Though the WWE's premier pay-per-view event, WrestleMania, is the ultimate goal for any superstar on the roster, every path to that goal is different. That's the premise behind the Road to WrestleMania, the latest announced mode in THQ's upcoming wrestling game WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009. We got a chance to see the mode in action for the first time last week, during a visit by THQ reps.
Road to WrestleMania is essentially the story mode in SvR 2009, but there are some crucial distinctions between this year's game and the story modes of SmackDown's past. For one thing, there are six stories to choose from: five single-player stories and, in keeping with 2009's focus on tag-team wrestling, a cooperative story mode. The wrestlers featured in the mode are Chris Jericho, John Cena, Undertaker, CM Punk, Triple H, and for the co-op story, Batista and Rey Mysterio Jr. Each of the stories features a unique plot and is told through a mixture of cinematics and gameplay.
We had a chance to get a taste of a few of the storylines in the game, and it's fair to say that some of the outlandish storylines that make their way onto the real WWE programming will be a part of the game as well. For example, take the Undertaker's storyline. After taking apart Santino in a televised match, The Phenom next has to take on Finlay. As the storyline progresses, the Undertaker will eventually possess Santino and Finlay, turning them into henchmen of sorts.
Other storylines of note include John Cena's, whose (currently unannounced) opponent will declare his loathing for the United States and proceed to establish his own country in the middle of the squared circle. In "Better Than Youtopia," as this newly formed 20-by-20-foot sovereign nation is called, only the laws set by its ruler apply. As a result, when fighting in Youtopia, Cena will have to win by a five-count, whereas his opponent can pin with a standard three-count. Yes, storylines such as Cena's and the Undertaker's sound silly on paper, but as any wrestling fan will tell you, you don't have to search that hard to find crazy in the WWE.
As mentioned earlier, you can expect a mixture of cutscenes and gameplay to tell the stories in Road to WrestleMania mode. From a gameplay standpoint, this can involve anything from backstage brawls with other wrestlers whom you're looking to squeeze information out of (such as in the Chris Jericho storyline), to special rules matches, as in the Cena scenario described above. Another example: After beating Santino in the Undertaker's story, you open up a challenge for the next match against Finlay that requires you to beat Finlay in less time than it took you to beat Santino. These challenges will be strewn throughout Road to WrestleMania mode, and beating them will unlock a host of content: everything from new arenas, to new characters and costumes.
Although we didn't get a chance to get our hands on the game itself, we did learn about some new in-ring improvements to gameplay, including a new guard stance that will help you avoid being attacked when trying to get up off of the mat. In past games, this has been a particularly tough aspect of gameplay, which made it all too easy for your opponent to continue kicking your butt once you were on the mat. With the guard stance enabled by pressing the right and left triggers simultaneously, your character will automatically dodge any strikes, giving you a few extra moments to get to your feet and get on the offensive.
Producers told us that each of the storylines in Road to WrestleMania mode will have about six hours of gameplay packed in, which makes all six storylines round out to a hefty 30 hours of WWE gameplay alone--and that's separate from the various other modes that will be found in SvR 2009. Though it might be the latest mode announced by the crew at THQ, it's definitely not the last surprise on the list for the game. We got a sneak peek at some of these as-yet-unannounced features--details of which we can't divulge just yet--and we can say that we like what we saw and think wrestling fans will too. Check back for more on WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 in the coming weeks, as we lead up to its release on November 9.