Even when hiding behind a new control scheme, Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 is still, well, Smackdown vs. Raw. The WWE's yearly franchise makes bigger steps than a typical edition of Madden, but it's hard not to feel like you've been here before. Fans will love the additions, while casual pro wrestling followers will struggle to see what separates this from the 2006 release.
The immediately noticeable change is the control scheme, now performed with the two analog sticks. Buttons still perform basics attacks, counters and certain other basic actions. Grappling is completely moved, and it works better than it sounds.
With strong and weak grapples and different button combos, this opens up a staggering move list. You can easily feel this could have been handled with the buttons, yet the analog system feels smoother and new.
Also, pressing in the right analog stick provides some extra power during a grapple move. You can hold a suplex for a few seconds, quickly slam your opponent down with multiple power bombs and this all happens with added damage.
The second addition is arena hot spots. These pre-set areas allow for special moves when you drag an opponent over to them while grappled. You can slam a wrestler into the steps, smash their heads into the canvas, head into the crowd, or a number of other moves that are hardly legal, but deal out loads of damage. These drain stamina rapidly, so continually flattening someone's head into the steps can be dangerous for the person dealing the hurt as well.
The story mode is loaded again this year, with branching paths that go in some completely absurd directions. Granted, it's pro wrestling. However, even a few of these are a stretch. There is no calendar and progression is shown as nothing more than week-to-week.
The locker room interface is fun and the customization options make it fun to play with through a first-person viewpoint. Money earned through the season mode can be used to unlock countless items, including classic wrestlers, move sets, and new venues. Sadly, there is no choice for new commentary. You're stuck with the same voice work for a full season, and there is hardly enough to go around.
Even without unlocking items, the create-a-wrestler is still the deepest available. It's made it to the point where it can almost be considered absurd with the number of options, including a stunning wrestler entrance creator that could sap hours by itself as you try to time lights and fire perfectly. Other options like creating a stable, championships, or a pay-per-view continue the rundown of the game's always exceptional customization.
If you're not a fan of the game play, the GM mode is becoming closer to a separate product each year. Here you'll run one of the two shows and try to beat the competition in the ratings to earn an award for being the GM of the year. You'll need to manage your roster, keep them happy, sign contracts, hire writers to create feuds (new this year) and push new stars to keep your product fresh on a weekly basis.
There are some basic annoyances here. Fans seem to have no concept of a running feud without a storyline behind it now. At the start, all the wrestlers have contracts that expire at the same time, meaning it's a quick number crunch before you even have a chance to get involved.
The interface needs some tweaks as well. Booking a show is a hassle because the wrestler selection screen doesn't provide all the needed information. Finally, while there is an option to set up a small Heat or Velocity show to try and gain popularity for a low ranking superstar, rarely does your audience take notice.
Like the GM mode, the core game play still carries aggravations that should be fixed by now. Button mashing is still a prevalent game play device, and getting up after being knocked down doesn't feel consistent in its timing. Tag matches can take a ridiculous amount of time because of interference that is far too hard to stop. The franchise manages to keep its loose, somewhat sloppy feel too. It comes from the collision and stale animation routines.
With Xbox Live play that allows created titles to be defended and lost, WWE followers have plenty of replay value once the main story is complete. The increased graphical detail has some rough spots like exaggerated bodies or faces that barely resemble the superstar, though it's enough of an update to consider it part of the Xbox 360 family. It's a guaranteed purchase this year if you have the hardware and enjoy the familiar game play.
Smackdown vs. Raw is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: PS2, PSP.Powered by Sidelines