Game Review: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008

Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: THQ
Developers: Yuke’s and Amaze Entertainment (DS)
Genre: Wrestling
Series: SmackDown vs. Raw (Previously SmackDown!; it would become WWE in future)
Released: November 13 2007 (US) and November 9 2007 (UK)
Certificate: 16
Consoles: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PSP, DS and Mobile

At the time of its release, SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 was considered a big disappointment compared to its two most immediate predecessors, and in hindsight, it is considered the point where the highly-rated series began to decline. But is that fair or were fans too hard on SvR 2008? Let’s take a look …

The big story about this game was that it marked the first time when the series catered primarily to seventh-generation consoles. Sure, Xbox 360 had supported SvR 2007, but now Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii all boasted SvR 2008 within their game libraries, and the focus was very much on ensuring that the new generation of wrestling gaming began on a high. That being said, besides the undeniably impressive graphics which were greatly superior to those on previous consoles, one wouldn’t be too disappointed if they opted for the previous-gen versions as opposed to PS3 or Xbox 360. Graphics aside, the only differences were that Xbox 360 allowed for custom entrance tracks to be used during entrances, whilst PS3 gave players a first-person view of entrances via Sixaxis. Otherwise, the differences were minor at best; it was a far cry from when 2K essentially abandoned PS3 and Xbox 360 to try and make WWE 2K15 shine on PS4 and Xbox One (a task which wasn’t very successful anyway).

Except, that is, for the Nintendo versions. SvR 2008 marked the first WWE games on Nintendo consoles since Day Of Reckoning 2, but those expecting a game in the same vein as DOR 2 or classic Nintendo titles like WWF No Mercy would be in for a surprise. The motion-based Nintendo Wii console ensured that SvR 2008 took full advantage of the Wiimote, as moving the controller in specific directions, rather than pressing buttons, would be responsible for your character performing moves and even taunts. The Wii version did lack most match types that were available on other consoles, but as a standalone game, the Wii version was arguably the most fun to play. The downsized Nintendo DS version was less successful, relying on a paper-rock-scissors format for its control scheme, but with an even smaller feature set and weaker (but still acceptable) graphics than its Nintendo counterpart, or even the other handheld console which supported the game, PlayStation Portable.

Otherwise, the game was pretty much the same across PS3, PS2, PSP and Xbox 360. The gameplay was mostly the same as in SvR 2007, so longtime fans of the series wouldn’t have much of a learning curve. In fact, some button switches ensured that the process for fans to master the game was arguably shorter than ever: there were fewer Ultimate Control options and move positions, which resulted in matches breeding familiarity, but this was offset by the introduction of Fighting Styles, whereby each wrestler had two styles that provided them with exclusive moves, taunts and tactics, in an attempt to make each wrestler feel more unique. Combined with the removal of the occasionally-frustrating Stamina system and the punishment-vs-energy submission system, as well as some new UFC-style ground-and-pound attacks, the gameplay experience was overall more satisfying and fun than in SvR 2007, even if it had less depth and therefore gave fans fewer options.

The new match type in SvR 2008 was the ECW Extreme Rules match, which was a lot of fun. Unlike traditional weapons bouts, where you just pick up a weapon and strike, in this stipulation you go under the ring and get to pick from one of eight weapons, from a standard chair to a Singapore cane to a barbed wire-wrapped 2 x 4. Each weapon had its own exclusive strikes, and some even gave you a burst of energy by busting you wide open, if you had the Hardcore ability. New chair attacks like the throat-crusher and Conchairto were in, and you could even snatch items from fans at ringside, such as a guitar or a title belt or even a can of soda. Best of all, you could light tables and “Barbie” on fire, resulting in some stunning visuals that perfectly matched the “Holy s–t!” chants that such moments would receive in a real-life WWE setting.

Add to that the return of Tournaments (King Of The Ring, Money In The Bank and Beat The Clock were amongst the options) and the usual improvements to the create modes, and by rights SvR 2008 should have blown its predecessors out of the water, right?

Well, it didn’t. For a few reasons.

Firstly, the roster was a big let-down. WWE had relaunched ECW as a third brand in the summer of 2006 (which was a bit of a disaster, but that’s another story), meaning that WWE had more than 100 wrestlers on its main roster across the three brands. Since recent games had included a generous number of Legends, the assumption was that the roster would be sky-high. However, the final total inexplicably came in at just 53, and that was after unlocking the hidden characters. So many faces were missing who appeared on TV every week, from Paul London and Brian Kendrick (who had just enjoyed an almost year-long reign as Tag Team Champions on SmackDown) to Shelton Benjamin to Deuce & Domino to The Highlanders and many others. On the retro front, there were fewer than a dozen stars compared to 16 the previous year, and three of those were ECW Legends (Sabu, Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer); otherwise, Rick Rude was the only new Legend. (The PSP version did have three exclusive retro names in Eddie Guerrero, Jim Neidhart and Sgt Slaughter.) Granted, there were some big-name exits from WWE in the preceding twelve months: Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Big Show, Lita and Trish Stratus all left (as did Sabu, although he still ended up in the game). Hulk Hogan’s absence could be explained by him having had another fall-out with Vince McMahon. And, of course, the game arrived shortly after the Benoit Tragedy which, besides its own horrific circumstances, almost put WWE and the wrestling industry at risk of extinction, so suffice it to say that Benoit wasn’t included in the game. Nevertheless, whatever way you look at it, the roster in SvR 2008 was very disappointing, for the sheer number of characters more than anything. Fortunately, every WWE game roster since has boasted many more characters than the SvR 2008 total.

Secondly, the number of glitches in the game, which hadn’t really been an issue before SvR 2007, hadn’t been fixed or had been added to, at least on some versions such as PS2; certain entrances would at times be impossible to watch, because the cut-scenes would suddenly start shaking in such a manner that left you with a throbbing headache if you kept looking for too long. Other presentation issues were a bit disappointing, most notably the announcing of John Bradshaw Layfield. SvR 2008 marked the first game to have three announce teams for each brand, and JBL had shone doing commentary in real life with Michael Cole. However, he sounded lacklustre, bored and generally working against his will during his recorded lines for this game. That this trend would continue in the 2010s after JBL began announcing again suggests that the man himself is to blame for this.

The big problem, though, was the single-player mode 24/7. On paper, it sounded terrific: it would take the well-received Season mode, with its voiceovers, storylines and cut-scenes, and allow you to control your wrestler outside the ring by doing the likes of autograph signings, training and film cameos, with the overall goal of eventually reaching the WWE Hall Of Fame, even if it took several years. It sounded perfect, the natural extension of Season. So, why did it fail?

Well, the storylines were good (we had certain WWE angles that had yet to be seen in a game, such as a wedding), but the execution of the mode as a whole felt poor. For starters, you could only pick from 18 wrestlers on the game for the mode, as opposed to nearly having every male wrestler to use in past Season modes. Next, the cut-scenes mostly consisted of extremely repetitive, pointless and increasingly-annoying backstage happenings, which were fine the first time, but got very frustrating after watching them dozens of times. The phone messages from your enemies could occasionally be a hoot, but there was no storyline progression between matches in the same manner as Season in SvR 2007. And the extracurricular activities were a let-down; besides minor Training sessions, you couldn’t see your character perform any of them, making them a bit pointless. Throw in the fact that you would suffer injuries but couldn’t pull out of wrestling despite the WWE staff telling you to do so, and the mode never having a true finale (you suddenly become eligible for the HOF and get a quick induction, but the mode continues on beyond that), and it’s no wonder that more people were turned off than enthralled by this. It did have its moments to shine, and you had to win matches to keep on climbing the ladder unlike previous games where most results didn’t affect the story, but overall 24/7 was a step back from Season. Plus, while it made sense that your Locker Room grew as you gained popularity and momentum, the flexibility and customisation of the Locker Room in the last two games was nowhere to be found, and it never would be again in the future (as of this writing).

General Manager mode was also tossed in the 24/7 experience with slightly more options than GM mode had in SVR 2007. But with the exception of having ECW as a third brand to compete with (and whoever managed the Extreme brand definitely drew the short straw, as you had a handful of characters to choose from based on the low roster that the game provided you with), nothing had really changed, and this would ultimately be the final appearance for General Manager mode in the series. Challenge mode had been replaced/enhanced, depending on your point of view, to become Hall Of Fame, where you could relive twelve classic matches and/or challenges (one of them was creating a championship which you had to create to build prestige). It was a lot of fun, but it felt weaker than Challenge due to it having fewer stages (Challenge had 60 matches in SvR 2006 and 31 in SvR 2007), and unlike future games such as WWE ’13, each match took place in a standard WWE venue rather than its actual arena, so for instance The Undertaker vs. Mankind inside Hell In A Cell took place at Vengeance rather than King Of The Ring. Presumably, the development team didn’t consider Hall Of Fame a success because this and any similar Challenge mode would disappear after this particular game.

So, the downsized and disappointing roster along with the weaker single-player modes were the primary reason why SvR 2008 was considered to be a let-down of a game. However, it has to be stressed that the game was still a lot of fun to play, and that many of the alterations, additions and improvements made for a stronger gameplay experience. Could it have been better? Of course. But the fact that it was inferior to SvR 2006 and SvR 2007 didn’t necessarily make it an actual bad game. And as SmackDown! Just Bring It – the first game to hit PS2 – and WWE 2K15 – the first title on PS4 and Xbox One – both demonstrated, the first wrestling title on a new generation of consoles is almost always a bit of an anticlimax. Not to excuse its flaws, but when you think about it, it should have really been expected.

Since then, the series entered a period of stagnation for several years, which only really changed when the entire thing was revamped with WWE ’12. The following games were the best since the mid-2000s heyday, only for WWE 2K15 to erase much of the goodwill with a very poor first step towards the eighth console generation. WWE 2K16 was a big improvement, whilst WWE 2K17 delivered a lot of cool new additions whilst also suffering from plenty of problems of its own. It remains to be seen as to whether the series requires another big revamp, or if we’re just one entry away from the next classic videogame entry.

Overall, though, history hasn’t been too kind to SmackDown vs. Raw 2008, but revisiting the game here, it’s clear that whilst nobody would ever vote it as the best game that they’ve ever played, it was a lot more fun than it credits for. Granted, some areas were disappointing, but if you happen to pick up a copy of SvR 2008, I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll still have a great time playing it.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good