Although the WWE first came to the current-gen systems last year, it was definitely a rough transition. With barebones features and a story mode that many fans considered to be a step backward for the series as a whole, last year’s title was more than just mildly disappointing. However, it looks like this year’s title not only reversed last year’s backward trend but has made a number of great improvements to SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 to make it one of the best WWE titles I have seen in awhile.
The main mode this time around is the Road to Wrestlemania. This single-player mode allows you to follow the career of one of a select group of superstar wrestlers as they fight to make it to the big show. Each of the featured characters has an all-new storyline that includes several over-the-top twists and turns that fans will surely appreciate. In addition to following the storyline matches, the Road to Wrestlemania mode also includes optional objectives and matches that extend to playtime of the different modes.
But, if your chosen superstar is not featured in the Road to Wrestlemania mode, or you are looking for a change of pace, there is also a more generic Career mode that can be played through with any wrestler you choose. Although there is no steadfast storyline in the career mode, this single-player mode does give you quite a bit of flexibility in terms of opponents and interaction, and it represents a more classic single-player approach that fans have grown accustomed to.
Of course, WWE titles are seldom defined by their single-player modes and this definitely holds true in SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009. By far, the most improved facet of this year’s iteration is the extremely deep Exhibition mode. This mode allows you to choose from over seventy different types of matches in seven different categories, which include the classic one-on-one, two-on two, Triple Threat, Fatal Four-Way, Six-Man, and Royal Rumble. In addition to big name standards like the ladder match or steel cage match, there are also specialty matches like the Inferno, where you have to satisfy certain requirements before the match can officially end.
Another facet of this game that longtime fans will definitely appreciate is the My WWE feature, which allows you to customize your current character roster. You are able to change their brand affiliation, character attributes, and even current titles in order to keep up with the ever-changing roster of the WWE.
One area where SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 really excels above previous entries, and above many other fighting-style games in general, is in the creation area. This title not only lets you create and customize your own wrestler, but you can also create custom move sets, entrances, and finishers that can be applied to WWE superstars as well as user-created characters. All of the create modes are very intuitive, and the Create-a-Finisher is especially deep and allows fans to take up to ten of their favorite wrestling moves and string them together to create the ultimate finisher.
In addition to these create modes, there is also a Highlight Video creation feature, which allows you to take saved footage from previous matches and use a surprisingly deep video editor to create you’re own highlight reel. The video editor tool allows you to cut and insert different video clips and lets you add sound effects, music, graphics, and filters. Making highlight reels is one of the most surprisingly good features about SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009, and I found myself really immersed in making new videos.
SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 also has very deep online modes. There are basically two components to the online functionality: community and matches. The community-based feature consists of created and shared highlight reels that can be uploaded and ranked. While perusing through the different videos isn’t exactly the most exciting feature of the game, I have to say that the creativity of WWE fans really shines here, and high-ranking videos generally don’t disappoint.
The match component of the online functionality, however, did feel a little more shallow than I had initially expected. Given the huge match list available in Exhibition mode, I had naturally assumed that the online exhibitions would have many of the same features. However, the online matches are still very limited and only consist of two, three, and four person matches with some generic-feeling customization options.
Control in this title is pretty much the same as it has been in past SmackDown! Vs. Raw titles, which is definitely not a bad thing. You will be able to use the face buttons for simple grappling and hand-to-hand combat moves and the right thumbstick for more advanced grapples. You can also use the shoulder buttons to initiate special and signature attacks or to add more power to a grappling move. Several of the moves are interactive, and you will be able to control the frequency and intensity of the attack by jostling the thumbsticks or pressing certain buttons. The control here is very easy to learn, but I must say that it does lack a little bit of depth. The move list is on the limited side, and even when you customize your move set, it is hard to keep from doing the same moves over and over.
The visuals in SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 are quite good and are definitely an upgrade from last year. The wrestlers this time around sport a lot more detail, and the cutscene animations are a lot more fluid than they have been in the past. However, even though the wrestlers themselves look great, the ring and environment visuals still have a very bland look to them. Even backstage arenas and staging areas are painfully nondescript and resemble empty rooms more than actual backstage areas.
The sound in this title is pretty much on par with previous titles. The music is a nice mix of WWE-licensed tunes as well as individual wrestler themes. The voiceover in the game is of excellent quality, and the different wrestlers really come to life through the sound, and, thankfully, it is free of all those annoying stock phrases that have marred past titles.
Overall, SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2009 is a perfect title for wrestling fans. It has tons of different match types, plenty of customization options, and provides some new and interesting ways to interact with other fans. This is definitely the most complete-feeling WWE title to come down in a long time, and it is great that the series has wrestled itself back into the spotlight. If you are into wrestling at all, this title is a must-buy, and even if you have shunned away from the WWE games in recent years, this title is definitely worth coming back to the franchise for. Just make sure to bring your sweat bands, ’cause you may be in it for the long haul!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Wrestler models are extremely detailed this time around, and animations are a lot smoother. However, different wrestling rings and background environments are still rather bland. 3.8 Control
Wrestling mechanics are easy to learn and simple to use, despite still being a bit on the shallow side. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The WWE tracks provide some nice background music, and the superstar voiceovers are of excellent quality. 4.6 Play Value
Between the widely varied match types, the deep creation features, and the fun story modes, there is plenty to do in this title. This SmackDown! Vs. Raw will definitely keep you fighting until next year! 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.