lauantai 26. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 (2006)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: November 2006

As I have mentioned a few times before, I've had every WWE game released under the title SmackDown vs. Raw. Now I have to jump from Here Comes the Pain to SvR 2007, 'cause my copies of the two previous games both broke down - I don't rightly remember why, but they did. Also, I sold SvR 2009, so there won't be a review of that one either. The first SmackDown vs. Raw game was the worst game in the whole SmackDown! series in my opinion, the fact that it was the first sequel to a masterpiece like Here Comes the Pain only made things worse. The 2006 edition, on the other hand, was one of the best games in the series, second only to Here Comes the Pain - an exciting title that brought in perhaps the best feature in a wrestling game ever, the General Manager Mode - which has since been removed, 'cause Yuke's couldn't figure out how to improve it any further. Where does WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 stand, then? Well, it brings in a whole new control scheme, which is incredibly difficult to learn, but fully functional; a hotspot system that allows you to drag your opponent's ass all over the arena and dish out some punishment like never before; great new qualities, no doubt, but overall, it feels like we're playing just an update to 2006... and the Season Mode sucks.

Tonight's match will be to the death

The graphics are excellent. Too excellent, because the framerate occasionally sucks very hairy ass. For example, creating a superstar is extremely slow. It takes the longest time for the PS2 to load the smallest changes you make to your wrestler's appearance, and consequently the loading times in general, especially when you're playing as your own superstar, are incredibly long. The game is rich with audiovisual glitches, more and less disturbing ones.

He's back. A little more buffed than I could ever
dream to be, though. The body form editor has
some sort of limit to how skinny your male
character can be without looking ridiculous.
The commentary's back, as repetitive as ever, but at least it makes sense for the most part. Occasionally during exhibition matches, though, the commentary teams amusingly confuse finishers with each other. For example, if you do a Rock Bottom, don't be surprised if Michael Cole yells out "Tombstone Piledriver!" Yet, this only happens during exhibition, for some strange reason. The soundtrack includes licensed music from Godsmack, Black Stone Cherry, Rise Against, Three Days Grace and other more or less aspiring rock bands, but also some cheap rap which I can't stand. All in all, there aren't that many songs on the soundtrack, so you can safely expect one song to play three to four times during superstar creation. My ex-girlfriend actually noted the level of repetition before I did, and she didn't even play the game, she was just sitting on the couch next to me, studying. She claimed to have heard Godsmack's song about a total of six times during superstar creation alone - I don't doubt that one bit.

There are 51 superstars on the standard roster. To make especially the GM Mode as enjoyable as possible, it's very even between Divas, tag teams, main eventers, show openers and mid-carders. As per usual, there's a handful of Legends and essential NPC's. I don't remember Vince McMahon ever even making an appearance in this game, but the hottest model of Stephanie ever, and Shane (billed as a WWE Legend) are here to represent the McMahon family. The Legend roster has a total of 16 names, including the "three faces of Foley" - Mick Foley as himself is a part of the standard roster - the late trio of Eddie Guerrero, Bam Bam Bigelow and Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan (only one incarnation this time around), the original Hart Foundation (Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart), and the usual pairing of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. Just try to make a WWE game without them, and watch the shit pour. Oh, we have a lot of superstars here - the roster's my favourite part of the game. Too bad it's so tiresome to complete.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the game when it came out, but now that some time has passed, I find myself missing WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, and regarding this game as just a fundamental update to its predecessor, not really an amazing milestone of virtual wrestling in itself. The new control scheme, like I said, is absolute hell to learn, and actually it's absolute hell to return to after getting reacquainted with the old school controls. In other words, I had to learn it again to do this review, I've grown so accustomed to the Here Comes the Pain controls during the last week. However, when you finally learn all there is to the new analog control system, you will find it awesome. It's comfortable, and makes the gameplay experience more authentic than ever before. So, I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to the control system. I still don't like the stamina meter, I think it's all but distracting, and I also think the momentum meter goes up way too fast. You can take the beating of a lifetime in under one minute if you're unlucky, regardless who you play as. I played as Triple H, and I made the deathly mistake of immediately changing the difficulty to Legend, without any sort of warm-ups. I got so pussy-whipped in my first match... I don't remember the last time I lost a standard match in this game.

The analog control system introduces a new sub-feature called Ultimate Control, which almost directly relates to interactive hotspots. Ultimate Control moves allow you to improvise a little. For example, if you manage to lock your opponent up in a DDT-ready position, you can decide whether to do a standard DDT, a reverse DDT, or ditch DDT altogether and lift your opponent up for a fatal suplex. Even when he's in the suplex position, you can torture him in the air for a while and let all the blood in his body run up to his head before finally slamming him to the mat. Cool. But not quite as cool as the interactive hotspot system, which is especially essential during Last Man Standing matches or other bouts that don't have any rules at all. Fancy bashing your opponent's head into steel steps instead of simply beating him around with a set? Want to strangle him with a power cord taken from an announcer's table before Pedigreeing him through the table itself? Want to go one step further and throw him into the crowd, then take some cripple audience member's crutch and stick it up your opponent's ass? It's all possible, thanks to the ultra-cool hotspot system. As you can see, I love the controls in this game, as hard as they are to learn. I love the new subtleties 2007 brought along. I pretty much love the most important gameplay features - the controls and the authenticity of the matches themselves. However, I'm very disappointed in two of the game's most prominent game modes.

Take a good, last look at perhaps the greatest
technical wrestler of all time. We miss you, Chris,
no matter what you did. Rest in peace.
Let's start with Season Mode. Many people start off from Season or any equivalent of it whenever they get a new wrestling game in their hands, but some people don't - this time, playing Season is pretty much mandatory. Not just once, but twice; you need to play a season on both brands to be able to unlock everything in this game. You can't really get everything out of creating a superstar without the unlockable movesets. You can't enjoy GM Mode to the fullest without unlocking a few Legends and making WrestleMania dream matches that never happened - The Rock vs. Shawn Michaels, oh hell yeah. You can earn money from the Season and Challenge Mode, but you need to play Season to capture the simple theoretical rights to purchase most of the stuff. For example, you need to win any match you have at the Royal Rumble to earn the right to purchase Stone Cold Steve Austin. You need to win at WrestleMania to earn the rights for both The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Almost every won pay-per-view match results in some unlockable becoming available for purchase. As far as money goes, you'll never run out of it. Just one standard, mid-card match won during Season Mode wins you about 15,000 dollars. If the Season Mode was anything like it used to be, having to hack through it just twice would be no problem at all. However, it isn't.

I first started off using my created character, 'cause as always, the Season Mode is optimized to be played through as one - as ridiculous as the storylines might get, your character is the only one that has no existing background, so the storylines are always believable on some level. However, after my first match, I figured that developing my own character to the fullest all over again would be too damn slow and time-consuming - it would take me weeks to get this review online, so I decided to remain on the Raw branch, but switch to Triple H. Well, I got thrown in the very same storyline. The Big Show is targeted by a small group of heel cruisers and mid-carders, and they force your character to be a part of their posse, or else. Well, as Triple H, the King of Kings, the Cerebral Assassin, I find it pretty damn ridiculous to join forces with Carlito, Chavo and Daivari, so I decide to fuck 'em good and join forces with the giant instead. Well, suddenly Carlito is sending me threats via voicemail and telling me how I just made the biggest mistake of my career and how his group of degenerates is going to kill me. YEAH, RIGHT! This is how the Season Mode is. It's ridiculous. It makes no note of who you are, the only thing you can do to change each brand's storyline is being the champion from the beginning. At WrestleMania, I have an Ultimate Submission match against Kurt Angle, which is cool and all, but it's the main event and its only purpose is to stop Stephanie McMahon's pilgrimage of cleaning up Raw from filth like "skanky" Divas strutting their stuff on a weekly basis. About the most lame WrestleMania main event ever - even lamer than Edge vs. Alberto del Rio or John Cena vs. The Miz, two matches that are coming up this year. I miss the old days, when all storylines were recycled from actual programming. It really feels like the writers didn't give a rat's ass how die-hard wrestling fans would react to these sucky and totally non-contextual plotlines. Did it really matter? Once again, you need to see them through, as ridiculous as they are, to be able to unlock everything.

The 3D locker room is still fully customizable to your liking, and Challenge Mode returns with some extremely tough challenges from the very beginning, including recreations of classic matches, as well as some dream pits. Let's see now - in January 2006, Rey Mysterio entered the Royal Rumble and won it. Although he was the definite underdog due to his small size, it was obvious he was going to win the World Heavyweight Championship - just a few months back, his dear friend and a hero to all of us true wrestling fans, Eddie Guerrero, passed away. Randy Orton defeated him for the WrestleMania main event at No Way Out, but Mysterio regained his championship opportunity and the match was changed into a triple threat match between Mysterio, Orton and reigning champion Kurt Angle. Mysterio did win the match. Well, that's your first challenge right there: repeat Rey Mysterio's success in an already difficult match that has two guys in it who Mysterio can't even lift up. What else? Defeat the Brothers of Destruction in a tornado tag match. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Well it is, since you have to use the Mexicools to do it. "M vs. N & M"? Joey Mercury, in a handicap match against Johnny Nitro and Melina Perez. Believe me, this is just one handicap match that has "scream murder" written all over it - once you take on the Legendary Challenges, get ready to enter Mick Foley's schizophrenic mind and fight off all of his three demons: Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack, in a 3-on-1 handicap match. Fun. Seriously, the challenges are fun - but insane.

Just watched their classic match at WrestleMania
13, with Ken Shamrock as the special ref. Amazing,
vintage stuff.
Then, to what I personally consider to be the main feast of the game, and the one gameplay mode that makes it stick: the General Manager Mode. I loved the GM Mode in the previous game; I seriously played that one single mode for months. I started over countless times after my ratings had steadily gone down for several in-game months, and when The Undertaker went down with a neck injury that was approximated to last for 13 weeks, I felt that my show was done - my biggest star, who was supposed to represent my brand at Survivor Series, was down and out. I stood no chance. I took the game so personally that I made a long text file on my computer to list each and every one of my decisions I made as a General Manager, as well as my brand's title and match history, to keep my show alive and maintain the most exciting, diverse show on earth. God damn, it was fun! ...But flawed. The list of possible rivalries was boring, and to improve my show, I was told to do things I simply couldn't, like giving Edge a title shot. I would've loved to do it, but Edge's popularity had gone down by such a lot, that he wasn't viable for a shot of his caliber. Besides, he was involved in a rivalry that didn't allow for an inpromptu title shot. He ended up leaving my show and there simply wasn't anything I could do about it. I was asked to create the best main event ever - something brutal. Well, at that point, I had two superstars with popularity levels that went through the roof, but they were so close to injuring themselves, that if I had placed them in something like Hell in a Cell or Last Man Standing, I would've had to say goodbye to both of them for several weeks. Also, rivalries in general seemed to end by themselves; I had built up a HUGE rivalry between Stone Cold and The Rock, and was planning on letting them settle it once and for all at Summerslam. Well, in the last Raw before Summerslam, I placed them both in a match in which they never directly fought each other. Come Summerslam, their rivalry had ended, like magic. Farewell to my grudge match of the year, one that I had planned from the beginning of the season. I sincerely hoped 2007 would've scraped off some of these small splinters... but it didn't. In fact, it's ALL the same. Only the roster's different.

Cena's gonna get a whole lot of thuganomics
speared right out of him, yes siree. I always
rooted for Edge, even during his time as a
The GM Mode is indeed 100% identical to that of the previous game, the only notable difference being that you can make rivalries between more than two people. Even the list of possible rivalry settings is exactly the same. Of course the mode is still fun to play, but it leaves an extremely bland aftertaste, as you can probably imagine. The reason I just wrote so extensively about the flaws in the GM Mode of the previous game, is because even the same flaws are still here. Let's see now, how many times have you actually seen a  match for a heavyweight championship on regular programming? Does it make any sense to schedule a heavyweight title match at least every other week as Raw or SmackDown!'s main event? No, it does not, but Jim Ross keeps telling me I should have those matches or the audience will lose interest. The way I see it, is that major title matches should be exclusive to pay-per-views. Having too many title matches on regular programming kind of eats away at the importance and meaning of pay-per-views, in my opinion. The game simply doesn't give a shit of your personal thoughts, preferences or points of view. You're supposed to be in full control, but you aren't - you're a puppet of the GM Mode, not the other way around. Your success in the mode depends on what the game allows, and wants you to do. You have to work a little too hard to find a balance between your vision of how your show should be, and the game's limitations - up until the point you finish the mode for the first time. As before, after that you can do whatever you want: build up a perfect roster, remove injuries, and remove monetary costs.

Depending on how much of a wrestling fan you are, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 will keep your hands full for the longest while. The Challenge Mode is merciless in its difficulty, and I don't believe anyone would quit playing the game before clashing through the GM Mode just once. The Season Mode's a bit tough, but it really makes no difference if you win or lose regular matches, and you can change the difficulty level at any time without any fashion of punishment. Unlocking everything in the game is more difficult than ever before, since doing that requires you to conquer each and every challenge in the game, beat the GM Mode, and play through one season on both brands. Oh, it packs a lot all right. Again, not much more than WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, though.

It has wholly new, great controls, which partly affect incredibly real gameplay and atmosphere, and which have huge, different positive effects on special match types such as cage matches and the Royal Rumble. However, the arguable main mode of the game is identical to its previous incarnation, and the Season Mode is simply uninteresting, boring, and ridiculous to boot; it doesn't even have one single storyline that would make me jump up and down in my seat out of pure excitement. Not even the storylines that have Legends in them - available for certain superstars only, for some odd reason. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 is a great game from all the most important angles, but as a whole experience and a successor to a couple of the most revolutionary titles in the wrestling genre, it fails to leave a permanent, truly memorable mark.

SOUND : 7.9


GameRankings: 78.74% (PS2), 80.56% (PSP), 80.52% (X360)

The last game to feature Chris Benoit, who died on June 24th, 2007. He was planned to be brought back posthumously as a WWE Legend like Eddie Guerrero in this game, but due to the obvious controversy surrounding his death (double homicide/suicide), the plan was scrapped in an early stage of the next game's production. Bam Bam Bigelow, one of the WWE Legends in this game, passed away on January 19th, 2007 - a few months after the game's release - as a result of a drug overdose.

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