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Smackdown Vs. Raw is back with another annual release. TVG got a first look of the game at a rather swanky press event...
London's Mayfair Hotel, 16th August 2007: THQ hosts a press event for the latest instalment in their Smackdown Vs. Raw wrestling series. No expenses have been spared as THQ schmooze games journalists with alcohol, canapes and the penthouse suite. We even got to see WWE wrestler Mr. Kennedy demonstrate his prowess on the Nintendo Wii version of Smackdown Vs. Raw 2008. Actually, he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, which sucked a bit because even the jocks are beating us geeks on our own turf these days.
Nevertheless, while the canapes etc. were much appreciated (thanks THQ), I was determined not to let them cloud my judgement as a journalist. With that in mind, here comes the hype:
Developers Yukes has concentrated on including all the drama and twists of pro-wrestling, with around 800,000 different paths through story mode and scripts that have been overseen by the WWE. To add extra realism, some superstar wrestlers even read their own lines and performed their own motion capture. The presence of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in this year's title will also broaden proceedings, providing more superstars, weapons and arenas. It will also provide the 'Extreme Rules Match' mode, where you can chose which weapons to take from under the ring including flaming tables, sticks with barbed wire wrapped around the end and hammers. Objects can also be taken from the audience like guitars and drinks. New features in the series include a range of new fighting styles. Depending upon the strengths of each individual wrestler, they can fall under eight different styles including power house, high flyer, the brawler and fighting dirty. Additionally, a new more organic struggle submission system utilises the right analogue stick to either 'wrench' or 'escape'.
Anyway, hype aside, after managing to tear myself away from the beluga whale caviar and foie gras, there was a chance to get a brief hands-on with versions on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS - here's the lowdown:
The Xbox 360 build had the usual amount of next gen sheen to its visuals. In that sense the graphics weren't incredible, they simply had smooth enough textures, a bit more detail to the animations and good enough lighting effects to be considered average for next gen machines - nothing stunning at this stage in development.
It's often hard to judge fighting mechanics in a wrestling game. The gameplay in Smackdown VS. Raw on the Xbox 360 and PS3 doesn't seem quite as detailed and well balanced as other next gen fighters such as Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter. On the other hand, it's a completely different style of fighting and panders to a different gaming audience. Smackdown Vs. Raw provides ostentatious fighting moves under a relatively simple control system and some pretty decadent pre-fight cut-scenes. Understandably, this is what most wrestling fans want to play.
As for the new struggle submission system - is it more organic? Is it heck! Unfortunately, with the way it was implemented on the builds we played, it was just another lifeless and repetitive analogue stick control feature.
More worryingly, there was a marked difference in the versions on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Now, this could be due to a number of things: builds that are at different stages of development or kinks that are yet to be worked out of the game. However, the Xbox 360 version seemed to have much smoother animations and felt considerably less sluggish than the PS3 build. Could this be yet another example of framerate issues on the PS3, or simply that the graphics simply aren't up to the same standards as the Xbox 360? Let's hope that this isn't the case come the November 9th release date.
The Wii game looks visually good for a Wii release. Presumably it is graphically similar to the PS2 version (which we didn't get to play). While the next gen games are designed for the hardcore wrestling fan, the Nintendo releases have been aimed at the casual gamer. The Wii version seems to be doing a good job in this sense, maintaining the Smackdown Vs. Raw style while adding the uniquely accessible feel of the Wii remote and Nunchuk. Nicely integrated controls, such as a swipe of the remote for a punch and a shake to pick up an opponent, help to create an immersive feel.
At this stage, the DS game is making a blatant overuse of scripted 'Simon Says' style gameplay, a la Dragon's Lair or Road Avenger (one for all you one-time Mega CD owners). Basically, using the stylus you can select the type of move you want. Then you're given a certain task such as dragging the stylus across an on-screen arrow. Depending on how well you do this, it will result in one of two scripted animations - a) You getting beaten up or b) you beating your opponent up. The less said about the DS game the better, then.
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