ORLANDO--There was a time, just a few years back in fact, when it seemed as if you could barely find a working tag team in the WWE. For whatever reason, the two-man team had fallen out of favor with fans (or at least, it seems, with WWE management). As a result, tag teams were practically nowhere to be found. That's changed recently and, if the upcoming SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 is any indicator, tag-team wrestling is going to be a big part of the future of the series going forward. As we discovered today during a THQ press event in Orlando announcing SVR 09, working as a team in the ring is one of the central focuses of this year's game.
That focus on tag-team wrestling will emerge in a number of different ways. Key to the new tag-team approach is a number of different ways to interact with your partner in the ring. These can be things like "illegal" partner actions. (You know, choking an opponent while the ref's back is turned, holding the rope down while your partner tosses your opponent against the ring, thus tossing him out of the ring, and so on.)
In addition, the developers are working to ensure that even if you aren't in the ring, you'll still have plenty of opportunities to interact with the game. For instance, you'll be able to rally the crowd or distract the referee. Then there's the always-popular hot tag, used to describe those moments in a match when a wrestler who's spent a good deal of time getting his butt kicked manages to tag in his partner, who runs into the ring like a wild man and destroys anyone who gets in his path. Of course, not all tag teams are smooth partnerships, and SVR 09 will also let you mimic that aspect of the real thing, be it blind tagging your partner when he's not looking so you can hog some of the glory, or flat out turning your back on your teammate and launching an attack on him.
However, the team aspect in SVR 09 will be more than just dramatic swerves. As a tandem, both members of a tag team will share the same momentum meter, which means that if your partner is sucking it up in the ring and tags you in, you'll need to fight back to regain the momentum. There will also be plenty of team-specific moves and attacks that you'll be able to pull off on opponents; during the presentation, THQ showed footage of the Hardy Boys roughing up Randy Orton with tandem moves such as double slams and dual drop kicks, as well as more elaborate tag-team finishing moves.
Create a Wrestler modes have been standard fare for wrestling games for years, and the SmackDown! series has had Create an Entrance tools in the series for a while now as well. With SVR 09, you can add one more create mode to that: Create a Finisher. Here, you'll be able to string up to 10 moves together to create finishing moves from scratch from a pool of more than 500 animations. The tool shown during the presentation looked similar to that found in the assign move set tools found in previous SmackDown! games, which is to say that it wasn't exactly pretty to look at, but appears as if it'll get the job done. The most important aspect of this feature, beyond its apparently flexibility, is that you'll be able to use any created finisher anywhere in the game, be it in the single-player game or online.
We'd like to be able to tell you about all of the new online features in SVR 09, but THQ is keeping most of the details under wraps for now. What we do know is that there will be new match types to play and that online play will be available on the Wii version of the game for the first time. Downloadable content for the game will also be available, though we don't know the specifics. What we did manage to wrangle out of THQ producers was the hint that the DLC would "extend the life of the game"; it remains to be seen whether that means an extended storyline, new match modes, roster updates (our odds-on favorite), or some combination.
The story mode--dubbed Road to WrestleMania in SVR 09--will see some changes. Instead of running through a generic catchall storyline designed for any character, the stories in Road to WrestleMania mode will be specific to a handful of WWE Superstars and will feature a storyline that will take your character from the Royal Rumble all the way to his or her big match at WrestleMania. There will also be a cooperative tag-team storyline that producers are promising will have plenty of twists and turns, including the ability to decide whether you and your tag-team partner remain as a team along the way.
Although new features are always important for keeping any game fresh, one could argue that THQ has a lot to do in improving some aspects of the previous years' games that have become extremely tired; namely, long load times, crummy collision detection, and subpar animations. It seems that THQ is listening on all of those points and is promising improvements to each of these aspects of the game, as well as an improved AI that will see the virtual Undertaker acting in the ring as he would in real life. We're most curious to see how the hit detection and load times improve. Producers claim that the game already has 50 percent shorter load times than last year's game, with the overall goal of reducing load times completely (which sounds optimistic, if not necessarily realistic, to us).
In addition to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, we'll also see Wii and Nintendo DS version of SVR 09 this year. The Wii version will have the aforementioned online play, and will also let you manually control your wrestler (to an extent) during the ring entrance and after victory in the squared circle. The interaction is pretty basic, mainly just lifting your arms to acknowledge the crowd, but we got a kick out of the Yuke's developers who showed off the feature, including one guy who managed to do a pretty good Jeff Hardy arm-swinging stage dance with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The DS version has taken a step away from the rock-paper-scissors screen-tapping fest that was last year's game; with a new developer onboard, THQ is promising an experience that's closer to the console games, including a Create a Wrestler mode, an RPG-style season mode, and more than 30 wrestlers on the roster.
SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 will be the 10th version of the SmackDown! series (which sort of makes us feel old). As the series prepares to head into its second decade, it seems to be focusing on both the new features and modes that will keep fans coming back, while addressing the important issues that SmackDown! vets have been clamoring for. We'll be tracking the game's progress all summer and fall as we lead up to its release later this year, and we'll be bringing you much more in the near future.