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Sean Pettibone


WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 (Playstation 3)

This title offers a decent recreation of the sport, with top brawlers and famous superstars competing in the ring in various modes of play. This year's edition features the easy to understand controls players have become accustomed to, along with some new features such as new fighting styles for each character, a Hall of Fame mode and additional moves. There are multiple modes of play for either solo or online play and an excellent selection of current and classic wrestling stars, with more than 20 playable overall. This is a decent release that brings the ring into your living room, making WWE Smackdown 2008 a solid purchase for PS3 owners.

Taking many of the elements that made the previous titles and bringing them into current, high-def standards, with some impressive gameplay enhancements to boot, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 from THQ is an excellent wrestling title that captures the excitement and drama of the sport. Featuring an impressive lineup of more than 30 classic and current stars, the game lets players jump into the ring and play as their favorite brawler. You can unlock additional wrestlers and features as you work up to the championship levels, though things get much harder the at the higher difficulty levels. All of the big names are here including the Rock and current champion Edge, along with an array of classic wrestlers, who can be unlocked including Roddy Piper and Vince McMahon, which is a cool addition to the series. Both of the current wrestling shows are pitted against each other, and there are also a few characters from the ECW league as well, which makes this a fairly comprehensive lineup of pro wrestling stars for fans of all stripes.

One of the most important aspects of any sports title are the controls and Smackdown 2008's interface succeeds because it's both accessible and easy to use. Most of the characters are fairly easy to use and their standard moves are easy to perform with a few button presses. You have a variety of grappling moves you can use to knock your opponent down to the mat, and can also use some cool pin moves to keep them there. The game also lets you use a variety of moves to pick up weapons, throw your opponents and even has some impressive out of the ring action. It follows the theatrical approach of wrestling, and there are loads of counters and unexpected moves that keep each match interesting. Controlling your wrestler is a fairly simple task, with most basic moves mapped to the controller's face buttons. You can also perform other more complicated moves, such as dirty hits by pressing down on the right analog stick. For newcomers and veterans alike, this interface means it's an extremely accessible title and should be simple enough that players of different abilities will be able to play and perform wild attacks and moves without much effort. Pushing your opponent on the ropes, performing punishing pile drivers and throwing them out of the ring are fairly simple moves, but one of the more interesting additions in this installment is the ability to perform character-specific power moves as well that give your character extra power and abilities for a short time.

These are called Superstar moves and can be enabled by pressing the left shift button and triangle when your power bar reaches its top section, there are eight basic special move types specific to each character and include Brawler, Dirty, Hardcore, Powerhouse, Technical and Showman moves. The work by enhancing your character's strength and ability for a short time. For example, if you have a character with the brawler special moves, his attacks will be more powerful and they'll also take less damage during this period. Choosing a technical ability means that you'll have much better moves that will connect much cleaner, giving your character a better grip on the action. While these special moves don't guarantee victory, you'll definitely have a better shot at it if you time these moves correctly. Another major new addition to the game is its Struggle Submission System that allows you to have a much greater amount of control when you're holding an opponent. By pressing the right analog stick in the direction you're holding, you can control the amount of grip you have on an opponent, making it more difficult or easier for them to escape from your grasp. If you find yourself caught in one of these moves, you can move your analog stick in the same directions to escape, which depends on both how much force your opponent is applying to you and how much damage your character has taken. It sounds very complicated, but it works intuitively in practice to make for a much more realistic and natural control system that helps to keep you in the action. These enhancements are welcome additons and the game plays very smoothly, so players familiar with the previous game should feel right at home.

There are several modes of play included in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 including single player, versus and career modes. One of the coolest features of the game is the new customization mode where you can create and use your own superstar character during the game. Its fairly easy to make up your own character and there's enough flexibility that you can make a decent creation without them ending up generic. One of the other features in this year's installment is the appearance of the ECW, with its outlaw characters making a welcome return to the series this time around. However, the most interesting of these is the new WWE 24/7 mode that allows you to manage and guide a wrestler throughout an entire career from their beginnings to superstardom later on. Here, you can tell them which events to perform in, who they want to align themselves with and other management tasks, making for an interesting simulation aspect. The other significant addition to the game this year is the inclusion of a new Hall of Fame mode that allows you to relive classic bouts, unlocking additional playable characters along the way. THQ has also implemented online play this time around, which lets you battle it out against other players via the Playstation Network service. Overall, these features definitely add plenty of depth and replay value to the game, and make this one of the better WWE titles to come along in some time.

Visually, the developers have done a fairly decent job of bringing the atmosphere and style of a real WWE match to the console, with everything from the introductory sequences and attending smoke and fire making a dramatic start to the action. The in-game visuals are fairly good as well, with some decent character animations. Each wrestler's personality comes through thanks to the excellent motion capturing and facial animations, which helps to bring things to life. The presentation and production values are excellent for the most part, though the camera angles are a bit static in places, which makes the gameplay feel a bit predictable after awhile. While the in-game commentary is humorous at many points in the action, there is a noticeable repetition that comes in after a few matches, which is disappointing considering how much work went into the rest of the game. Smackdown vs. Raw's overall production values are fairly decent and do a good job of brining players into the action, though they don't push the boundaries of the PS3's hardware.

Despite being a little bit rough around the edges as far as presentation goes, Smackdown 2008 is a fairly decent wrestling game that offers fast, accessible gameplay. The new special moves offer a new dimension to the gameplay and make each match more exciting than they were before, allowing each wrestler's unique fighting style to shine through while delivering a solid and exciting punch during each match. The game's improves submission holding moves are easier to perform and use, and give things an even more intuitive feel than before, making for an easy to play title that should appeal to fans of all ages. Add in an extensive lineup of current and classic wrestlers and you end up with an entertaining sports title that delivers a decent, if unimpressive wrestling game experience.  

- Michael Palisano

Grade: C+

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