By Michael Donahoe 04/13/2007 If the spandex fits, don't stretch it. That's the current philosophy ever since last year's WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 got one thing right: the intuitive Ultimate Control grapple system. Thankfully, that feature is definitely going tostick around, but not everything in '07 worked as well as those simple analog-based mechanics-wrestlers still moved like robotic masses of man flesh. Since THQ obviously doesn't want SmackDown to lose itsmain-event status (especially with Midway's TNA game on the horizon), the publisher is fixing this problem while adding a bunch of features for 2008. Impressive, since most nextgen sports titles skimp out on the extra stuff (hello, Madden).
Here's an exclusive early look atthe card for this year's game, which will inevitably determine whether or not this reigning king of the ring stays on top.
Finally walking the walk
When the SmackDown vs. Raw series made the next-gen jump to Xbox 360 last year, it was easy to feel the changes, but it was even easier to see what didn't change-the wonky, move-like-an- action-figure walking animations. That could potentially improve in this year's update, as one of the developer's major goals is to throw some extra grease on the grapplers' joints. This means, besides just updating the superstars' existing arsenals (they do that every year), they'll also be tweaking the small stuff, like the walking animations and movements in between grapples (i.e., the awkward sliding feet). That's good news for guys like us who like to whine about this obvious (and annoying) flaw every damn year. The bad news? Not every single move is getting redone. But at least the series is finally moving (realistically) in the right direction. And it's about freakin' time!
Stylin' and profilin'
Twisting your opponents into a tangled mess isn't going to matter if you ain't sporting the right superstar fighting style. In past games, wrestlers had two fight options: Clean or Dirty. Well, now you'll have a laundry list of choices: Powerhouse, Technical, High Flyer, Brawler, Submission Artist, Dirty, Showman, and Hardcore. We wonder how much these various styles will actually alter matchups-at the very least, though, they should change the pace of the pounding. "Each individual fighting style has its own exclusive special moves, abilities, damage bonuses, grapple moves, and attribute levels," says Creative Manager Cory Ledesma. Also, the new styles might actually bring a bit of strategy when picking wrestlers. Wait a minute, did we just say "strategy"? You'd really have to be a jabroni not to know that the "Hardcore" style is the correct choice if you're fighting in a...uh, hardcore match.
Will you quit?
Last year's Ultimate Control grapples turned out to be the true champion of changes. And now that wannabe wrestlers have complete control when molding a man-sandwich, the focus here is switching to submissions. "The new Struggle Submission system is all about pressure," says Ledesma. "You will see your superstar applying more pressure in the game, whether that's clinching harder, leaning back in moves like the Sharpshooter or Boston Crab, or squeezing the life out of your opponent in moves like bear hugs or the Master Lock." Yet just because you happen to be on the receiving end of a limb-twisting takedown doesn't mean you're completely screwed; once an opponent starts stretching, you can also apply force to try to break the hold. The way it sounds, this new Struggle Submission system, coupled with the already awesome Ultimate Control grapples, could make for a terrific new twist to the gameplay.