STAFF REVIEW of WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007 (Xbox 360)

Saturday, November 18, 2006.
by neurro

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007 Box art If you?ve played WWE Smackdown vs. Raw! in the last several years, you?ll likely know what to expect in THQ?s latest incarnation of the franchise, though that isn?t necessarily a bad thing.

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw! 2007 plays out in much the same way as the previous titles in the series; game modes are varied, offering you quick excursions along the lines of exhibition setups or more lengthy modes like Season and General Manager, while the create a wrestler, entrance, and move set returns and is fundamentally no different than last year. They have also added the anticipated ?Money in the Bank? match that puts a large spin on your typical ladder match premise.

So why pick up the game this year? Well, if you?re a wrestling fan or combat fan in general, there is a good reason right there. Beyond that, the series has been adding new features and changes with every year, and this one is no different.

A new analog function has been done to include all grappling maneuvers which functions along the vein of the FIFA titles or Fight Night Round 3, though it isn?t as complex as either game. Each direction of the right stick initiates a different move. Just striking the right stick in any of these directions performs a quick attack, while holding the right bumper button starts a strong grapple. If you move the right stick upwards while holding the right bumper button, you?ll enter a Clean/Dirty move category, where you then move the right stick again to do different moves. Categories exist for left, right, and down while holding the right bumper and vary depending on the superstar, or how you configure it when making your own. Also included is a ?total control? area of this analog feature. You press the R3 button when in any sort of strong grapple to perform a move that allows you to control the when, how, and where of the move. For instance, my created character performed a ?total control? power bomb when done from a power grapple. Pulling up on the right analog set the opponent up on his shoulders, where I could then move around the ring before ultimately pulling down on the right stick and sending him to the canvas. This new analog system feels like it should have been added years ago, seeing as this sort of thing was done as early as Fight Night Round 2, though its better late than never, and can only mean good things for the future of the franchise.

General Manager mode has seen a good facelift, giving you more control than ever over your season as the GM. You can oversee each individual match, participate in them, and set the stipulations for everything. Building your own story-lines is much more streamlined and integral to this game, and you can also set prices for nearly everything in the stadium, allowing the revamped mode to reach beyond the gimmicky purpose it served last year.

Season mode has seen some work as well. Gone is the calendar, which instills a bit of mystery as to when the season will end and puts more emphasis on immediate goals rather than the big picture. The story itself has expanded a good amount, providing varied story-lines and branching paths depending on character choices. All the superstars lend their voice talents to this, and of course some sound more believable than others. The locker room has also seen an overhaul, allowing for a vast array of cosmetic changes from the floors, walls, decorations, furniture and collectables which all alter the look of your locker. There are also neat touches in the way of magazine and website articles that follow the events of your character, and a cell phone that you receive voice messages from, again fully voiced by the superstars. Though the Season feature isn?t drastically different from last year, all these changes and tweaks add up to a much more enjoyable and immersive experience.

This is the first year that the SvR games have been showcased on the XB360, and seeing it in action makes you wonder why you?d ever play the PS2 version over this. Every wrestler has been face graphed and is well represented, they run a range of facial expressions depending on the circumstance of the match, and look remarkably like their real-life counterparts. Body meshes are in general accurate and animated fluidly, though sometimes it isn?t as accurate. For example, seeing a wrestler like Carlito with a chiseled six-pack is a bit far fetched. The crowd no longer looks and feels like a one-dimensional wall of repeating graphics, thanks in part to sharp use of lighting, art work, and the ability to jump the barrier and fight amongst the masses. Also of note is that there is little to no noticeable clipping, which was a sore spot of previous years. Performing an abdominal stretch on your enemy and having an arm jutting through your character?s chest just wasn?t cutting it. A little graphical touch that I was impressed with was the cuts that would appear on opening your opponent up, they bled and looked realistic while adding splotches of blood to the mat.

Announcers are used this year, and are more believable and accurate as ever. The speech rotation is wide enough that you don?t feel like you?re on a broken record during a match, and there are even announcer segments during a character?s entrance and after the match on season mode, further smoothing the season experience away from feeling choppy and lifeless like it had in earlier years.

The sound track is in my opinion the best ever this year, maintaining its decidedly rock feel, that of which varies from metal bands to punk. They even threw in a couple rap songs that are enjoyable.

Online play is for the most part solid, pitting 2-4 players in a variety of matches. There are currently issues with high latency when joining other games, though whether this is simply a hosting issue or something more serious remains to be clear. Difficulty is random and often times frustrating online. You?ll demolish a player and then in turn get demolished in another match. You?re also able to create your own championship belt and put it up for stakes in these matches, and defending it on live nets you achievement points.

Speaking of achievement points, 2007 delivers a large amount of them, some harder to obtain than others. You can grab them for a variety of tasks: completing Season or GM mode, participating and winning Royal Rumbles, beating the full roster of wrestlers, or playing as the full wrestling roster, to name a few. Some of the more harder to get achievements include successfully defending your title a certain amount of times on xbox live, winning many consecutive matches online, and anything dealing with the Legendary difficulty setting.

Now we move onto the bad aspects of this game. The referee constantly gets in the way, ruining your momentum and opening yourself up for enemy attack. He has a frustrating habit of wandering in front of your line of attack just as you make a move. Load times are frequent to the point of being bothersome, as there seems to be one for every area of the game you want to move to. Your character isn?t voiced often in Season mode, laying another ?voiceless hero? upon your feet that just seems out of place when put up against fully voiced wrestlers. Some of the match types are scaled in difficulty badly, and the different difficulty modes in general seem to have a huge performance gap between them. Consistently dominating on normal mode doesn?t mean you?ll be able to hold your own on hard, for instance.

Expanding the game from the PS2 and to the powerful XB360, complete with online support is a smart choice for the future of this game. All in all, if you?ve enjoyed the previous games, this one is definitely worth picking up. If you can add being a wrestling fan to this equation, then purchasing this game is a no-brainer.

Don?t go into this game expecting some vast new experience, it isn?t one. If you?re unsure on whether to pick this game up, give it a rental. Make use of xbox live to extend the months of enjoyment further by acquiring belts, defending your own, and building up your stats on the leader board.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 7.6 / 10


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