THQ’s Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 was mediocre at best.
It’s sad to say, but it’s true. SvR 08’s gameplay suffered from the same problems as its predecessors (i.e. collision detection issues and clipping galore). Slightly tweaked controls and bland, restrictive features failed to elevate the game. Top the whole thing off with a spectacularly boring season mode, and you have on of my biggest sports game let-downs of 2007.
Last week, we got our first sniff SVR: 2009. While games’ first details are generally cryptic and vague, it appears that THQ had no problem spilling the beans on a whole slew of potential improvements for this year’s installment of their WWE flagship series. Here are some of my thoughts and general analysis of the information we already know.
I’ll admit, I groaned when I first read about THQ’s focus on the tag-team mode. With all of the other shortcomings in SvR 08, a renewed focus on tag-team matches seems like a case of misplaced priorities. Since all of THQ’s current promotional media for SvR 09 lead with tag-team related material, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the tag-team is this year’s band-aid, designed to divert our attention from the game’s other glaring low-lights.
Thinking back on the past five years of wrestling games, I cannot recall a single instance when I have really enjoyed a tag-team contest. In fact, the last time that tag-team matches were fun were the old N64 titles, and generally, those were only entertaining when playing with a friend or three. In season mode, tag matches have been particularly cumbersome, presenting an inconvenient obstacle to conquer in order to keep the storyline going. It’s about time someone did something to change things up.
While I’m not prepared to become a working part of the SvR 09 hype machine, I will say this: a revamped tag team system is definitely a big deal, and certainly a step in the right direction. In-match improvements like blind/hot tags, team momentum, and improved double team maneuvers promise to breathe some much-needed life into tag-team games. A tag-team season mode will also be a welcome addition and should give the game some extra longevity, provided that the season mode itself sees some grandiose improvements.
Last year, I wrote a wish-list for SvR 09 on DigitalSportsMania. I took a unique approach to it, and tried to keep my wishes grounded, limiting my hopes to the realistically conceivable. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that Create-A-Finisher would be a remote possibility.
Create-A-Finisher (CAF) has always been one of those things that we mention on message boards, under the pretense that it is something that we would like to see some day, once the technology catches up to our imagination. Apparently, THQ found the intestinal fortitude to make this pipe-dream into spectacular reality.
The impact of this feature is two-fold. First and foremost, as the video above states, this system will allow players to create new and unique finishers never before seen in a wrestling ring. This is accomplished by joining up to 10 animations together, many of which are completely new and unique. This is great news, because I’ve been waiting for years to give my created wrestler an Inverted Outsider’s Edge-to-RKO finisher. Hopefully the new CAF system will accommodate me.
Secondly, CAF will allow us to completely and accurately create wrestlers not in the game. Whether you are looking to put Steve Corino’s “Old School Expulsion” in the game, or if you’re looking to roll with TNA’s Petey Williams complete with the Canadian Destroyer, it now appears that SvR 09 will humor you.
Skepticism, of course, must play a role in our pre-conceived notions about Create-A-Finisher. Sadly, there will be limits. THQ has reported that the CAF system works to combine any of 500 animations. Thus there is a ceiling, and we will not be able to create any twisted finishing maneuver that our warped minds can concoct. I also have my reservations about creating top rope and submission finishers, as we have not yet seen evidence of this. Finally, I am also concerned about the visual fluidity of created finishers. Tacking animations together does not sound like the most natural of systems, and presents the possibility for some awkward-looking in-ring action.
Still, I have to say that THQ has a potential home run on their hands if this feature is a success. In fact, I may purchase the game for this feature alone, if the initial reviews are good.
Last year, THQ introduced us to a stinker of a season mode, called WWE 24/7 mode. Within the 24/7 season you could check emails and voicemails between matches, subject yourself to simulated off-camera skill boosters, and try to boost strength and stamina by completing a set number moves within a time limit. Sound fun to you? Me neither.
While we currently know very little about this year’s season mode, what we do know sounds good . The mode is now called Road to Wrestlemania, and presents numerous different paths to take, which are reportedly tailored to specific WWE Superstars.
While this does sound a bit restrictive, it will be an improvement from 08’s WWE 24/7 mode. Different paths tailored toward different superstars points toward a focus on storylines, which are paramount in any wrestling season mode. Stories are what drive the action, and set up unique and interesting matches, and it will be great to see some creativity in SvR 09.
Secondly, character-specific storylines implies that there will finally be a way to truly play the heel, rather than the baby-face. I have become tired of computer storylines forcing my character into the good-guy role. Personally, I would rather cheat my way to the WWE title, rather than telling the kids to say their prayers and take their vitamins. Perverse, I know. But I’m glad to hear that it may be possibility this year.
Although I’m highly considering it, I have not yet become a member of the fast-growing Wii-Nation. Thus, the Wii-specific features are of little importance to me. That does not mean however, that they are not slightly interesting.
The Wii version of SvR 09 will feature a unique motion-based system (imagine that), in which the player can control a grappler’s dances, gyrations, and taunts during their entrance. The purpose is to build momentum before the bell sounds, in order to gain a slight edge over one’s opponent. These motion-based controls come into play at the match’s conclusion, where one can choose to shake hands, deliver a cheap shot, or just continue to beat on the opponent.
As has been the case with many Wii versions of multi-platform sports titles, this feature sounds a little shallow, and basically like an add-on to let Wii users feel like they are getting something special. The entrance dancing looks like it will have a shelf-life of five minutes tops. The post-match antics look a tad interesting, but only if they can tie in specifically to storylines in Road to Wrestlemania mode.
I may purchase a Wii in the near future. But it won’t be for this game.
All details on downloadable content have been sketchy at best. However, the presence of any downloadable content is welcome to the alternative. All we know at this point is that the downloadable content will allegedly increase the game’s longevity. Does this mean downloadable roster updates? Alternate wrestler costumes? New match types? New moves or animations for Create-A-Finisher? Time will tell at this point. But it’s nice to see THQ take advantage of the information superhighway.
From the initial rumblings around the ‘net, it appears that THQ has heard our collective angry outcry about animation, collision detection, and computer AI, and have promised to address these issues.
We have not yet seen video evidence on said issues, and thus it is difficult to comment. I will say, however, that if there were any ground-breaking improvements, THQ would have made sure that we knew about it by now. Instead, we have been bombarded with information on the new Tag-Team and CAF systems. From recent experience, if a game doesn’t tout an improvement in its marketing, most likely, there isn’t one. I hope I’m wrong.
Doing my best Tom Petty there, the song says it all. The news seems good so far, but we won’t know for sure until Q4 2008.