For those who know their Boston Crabs from their Figure Four Leglocks and can tell the difference between a Sweet Chin Music and a Stone Cold Stunner, THQ's SmackDown Vs. Raw series is the current gold standard in the world of wrestling games. SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007 delighted critics and wrestling fans alike with its blend of high intensity wrestling action and surprising depth, and proved hugely successful as a result. Now the series goes next-generation with SmackDown Vs. Raw 2008 for PlayStation 3, and the result is a wrestling game that is bigger, better and more uncompromising than ever before.
Gameplay is broadly the same as the previous games in the series retaining the Total Control system that debuted in SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007 whereby grapples are controlled via the right stick. This allows your practitioner of pain to hoist his opponent up over his shoulder and instead of going straight into a scripted slam animation, you are given the option of deciding where to move to and how you lay the smack down when you get there.
Know your role
New to this instalment is the addition of fighting styles for your wrestlers. Each grappler has a primary and a secondary fighting style ranging from Showman to Submission Artist. Your wrestler's class determines the special moves available to you as well as things like stamina, crowd popularity and the amount of damage you can deal.
Also new this year is the struggle submission system, whereby the player executing a submission hold can decide how much pressure to apply through moving the right stick in a particular direction. The player locked in the hold can also try to escape using the right stick. This level of control is extended to most aspects of the environment too, such the ability to control your character as he slams his opponent's head into the steel ring steps. By pulling back the right stick you pull the luckless grappler's face away from the steps, and by pushing forward you ram it home with the corresponding amount of force. This leads to some extremely humiliating (and hilarious) fighting as you gently tap your arch rival's head against the ring post while he struggles to free himself.
What is immediately apparent on playing Smackdown Vs. Raw 2008 is just how advanced the graphics are. Each character's grimaces look stunningly lifelike, you can see complex muscle groups working under their skin and a new dynamic sweat system means characters build up a fine patina of perspiration as the matches progress. Each Superstar's entrance has also been motion captured, for that extra touch of authenticity along with the signature moves and taunts that the WWE is famous for.
King of the ring
There are several different game modes you can play, including a career mode where your goal is to take your chosen wrestler (or create one yourself from the excellent Create-A-Wrestler system) and get him to legend status through feuding with other wrestlers, winning titles and finally becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World. In between wrestling matches, you are given the option to train, whereby you have to achieve specific goals in the ring to raise your stats, or participate in activities to raise your profile with the fans such as going to an autograph signing, starring in an action movie or doing charity work, all of which boost your popularity, but drain your stamina. In addition to this, there's a General Manager mode which allows you to take the role of general manager to the Raw, Smackdown or ECW brand and take control of every aspect of its running, from drafting a roster to scheduling workout sessions and pay-per-view events.
Brimming with new features, with a fully updated roster, every kind of match you can think of and top notch presentation, Smackdown Vs. Raw 2008 looks ready to set a new benchmark in wrestling games. Wrestling fans will love it, and anyone else looking for a great beat 'em up with loads of depth and replayability need look no further. So what are you waiting for? Let's get ready to rumble.