Review: WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 (Sony PS3)
by Chris Pankonin on November 24, 2008

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009
Developer: Yuke’s
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Wrestling
Release Date: 11/9/2008

For decades, the debated raged on: “Is pro wrestling a sport?” Everyone had their opinion – the hardcore fans believed in the sport, some critics considered it a steroid-filled freak show. Of course, as time moved on we all learned the realities of wrestling, and even the industry itself with Vince McMahon’s backing deemed itself “sports entertainment” and with the help of the World Wildlife Fun, even the WWF was no more, it was now WWE: World Wrestling ENTERTAINMENT.

Well in the video game world, the WWE as a sport question actually lives on, in theory, with its Smackdown vs. Raw series. I mean, think about it, what games come out every year, with minor-to-major upgrades at the exact same time of year, and retain their same name – just with a new year attached? Madden, NBA 2K, NHL 2009, Tiger Woods and, you got it, Smackdown vs. Raw.

But with the annual expected release, does the problem that plagues so many sports games – the rush to release, impact the title? Here we go…

1. Story/Modes

For long time fans of the series, this year’s version just got a whole lot deeper – but not at the expense of some other modes that don’t join us this season. “24/7″ has been re-branded and “General Manager” mode is no longer an option in the game – but some of the popular features of it live on in other areas. The replacements are “Road to Wrestlemania” and simply “Career Mode.”

Road to Wrestlemania is one of the best new additions to come to a wrestling game in years. Long time fans may remember the classic N64 title “No Mercy” and its quick, branching storylines. RTW goes to that formula, only modified with all the bells and whistles next-gen games have to offer. You select one of 5 singles wrestlers along with a tag-team story featuring Batista and Rey Mysterio and take them into a fully customized story involving their character.

They clearly tried to select the few guys that are widely considered the most popular Superstars in the business with the likes of Triple H, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Undertaker, and CM Punk available, but some will be unhappy with the fact that this great new addition lacks a story for the likes of Matt and Jeff Hardy, Shawn Michaels, or really any other wrestler that may be your favorite on the roster.

Each story is unique, including in game and in-match commentaries from the WWE announce teams. They mirror the WWE style incredibly, even closing out each week with the cliffhanger and “Copyright 2008″ WWE logo longtime fans of Raw are used to seeing at the close of every broadcast. Depending on your ability and the difficulty setting you can probably get through each of these modes in about an hour and a half to two hours on a “Rookie” or “Normal” setting. Considering all the different wrestlers just completing all of these modes will easily last you a good 10 hours when its all said and done, which if you think about it is about what many single-player NON wrestling games take for completion these days. You’re also rewarded along the way with unlockables, including bonus Superstars, entrances, costumes – even WCW (literally!) so the motivation should be there to try out all these wrestlers (even John Cena, haters) and give you plenty of solo (or dual in the Batista/Rey mode) fun.

Career Mode is main option number two, where you can take ANY superstar or created wrestler and have them simply chase championships and gain attributes. This mode looks naked compared to Road to Wrestlemania, with no real cut-scenes or story to speak of, you just simply climb the championship ladder. You’ll start by aiming for one of the lower belts and it’s considered important to put on a good match and not just punch your way to victory. After each match you’re rated on a 1* to ***** scale, the better the match, the more stars and the quicker you’ll be able to qualify for a championship match. Once you take home the title, you simply select the next title you’d like to challenge for – or continue to defend your title, and then repeat the process all over again.

This is also the place to take your created superstar to have them gain attribute points. You start with nothing and build them up to be a WWE legend, but be warned: It’s going to take a lot of time. Especially if you want to recreate a ton of wrestler’s that aren’t in the game. For each one, you’ve got to go in and have dozens and dozens of matches to get them capable to take online and not get squashed by any real superstar. This will no doubt frustrate a good chunk of the regular Smackdown vs. Raw crowd, but there is a glimmer of hope for them as THQ has announced an upcoming patch that will help fix this problem that quite honestly is shocking they didn’t “patch” before they shipped the game.

As always, there’s a ton of different match types to choose from, pretty much you name it and you’ll likely find it, including this year’s latest edition the Inferno Match. This is the mode where you try and set your opponent on fire as flames engulf all sides of the ring. This match is Kane’s specialty, yet it hasn’t been seen in a WWE ring in YEARS – and for good reason, so why they just now got around to even attempting this mode is a bit strange. It follows the Cage Match formula we’ve seen for a decade of rapid button mashings and twistings to try and get your opponent to light up. Fear not, those afraid of animated murder, only clothing gets sets on fire, and needless to say its kinda funny..or maybe sadistic to watch those light on in-ring gear get let up considering what gets set on fire. Honestly, this was a mode I tried for the sake of trying, but once this review is done I probably won’t play it again.

Toss in all the other features and a returning online mode and you’ve got plenty of places to explore well into next season’s release

Story/Modes Rating: Classic

2. Graphics

Visually there aren’t a whole lot of noticeable differences between the 08 and 09 editions. Each Superstar (or Diva) has their own distinct look and entrances, and the arenas are pretty solid replicas to their real-life Raw, Smackdown, and PPV counterparts. The crowd – at least in the first few rows – is pretty realistic, and overall looks and feels like a WWE broadcast presentation. With one exception that has bugged me for awhile – the entrance ramp.

Sure, the new giant HD video wall is included in the game, and looks great during in-game action, and during entrances each Superstar’s titantron shows up on the main screen, but the rest of the giant wall sticks with the Raw/Smackdown/Etc logos. Dating back to Raw’s LAST set that debuted in 2002, the video wall has contained more than just the entrance video, there’s other boards with logos, graphics, etc, and the new HD set they’ve amped it up even farther. Each wrestler has the ENTIRE wall with logos, graphics, video everywhere. Yet in the game, it stays default.

Granted, I don’t know the logistics of just how difficult it would be to get all of those walls covered with all sorts of custom stuff, but couldn’t we at least the main spot where the “Smackdown/Raw” logo is so prominent? If you’re going for TRULY authentic entrances, seeing those logos when they’re walking out technically doesn’t achieve that. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but we’re in the next-gen age, we’re spoiled, and I want to see the perfect entrance. I won’t penalize it too much, but I’d really like to see a complete entrance presentation, or at least an improved version in next year’s edition.

Graphics Rating: Very Good

3. Sound

Right off the bat comes one minor annoyance to the fan looking for the authentic announce experience: the announce teams are incorrect. That being said the announcers surely put down hours of voice track several months back, and the teams have been shaken up big time, and ALL the time, more than ever over the past year. Your Raw announce team is the classic combination of Hall of Famers Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler while Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman (now of ESPNEWS) handle the Smackdown duties. Sure it’s outdated, Smackdown has gone through two announcers since Coach last rocked the mic, but I’ve gotta say the announcers do a great job calling the action.

Where they really shine is in Road to Wrestlemania mode. I was impressed that during the matches it didn’t switch to generic call the action commentary. They actually stay focused on storylines and all the background leading up to and during the match – throughout all the action until the final pin. They also get to talk to the fans on camera, so to speak, in their own segments during the mode and they’re rendered really nicely and imitate the broadcast really well.

As far as music goes, all the superstar entrance themes are there and now play during the pre-match menu screens and the kicker – you can control them with the analog stick. If you love Randy Orton’s new theme “Voices” you can hear it, in its entirety, whenever you want. Some other rap and rock acts are mixed in like previous editions, but they’re no longer mandatory with the skip option, it’s a great little added detail and for fans who play the game constantly you no longer need to worry about hearing repetitive songs over and over again. Nice little touch that really helps things out!

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

The same basic controls are back from last season with a few added tweaks. Depending on your wrestler of choice’s personality they all have an added “Superstar Abilities” that include such things as the “Hammer Throw” where you can do an extremely powerful Irish whip, or if you’re a cheater like MVP or Santino Marella you can perform a “Dirty Pin” where you can use the ropes for leverage. Each ability has a different way to execute, in the case of the Dirty Pin all you have to do is be near the ropes, whereas performing a Springboard jump (high flyer), you have to time a jump at the ropes and press the square button.

Speaking of high flyers, the controls can be frustrating for fans of the fast-paced guys like Jeff Hardy. I took Jeff through Career Mode for awhile and had a lot of trouble controlling him. I would try to run to the turnbuckle and accidentally fly outside the ring, and it would take me multiple tries to get the Swanton when I had finishers stored up. I tried to pace the match like Hardy would, but I’d ended up running around aimlessly like an idiot. When it worked, it was a lot of fun, but it takes awhile to get used to it, and even then, you’ll end up screwing up more times than not.

When you really get into a rhythm with the controls, and you understand the guy you’re controlling, the controls do seem pretty easy, but when they go bad – they really go bad. We’ve had this control scheme for several years and I think a lot of people – myself included – would like to try out something new next year. As Hurricane Helms would proclaim: “I’m Just Sayin…”

Control Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

Everything is here for the WWE (and even casual) fan, from single player modes to taking your game online. Getting through everything should be more than enough to last everyone until next year’s game. Some of it may feel a little stale after awhile to casual fans, but there’s still a ton to explore.

Replayability Rating: Great

6. Balance

The Road to Wrestlemania mode is great, deep, and full of storylines..as long as you like the few superstars to choose from. The career mode is a bunch of simple matches in a sequence, with little motivation to complete over and over again…yet create-a-superstar fans and those who DON’T want to use the 6 guys are stuck with it to get quality PT with their favorites. RTW is GREAT, but where is the love for career mode? Online mode is pretty bare bones too. There’s fun to be had, but some spots have received more care than others.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

Other than Road to Wrestlemania, a roster update, and a lot of options to explore, there’s nothing in the 09 edition that’s amazingly different from the previous few versions. WWE games have been around for years and will continue to be around for years to come, but this is, in general, the same game we’ve had for awhile now. The upcoming Legends of Wrestlemania game gives hope to change that.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

The Road to Wrestlemania modes have really good stories, and they seem to just keep moving, not really giving you an “Ok, I can save and quit now” kind of moment, which can be addicting to the loyal WWE fans. Once you have everything unlocked (which you can do with cheat codes) and get through the stories, there’s not a lot of motivation to play unless you flat out want to play a wrestling match, which is the basis of the game, and for some that might not be enough.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Any game that can turn out a game on an annual basis and have it be a no-fail bestseller clearly has an appeal. The “WWE Universe” as they’re called will come out in droves to buy this game, no matter what. If you’re a WWE fan, there’s fun to be had, but if you’re looking for some wrestling action and to create wrestlers only, you might as well buy last year’s version at the discount rate.

Appeal Rating: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Like I’ve mentioned earlier in the review, the online mode is really bland. There are leaderboards and voice chat support, but all you can really do is have basic matches. I really didn’t feel the need to play much online, but the competition is there if you want it.

Also new this year is the ability to create photo and highlight reels – and you can post them online to have them ranked. No, you don’t get to use WWE’s state of the art editing suite to put together highlight/video packages like they do, but you can show off and showcase some of your best moves to your friends if you really feel the need to do so. You can pick your angles and your shots, but you’re not going to be creating anything that normal WWE fans haven’t seen in real life. It’s a feature that’s just sort of, there, and maybe some fans will enjoy it, but I didn’t really see the need.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Great
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellanous: Decent
Final Score: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Even though the Superstar selection is slim, the Road to Wrestlemania is worth checking out for loyal WWE fans and there are tons of things to explore and check out. However long time fans of the Smackdown vs. Raw series might feel its starting to get a little stale. The controls are the same, the rosters have been updated but are already a little out of date, and overall the game hasn’t made a huge jump since last year. Regardless, WWE fans will still have fun getting in on the action – casual wrestling game fans might want to try last year’s or rent before going for this one.



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