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DS  header logo

WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008

For: DS   Also on: Mobile, PSP

Ring rusty

Product: WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 | Developer: Foundation 9 | Publisher: THQ | Format: DS | Genre: Fighting, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 DS, thumbnail 1
We all know the world of 'sports entertainment' is fake, but that doesn't prevent it from being brilliant. If you're in any doubt, just watch any wrestling contest at the Olympics and you'll forgive Vince McMahon everything. Yes, the Greco-Roman style requires discipline, skill and concentration but all that wriggling on the canvas for minutes on end gets boring pretty quickly. And where's the narrative?

Frankly, when it comes to burly men going down for a three count we prefer a story to complement the action. Take away the emotional outbursts, extravagant moves and elaborate props and it just degenerates into two people performing crab love.

So you'd expect a healthy degree of plotting, feuds and long-held grudges to spice up the bouts in the latest SmackDown vs Raw title from THQ. But in this key area the game seriously disappoints. While an innovative control system has been implemented and all the major WWE and RAW personalities have been included, there's very little story or motivation linking the bouts together.

While some effort has been made to keep you interested in the single-player Season mode, it's poorly thought out and feels hollow. The few exchanges you have with other competitors outside the ring have all the drama of a speaking clock, so there's never a feeling of achievement when you do better your opponent.

Inside the ring things are not much better. We applaud the attempt to revolutionise the way wrestling is presented by introducing some interesting touchscreen controls but ultimately it just doesn't engender exciting bouts. It's functional rather than fun.

What you have is a kind of turn-based scissor-paper-stone mechanic, with the player choosing from one of three attack options: quick, medium or heavy. These consist of several manoeuvres including strikes, grapples, throws, pins, submissions and rope attacks.

For instance, a strike is a quick but weak attack, a grapple a medium attack, while a throw is powerful but slow. Quick attacks are excellent for gradually diminishing your opponent's energy but won't be strong enough to interrupt a throw, whereas medium grapples can interrupt all attacks but don't deliver killer blows like a throw. To complete moves you generally have to trace the direction of arrows or circle your stylus on the screen as fast as possible.

While this is an intriguing and intuitive system to begin with, it soon begins to grate. In practice you end up spending three to five minutes per bout tapping at your touchscreen and frantically circling your wrist till it hurts. Encounters on the canvas feel like slow wars of attrition rather than the exciting, flamboyant feuds we're used to in WWE match-ups.

Where's the drama? Where's the pre-match hype? Where's the sneaky manager invading the ring to distract the referee so you can grab a chair? There are a few nods to this kind of extravagant behaviour but not enough. The occasional 'foreign object' – like a ring bell or chair – can be used yet as they're incorporated into the scissors-paper-stone mechanic they lose their potency. Forgive us for sounding brutal but there's just no visceral thrill from clobbering your opponent over the head with a fire extinguisher by tapping a few onscreen prompts.

Equally, the lack of direct control over your wrestler not only leaves you feeling divorced from the action but gives you fewer tactical options. You can't manoeuvre your opponent into a corner, dodge attacks by bouncing off the ropes or climb onto turnbuckles spontaneously.

In fairness, the new control scheme fares better in the multiplayer mode as a 'poker' element surfaces whereby you try to bluff and out-think your friends. After a few bouts you'll begin to instinctively guess each other's preferred attack patterns and adapt accordingly. It's good fun for an hour or so but you won't be coming back to it days later.

Structurally, SmackDown vs Raw 2008 is also weak and feels like bad imitation of a Phoenix Wright game. After each bout you're given eight different rooms you can enter, including a gym, locker room, press conference area and backstage site. These areas are just static images, though you're able to tap on certain objects to examine them.

Unfortunately this serves no other purpose than to locate stopwatch icons to give you extra time in the gym. In gameplay terms it's about as entertaining as searching for the remote control down the back of your sofa. In fact, go to your owner's office from time to time and you'll find many a stopwatch down the back of his virtual couch.

Build up 15 minutes of such time and you can train with weights or pummel a punch bag to build up your wrestler's stats. These two tedious mini-games are indicative of the title's generally lazy attitude. One consists of rubbing your stylus metronome-like back and forth, while the other asks you to trace arrows one after the other.

Look on the back of the box and SmackDown vs Raw 2008 sounds pretty exciting: over 80 unique moves, a full year of WWE action plus superstars including Rey Mysterio, Bobby Lashley, Undertaker and Randy Orton.

The reality, however, is quite different. With no direct control over your wrestler, a weak single-player campaign and a script that's about as gripping as an in-flight airplane safety leaflet, this is one testosterone-fuelled experiment gone wrong.
 
WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008
Reviewer photo
Mark Walbank | 15 November 2007
A 'jobber' is a wrestler whose primary role is to lose to other, better opponents. It's what WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 feels like
 
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