means the camera made try to compensate by changing to a different angle if you both try to take the action in two different directions. This was the only time I noticed the camera actually acting up in anyway.
The sound track and the voice work is not really surprising as far as quality but the quantity is impressive. The lines of dialog that must have been recorded for the 6 career modes, particularly the announcer’s commentary, must have taken a good long while to record and refine. The musical tracks you would expect from the television programs are here and intact and the feature of being able to skip the current track on the menu screen by clicking the left analog stick down was awesome for me since there are some songs I just can’t listen to. There isn’t a whole lot of grunted and groaning going on in the ring but that’s ok since most of the time those kinds of noises are drowned out by the roaring crowd in the background anyway.
Typical achievements don’t offer a lot of replay value but with 6 careers and a huge number of different match types for multiplayer I don’t imagine anyone picking this up for the achievement points unless all the copies of Avatar the Last Airbender are already being rented out. There aren’t a lot of different achievements though so I would suspect that each is worth a decent amount of points, including the secret ones.
SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a solid entry into the genre filled with so many features it will have WWE fans playing for months. The multiplayer modes and creation tools are very good and offer a lot of variety and increased replay value. However there are a few small kinks like the crowd animations and collision detection that don’t break the game but still give it a less polished feel. This year were just seeing a glimpse of what will be a genre breakthrough with the controls and I can’t wait to get my hands on next years title.
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