LOS ANGELES--First unveiled on the weekend of this year's WrestleMania 22, SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007 is the next installment in the juggernaut wrestling series from THQ and the development house of Yuke's. While we only saw tantalizing glimpses of the show at unveiling, we got our first hands-on time with the game today at the THQ booth and are happy to report that the new additions to the game already seem to add up to a more satisfying wrestling game.
The most important change to the game, and the centerpiece of today's demo, is the new interactive grapples. No longer are grapple moves controlled by the button combinations; instead, you'll control practically every move your wrestler pulls off with a combination of the right analog stick. By pressing the stick in one of four directions when positioned close to your opponent, you'll grab him or her and pull off the move, provided your foe doesn't counter it in the process. Using the right analog stick in tandem with the right bumper on the Xbox 360 controller (the version of the game we played), you can mix in stronger attacks.
The final attack type--and the one we're most excited about--is the user interactive moves, which are essentially grappling moves that give the user unprecedented control. By wrapping up a foe and then pressing down on the right analog stick (in other words, pressing the R3 button), you can initiate a user-controlled grapple such as an airplane spin, a military press, or a suplex. By keeping the R3 button held, you can walk around with your opponent in midair; with an airplane spin, you'll be able to spin your opponent around in the air by manually tracing a circle with the right analog, and in a military press, you can lift your opponent up and down by pressing left and right. To finish off the move, you simply push the control stick down and slam your opponent to the mat (or outside the ring, or into the metal staircase, or...well, you get the idea). How long you can keep your opponent in the hold is dependent on your stamina meter, and, though it wasn't working perfectly in the build we played, your meter will show up immediately, so you'll always have an idea of how long you can keep a move going.
Of course counter moves will play a big role in SVR 07's gameplay, as it has for the last few years. This time around, the developers are focusing on creating more complex strings of strike and grapple reverses that can result in strike grapples being reversed into holds and vice verse; the goal of this being to create in the game the kind of quickfire back-and-forth turns of the tide that can send wrestling fans to their feet in matches. The early build we played didn't give us much indication of the reversal windows, but we suspect that will change as the game gets nearer to completion later this year.
The other big changes in the gameplay are the additional number of hotspots surrounding the ring and the interactive crowds. If you've ever wanted to rip off the top of the announcing table and strangle your opponent with the monitor cord, you'll be able to do just that, thanks to the announcer's table hotspot. It doesn't stop there, however--continue the attack near the table, and you'll be able to bash your rival over the head with the monitor itself.
While THQ announced the interactive crowd areas at the initial unveiling, we hadn't had a chance to check it out for ourselves until now, and as you might think, it's pretty darn crazy. Whether you throw your opponent over the wall and into the crowd area, or climb over yourself to deal some pain, it's a pretty fun addition to the overall presentation. While you're duking it out in the back, crowd members will hand you various weapons to pummel your opponent with--canes, crutches, and bottles of champagne were all examples we saw during our play time with the game. The producer said you'll even be able to grab signs from fans and tear them up.
While in this area, you can still pull off the same grapple and strike moves you normally can, and you'll also be able to interact with some of the objects found in the area, such as when we (playing as Triple H) tossed a bruised and battered Kurt Angle into a huge speaker cabinet, electrocuting him in the process. We also managed to climb up some scaffolding and issue a painful cross-body block...but because Angle had rolled out of the way, our move was only devastating to the cement floor beneath us. Oh well, you can't blame us for trying.
Graphically, the Xbox 360 version of the game is fine indeed, with ever-increasing sweat effects building up on the wrestlers as the match progresses. Of course, this begs the question: What about the blood effects, which could be gruesomely realistic with the increased technology? The producer played the gore card close to the vest, saying that they'll want to ride the line between providing realistic blood effects and getting too gruesome for good taste.
Beyond the controls, not much else was revealed on SVR '07, and, of course, there are many more questions to answer for this game--including the full roster appearing in the game, the different match types that will be in on the game, any indication of how the soon-to-be-rejuvenated ECW promotion will be handled, or who will hold the Raw announcing duties (JR, anyone?). We'll be taking on all these questions in the coming months as our coverage of SVR '07 continues.