You Won’t Be Able to Layeth Your Controller Down
With the SmackDown series now in its ninth year, the WWE game franchise has never showed any signs of slowing down or going away. It’s not only the rabid wrestling fan who runs out to purchase the new copy each year. Even the casual gamer feels the urge to lay the smackdown every now and again, as WWE and THQ have carved their own niche in gaming history.
It has been around so long that new features become a main focus each year, and developers try to ensure the game and its mechanics never feel worn out. They may not always succeed, but in 㢭 they’ve given us the sharpest-looking, hardest-hitting WWE title to date. It features the most involved storyline yet and voiceover work from the biggest names in wrestling. Create A Finisher indulges your imaginative side with thousands of possible ways to lay someone out. Graphics, sound, and fluidity of motion is as slick as it gets for older systems. This is an amazing game released for the PSP and more notably the PS2, offering a good time for those still hanging onto their little black box.
In fact, this may arguably be the best WWE title ever to come out on either system. The game boasts an impressive presentation from the get-go, with attractive menus complete with live-action shots in the background and aggressive ring entrance music to get you in the mood to wreak havoc. In all, this game feels is as though it is the one most connected with the actual television programs, with the inclusion of live shots, deeply involved voiceover work, and the incredible likenesses of all 50+ wrestlers on the roster. This game feels much more real than any other. New heroes, villains, and legends in the sport are all on the list, including personal favorites and old ECW and WCW alumni Tommy Dreamer, Rey Mysterio Jr., and some of the greats who still grace WWE. Scrolling through them all is fast with no time wasted to load their images, and in the ring, their movements mimic their real-life actions.
The most notable highlight of the game is its graphics. All the athletes look glossy and move fluidly about the ring, with a cartoonish likeness of their real-life counterpart. There is no obvious dulling down of graphics in the transition of a next-gen game to the PS2 or PSP, which can often happen in games resulting in ugly pixelation, foggy hazes in the background, or framerate problems. The crowd looks three-dimensional and active, as they wave signs with humorous slogans that read “I’m Special”. The transitioning between regular in-ring action and grapple and finishing animations is incredibly smooth, and the amount of moves to perform on your opponent are as full of variety as ever. Each brutal animation of Kane smashing someone’s knee or a beat-down from Umaga is graphically realistic with a very natural-looking interaction between characters.
The buttons are still pretty much the same as last year, using Left Analog to move around and Right Analog to grapple. What’s different is the finishing system, which uses a meter that fills up incredibly fast as you build momentum by beating the hell out of your opponent. You can choose to store your finisher by hitting both right shoulder buttons or perform it before your momentum runs down. You can only store one finisher and hitting Triangle in the appropriate position pulls it off. There are definitely more indications flashing onscreen to help you out with a strong arcade feel. There are also lots of features that let you change how the game is played with the option to turn off the HUD, display counts, and vibrations. Before a game, you also have the ability to change the power of finishing moves, momentum rates, and how often the CPU will perform reversal moves. Adjustments such as these will not only alter the way you play the game, but they also affect how the A.I. performs in a match. The improved A.I. in SvR 2009 is a noticeable feature and it is something fans have been asking for.
Another new feature in 2009 is the Inferno Match. It may not add much in the way of gameplay, but it does make for a nice visual, as the squared circle is literally turned into a ring of fire with the ropes ablaze. Even with the amount of movement amongst the crowd, the fighters, and the searing flames, there is no slowdown or clipping whatsoever. For those unfamiliar with an Inferno bout, the idea of the match is to heave your opponent over the top rope (in this case, by holding R1 to grapple and Right Analog to throw) resulting in a non-life threatening fire on the buttocks of the loser. Hilarity ensues.
It is this sort of variety that makes SvR 2009 enjoyable and the little things you can do while in the midst of battle add to the fun. The options to bash your own head in with a steel chair or get in an argument with a mouthy crowd member give the game some diversity. The commentating is natural, full of variety, and undoubtedly the best I have ever heard for any wrestling game. It may be the best I have heard in any sports game in some time, as the team consisting of J.R., King, Taz, and Michel Cole add a lot of variety and relevant comments to what is happing in the ring.
This year’s Road to Wrestlemania is undoubtedly the most in-depth story mode in any WWE game. First, there are six different modes, each starring a different superstar: John Cena, Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, and a tag team co-op storyline starring Rey Mysterio Jr. and Batista. You have the ability to save your progress in each storyline in a different slot, so you can jump to play in different stories whenever you choose. This setup offers a lot of variety when playing Road to Wrestlemania with several hours to complete each, making it undoubtedly the best story mode in any wrestling game ever. Each storyline is different, though they all focus on the star’s journey to Wrestlemania, with well-written scripts and plot twists that play out much like the television programs. The dialogue in the storylines is phenomenal, as each WWE superstar narrates their virtual Road to Wrestlemania, and other guest voiceover work is provided by other characters throughout each story. Additional narration from all the commentators from Raw and Smackdown can be hilarious at times, and the story mode is as entertaining to play as it is to watch. Gone are the days of reading along to the text as characters mouth the words silently. Even the messages you receive on your cell phone while in the locker feature voice recordings from the stars who sent them. The amount of time put into making the Road to Wrestlemania is obvious, and the hands-on involvement of each superstar is an innovative feature that makes SvR 2009 the most fun WWE game I have ever played.
That being said, there is one thing I really wish THQ would bring back from previous wrestling games: the ability to drag your opponent throughout the entire arena, traveling from room-to-room in Hardcore or Falls Count Anywhere matches. Using elements found in dressing rooms as weapons, performing moonsaults off the lobby staircase, and taking it outside to kick ass in the street were always among the highlights of WWE games. There is a backstage level that takes place in a parking lot and a KO is needed to win, but you can no longer make your way throughout the venue as you could in the past, making Falls Count Anywhere matches a nearly pointless feature. As you make your way up the entrance ramp, the only place to go is back down to the ring. Ever since they omitted this feature, I have been wishing they would bring it back each year, and it didn’t come true in 2009.
Another thing I noticed that has been a consistent problem with WWE games is that THQ still can’t seem to count the ring-out smoothly in a standard match. Depending on how much action is taking place outside the ring, the ref can make a several-second gap between counts, so a ten-count can often take more like 15 or 20 seconds. It’s not a big problem, but it seems as though this error has been present for as long as I can remember.
All-new Create A Finisher is something that fans of character customization will absolutely love. It is a comprehensive system that allows you to choose a sequence of up to ten different movements with a long list to choose from that lets you pull off elaborate and destructive moves. All are fully customizable with many possibilities. It is easy to spend hours creating finishing moves with an endless number of sequences to come up with.
Career and Tournament modes make a return. They are pretty much unchanged from last year. Create A Superstar and other creation modes, such as Move-Set and Entrance, are more of the same. With 14 different one-on-one match types to play in Exhibition, improved A.I. in Tag Matches and other classics such as Royal Rumble, SvR 2009 boasts over 70 different match types to play at any time. There are lots of different arenas for a change of scenery as well, including an outdoor military base in the Middle East, as SvR 2009 offers a whole lot of variety and a whole lot of wrasstlin’ for one game.
With so many years of consistently improving their titles, SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is an installment wrestling gamers will appreciate, offering enough new features to keep the series fresh without meddling with its tried-and-true mechanics. All of the game’s newly-added features are welcome additions, without any of them feeling like cheap add-ons to advertise on the back cover. This feels nothing like a dulled-down next-gen title, and wrestling fans will love the variety of wrestlers, match types, moves, and creative features to toy around with. SvR 2009 is one of the best titles released on the PSP or PS2 in months.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Character models, crowds, and stadiums look impressive for the PS2 and PSP. In-game movement is flawless, with no clipping or slowdown whatsoever. 4.1 Control
Tried and true mechanics are virtually unchanged, with a couple of minor additions in 2009. 4.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent soundtrack and ring entrance music throughout the menus. In-game sound effects are unchanged from recent years. Commentating and Road to Wrestlemania voiceover work is absolutely phenomenal. 4.4 Play Value
With over 70 match types, 50 wrestlers, and multiple storylines to play in Road to Wrestlemania, SvR 2009 is one of the hottest WWE titles in recent history. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.