I just got the new SmackDown! vs RAW 2009 video game for XBox and it is awesome!~ (Editor's Note: I've actually been playing it for about three weeks now) I've been a big fan of video games ever since the days of the old stand up arcade game Tag Team Wrestling (how can you go wrong with a game where you win by repeatedly kicking your opponent in the nuts?) and while there's been a lot of crappy wrestling games out there (check out my list of the worst wrestling games of all time over at my pal RDLee's blog), the SD vs RAW series has been one of the better ones. That's not to say the series hasn't had its critics.
Like the Madden NFL series, this one gets a lot of flak because the new edition often seems like a glorified repackaging of the previous year's edition, only with updated rosters. It's a valid criticism but like Madden, it's hard to argue with the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought. Why redesign a video game every year if the fundamentals are solid?
Whatever your thoughts on previous editions of SD and their repetitive nature, this year's edition really stands out. The gameplay is amazing fluid (unlike TNA Impact which is just a mess). the AI is for the most part actually intelligent, and the new features for the game make it set it apart from everything before it.
First off, the graphics are amazing. For years I've heard about how 3D graphics have made video games so lifelike but this is the first game to really back this promise up. Playing this game, I was overhwhelmed at how lifelike the wrestlers looked and awed by the amount of detail. As the match progresses, the wrestlers begin to sweat and grimace with pain. During one match, I noticed the ECW announce team calling the match. It was really like being in the arena. Even the sound seems to have improved. You can notice the audience getting into the match if you put on a noteworthy bout. For the first time, you really feel like you're in the ring.
Second off, the added gameplay features really make this year's edition seem like something more than an updated roster that sets you back sixty bucks. First off, there is the traditional campaign mode where you can take a created wrestler or WWE Superstar from the beginning of their career all the way in to the Hall of Fame. Second, there is a second storyline mode The Road to Wrestlemania which allows you to play several characters along with a co/op mode featuring Batista and Rey. While I've only played two characters so far, the storylines seem individual. Replay is an essential component for most gamers and while the campaign mode isn't perfect, the addition of the Road to Wrestlemania gives this one a lot more value.
Is the game perfect? No. The movesets for each wrestler while not as redundant as years past (where guys like John Cena had the same moves as technicians like Chris Jericho) still could use some beefing up. The collision detection is one of the best yet but there are still a couple awkward spots. Worst yet, tag team matches end up being the longshot camera angle that makes for some annoying gameplay at times.
It's hard for me to tell someone who's been tired of playing the SD vs RAW series to buy yet another edition but this one really seems worth your money. With downloadable content on the way, this one should give you your mony's worth. While previous editions of SD vs RAW haven't always justified a sixty dollar investment, this one really does. If you feel burnt by previous editions, I don't think you'll feel the same way here. This is one wrestling game that offers a lot of different things for wrestling fans and video game fans.
Mike Rickard II is the author of Wrestling's Greatest Moments (published by ECW Press), a look back at the greatest matches, angles, and feuds of the last thirty years. The book is now availble for pre-order through amazon.com