Over the last few years wrestling games have pretty much just came from one source, least for Western countries anyway, and that was the WWE smackdown games, made by THQ. Now with TNA releasing a game a few months back which has the potential to become a serious threat, THQ have decided to layeth the smacketh down on Midway with Smackdown vs Raw 2009.
Im an avid wrestling fan, and in the last few years I have been really disappointed with the Smackdown series, because they often make very few updates each year, much like FIFA until recently. Just like EA however, THQ have added quite a few updates this year, which have led to some really good bits, and some stupid bits as well.
First off is the roster, while they can never get an up to date roster as someone always leaves or gets fired, it’s still a lot of wrestlers this year, but this doesn’t make that much of a difference because more often than not, most will never be used by one person. The usual story mode has been updated to 2 different parts. Road to Wrestlemania follows one of 6 stories with 7 wrestlers, and you progress through it like any other story mode game. The storylines are better than their WWE real life ones, so why they were never used I don’t know, would certainly make better TV. Career mode has replaced the general manager mode, something which many people enjoyed last few years. Basically you’re picking a wrestler then fighting opponents to gain up ratings, once you reach a high enough rating you challenge for a title. Then repeat over and over again. Its tiresome and boring after 5 minutes, and is the only way right now to boost up stats for a created wrestler, which can take 10 hours just to get them up halfway.
Game play has been left virtually untouched. Replacing the awful modifiers last year, are the better system of abilities, which include dirty pin, springboard moves, kip up, possum pin and more. Broadening the abilities from last year means that there’s more strategy involved in choosing a wrestler for certain match types. A ladder match suits a wrestler who has the ladder match ability as they can reach the belt faster and take it off its hinge. When a wrestler has full momentum, they may store it to keep for a signature move, of which just like finishers, there are 2 of for each wrestler. This adds a bit more strategy as to when to go for a pin, especially during fatal 4 ways. Other good subtle features include changing the background music whenever you like at the touch of a button.
AI has been improved a tad, but it is still very easy to beat them, even on higher difficulty levels. You can still win a match in less than a minute in no problem. A typical match against the computer is basically, running grapple, stomp, mat grapple, stomp til they counter and get up, running grapple, stomp, mat grapple, stomp til they get up, kick to gut, finisher, pin. Online is pretty much the same with players rarely ever attempting strong moves and just sticking to small moves to win a match, but this has been going on since day 1.
But with every good thing THQ does every year, they seem to always take a step backwards at the same time. Take the new create a finisher mode. While it’s been desperately wanted for years, and while it is a welcome addition, it is rather limiting, and some of the damage some moves provide can kill a wrestler in one move without anything else being done to them. They have added a new match type, inferno, but removed buried alive. They have also removed the ever popular trading of created wrestlers, and as mention before, trying to up their stats is a boring process. There are also plenty of bugs, some of which THQ haven’t been bothered to fix since last year, including well known ones. One bug in the elimination chamber mode stops anyone from using the turnbuckles at all, something that wasn’t there from the beginning, so why is it there now?
It is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, while it still isn’t as good as the classic games of No Mercy or even Smackdown Here Comes the Pain, it’s getting there. Let’s see how midway do with the sequel to TNA impact, next year… hopefully if they aren’t dead by then.
Review by: William Stephen