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WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2009
Graphics: 8
Gameplay: 8.5
Sound: 6
Control: 8
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 8.2

The WWE SmackDown franchise has become a staple for THQ ever since they've gained the WWE license from the, now defunct, Acclaim. From the start, the series has been a smash hit and a financial success for THQ. So it's no surprise that nearly every single year following the first release has been a new SmackDown game (the first two SmackDowns both came out in 2000, in fact). So now, we're at the tenth game, a follow-up to last year's absurdly flawed and poor effort. But things have changed for SvR2009...THQ and Yukes have listened to our complaints.

The reigning champ of wrestling games lost its belt by default. It didn't matter if WWE2008 was the only wrestler available last year, it simply doesn't deserve any accolades. But this game, it's a different story. Last year my biggest complaint with SvR2008 was that it was slow...dreadfully slow, in fact. Wrestlers walked and ran at a snail's pace, and it was infuriating. The lack of excitement absolutely demolished a game full of potential. Clunkiness was another issue, the controls just didn't seem tight, and the poor collision detection didn't help make matters any better.

As you can guess, all of that's been cleared up. Now the speed is intact, allowing for a much more exciting game of wrestling that represents the actual sport a whole lot more than last year's game. The controls have been tightened up considerably, feeling a lot more intuitive and responsive. Hand in hand with the new controls comes collision detection that doesn't have your flying wrestler fly right past your opponent and face first into the mat. With all of these issues fixed, the fluidity of the game improves ten fold; I was pulling off maneuvers left and right, keeping the action alive in all of my matches. It's amazing how much just a few minor tweaks can change the entire experience of the game, isn't it?

Mechanics remain largely the same over last year's game, as you'll use the right analog stick to pull off a variety of moves, and a modifier button coupled with the analog stick to pull off an additional set of moves. Once your player's power gauge reaches the top, you can choose to either use a finisher, or store half of your power gauge and pull off a signature move. The great thing about the improvements of SvR2009 is that it also makes the game feel a lot more powerful; every attack you land feels just as solid as the last.

The great thing about SmackDown games has always been its bevy of features, and once again, SvR2009 proves to be no different. Boasting nearly every match type the WWE has to offer, SvR2009 even gains the Inferno Match. In total, 56 match types exist, spread across seven categories, including One on One, Two on Two, Triple Threat, Fatal-4-Way, 6-Man, Handicap, and Royal Rumble. If that's not enough for you, you can enter the game's all new Road to Wrestlemania mode, where now a Co-op storyline exists for tag-team gamers, as do a variety of unique storylines and cutscenes.

Create a Finisher returns for this year's iteration, but now with changes made to the interface to make it more user friendly and intuitive. If you're feeling extra creative, go on create your own WWE superstar, an entrance, and a move-set. With a game that's actually playable this time around, all of these modes are actually quite a lot of fun to explore. It must be said that the amount of depth in the Create a Superstar mode is utterly incredible. And hey, once your done with the Road to Wrestlemania mode and want more, enter the Career and Tournament modes. Believe me, there's a good amount of things to do here, it'll take a while to get it all done. Of course, don't forget the online gameplay, which has been enhanced for SvR2009, and gives you even more stuff to do.

For the most part, the visuals look identical to that of the previous game, but that's not a bad thing. This means you still have very detailed wrestlers who look practically identical to their real-life counterparts. The picture is silky smooth, and the image quality isn't marred by poor image issues such as aliasing or flickering. Additionally, the frame rate kept everything moving along well. Fixed are also all of the crippling visual issues, such as the wrestlers warping all around the screen, falling through the mat, among other collision detection errors. That is not to say that the collision detection is perfect, but a lot of its problems have been addressed. On top of that, my complaint about the crowds from E3 have been addressed. Back in July, the crowd past the fourth row were just blotchy pixels, and that's been fixed with some more detail -- it's not super great, but it certainly isn't as ugly as the early version of the game. I still think it's time for the franchise to stop tuning up the PlayStation 2 engine and work on a proper overhaul for the franchise, though.

Unfortunately, while nearly everything else has changed, the audio hasn't received the same love and care. Commentary, while boasting some more lines, is largely bland and boring much like last year's game. Michael Cole/Tazz and Jerry "The King" Lawler/J.R tend to repeat themselves often, and they rarely mention the wrestler's in the ring by name, it's often a generic reference such as "superstar" or "athlete". So yeah, not much change here and that's a shame. But you do get to use your own songs from your PS3's HDD when creating an entrance and its theme music.

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a major improvement over last year's terribly flawed game. Yukes have tightening nearly everything up for this year's game, and it goes to show how just a few minor things can ball up into something big. SvR2009 is a return to form for the franchise, and fans of both the WWE and SmackDown games should really love this. Even though Midway's TNA Impact showed some potential, THQ has returned to smash it.

11/20/2008   Arnold Katayev