Sports franchise games have always been a sore point for me. On the one hand they allow fans of a sport to emulate their heroes on screen and to interact with the sport they love in another dimension, but on the other hand once you’ve played one of them in a series you’ve played them all. There might be roster updates and ‘new’ features introduced every year, but the core gameplay mechanics never change. Expecting a gamer to fork out £40 every year on the updated version of a game they already have is asking a lot. That is why developers have to go out of their way to introduce something superior to last year’s effort to justify a gamer parting with their hard-earned cash. Unfortunately Yukes’ latest Smackdown! offering not only fails to provide significant changes over last year’s effort, it seems to retain many of the flaws that prior games in the series have suffered from. So what exactly has been changed this time around? Well, it’s a case of quantity not quality with Smackdown! vs. Raw 2008.
First of all the most obvious difference is the change in roster. I haven’t followed WWE wrestling for a long while (think Attitude era with Stone Cold, The Rock and Mankind in their prime) and many of the superstars included for selection are alien to me. You still have the legendary Ric Flair, Triple H, Shaun Michaels, Undertaker and Kane to choose from amongst others, but these are juxtaposed with wrestlers such as Carlito, Chris Masters and JTG. Now I may be completely out of the loop here due to my lack of knowledge on current WWE ‘affairs’ and they might be exceptional athletes in real life, but in the game they have all the personality of a haddock. In batter. With chips.
Secondly, Yukes’ have introduced four ‘additional’ fighting styles into the game to bring it to a total of eight overall. These styles are brawling, powerhouse, hardcore, dirty, submission, technical, showman and high-flyer. This is slightly misleading as each new style goes hand-in-hand with one of the four existing styles and anyone hoping to create a new custom wrestler such as a high-flyer/powerhouse hybrid will be disappointed and some combinations are not allowed. Really and truly you can pair them up in the order that I have listed them above to get the four ‘true’ styles. You can deviate slightly by making a hardcore brawler-type wrestler, but the only real difference that you will see are slightly higher starting stats in their expertise field and different momentum skills that can be triggered in a match.
Which leads me to the next new inclusion in this year’s game; the new momentum system. Building on the existing momentum system (whereby wrestlers can fill a momentum bar under their name plates whilst wrestling a match to ‘store’ finishing moves), this year’s system is geared to react differently depending on the type of wrestler that you play. Fight in a way that complements your wrestler’s style (i.e. Low blows and eye pokes for dirty superstars and top rope moves for high-flyers) and your momentum bar will fill up rapidly. Conversely, act out of character and your bar will fail to fill up and, in some circumstances, even empty a little.