That the SmackDown games have become stale in recent years is undeniable. The last couple felt particularly bogged down with samey-feeling characters, an ill-conceived stamina system and, in last year's outing especially, bafflingly idiotic AI - which Lead Programmer Reiji Sato went so far as to apologize to us for. The series couldn't even think about entering the next generation without a kick up the ass. The good news is that it just might have got one.
You might have read about the eight different fighting styles. These - Powerhouse, High Flyer, Technical, Brawler, Submission Expert, Showman, Dirty and Hardcore (which are the ECW mob's forte) - are all designed to make each grappler feel suitably different to others, forcing players to think tactically during each bout. Curiously, each wrestler will actually be an expert in two different styles, and you'll have to pick just one to specialize in for the match ahead. Triple H, for instance, can be either a Powerhouse or a Brawler, and you'll have to select just how you'd like to scrap.
So we choose Undertaker, and Powerhouse style and opt to take on Chris Masters, also as Powerhouse (the majority of stars available to go hands-on with today are Powerhouses), because we hate Chris Masters and will enjoy pummeling him until his internal organs are irreparable. The lights dim and Taker begins his slow wander down to ringside. It drips with visual quality. Presentation has always been SmackDown's strong point, but the Dead Man looks even more imposing and menacing than before, and the animation on his slow, deliberate walk to the ring is nigh-on perfect. The crowd looks impressive too, with around 7,000 different audience members. Then "The Masterpiece" appears, does his ludicrous posing and preening - all looking terribly realistic, with lighting and shadows showing off his physique in just the same way WWE programming does - and saunters down to the ring himself. Time to see how SmackDown 2008 handles.