After getting hands-on time with two different builds of WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 at both the Tokyo Game Show and X06, respectively, and after every Xbox 360 owner got the opportunity to try the game for themselves last week when a demo hit the Xbox Live Marketplace, you might be wondering what, if anything, is left to talk about with this game. The answer? Plenty. While we've previously discussed at length the game's new right analog stick grappling controls in earlier previews, and last week we brought you a look at the full roster, Xbox 360 achievements, and the new GM mode, there's still the new season mode, online features, create modes, and even more on the new GM mode to check out. Plus, with all the attention being lavished on the Xbox 360 version of the game, some might be wondering what's up with the PlayStation 2 version. Fortunately for you, we've gotten some hands-on time with all of the above in a near-complete build of the game.
Though we touched on the new GM mode last week, there are even more new features to be found than what we initially discussed. Beyond the new interface and character profile data, a whole new way to design feuds has been included. You still create feuds by pitting wrestlers on your roster against one another, but rather than forcing them to fight in repeated matches until the game recognizes a rivalry, you can now manually select specific wrestlers and set up a rivalry within a menu screen. You have to create a rivalry between a heel and a face (a bad guy and a good guy), but otherwise, there's really no restrictions. You can set the length of the rivalry and even designate specific storyline types for that rivalry. There are six storylines available, including jealous friend, stalker, ungrateful rookie, rookie partners, legend killer, and outnumbered. Anyone who has spent much time watching the cyclical WWE storylines over the last few years ought to be able to glean from these descriptions what these types of stories entail. Unfortunately, like last year's game, 2007 wont let you see your storylines play out via the game engine. You can watch the matches but not the promos.
Feuding gets even crazier when you realize you have to hire writers for these storylines. Each available writer has specialties in certain types of storylines. You might find someone good at doing David-versus-Goliath-type stories or another that's adept at diva-related plots. Obviously, you can't just hire a billion writers and stay under budget, so you need to be selective about whom you hire.
SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007's season mode has also seen something of an overhaul. Unlike in previous years, you can now go through multiple seasons with a single wrestler. Eventually, storylines will repeat, but THQ claims that you should be able to go through at least a few seasons before that happens. When starting out, there are three storyline paths available to you, and they all depend on who you choose. There's a champion path for title holders, a challenger path for number-one contenders, and a general storyline for just about anyone else on the roster. Furthermore, the mode features branching paths depending on specific choices you make during a storyline. These choices are pretty obvious, as you're presented with a couple of specific options, like whether or not you want to side with a faction or fight them. Still, it's nice to have some clear control over where a season goes. All in all, there's around 36 specific storylines in the mode.
Like last year's game, 2007 features a huge amount of voice work from the WWE superstars that adjusts depending on who you're playing in which storyline. According to THQ, the lines aren't built generically. Wrestlers will use the mannerisms and inflections of their onscreen personas in each situation. At this point, we've only played through short bits of each of the available season stories, but the dialogue has been spot-on for the level of quality one would generally experience watching a WWE broadcast.
The season mode's locker room has also seen an upgrade. Like the area in previous years, this area acts as your hub between shows. You can customize the place with all sorts of different unlockable furniture and WWE schwag if you like, and from here you can access the WWE Web site, which informs you of the latest happenings in the company, as well as voicemail and e-mail from other superstars. Voicemails, like the cutscenes, are voiced by the wrestlers themselves, which is pretty cool. As one might expect, these messages tie directly into the storylines of the mode.
On the customization and creation front, all the usual suspects are on hand this year, with editable wrestler appearances, move-sets, entrances, title belts, and stables. One extremely nice addition to this year's game is the new preview system for created entrances. Whereas in previous years you were forced to manually load up a preview of every change you made to a wrestler's entrance sequence, now the changes load on the fly in the background. If you change a piece of lighting or pyrotechnic, the game will quickly load that change in the background video, and you'll see it nearly instantly. You can also create very specific timing for pyrotechnics and other effects. By switching to the preview view, you can set the timing of these effects and camera changes just by pressing a button at the moment you want the change to occur. The game will then save the change instantly. These features apply to both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 versions of the game, although the PS2 version takes a little longer to load up changes than the 360. Unfortunately, one of the coolest, and perhaps biggest, no-brainer options one could have on the 360 version isn't available in this year's game. You can't use custom soundtracks stored on the 360 hard drive as theme music for created wrestlers. Considering how that was one of the few redeeming features of THQ's previous wrestling efforts on the Xbox, it seems like a major oversight.
As far as SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007's online features go, they should be familiar to those who played the game last year on the PS2. Up to four players can take part in practically all the available matches in the game, from simple one-on-one bouts to tables-ladders-and-chairs matches. You'll be able to put your created title belts on the line against online opponents and even trade created wrestlers through a separate lobby system. One nice addition is a proper leaderboard that tracks your total ranking, as well as title-match rankings.
Visually, SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 is looking as good as ever on the PS2, and better than ever on the Xbox 360. It's obvious that the 360 version is using the same game engine as the PS2 one, but every visual component has gotten a nice upgrade. Skin textures are the most readily visible changes. The definition in the muscles and veins looks far more realistic, and you'll see details like progressive buildup of sweat and blood as the match goes on. The sweat isn't so overwrought as to give the wrestlers that dunked-in-grease look. It looks very realistic in the way it slowly builds up as a match goes on. The PS2 version is, of course, no slouch. The SmackDown! games have consistently been some of the best-looking games on the system, and 2007 looks to be no different. You won't get all the little details you would with the 360 version, but it's still an extremely nice-looking game. Little has changed, it seems, in the animation system, save for the new grapple moves and weapon attacks, but it all still looks fabulous. The only real flaw we noted with the presentation was the commentary, which sounds mostly recycled from last year's game.
It only took an entire console generation to make it happen, but it looks like a Microsoft console will finally be getting a worthwhile wrestling game in SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007. This year's game looks to be bigger and prettier than ever, and it certainly doesn't look like it lacks content. And of course, you PS2 owners don't look to be left out in the cold, as save for the shorter load times and upgraded graphics, the PS2 version looks to include every change found in the 360 game. We'll be sure to bring you our full review of SmackDown! vs. RAW 2007 before it ships this November.