Some wrestling fans will tell you that the golden age of grappling is long gone: that the great days of technical matches and memorable storylines have been replaced by stupid gimmicks and high spots. These people are idiots. The eighties? Yeah, because everybody loved mad plumber T.L. Hopper. The nineties? What, when Vince McMahon was obsessed with storylines involving octogenarian Mae Young taking her top off? The old days were full of flabby men in too-revealing outfits doing endless clotheslines on each other - now a typical pay-per-view doesn’t feel like value for money unless someone jumps off a forty foot ladder and gets hit in the face with a burning chair. The golden age of wrestling is right now, as everyone knows. Just look at the latest SmackDown!, shown here on PS3 and 360.
The biggest change to the latest SmackDown! is wrestler types. In previous games, every character could do every sort of move - so the Great Khali could do a top-rope plancha just as easily as Rey Mysterio. The cruiserweights couldn’t lift the super-heavies, but that just made you less likely to pick them in a serious scrap.
In SmackDown! 2008, that’s all going to change. Now there are eight distinct wrestler types, each with their own specialties and moves that only they can do. High-flyers, for instance, are the only characters that can pull off springboard moves, like Jeff Hardy’s Asai Moonsault from the ropes. Technical wrestlers, as you’d expect, are excellent at reversals, but there’s more to it than that - if they store a finisher, they can use it to give themselves a brief period of invincibility where they’ll reverse anything their opponent does. Dirty fighters will simply get more leeway from the refs, making them more able to nail their opponent with a not-too-blatant chair shot without taking the DQ. Every character type will have these little quirks, meaning that it’ll be easier to tailor your fighting style to your own personal preferences.
THQ says that it’ll be easier than ever to play defensively as well as aggressively, and you should see matches that move back and forth just like the real WWE. Submission specialists even get their own new “struggle submission” system, so you’ll be able to get in Sharpshooter wars just like Bret Hart.
How will the rest of the game change? Like every year, it’s too early to tell. One thing we know is that the controversial analog control system remains - you’ll still use the right stick to throw opponents around the ring. Though the roster size is expected to hover around the 60-man mark, the lineup’s unlikely to be finalized until around SummerSlam in August. We’re told that Season mode will feature wrestler voices, but THQ is staying tight-lipped about how much interactivity we can expect to see, and which storylines will feature. Match types are similarly up for grabs, and there’s no clear indication of how the stamina system might change. At least one thing’s for sure, though - the graphical leap looks phenomenal, really showing off the power of the next-generation consoles (THQ is promising the same gameplay across all versions though). If the different wrestling types and other enhancements do what they’re promising, the golden age could be just about to start.