Wrestling: sports entertainment. It might be more entertainment than sport, but in the video game world it certainly follows the sports genre model of business. And with another year comes another Smackdown! game, with new features and an updated roster. Sitting down with a preview build of the Xbox 360 version reveals that little has changed, and whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view.
The first thing that becomes apparent is the new grappling system. Now mapped to the right analogue stick, players will be able to execute one of 4 quick grapples or one of four strong grapples. Each strong grapple can then be turned into one of four power moves, meaning that each wrestler has a total of 16 moves grappling moves.
This is certainly a welcome addition to the Smackdown! franchise. People have fond memories of the old N64 wrestling games because they allowed for the replication of wrestling matches. Smackdown! on the other hand has always felt like a fighting game based on wrestling. The new grapple system means that Smackdown! is finally catching up to its N64 brethren; and that’s a good thing.
In addition to the new grapple system is the introduction of interactive environments. Now players can do far more than simply throw their opponent into the steps. Dragging their opponent into specific locations will allow for a range of painful manoeuvres that do as much damage as one would expect. Players can also take their opponents into a fully three-dimensional crowd, where they can batter them with an array of weapons.
Players can also execute a range of power moves where the opponent can be humiliated by being held in the air for dramatic effect. The longer you hold them, the more momentum they will lose. However, hold them for too long and you will lose stamina and be completely at their mecry.
These are a few of the additions to the Smackdown! formula. They certainly change the game slightly, adding more variety, but this still plays a lot like Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006. It’ll take a few moments to get used to the controls, but once you’re familiar with the new analogue system you’ll be right at home.
The graphics are certainly an improvement over the previous PS2 version, which is really a given. While they're not the best on the 360, and some of the characters can look like they’re made of plastic at times, the character models are all nicely detailed. There is no mistaking them for anyone else. HHH looks especially amazing, even if his ever-growing pot has been replaced with a six pack. The dynamic camera is also a nice touch, and it swoops around the bigger power moves to create the illusion of watching wrestling on television.
However, it’s not all good news. The commentary has been recycled from Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006, and it’s just as bad as it ever was. JR’s incessant prattle will drive you insane, and hearing Jerry Lawler act like there’s any real competition between Smackdown! and Raw is equally annoying. Another downside is that the roster is already out of date; don’t expect DX, let alone the Spirit Squad or even Mr. McMahon. If you’re looking to replicate the current WWE events, you’re out of luck.
Both the PS2 and 360 versions will include the plethora of modes players are accustomed to, from exhibitions to careers to general manager modes. Both versions will also have online play, and the 360 version will obviously have the full range of achievement points to unlock.
Smackdown! vs. Raw 2007 is shaping up to be exactly what you expect it to be. While wrestling diehards will no doubt already have a copy pre-ordered, the real question remains as to whether Smackdown! vs. Raw 2007 offers enough content to be worth another $130 (for the 360 version) if you already own Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006. Stay tuned to NZGamer for the upcoming full review to find out whether this one is a winner or not.
The Good: The grappling system leads to more variety.
The Bad: A lot of the game feels needlessly recycled.
The Ugly: The roster is already out of date!