Multi-platform Pew! Pew! Preview: WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008

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It’s that time of the year again, when THQ unleashes its popular wrestling title, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw. In its seventh year, this year’s edition (the ninth!) finds its home on all of the usual suspects, including the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Xbox 360. But for the first time ever, the Smackdown series will also be making its way to the PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS, and Wii.

THQ held a nice little press event in Washington D.C. yesterday, and was kind enough to have us out to try out every version of the game. Ever. Yup, there are a lot. But not all versions are created equal, with versions even being built from the ground up to take advantage of system fancy specific capabilities (Nintendo, I’m looking at you).

Hit the jump for a full rundown of what you can expect from each of the games when they hit stores this November.

Xbox 360I’ll start with the Xbox 360 version of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 for a few reasons, the least of which is that it’s the best looking of the bunch (which I’ll get to a bit later). For the most part, the game shares a lot in common with the PS3, PS2, and PSP versions of the title. It does, however, differ greatly from both the Nintendo DS and Wii versions, but I’ll get to later, as well.

You have to hand it to THQ and the game’s developer, Yukes — while they could easily rehash the same game every year, slap on an updated roster, and a few new moves, they really have grown the series since its debut in 2000. Things like the visuals, modes, match types, and controls have all been either tweaked or completely overhauled from year to year. In many areas, Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is no exception. 

The game maintains a similar feel to the recent Smackdown titles, with a decent balance between fast action and a more methodical simulation approach. The analog grapple system introduced last year returns with minor tweaks, and each wrestler has his or her own signature move set. While most offense is handled by the analog sticks, striking attacks are performed with one of the face button, and the shoulder triggers handle counters.

This year’s game introduces something called “Superstar Fighting Styles,” eight unique styles of combat that can drastically change an in-ring strategy: Brawler, Dirty, Hardcore, High-flyer, Submission, Powerhouse, Technical, and Showman. Styles are chosen pre-match, and each has its own set of primary and secondary abilities. 

The primary ability for a wrestler fighting under the dirty style, for instance, is an “illegal” low blow, with a secondary abilities being using a referee as a shield, or alternately, just bitching him out over a slow count. The Hardcore style grants you another set of abilities entirely, essentially changing how you’ll approach a match. My personal favorite, the “Hardcore Resurrection,” where your wrestler smashes a steel chair into his head until he bleeds, sending him into a frenzy.

This year also features the introduction of a new submission system, which launches a mini-game each time a hold is performed. Once in a submission, both the attacker and the defender will use the analog sticks to increase move intensity, or try to power out of the move. Too much intensity on the attackers part can lead to loss in grip, and in some cases, a devastating reversal. While it doesn’t appear all of the moves prompt this “Struggle Submission System,” many famous finishers (Ric Flair’s figure-four leg lock, for instance) will utilize it.

Looking at the single player aspect, “Season Mode” and “General Manager” mode have been rolled up into a tight little ball that’s being called “24/7 Mode.” The end result is a deeper experience, with role-playing feel. You’ll not only face-off against opponents in the ring, but you also are involved in backstage drama, training, match booking, and more, with the ultimate goal to become a legend. I didn’t spend much time with this mode, but it seems like it could add an interesting layer of depth to otherwise shallow “one match after another” wrestling single-player modes.

The game also features Extreme Championship Wrestling the ECW roster. If you’re not familiar with ECW, it’s generally regarded as some of the most brutal wrestling in the business. Years ago, I would attend ECW events in Queens, NY, where you were encouraged to bring foreign objects from home. This is going to hurt some feelings, but at one event, I watched one superstar smash a Nintendo Entertainment System on another’s head, smashing it to pieces. Brutal. 

This brutality makes its way into Smackdown vs. Raw 2008, in the form of the new “ECW Extreme Rules” match. Similar to a hardcore match, anything goes in this mode, and prior to the match, you actually have the ability to choose which items will be brough to the ring. Tables, crutches, a shovel, and a guitar were among the objects available, and are ripe for the taking from underneath the ring at any time. Flaming barbed wire 2×4’s and flaming tables also make an appearance. And if that doesn’t make you want to play this game, there may be no hope for you.

The “Extreme Rules” match, as well as most other exhibition types, will be available in the game’s online mode. Created wrestlers can be brought online, and can even be traded with others, thus infinitely expanding the game’s roster. The game will not feature an online season mode, but created belts can be put up for grabs, and you can feel free to fight over them like animals. I also confirmed that there will be no DLC for this year’s game, although this is most definitely on the table for next year’s game. 

Exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of the game will be custom entrance music, something fans have been clamoring for since what seems like the beginning of time. Expanding on Smackdown‘s already out-of-control custom wrestler feature, you can now truly create the ultimate bad ass, adding your favorite Jessica Simpson song as an entrance theme. 

PlayStation 3Smackdown vs. Raw missed its PS3 release this year, so this will be the first time it’ll be appearing on Sony’s next-gen system. The game will feature all of the same modes, wrestlers, and online features as the Xbox 360 version of the title. It will however not feature custom soundtracks, but THQ had attempted to make good with a PS3 exclusive feature — interactive entrances.

Using the SIXAXIS control, players can enter a first-person mode during a ring entrance, and “move” the wrestlers head. This gives you a first-person view of the action, in an attempt to let the player experience the excitement of entering an arena full of screaming fans. This has absolutely no noticeable impact on gameplay, and while it’s a fun little extra, it remains to be seen how much use fans will get out of this extra feature.

Another feature the PS3 version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 seems to be missing is crisp, clean visuals. There was a noticeable difference between the Xbox 360 and PS3 version of the game — the wrestlers on the PS3 suffered from jagged edges, the crowd didn’t look as sharp, and various lighting and shadowing effects also seem to have suffered a blow on Sony’s system. The frame rate takes a hit, too; the game play was identical, but things were definitely not running as smooth on the final build of the PS3 version.

PlayStation 2The PS2 version of the game is identical in main feature set to the PS2 and Xbox 360, with the major difference being visuals. The system is being pushed to its limits, and the game definitely looks great for a PS2 title, so there’s no reason why owners shouldn’t be happy with the visuals. The game lacks an online mode, however, but makes up for it by allowing up to six players with the use of a Multi-tap.

PlayStation PortableImpressively, all of the features and wrestlers found in the Xbox 360, PS3, and PS2 versions are crammed onto the UMD. Visually, the game holds its own, and feels fine, despite the PSPs cramped controls (which is a hardware, not software, issue). The PSP version actually features the largest roster of wrestlers of all of the titles, with three additional legends not found on other system: Eddie Guerrero, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jim Neidhart.

WiiA multiplatform Wii title that’s not a PS2 or PSP port, this version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 was actually build from the ground up to take advantage of motion controls, and it shows. At a glance, the game may look similar to the PS2 game (with slightly polished visuals), but once you get the Wii Remote and nunchuck in your hand, it’s a completely different story.

Surprisingly, not even Wii Boxing will have you swinging your arms around as wildly as the Wii version of this title. Except for movement of your wrestler with the nunchuck’s analog stick, almost all moves are done by waggling or waving your hands around like a psychotic. Swinging the Wii Remote will cause your wrestler to strike, while holding down a button plus swinging will cause you to grapple with an opponent and perform a move. 

Some moves even have interactive remote functions — to perform a powerbomb, for instance, you hoist the control up, and following on-screen commands, you wave the remote down to slam your opponent into the ground. The result of all of this waggling is tiring, to be sure, but also an absolute blast. In the short bursts of play time I had, the amount of yelling and hand waving was unmatched in any other Wii title — I actually felt like one of those hyper-active old people Nintendo keeps showing us in all of their promos. It was embarassing — and honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing half of the time — but was extremely entertaining. 

The Wii version also features its own single-player mode, the Main Event mode, where players choose their own path to “glory.” Selecting your brand, your allies, and more, will alter the course of the game. It even takes advantage of the Wii’s Miis, and they’ll appear in the HUD and even react to moves and taunts.

Nintendo DSI’m not even sure how to begin describing Smackdown vs. Raw on the Nintendo DS. Developed by Amaze, the game not only plays like no other version of the game, but like no other wrestling game I’ve ever really played. 

The game takes full advantage of the touch screen, and there’s no need to touch a single button while playing. On the touch screen, two wrestlers battle it out, while the second screen is home to most of the HUD elements, including wrestlers status. The match plays out in an odd mixture of turn-based strategy and Elite Beat Agents — the action will pause, and you’re given the opportunity to touch different points on the screen to kick off different actions.

You drag your stylus up or down, based on the move or reversal; you tap a point on the screen to build power and complete a move; you make circles on the screen with your stylus; you slide the stylus left and right repeatidly to get up. All of this is guided by on-screen prompts, and if you’re too slow, you’ll miss your move opportunity, and your opponent will get the upper hand.

The end result is a fast-paced, but very deliberate type of game, where it seems a mix of actual strategy and reflexes might actually play a huge part in your success. While I haven’t spent enough time with the game to say whether or not this approach is successful in the “fun” department, I applaud THQ for really taking a chance on something completely new.

Every version of WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 ever in existence will be available on November 13. And like the marketing for the game says: “How will you play?” And no, naked is not the appropriate answer. Please.

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