WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

In recent years THQ’s wrestling series has been declining in quality with each new release, whilst it always improves in some way (not always where it matters most) and has little, fan pleasing, features here and there (this year you can run up the ring steps, reversing a finisher rewards you with a finisher of your own, the commentary has been improved, and the referee no longer sounds like a robot), it’s looking a little past its sell by date and the balance issues from last year’s game don’t only remain, but they’ve got even worse.

The majority of the main event wrestlers (the roster is huge, with downloadable wrestlers also promised) now have a resiliency ability which enables them to kick out from pins in moments that look like nothing more than defeat. This is all well and good, although it doesn’t make for a very balanced game if you pit a resilient wrestler against one without the ability, as it means that one will have to work a lot harder than the other in order to score the pinfall. Kicking out from pinfalls after a powerful finisher can happen three or four times with a resilient wrestler, which just feels cheap and wrong and as if balance was never an issue during play testing.

Moving away from the negatives for now, WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 does do many things right.

Road to WrestleMania is the obligatory story mode, a mode that has fluctuated in quality over the decade long history of the series. I’m pleased to say that this years story mode is a marked improvement over the 24/7 mode of last years game and certainly feels much more focussed. You can only play through this mode as 7 wrestlers (John Cena, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, and the team of Batista and Rey Mysterio) although they each have their own storylines and generally don’t do anything that is out of character. Whichever show your wrestler is on; each week opens with the usual music and fireworks, with the commentators introducing everyone at home to their respective brand, and closes with the authentic copyright notices. You do get the occasional choices, bonuses can be unlocked by completing occasional optional goals, and you can even play with another player at your side if you choose to team up (in a nice touch you do get the opportunity to show your skills in single competition as well) for the Batista and Rey Mysterio tag team storyline.

Speaking of tag matches, they have been immensely improved this year, although the reasons behind tagging in and out have still been completely forgotten about, meaning that wrestlers outside the ring won’t recuperate (a badly injured body part will stay that way unless your chosen wrestler has the durability ability, in which you can hold a button to slightly heal yourself) whilst standing on the apron, something which TNA iMPACT! pulled off admirably well on its very first attempt. Other than that oversight, the tag matches have a lot of good stuff going for them: momentum meters are now shared between a team and famous double team finishers are possible, the outside man can pull the ropes down to send opponents tumbling out of the ring, they can also restrain their opponents for some cheap shots, use the blind tag or build the hot tag. The match saving hot tag is a tactic that can only be used once in each match, so the decision to use it must come at the time when you think it could make a real difference. When the hot tag is activated, the fresh wrestler comes in with a full momentum meter, and if used at the correct time, a hot tag followed by a finisher will get you the thing you came for, a win and a flamboyant victory celebration.

Not only has the game got improved tag matches, but also, in the Inferno match, it has a brand new match type. In this match the ring is surrounded by flames, the objective being to set your opponent alight. To do this you have to get the onscreen temperature to a boiling hot 300 degrees, with each attack that lands things just keep getting hotter and hotter. When the meter reaches 300 degrees it’s then possible to drag your opponent towards the ropes and then do the fiery deed, although your opponent can attempt to fight his way out of your grasp to avoid spending the night in the burns unit. It’s another pretty good match added to the series’ already impressive amount of options.

There’s even more new options, with the much requested Create a Finisher, the Highlight Reel (create your own videos from your matches, alter the camera angles, add in special visual effects etc), the Roster Editor (a feature that basically allows you to alter each wrestlers face/heel alignment, which show they belong to and the titles that they hold) and the Career mode (if you like to win all the championship gold, then this is the mode for you).

Create a Finisher allows you to do exactly that, combining animations and crafting your own signature move, although, as it’s still early days for this feature, some may find it a little limited in just what you can do with it, but it’s still a brilliant little feature that will please those who were tired of stealing their created wrestlers finishers from actual WWE Superstars.

Every year the series’ visuals improve and this year things are no different, with wrestler models looking better than ever and the blood and sweat looking even more like the real liquids that they are supposed to represent. Sound is equally as good thanks to a great crowd and improved commentary (thank the man in the sky that we don‘t have to listen to the very clueless, Mike Adamle), the latter is now more play-by-play and the commentators even talk about the week to week happenings, whilst matches are going on, in the Road to WrestleMania mode.

I’ve already highlighted the balance issues, although it’s the lack of a smooth engine that is also keeping the series from advancing. Midway’s TNA iMPACT! may be limited in many ways, although the engine that they have created is, in a lot of ways, smoother than SmackDown!

But, even with all its problems, WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2009 is a decent and often hugely enjoyable game, with many positive features. It’s just a shame that its biggest problems have to be so severe, and as much as it pains me to say, in comparison to the glory days that began with Here Comes the Pain, the series is coming close to falling apart. I’m hoping that the 2010 game will restore the series to these glory days, or sort out some of its problems at the very least.