Nov 13, 2007
It seems that when we previewed WWE SvR we overestimated the role that the new fighting styles would play. To recap, each wrestler specialises in two of eight grappling techniques - Brawler, Powerhouse, Technical, Showman, Submission Expert, Dirty and Hardcore - and the theory is that you use each style's strengths tactically against your opponent. So, for instance, Powerhouses like Batista can go on short-lived unstoppable rampages, Dirty fighters like Edge can jab their rivals in the eyes and Showmen can nick finishing moves from their opposite number. All this is possible, and fun, but whether such things create any significant advantage is open to debate. You never really sense the momentum shift in your favour with these moves, nor feel as if you've caused your opponent any significant handicap. You're just taking part in set-pieces that rarely seem to have a lasting impact on the match. The only time we really felt our specialist style was proving advantageous was when, via simple twirls of the right stick, Submission expert Finlay kept wriggling out of Kane's attempts to make him quit.
Still, the fighting engine is a touch more balanced now, and you won't find yourself lying helpless on the canvas for ages, unable to ever get up and fight back. The wrestlers have more stamina too, and so spend much less time staggering around, and even then only for a few seconds max. This all means the action flows far more smoothly than before. Mostly.
But the game struggles sometimes with the context-sensitive buttons. Grabbing a weapon from beneath the ring, for instance, unfortunately also uses the same button as climbing back into the ring, leading to 'hilarious' situations when, instead of grabbing a sledgehammer from below the canvas, you clamber back between the ropes and get a boot to the head for your trouble. Similar problems occur in tag team bouts. Tag your partner or climb through the ropes? It's a gamble, and one that will often go horribly wrong.
And, despite the tinkering, SmackDown! 2008 feels like the same old game we've been playing for years. It's entertaining, no doubt, but still suffers from the little flaws that have plagued it for years - depth perception, for instance, remains poor, so that if you step off a ringside table your wrestler will hang in mid-air for a second while the game works out where he should be standing. And, as ever, if there's more than one person in the ring, you're likely to find your blows aimed at the one you didn't want to hit. It's also oddly easy, and we rarely found ourselves in danger of losing against the AI.
SmackDown's fun, glitzy, and has an impressive number of match types - plus it looks better than previous versions, especially on the 360.