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Review of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 for the XBOX 360

Review of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 for the XBOX 360

 

SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 for the XBOX 360 is the best wrestling game ever to come out for a Microsoft console. The game presents the strongest story mode a wrestling game has had in years. Instead of going for a several year long story line, the game has 6 short stories that take the player from early January to WrestleMania. Each story is called a Road to WrestleMania. They feature Triple H, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, John Cena, CM Punk and the established tag team of Batista and Rey Mysterio (they held the WWE Tag Team Championships for 2 weeks in December 2005). The choice to go with this episodic story mode has allowed for the announcing to be better then ever, with the commentary being relevant to what is going on in the story at every point.

The tag team mode has been completely revamped for this year's version of the game to go along with WWE's choice to emphasize tag team wrestling this year. Tag team matches in the game now resemble real tag team matches. The AI for the tag matches works properly for possibly the first time, ever. Whenever a Superstar is being pinned, their partner will always make the save if they can. This makes it important for a team to work together to prevent their opponents from making the save. They have added hot tags to the tag matches, that work like hot tags in actual matches. Instead of being a frustrating necessity for a wrestling game, tag team matches are finally enjoyable.

THQ has added a few other new features to the game. They have added the Inferno Match to the game. Since, the WWE product is now openly geared towards children, the Inferno Match is in keeping with that. It is a new match type, with nothing more then cartoonish effects when a Superstar is thrown through the flames and not especially violent. However, it adds something new to the game.

The game has also added the Create-a-Finisher mode. The mode is innovative, but does not bring a lot to the table. It allows players to create whacky slams, but players cannot create submissions or aerial moves. No matter how impressive the created finisher looks, it does the same damage as a regular finisher.

The more tedious modes of the game are gone. General Manager mode is gone and so is the 24/7 story mode. Players are no longer competing for ratings to be the best GM or having to deal withtheir 6-month long champion vs. champion storyline being wrecked when the computer has one champion lose a match they should win. The days of competing to rise up the Power 25 rankings, compete to win fans to be the most popular Superstar, or earn money to buy better furniture for their virtual locker room are gone.

THQ has worked on improving some of the little touches in the game, like Superstar entrances. For the first time, wrestlers can use the stairs to enter and exit the ring. These little touches are especially noticeable in Mr. Kennedy's entrance. Mr. Kennedy enters the ring slapping the stairs in his unique way as he climbs into the ring. It helps make the game more resemble the WWE product shown on television.

All of the story modes are strong, with the exception of Cena's. It starts out with the solid concept of Cena feuding with MVP who has started Better-Than-U-Topia, because he is too good to live anywhere else. However, the story turns far too jingoistic as Cena makes this a quest on behalf of the United States and for the soldiers that fight for the country. That storyline probably does not play well outside the United States and can only add fuel to the fire of Cena detractors in America. It appears the storyline exists partially to get the "Tribute to the Troops" arena into the game. However, it feels like there could have been another way to do it.

The Cena storyline highlighted several arena issues with SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009.In the game theTribute to the Troops show was in late January right before Royal Rumble. However, WWE has always emphasized that Tribute to the Troops is a Christmas tradition making the show extra special. It is a small point, but it prevents the player from fully suspending their disbelief while playing the game and further weakens the storyline. Additionally, the single most shocking and memorable moment of 2008 was probably Cena walking out to a thunderous ovation to enter and win the Royal Rumble from the number 30 spot at Madison Square Garden. However, Madison Square Garden is not in the game. The MSG Royal Rumble set up is in the game, but MSG itself is being held back for WWE Legends of WrestleMania that will come out in March for the XBOX 360 and PS3. Cena does not participate in the Royal Rumble match in the game, which was a moment that could have felt special to recreate. Furthermore, Cena provided another great WrestleMania moment entering with a marching at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida for WrestleMania XXIV to challenge for the WWE Championship. However, in the game Cena is in a non-title match with WrestleMania taking place in a generic looking arena in Portland, Oregon, while the Orange Bowl is not in the game. Of all the Superstars in WWE, Cena has some of the most charisma and has elicited huge reactions in memorable ways at some of the biggest events in WWE history. The game seems to completely miss capturing the larger then life polarizing character Cena is. Even the unique "Cena pop" would have been great to have in the game, but Cena gets a pure babyface reaction in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009.

The Undertaker storyline is especially interesting, because it is actually the brain child of former WWE writer Court Bauer. Court pitched an idea to Vince McMahon of Undertaker taking souls and building an army to take over SmackDown!with Mysterio leading the team that would resist Undertaker. Mr. McMahon thought about that for a few seconds and rejected itas far too ridiculous to even attemptin the unreal world of pro wrestling. However, in the fantasy world of a video game that is going to be primarilyplayed by children it is so whacky that it works very well. In the storyline, after constant double team attacks by Finlay and Santino Marella, Undertaker is put in a ladder match for the urn. When Undertaker wins the match, he uses the urn to take the soul of whichever superstar he chose to face in the ladder match. Undertaker then uses his magical control that is literally called "Magic" over the possessed Superstar to have them lose to Mysterio. It is goofy, but works well with the Undertaker character in a video game.

All of the heel-face dynamics in the game are booked very well, and should be used as a model for TNA. The babyface is always outnumbered by the heels, with 2 exceptions. When the Undertaker, takes possession of either Santino or Finlay and brings the possessed Superstar to his corner flipping the numbers in a scheduled handicap match. The other time is when Edge changes a title match to No Disqualification in the tag team storyline and allows the partner not in the match to interfere freely. Therefore, Edge's attempt to cheat has backfired. These simple booking lessons should be taught to TNA, because it makes the storytelling of the game very enjoyable in its simplicity and consistency. After several hours of seeing that the developers worked very hard to keep the traditional solid heel-face dynamic, it becomes apparent how much they appreciate pro-wrestling.

Even though SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 is a game geared towards children, it includes some very nice subtle touches for the hardcore pro-wrestling fan. The first of those can be seen in the CM Punk storyline. With the revolving door of announcers in WWE for the last year THQ had some hard choices in picking the announcing crews for every brand. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler handle Raw, Michael Cole and Jonathan Coachman handle the SmackDown! announcing duties and the ECW announcing desk is manned by Tazz and Joey Styles. (This game isMike Adamle free. The revolving door of GM's has also caused all of them to be left out of the game.) In this storyline Punk feuds withTazz and the 2 Superstars eventually meet in a match at WrestleMania. This leaves Styles without a broadcast partner at WrestleMania, and like in real life, Styles under protest is pulled from the WrestleMania announce team and replaced by Ross and Lawler.

The next very subtle nod to the hardcore pro-wrestling fan can be found in the tag team story mode featuring Batista and Mysterio. Mysterio enters at 29 followed by Triple H at 30. That is the inverse of what happened in the 2006 Royal Rumble, where Triple H entered at number 1 and Mysterio won the Rumble entering at number 2. It is a little detail thatshows how closely the developers follow WWE, andare nice Easter Eggs for the hardcore players who do, also.

The last real nod to the hardcore pro-wrestling fans can be found in the revamped Create-A-Superstar mode. Many moves from the top stars from TNA, ROH, PWG and many other places have been added to the game this year. In my original previews from E3 of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, I reported that the moves would be renamed for the game due to legal issues with the companies that had the moves' creators under contract. (The original previews can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/18/preveiw-of-wwe-smackdown-vs-raw-2009.html and here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/20/follow-up-to-e3-preview-of-smackdown-vs-raw-2009.html) That was incorrect. The decision to rename the moves was an internal WWE decision and had nothing to do with anyone at any of the other pro-wrestling companies or apparently with anyone at THQ. However, the moves that will get a positive reaction out of independent wrestling fans are still in the game and some of them are quite powerful. Nigel McGuinness' Tower of London, which has been renamed the "Rope Hung Jawbreaker" is one of the most powerful corner grapples in the game. Super Dragon's Curb Stomp, which is very different then the Curb Stomp Paul Burchill used, is in the game and has been renamed the "Calf Stomp". Additionally, every signature move AJ Styles has is in the game, althoughunder another name with the Styles Clash being renamed the "Landing Pin". Styles and Rob Van Dam probably have more signature moves in the game then any WWE Superstar that was left out of the game.

The way created Superstars level up has been completely changed. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008, players improved their Superstar by participating in various mini-games. In SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009, players level up their Superstars by using certain skills during matches. For example,when a player attempt sstruggle submissions during a match their submission skills go up. The more struggle submissions they try during a match the faster they raise their submission skill.

The Road to WrestleMania has a very low difficulty geared towards the younger audience. However, there are challenges that when accomplished give the player bonus unlockables. These can give experienced players some difficulty and require a few attempts to get. There are branching story lines that the player must play through to get all the unlockables, and can provide several more hours of playtime to the game. The career mode for the created superstar can be quite challenging and satisfying for experienced players. It will take many hours for experienced players to get through.

The number of unlockable Legends has been greatly paired down to save many of those Superstars for WWE Legends of WrestleMania. Only Ric Flair and Tazz are unlockable Legends. However, WWE Legends of WrestleMania will work cooperatively with WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009. Therefore, for players who intend to get both games this is only a temporary minor inconvenience.

For the first time there is a Divas career mode in the game, complete with the WWE Women's Championship being held by Beth Phoenix. (There is no Diva's Championship in the game.) Also, the Cruiserweight Championship has returned to the game as part of the career mode. Players have been unable to win that championship for years.

However, the game still has its flaws. The look of SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 is much improved over SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008, however it is not up to the standards of top notch next-gen games. The Divas in the game look horrendous and are barely recognizable. There was a cut scene that probably had Candice Michelle in it. Since, she did not talk in the scene the only way to tell was the distinctive cut of her tights. It is unclear if the Divas are made to look bad to make the game more kid friendly or if there is some other reason. Either way, it is impressive that the game can make Playboy cover girls look this awful.

Part of the problem is that the game does still not animate long hair properly. In the game, hair appears somewhat plastic and immobile, which can make some movements from Divas and Superstars with longer hair like CM Punk and Edge look strange at times. There is a lag betweentheir head moving andtheir hair moving. That sometimes causes the Superstars hair to pass through their head. The look of the hair is much improved over last year, when everyone's hair was completely immobile making them look like pixelized Ken dolls. However, it is still bad and detracts from the experience of playing the game.

The game has significant collision detection problems. The game cuts to a close up whenever a Boston Crab is applied. That highlights that whena Superstar rolls their opponent over to apply the move, the Superstar on the mat's forehead passes through the ring. Superstar's routinely pass through the ropes to allow move animations to work properly. Superstar's are routinely warped to different parts of the ring so that a move can be executed properly. For example, Triple H's knee drop where he bounces off the ropes can only be landed on a Superstar laying in the center of the ring. Therefore, if a Superstar is out of position and Triple H goes for the knee drop, the game warps the downed Superstar to the center of the ring to allow the animation to work properly.

In 2004, Halo 2 made lag free 16-player multiplayer matches on XBOX Live something players expected. SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 advertises lag free 4 player online play. However, with 3 players online the game experienced significant lag. The lag of online play forces players to completely change the way they played the game to be able to win in the handicapped environment. This madeonline matches frustrating, rather then enjoyable.

Any wrestler can suplex any wrestler regardless of size. For example, Rey Mysterio can be equipped to execute a delayed vertical suplex on Big Daddy V. This has been done to make the game more accommodating to children.It is not a criticism of the game, but a statement of acceptance thatWWErecognized that the game needed to get easier in some ways for younger players and no matter how many trips the popular Mysterio made to Dr. Astin he was not going to be able to suplex Big Daddy V.

Allowing smaller Superstars to suplex grossly obese Superstars adds to the game's collision detection problems. For Mysterio to properly execute a German suplex on Big Daddy V, Mysterio needs to lock his hands. However like in real life, the virtual Mysterio's arms cannot wrap around Big Daddy V's waist to clasp his hands to perform the move. Therefore, Mysterio's hands pass though Big Daddy V and link up somewhere inside Big Daddy V's stomach so that the move animation can be pulled off correctly. Additionally, another tweak was made to the submission system. It is now much harder to get a submission or be submitted. Only Superstars that are submission experts or have a struggle submission as a finisher or designated special move can get a submission. Additionally, moves that are submission moves in WWE are not submission moves in the game. For example, Undertaker's gogoplata is not astruggle submission move that will cause an opponent to tap out. Labeled the "Triangle Submission Hold" it only weakens an opponent for a pin. It is possible to earn a submission with the gogoplata, However, the opponent's headmust beflashing red and the gogoplata usually must be applied numerous times. The gogoplata is also useless for winning first blood matches. Where in WWE Superstars almost always bleed from the mouth when they are locked in the gogoplata, in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 blood can only be drawn from the forehead. (Almost every move from the Rob Van Dam move package will draw blood, though. CM Punk is also highly adept at drawing blood, especially with the Go 2 Sleep.) Also, the Tazzmission is no longer a submission hold. Like the gogoplata, it only weakens an opponent so that they can be pinned.

The tweak to the submission system has made it impossible for many wrestlers to earn submissions and taken some of the challenge out of the matches. Since, submissions are currently out of vogue in WWE there are career paths where a player has no chance to be submitted, despite the fact some of the Superstars in the path have submission moves. On the path to the WWE Championship, a player must face Triple H, Big Show and Undertaker. Undertaker has the gogoplata and has showcased a variety of MMA submissions in the past. However, with the game's tweaks he cannot submit a player no matter how injured they are or bad at breaking submissions. Big Show has historically used the Cobra Clutch as his go to submission and submitted quite a few Superstars with it. However, in this game Big Show is incapable of submitting anyone. Triple H has used a variety of submissions, breaking out the Indian Deathlock at WrestleMania 19, but now primarily uses the crippler crossface, while occasionally mixing in the figure-four leg lock. He rarely wins via submission, however he cannot win by submission in the game.

The tweaks to the suplex system is inconsequential. However, the tweak the submission system is out-right frustrating at times and can detract from the playing experience. A player should not feel that being locked in a submission hold by Big Show is an opportunity to take a break.

SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 is the best wrestling game ever for a Microsoft console, but between the bad online play, poor collision detection and occasionally awful graphics it has not kept up with the elite games of today that are selling a similar number of copies.

Finally, last year I wrote 2 articles criticizing SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 for lacking some sensitivity in the wake of the Benoit double murder-suicide and its seeming glorification of steroids. (They can be found here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/8/original-video-game-article.htmland here: http://www.number1contender.net/the-latest/2008/7/8/follow-up-piece-to-original-video-game-article.html) Many of these criticisms are no longer valid. A lot has changed in a year, and the wrestling world has largelymoved on from what happened it Atlanta. To ask THQ to produce a true wrestling simulator and not include the crippler crossface, when Triple H uses the move as hisprimary submissionhold and Shawn Michaels uses the move frequentlyis unfair. However, THQ has done anoutstanding job in continuing to be sensitive to what happened that June in SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009. They have 6 well constructed story modes that involve no violence towards women, the ability to choke with electrical chords is still gone, and the diving headbutt and crippler crossface have remained out of the game. With the way wrestling has moved on it makes discussing this issue a moot point in all future articles, because at this point it is contradictory to ask for a truly realistic WWE game and one that is sensitive to those events at the same time. When Undertaker is throwingthe shrieking widow of Hall-of-Famer Eddie Guerrero in a casket for a babyface pop, anymore discussion on this topic is irrelevant.

WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 should be praised for taking some major strides forward in making Divas and smaller Superstars relevant to the game, rather then just tacked on characters. It is necessary to win the WWE Women's Championship to unlock an achievement*.

The game requires players to create a smaller Superstar with a weight limit of 215 poundsand capture the WWE Crusierweight Championship as part of unlocking that same achievement. This year's version takes several leaps forward on the steroids front, but has a ways to go to be ideal. SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009pushes smallerSuperstars more then any of the recent versions have. The smaller Superstars that can wrestle are pushed far more in this video game then they actually are in WWE. Paul London holds the Cruiserweight Championship in the career path. In reality, WWE released the talented London a few days before SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009 went on sale. However,the royalties London receives for holding the virtual CruiserweightChampionship should serve him well as hepursues his future endeavors. Additionally, the game makes it unwise to play as bigger immobile Superstars. Great Khali is one of the worst Superstars in the game. The only male Superstars on the roster that are worse then Khali are Jesse, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, who are in fact portrayed as bad wrestlers on WWE television.

The ECW brand is playable for the first time in this game. It debuted in Smackdown! vs. Raw 2008 in name only. The only part of the ECW brand that was in the game was that the player would wrestle a gauntlet match at December to Dismember. (WWE had already canceled the December to Dismember PPV by the time the game was released.) The4 main Superstars in the ECW storyline are all small guys that WWE has not traditionally pushed. The player takes the role of CM Punk who sides with Tommy Dreamer against Elijah Burke and Tazz. In the game,Dreamer starts as the ECW Champion and Burke captures the ECW Championship in a tournament as part of the story. In the real WWE, Dreamer is a glorified jobber and Burke was wished the best in his future endeavors around the time of the game's release. All of the characters in this story path have relatively reasonable copies of their bodies, except for Dreamer who has developed a Paul Bunyan like physique. However of the6 story modes, this is the only story mode that a player does not get any achievement points for completing. Microsoft requires all full release tiles to have 1000 achievement points. All of the other story modes get at least 20 achievement points forcompleting them. The tag team mode gets 40 points for completing it once as Batista and once as Mysterio. The Triple H story also rewards a player with 40 achievement points for completing it, with the player needing to side with Shawn Michaels once as Degeneration-X and reform Evolution to complete the other half of the branching storyline. The fact that this story did not apparently merit an achievement in the eyes of WWE is disappointing.

All said, this is easily the best pro-wrestling game ever produced for a Microsoft console and a recommended buy. It is a very good game and an excellent fighting game for kids. It receives a 4/5.

 

*Achievements are a numerical points reward that go towards a player's gamerscore, so their value as a human being can be objectively judged by anyone who sees them online.

 

News and Notes: Numerous boxers box out of the opposite stance that is their natural stance. Several pro-wrestlers also wrestle/strike out of the opposite stance that would be natural to them. John Cena and Shawn Michaels are both naturally left-handed, but wrestle and strike out of the orthodox stance. This may explain the unorthodox nature of Cena's style. Cena is essentially wrestling backwards of what is normal for him. Michaels is so great it is nearly impossible to tell his is not a natural righty, except he only throws sweet chin music out of the southpaw stance. However, Michaels is such a great worker that even longtime fans think he can throw it with both feet.

The most notable pro-wrestler who strikes as a southpaw, despite being a natural right-hander is Shane McMahon. That may help explain why his punches are a bit stiff.

Also, if readers go to number1contender.net we have a lot of coverage of CES 2009 and will be rolling out more throughout the coming weeks. Right now there is coverage of the Samsung Press Conference, Microsoft Keynote and Activision Super Session. We will be doing some features on the new Samsung products and after that we will have an article on the Sony Keynote.

Michael Cole has been a much maligned figure on this website. However, after listening to these "Around the Ring" podcasts he did with JBL on WWE.com it is very hard to dislike him: http://www.wwe.com/content/media/video/webshows/talking_smack_around_the_ring/talkinsmackaroundthering http://www.wwe.com/content/media/video/webshows/talking_smack_around_the_ring/021507aroundthering http://www.wwe.com/content/media/video/webshows/talking_smack_around_the_ring/030707aroundthering http://www.wwe.com/content/media/video/webshows/talking_smack_around_the_ring/032807aroundthering_

 

I was on the Bryan and Vinny Showon January 15 to preview WWE Legends of WrestleMania, UFC Undisputed 2009 and discuss an unannounced MMA video game. That podcast is available for members only on f4wonline.com here: http://media001.f4wonline.com/dmdocuments/011609bvshow.mp3The next scheduled video game article is going to be a review of WWE Legends of WrestleMania.That should come out in March or April and there will be a corresponding appearance on the Bryan and Vinny Show to discuss that game. The next boxing recap will be out Sunday covering Andre Berto, the son of pro-wrestler Dieuseul Berto, defending his 147-pound title against Luis Collazo on HBO.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jereme Warneck

number1contender.net

Boxing and Video Game Correspondent for f4wonline.com

Hidden Valley Lake, CA

 

I can be reached for feedback and comments at ZurRoadie@aol.com or as JeremeW on XBOX Live. I read everything.

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 12:09AM by Registered CommenterJereme in , | CommentsPost a Comment

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