E3 '07: WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 Hands-On

THQ is bringing its wrestling series back for another tour around the squared circle and we've got a hands-on look.

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Everyone knows that the WWE superstars The Big Show and Rey Mysterio Jr. are polar opposites when it comes to their in-ring style. Whereas Show is the ultimate powerhouse, lumbering around the ring in the hopes of grabbing his opponent and pummeling with a handful of blows, Mysterio is the ultimate high-flyer, able to easily evade attacks and launch his body from practically any point in the ring. THQ's SmackDown! vs. Raw series has made attempts to differentiate these disparate styles in the past, but they're taking it to an entirely new level in the upcoming WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 08 for the Xbox 360, an updated build of which we got to see at E3 2007.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

When it comes to gameplay, SVR 08 will break down wrestlers along eight different styles: powerhouse, dirty, hardcore, technical, showman, submission, high flyer, and brawler. Every wrestler on the roster will have two of these attributes: one will be a primary attribute and the other, perhaps obviously, will be a secondary ability. For example, John Cena is primarily a brawler, yet his secondary ability is as a showman, while Jeff Hardy is primarily a high flyer, and a hardcore wrestler second. You'll be able to switch a wrestler's abilities as you see fit, but only within reason--you won't be able to change The Big Show into a high flyer, for example, because of his size.

A wrestler's abilities determine the kind of moves he will have access to, and the primary ability will give the wrestler a special move of sorts that can be used either to get out of tight situations or truly brutalize an opponent, depending on the ability. These special ability moves are in addition to a particular wrestler's finisher, and like that finishing move, you earn the ability to execute the move by building up momentum in the ring.

Let's take Jeff Hardy as an example. As a high flyer, Jeff Hardy's basic move set will include moves that no other wrestler ability will have, such as rope-leaping tricks, high-flying stunts off the turnbuckles, and the ability to quickly evade attacks by rolling out of the way. His high-flying "special move" is the ability to wrap up into a small package any wrestlers who come near him with an attack, effectively getting himself out of trouble in a tight spot. A powerhouse like The Big Show can use his own smash-and-bash moves to wear an opponent down, and his special move is known as rampage, which will temporarily make him immune to any attack. A technical wrestler using a special move will be able reverse any hold or move put on him automatically, while a brawler will be able to strike opponents at will, making it effectively impossible for them to avoid his blows.

So if the primary ability is so important in the ring, why even have a secondary ability at all? Here's where the next bit of depth comes into the new gameplay of SVR 08: you can flip your primary and secondary abilities at any point in the match. Currently, you have to pause the game and access a menu to do so, which is a bit awkward--it would be nice if you could flip abilities with a press of a button. Once your new ability is moved into the primary position, you'll have that ability's special move at your disposal. And, as in previous SVR games, you can store your momentum once it's maximized so that you can use either your special ability move or finisher whenever you like.

The Yuke's development team is always looking to give the player more control over a wrestler's moves in the ring, and that is coming through in SVR 08 as well. Much of that interactivity involves creative uses of the right analog stick in the game. While playing as the Undertaker vs. Bobby Lashley, we were able to crouch over Lashley and proceed to bash him in the face by moving the right stick left or right, and even deliver a punishing head-butt by moving the stick first up, then down. A new submission system is a big improvement over the timing and button-based systems in the past. This time, when you get an opponent in a submission move, you simply move the right stick to apply pressure on your opponent. The more pressure you put on them, the more it will wear them down; conversely, your grip on your opponent will loosen as you go. In order to maintain your hold, you'll need to let off the pressure slightly, which will give your opponent a chance to escape during the brief respite. If you are caught in a hold, a smart camera will zoom in and out to let you know when your opponent is putting the screws to you, or backing off a bit.

One other move we really liked in SVR 08 wasn't actually new at all: the triple strike was actually in last year's game but seems like it works better this time around. By holding the right bumper and pressing the X button, we had the Undertaker execute a vicious-looking trio of punches on Lashley. The move can be countered if the first blow is blocked, but if your opponent fails to do so, he'll fall victim to all three of your strikes. And, thanks to a deep move editor, you'll be able to design exactly how you wish those three punches (or kicks, or elbows) to execute.

Among all the other new additions to SVR 08, one of the coolest additions is ECW brand, including a bunch of ECW wrestlers in the game (such as Sandman, who was playable in the E3 build). In the ECW Extreme Rules match, as it's known in the game, you'll be able to pick which weapons you want to bring to the ring beforehand and, once the bell rings, you'll be able to take advantage of a host of new interactive crowds that are meant to recreate the rowdier nature of ECW audiences. As the combat moves outside the ring, audience members will hand you weapons to use and even hold down opponents so you can get a good bead on them. Whether the crowds will match the insane atmosphere of the old Philadelphia ECW house shows has yet to be determined, but we're hopeful.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Though we don't know the full details of the SVR 08's new career mode, dubbed 24/7 mode, we do know that it will be a more detailed look at the life of your wrestler of choice (be he created or one from the current WWE stable). In addition to wrestling matches, you'll need to keep your grappler in shape by participating in gym workouts, or do promotional events where you sign autographs for your adoring public.

There's so much more to learn about SVR 08, including online options, updates to the various creation features, other modes in the game, and, of course, the full roster of wrestlers. We'll be keeping a close eye on the game as it develops over the coming months, and we'll be bringing you all the latest up to its release date in the fall.

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