Making it’s debut on a Microsoft system this year is WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007. Since 2000, the Smackdown! series has been a Playstation-only and highly-rated wrestling staple. The opportunity to bring this classic title to the next generation was too big to pass up as it will hit store shelves in an Xbox 360 version this fall.
With graduating to a next-generation system comes the ability to drastically improve upon an already high-quality product. That opportunity will be taken advantage of and that was confirmed during my private, one-on-one demo, when one of the very first sentences out of the developer’s mouth was about how their primary goal was to improve upon every match type in the game as well as the core gameplay. Obviously the graphics would be improved, but he didn’t need to mention that at all… the proof was on the high-definition screen right in front of me.
Since the door was open, the developers of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 took full advantage of visual improvements. Faces, facial expressions, muscle tone, sweat and blood have all been taken several notches above the previous release. The facial reactions to the action were the most impressive, they seemed spot on to what the reactions would be in real-life. One thing that has not impressed me in next-gen titles so far is how eyes were handled. They always look dead to me. In this case, the eyes looked more true-to-life than any other title played so far.
The wrestlers themselves took a great graphic leap, but so did the crowd, and on different levels. The fans themselves looked great, and now their reactions are more realistic as well. The days of all-sitting or all-standing fans are over. The crowd will now react to the action in the ring and stand or sit accordingly. The action was not a cheesy wave of people standing at the same time, it actually looked like real crowd reactions.
Unlike some of last year’s Xbox 360 launch titles, the graphics weren’t the only overhaul this title received in it’s jump to the next generation. The control system in SmackDown has graduated fully to analog-based moves. The days of pressing a button and watching the wrestlers execute the selected move are long gone. By using the thumbsticks, the user must follow-through with the move, to it’s completion, in order to achieve it’s full effectiveness. Canned animations have been removed, in their entirety, from the next-gen versions. This technology was demonstrated using a simple head smash to the ring stairs. The developer gabbed his opponent, pulled him over to the steps and pulled back on the thumbstick and quickly snapped it back to execute the move. My hands were not allowed to touch the controller so I cannot vouch for the fluidity or ease of use with this new technology. If it is handled correctly, it can only be another improvement to an already popular fan-favorite.
The improvements do not stop with the graphics and controls, there’s more. Now weight classes of wrestlers will have a bigger effect than ever before. The bigger brawlers will be able to throw around the smaller weight class wrestlers like rag dolls, but not vice versa. Size will become a major factor and there will even be some moves that will be impossible for the smaller wrestlers to execute on their super-sized counterparts. This change is a most welcomed one and could be a built-in handicap when players of uneven skill levels face each other. The two wrestlers in the demo, and most likely the only two rendered so far, were evenly-sized grapplers so witnessing this technology first-hand was impossible. Stamina and fatigue have also been incorporated into move execution, so even the bigger wrestlers who are tired will not be able to pick up opponents over their heads if they do not have the energy to do so. The developer demonstrated this technology by picking up his opponent and holding him there. His wrestler was fine at first, but the longer he held up his foe, the more tired he became and he was slowly losing the hold until he finally collapsed.
Also included in this 2007 version are some environmental-based moves. There are 20 environmental “hot spots” were special moves and actions can be executed. Again, there are not scripted moves, the player has full control of following-through with their actions. There will be interaction with both the fans and the announcing booths. Objects from both areas can be used on opponents.
With 60 playable real-life WWE wrestlers and the return of every single match type and mode from the previous version, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 should be a worthy next chapter in this long-running franchise. If everything said in the demo comes to fruition, this will easily be the best wrestling title ever to hit shelves… they key word is IF. If only half of what was promised makes it into the game, it still could be worthy of that title and we’ll just have to wait until next year for it to be topped. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 will be released in the Fall of 2006 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PS2 and PSP.