Yesterday, Microsoft, THQ and developer Yuke’s released a demo for their wrestling title, WWE Smackdown! vs. RAW 2007. We downloaded the demo and came away impressed with the tremendous visuals and a nice variety of game modes, but there are some things about the game that raised some red flags.
First, let’s talk about the thing that really stood out; the player models. The demo only allows you only play as either Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) or “The Big Red Machine,” Kane. Developer Yuke’s definitely took a lot of time to make these superstars come alive on your TV screen. There is just an immense amount of detail that went into getting everything just right on these two characters, from Kane having a somewhat awkward look on his face at all times to having HHH’s interesting facial hair drawn whisker per whisker. The entrances that accompany the respective superstars down to the squared circle are just like you would see in a WWE broadcast, with HHH strafing the ropes as he spits out water to make a nice mist, to Kane raising hands in the air, slamming them down and having fire come out of the corners of the ring. The game animates fairly well, despite a few hiccups here in there when you go to pick up your opponent from the mat or when the wrestler glides to get into position to grapple a downed foe. The audio was also quite good, featuring the songs the superstars play when they enter the ring, the smacks of punches hitting faces, and commentary from WWE commentators Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. Overall, the entire presentation in WWE 2007 is very slick and very polished.
Where the game runs into some problems is in its gameplay. None of the problems are massive and many are just due to the fact that the controls are a bit daunting. (Ed: In the interest of full disclosure, I have not played a wrestling game since the N64 days.) Luckily, the demo included a training video that will help players learn the controls, but they still aren’t any less unwieldy at first. Your basic punch is the “X” button. To quick grapple, you hit up, down, left or right on the right stick. To do a powerful grapple, you hit the right bumper and then flick the right stick up, down, left or right. Then, there are two different ways to counter; either by hitting the left trigger, which blocks an incoming punch or the right that counters a grapple. Three basic problems pop up with the counter system in the game. First off, why are there two different counter buttons when one would be perfectly fine? Secondly, you have to get lucky most of the time to actually counter a move. They time frame you have to counter certain grapples are as long as a blink of an eye. Lastly, the computer AI straight up counters most of your moves, leading to some frustrating moments. Some of the problems, rest assured, are part of the learning curve in the game. However, the game at its current state is not terribly accessible and will take some time to learn. Once you do master the controls, you should have considerable control on how you impose your will on your foe.
The other thing that I did not like was having to tap a button repeatedly to get my wrestler up from the mat. Wouldn’t they want to get up as fast as possible anyways, so why would we have to wear out our controllers by tapping them and getting control of our wrestlers back?
Next, if anyone remembers the 2006 PSP of WWE Smackdown! vs. RAW, it featured some really ridiculous load times. While the 360 2007 edition is not nearly as bad, it seems like there is a five to ten second load screen through every section in the game. When you select a singles match in the demo, you will get a load screen. When you select your characters, you will get another load screen. The first and second introduction both feature a load screen, another to start the match and then one last one when you get a pinfall or submission. While you can spare the time while you’re sitting on the couch, I hope that the loading times are reducing between now and when the game ships.
Despite the reservations on some of the gameplay design choices and the load times, WWE 2007 looks like it will have a considerable amount of game modes for next-generation wrestling fans to toy around with. In the demo, you can access exhibition mode which includes single matches, Tag Team, Triple Threat, Fatal 4 Way, Handicap, Royal Rumble, Tile Match and Main Event matches. Along side Xbox Live play that supports up to six players, there will a GM mode that will put you at the helm of one of the “competing” WWE showsWWE looks to be a game that every WWE fan should definitely keep an eye on as we crawl to the release date to the game which is slated for November of 2006, regardless of the small problems with the demo. Stay tuned for more coverage on WWE Smackdown! vs. RAW 2007 in the coming months.
Originally Written By: Art Green