SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 brings new innovation to it's franchise, but the same old glitches remain.
This year's offering, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007, is the first game in the long running franchise to be featured on next-generation consoles, namely the XBox 360. This would mean that publisher THQ and developer Yuke's would have had to put more time and energy into this game, right? Well... not quite.
What they have done is introduce a new grapple mechanic, which now allows you to perform normal and strong grapples using the right thumbstick and bumper. Naturally, with ever new innovation comes an adaptation period. For those who were used to the face buttons, this will take some conditioning on your part, but, when you've passed that part, the new grapple feature works very, very well. The counter system, however, is broken. When you play the game on Beginner or Easy, you will be able to counter every move the computer controlled wrestlers throw at you... but as soon as you reach the Hard skill level, the counters magically stop working for you, especially if you're using a created Superstar. This becomes very frustrating in the long run.
The same gameplay modes return this year. I will now go into detail of what each one consists of.
Season mode lets you play through 2 complete seasons of WWE television. Last year, you could only play through one, so that's good news. You can select any WWE Superstar, or even your own created one, to play through the different storylines. You can choose between Raw or SmackDown, unless your created wrestler is already associated to a brand. By the way, the season mode is still the best way to get your skill points to boost up your created superstar's overall rating.
The stories are ok, at best. The biggest problem here is that they use some Superstars in situations you'd never find them in on regular WWE programming. This might go unnoticed to the casual WWE fan, but for the hardcore fan, it can come off as really corny and dumb. But, in the end, the way each storyline pans out is still pretty good and well done.
GM mode has been beefed up since last year and looks a bit better, although harder to navigate through the basic features. You'll start off by choosing your brand and your roster: you can take the original roster or go with the draft and pick up the Superstars you want. Then, you're on your way.
You book the matches for your shows, since this year you have the option to book matches for Heat (Raw) and Velocity (SmackDown), or your pay per views in the calendar screen. Booking matches is very easy, as you select any Superstar on your roster and put them in any match you want. One difference needs to be noted here: the title matches.
If you want a Superstar to compete for the title, he or she needs to be a Contender. You can check who is in contention for a certain title when you book the match. Although this may sound like a good idea at first, it can become somewhat annoying, especially when you want to book matches with a lot of Superstars. If one of them is not in contention for the title you're putting up, the game won't let you add him to the match. This is really frustrating and doesn't reflect real WWE programming.
Let's get into gameplay now. You'll find every pay-per-view event here in the game, as usual, and they are very well represented. The match types remain pretty much the same, for the exception of the Ladder & Tables matches, which have been tweaked up. In a Ladder match, instead of just grabbing the ladder and climbing it to unhook the belt and win, you need to put both of your thumbsticks in the correct position and hold them there until your belt meter depletes. As for the Tables match, you need to make your opponent groggy and then grapple him and drag him to the table. You then place him on the table and ram him into it. These tweaks are a refreshing welcome to the game and makes it a lot harder to win these types of matches.
New to this year's game is the hotspots. You can now take the fight into the crowd, on the announcer's tables, on the stairs, and so on. There are a couple of hotspots strewn about the arena and to access them, you'll need to grapple your opponent and drag him there. This will activate a cutscene where you'll be asked to execute a series of actions on your controller to bash your opponent's head on the table, the stairs or the ring post, throw him into the barricade, rip a sign out of a fan's hands and rip it up, and so on. This is a great addition to the game and makes you feel like you're really in a WWE program. Aside from the new grapple controls, this is the best new addition to the game.
Again this year, you can Create A Superstar, Entrance, Moveset, Belt and Stable. The Create a Superstar is as beefed up as ever and, once again, works very well. You have tons of options to conceive your Superstar. Once again, the menu system has been modified here, but not for the best. It took me some time to find everything, like the layer list.
The Create an Entrance has been hugely ameliorated on since last year. You can completely create your entrance from scratch, with different camera angles, lighting effects, pyro, and so on. There are still some problems with the camera angles at times, where the camera will go nuts and show you 3 different angles in 2 seconds, but besides that, it's still very solid.
The Create a Moveset & Stable are relatively the same as last year's. The Create a Belt now allows you to create spinner belts, like John Cena's "Champ" one. Aside from that, it's pretty much the same as last year's.
As I have stated earlier, this is the first foray onto the next-generation for the SmackDown franchise. Naturally, the Superstars look better than ever, with a likeness that is remarkably stunning. Sweat will build on your Superstar as the match progresses, and you'll even see it fly off when the Superstar gets hit. Each pay-per-view has it's own look, based upon last year's TV offerings. The audience still looks pretty bad, even up close.
As good as some of the new features in this game might sound, some old bugs and glitches remain and come back to haunt the gamer. The clipping is still very present here and that's very disappointing, especially since this is a next-gen game. You'd expect that on the PlayStation 2, but not on the 360. The clipping gets so bad at times that it's almost laughable.
The roster is inaccurate and contains some Superstars that shouldn't even be in there, like Kurt Angle (who's moved on to TNA), JBL (who is one of the voices behind SmackDown's broadcast team) and Trish Stratus (now retired). Some others are missing, like the Spirit Squad, Jeff Hardy, Paul London & Brian Kendrick, just to name a few. It's comprehensible that the roster is usually completed 4-5 months before the game comes out, but this is just ridiculous, especially in the Spirit Squad's case. They had a huge part to play in the DX reunion and are completely absent from the game. The Legends list this year is a bit off also. For example, you'll find Dude Love, Cactus Jack & Mankind in there, so my question is: why? Also, Tazz is there... once again, why? I am happy they put Eddie Guerrero there though.
Online is very present in this installment and, overall, it works very well. Up to 4 people at a time can play in an online match, in any of the match categories available in single player. You also have a choice of arenas and pay-per-views at your disposal. You can even bring your own created belt online and put it up for grabs, which is pretty cool. Another great feature is the Trade a Superstar one, where you can send your created Superstar to your friends, and they can do the same.
XBox Live allows for easy matchmaking and is ideal for the online presented in the game. It's a nice change of pace from the broken PlayStation 2 online capabilities. There is still some lag at some times, but this is a very rare occurrence.
The voice work is pretty good, aside from the commentating. The teams of Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler / Tazz & Michael Cole are back, and they are worse than ever, especially Lawler & Ross. A lot of the commentating has been recycled from last year's game, especially during a match. Sometimes, they will repeat the same thing 2-3 times in a row, which can become very annoying.
The music is great. Artists like Godsmack, Young Buck & Three Days Grace perform some great songs and add to the feeling of the game. You can even add those songs to your entrance. The entrance themes for the Superstars are very accurate this time around, which is a nice change of pace.
The overall sound in the game is what you'd expect while watching a WWE show. New this year is the grunts and groans that the Superstars let out when they are hit or have a powerful move put on them.
I've touched a bit on the graphics earlier, but I'll just add here that the cutscenes look absolutely fantastic. The brand new camera angles they use make the game feel almost cinematic, which is a brilliant touch. The Superstar entrances are pretty accurate, aside from a couple of exceptions.
If this would've been a game for the PlayStation 2, it would've been a great game. But this is an XBox 360 game, and it does leave a sour taste in my mouth. Aside from the new grapple system and the addition of the hotspots, there isn't much innovation here, and at times, it feels like a very nice looking PS2 game, glitches and all. This could've been an excellent wrestling game, a real next-gen one, but sadly, it isn't. Better luck next year, I guess.