WWE SmackDown! vs RAW 2009 - first look

Straight from WrestleMania XXIV weekend in Orlando, Fla., comes the unveiling of wrasslin’ sim WWE SmackDown! vs RAW 2009. Set for release this fall on every system under the sun, the game promises more than just an increased polygon count and expanded roster. Oh no, this year’s version brings an incredible overhaul and revision of our favorite wrestling franchise, from wrestler AI to tag-team and online modes. We had a chance to see these changes firsthand, and came away more than impressed.

To start, we were shown video of an in-game Randy Orton beating the crap out of Matt Hardy, before ending his assault with Orton’s trademark finisher, the RKO. Hardy crawled across the ring and delivered a “hot tag” to his brother Jeff, who came in and delivered his own beatdown, shifting the match's momentum in his team’s favor. This represents a complete renovation of the vanilla tag-team mode - which is notorious for being pretty boring - and the changes being implemented look like they'll not only create a level of drama once reserved for TV, but also further integrate multiplayer and online play.

Above: Image from the 360 version

Both of the wrestlers on your team will share one momentum meter (also your health), leaving little chance for overlong fights in which the healthy partner just waits around until he's tagged in to devastate the weakened opposition. Instead, you and your partner have to work together to increase your momentum by using new tag-team moves and finishers. Your partner can also rally the crowd while he's waiting on the ropes, or he can distract the referee to keep him from seeing that you just got pinned. Or, if you like being a cheating bastard, he can get the ref's attention long enough for you to crack a steel chair over your opponent’s head, saving you from disqualification.

That's not the only illegal partner tactic that can shift the match in your favor, either. For example, when Orton's partner Ken Kennedy started running toward the Hardys in the video, Matt Hardy pulled the top rope down and sent Kennedy spilling out of the ring, where Matt continued the assault.

Additionally, if the inactive partner feels like he's been waiting on the sidelines for too long, he can force a tag by slapping his partner on the back. This adds a bit of partner drama not generally seen before in the series, and you’ll have to actually worry about your partner turning on you if you don’t play fair. Like we said, the new take on tag-teaming is one step toward making multiplayer a bigger focus than ever.