Professional wrestling is a big, sweaty mixing-bowl of entertainment and athletics, the combination of super-hero-like grapplers living out violent storylines, and larger than life battles that capture the imagination of a huge fan base. Of course, this means that pro-wrestling is a perfect fit for video game adaptation. Game publisher THQ has been joined at the hip with the mainstream king of wrestling, WWE, for a long time now, and for the longest time it has seemed as if only incremental changes have been made in each new title in the wrestling genre. Teaming up with Yuke's Media Creations, WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007 looks to buck that trend with new features, graphics and rosters to flesh out those fantasies of the hordes of wrestling fans throughout the world.
Graphically, the roster of wrestlers should no longer appear like action figures being slowly moved through a thick viscous substance, as a next-gen overhaul should be apparent. Watching footage of Booker T being beaten into the corner almost made me feel the sweat and Vaseline spraying off as fist met face (ugh). The action should be smoother, though the interesting thing will be seeing if collision detection holds up better than in the past, when it seemed that on some occasions it was possible to put someone into a hold from about four feet away. What should be nice is seeing the fans go wild (wrestling fans typically are among the most rabid) in the new crowd animations that should make you feel like you just made your way into an actual arena.
Speaking of those fans, one of the most interesting added features to rear its screaming head in the new SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007 is the interactivity with the crowd. The spice of watching WWE live is the unpredictability of what happens when the fight spills out of the ring and ends up near the steel barricades, dividing the participants from the audience. In the game, it will now be possible to involve the crowd in the action by partaking of pain-inducing "foreign objects". You can also rile the paying customers up by acknowledging their signs (surely done in bright poster paint and glitter painstakingly the night before) or by tearing the cardboard hopes and dreams of fanatics in half. Don't expect to be able to hurt (or otherwise abuse) the customers, but it's nice to know they can add a bottle to smash over the head of a guy like John Cena (who I'm sure is a wonderful guy in real life).
The most important aspect of any game that involves fighting is how it fights (duh). The developers have decided to add a bit of spice to the typical, repetitive animations and moves featured in previous games. With a greater emphasis on using the analog controls, unleashing an airplane spin or throwing an opponent into the corner turnbuckles will apparently feel more natural instead of relying on the preset animations that occur on queue. This should alleviate the boredom some casual fans might have felt when experiencing the same visuals over and over again with a few button presses. Also, since the wrestlers will now be established in varying classes, different moves and abilities will be available to different types of characters determined by this class. Now, wrestlers who should not be body slamming opponents twice their size will NOT be body slamming said opponents. Add to the new analog controlled moves a set of interactive spots like the ropes, tables and the ubiquitous top turnbuckle. The approach here suggests that anything you can see being done in a match during an episode of SmackDown or Raw can be emulated in the virtual world. Not in the real world (this means you backyard wrestlers) since it does seem that the life expectancy of a pro-wrestler is not spectacular (we miss you Davey Boy Smith).
There are no plans to expand the match types, but expect tweaks to different existing aspects of the game like the always fun ladder matches. The single-player story mode will contain expanded features such as email and voicemail from individuals involved in your ongoing soap opera that will span both the SmackDown and Raw shows. That is a lot of wrestling and a lot of trash talking being recorded for your benefit when you try and get a brief rest in the locker room. Voice chat during Live matches should give fans another outlet to scream out their expansive vocabulary of swear words, but regardless, it'll be nice to live out your wrestling dreams against real opponents online.
Since the Xbox 360 WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw game will be the only next-generation iteration of the game, this might be the must-get game for fans of battles in the squared circle come this fall. Add to that the addition of Booker T and Chris Benoit to the extensive roster already announced, expect WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007 to bring Triple-H, Shawn Michaels and the rest to the Xbox 360 this Fall.