DETROIT--It's no surprise that the WWE and THQ chose this time of the year to debut the newest release in the SmackDown! vs. RAW series. This is WrestleMania 23 weekend, after all, and with the Pay-Per-View event returning to Detroit for the first time in 20 years, it's an ideal time to show off the next iteration in the popular wrestling series. Today THQ unwrapped the first details on WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2008 at a press conference, showing details of the game and giving a first-ever look at its Nintendo Wii debut.
One of the main areas of focus for the team behind the game has been to move away from the canned animations, outlandish HUD elements, and button mashing that defined so many of the earlier games in the series. The shift in focus will be realized in a number of different new features in SVR 2008, including new fighting styles and a new submission control system.
The fighting styles should have a dramatic effect on SVR 2008's gameplay. The game will include eight fighting styles, which both the WWE wrestlers and your created grapplers will be categorized into: hardcore, high flyer, submission artist, powerhouse, brawler, showman, dirty, and technical. While in previous SVR games you've always had the ability to assign different styles to your wrestlers, the game didn't always demonstrate a good sense of internal logic--consider the fact that you could easily have big man Kane pulling off high flyer moves normally reserved for the likes of Jeff Hardy or Rey Mysterio Jr. Now that won't be the case, as the new fighting styles will place wrestlers into the roles that better suit their real-life capabilities.
That isn't to say that the WWE superstars will be constrained, however. Indeed, each of the eight fighting styles in the game will have its own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves that no other fighting style will have. Consider the "dirty" wrestler, for example. In one gameplay clip THQ showed, a dirty Randy Orton used the referee as a human shield to prevent further attacks from Kane before shoving the referee into his opponent and knocking him down. As producers put it, using this special "referee shield" move will mean your opponent will not be able to attack you for a brief period of time.
A later clip showed some of the high flying moves, with Rey Mysterio pulling off his trademark aerial stunts against the much bigger Bobby Lashley. Speaking of Lashley, the WrestleMania 23 main eventer is a powerhouse in the game, both figuratively and literally. As a powerhouse, Lashley and fellow brutes like Kane and Batista will be able to power out of pinfalls, no matter how hurt they are (assuming they've got a finisher stored, that is).
Last year's SmackDown! vs. RAW introduced some new control elements to the game, stepping away from some of the button-mashing minigames and introducing things like the environmental hot spots and the analog stick-centric ultimate control moves. With SVR 2008, the submission control system takes one more step in the same direction with what producers are referring to as the struggle submission system. Now, locking up your opponent in a Boston crab, for example, will result in a sort of push-and-pull minigame between both players, one that is completely free of extraneous HUD elements and instead focuses on the animations of the two struggling grapplers themselves.
Once you've locked in your hold on your foe, you'll have a couple of options: Do you go for the ultimate power-submission move and try to get your opponent to tap out, or do you decrease the pressure, keep the hold on longer, and hope to wear down your opponent? You'll control these moves with the analog stick--the further you pull back on the stick, the more pressure you'll apply on the hold. No more timing minigames for the submissions, no more odd timing meters showing up onscreen; instead, you're focusing just on the wrestlers and their animations. During a clip showing off the new system, Randy Orton locked up Triple H in a painful-looking abdominal stretch; the clip demonstrated how as you apply pressure with the analog stick, your controlled wrestler's animation will wrench back to really put on the pressure.
The producers are also aiming to make sure that both players have control during these submissions, so that while the player initiating the hold is exerting pressure on his opponent, the "defending" player will be struggling to free him or herself from the hold. No word yet on how these struggles will actually play, as we haven't had a chance to try out the game for ourselves, but we're eager to see how it works.
Introduced two years ago, the general manager mode didn't get a huge upgrade in last year's game. That's set to change with the introduction of WWE 24/7 mode, which will combine the managerial options of GM mode with the career-oriented goals and storylines of the game's traditional season mode. Here your goal will be to take your chosen wrestler (be it a member of the WWE roster, or your created star) and guide their career from relative nobody to WWE Legend and ultimately, induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
While actual details of how the two elements combine aren't fully known yet, we do know that 24/7 mode will include things like branching story paths, plenty of new cut scenes starring WWE talent, stat tracking, constantly updated goals, and a storyline that will take you and your wrestler through several seasons. Unlike in previous years' season mode, you won't be just going from one weekly event to the next in 24/7 mode; instead, you'll be responsible for your wrestlers' day-to-day activities, such as training and even attending autograph sessions with your fans.
In addition to the new features, SVR 2008 will also be making debuts on a number of gaming systems--including the Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii. At today's press event, we got a sneak peek at the Wii version of the game courtesy of two members from the Yuke's development team behind the game. The two developers, one of whom dressed as John Cena, the other as Triple H, took control of their respective superstar and proceeded to go to town on one another in the game, whipping their Wii remotes and nunchuks in all directions as the wrestlers on screen responded.
THQ isn't prepared to discuss the specifics of the Wii controls as of yet, but some things are already apparent. Basic strikes look to be controlled by the Wii remote. At one point, one player lifted his opponent up into a slam by lifting grappling his foe and then pushing up with the Wii remote. At another point, Triple H had Cena backed in the corner, stood up on the and proceeded to pound on "The Marine's" grill, with the user controlling each individual punch in the sequence. There was even a moment when the player controlling Triple H set off The Game's trademark "DX crotch chop" by... well, chopping at his crotch with the Wii remote and nunchuck. There's still more to learn about the Wii game's controls but judging by the amount of flailing and flapping the two developers were doing during the demo, it looks like it will definitely get your heart rate up.
What THQ can tell us about the Wii game is that it will be a strictly arcade wrestling experience, with the gameplay purposefully sped up to increase the action and big moves, while decreasing the more simulation aspects of other versions of the game. Case in point: characters in the Wii version of the game will not have stamina meters so, as with some other Wii games, it's going to be all-offense all the time. In addition to the Wii version, THQ also announced that a DS version of the game will also debut this year, featuring touch-screen control over your wrestler, more than 80 unique moves and holds, a season mode, and 20 WWE superstars from Raw, SmackDown!, and ECW.
Yeah, we said ECW. The formerly independent extreme wrestling league, now nicely folded into the WWE pantheon, will have a big presence in SVR 2008. From a gameplay standpoint that means new areans, new ECW-specific weapons, a lineup of ECW stars appearing in the game, and a third commentary team added to the game to handle ECW match duties--Joey Styles and Tazz.
Of course, no wrestling game worth its salt will release a new version with some updates to the standard create modes and online options and, though details are scarce, THQ and Yuke's look like they haven't forgotten these features. Online play will include more than 50 match types and the create modes will have new assets to use when creating your new superstar, his or her ring entrance, or championship belt. There's even word of a new interface for the CAW which is long overdue.
Obviously, this is just the first trickle of information on WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 this year, and we can expect a flood of further information to come as the year progresses. With the addition of the ECW roster, the game is due to ship with more than 50 playable superstars. The full list, of course hasn't been released but we do know that mainstays like The Undertaker, Kane, Triple H, and Bobby Lashley will be in the game. As always we're eager to see more and will be bringing you continuing coverage of the game as we lead up to its release in the fall.