Wednesday, 4 January 2017

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke's
Genre: Wrestling
Series: SmackDown vs. Raw (Previously SmackDown!; it would become WWE in future)
Released: November 14 2006 (US) and November 10 2006 (UK)
Certificate: 16
Consoles: PS2, Xbox 360 and PSP

The sequel to the outstanding SvR 2006, and the eighth game of the series in total, received more hype than any WWE game to that point, having been announced almost eight months before the game was officially released. In the end, despite the build-up, many felt that the game was a shade inferior to the 2006 SmackDown; however, the entertainment value and feature set were strong enough that it was still one hell of a wrestling title.

SvR 2007 introduced the analog-based control scheme, whereby you moved the right analog stick in a particular direction along with R1 for further move options. In particular, the analog sticks played a crucial role in the brand new Ultimate Control Moves, which allowed you to decide between several variants of a similar move. So, let's say that you're preparing to hit your opponent with a suplex. Via the UCM, you may hit a regular suplex, or you may hit a delayed suplex, or you may use the ropes to hit a slingshot suplex in the manner of Cowboy Bob Orton. This also extended to environmental hotspot moves, from Ric Flair-esque chops in the corner to slamming your adversary's head into the announcer's table, or raking his face across the mesh of a steel cage. Some argued that certain UCMs and environmental moves were a bit unrealistic, but they added more options and flexibility than ever before, and some - such as the infamous up-and-down straddling of an opponent on the top rope which leaves your enemy with pain in a sensitive area - were a lot of fun, as well as being mirror-images of real-life situations in the ring. Overall, they were definitely a positive addition to the games.

Otherwise, the gameplay remained largely the same, with the HUDs being modified slightly to resemble the logo of that year's biggest show, WrestleMania 22. Stamina was slightly improved to allow for wrestlers who had taken a beating to slowly climb the likes of ladders and cages, and there were more grunts and groans than in the previous game. The other big change from a grappling standpoint had to be the option to take matches into the crowd for the first time since SmackDown! Just Bring It. Within the extended crowd area at the top corner of ringside, you could use bonus weapons like fire extinguishers, endorse or tear up fan signs, use the speakers to inflict pain, and in the best part, hurl yourself off a balcony onto your opponent through a table in a huge ECW-style high spot. Since this area also had several environmental hotspots, one could have hours of fun just with the crowd battles alone if it were a Hardcore-rules match.

Speaking of match types, the Money In The Bank Ladder match was the big new stipulation clash in SvR 2007. The chaotic six-man free-for-all first seen at WrestleMania 21 had made it into the game, along with new ladder options such as ladder finishers and placing the ladder diagonally, allowing you to sprint up and knock away one of your opponents who were a second away from clinching the MITB briefcase. There were also new moves involving chairs and tables (you could now stack tables, which created a great visual for the likes of top rope suplexes), and although we were down to just the Parking Lot and the Bar for Backstage Brawl, both settings provided plenty of fun as well as some surprises (one optional ending to the Parking Lot Brawl sees The Boogeyman emerge unexpectedly from the back of a car). The lack of a Diva-based match type frustrated some at the time, but in hindsight, it was the first step towards having women presented in a positive, non-sexual fashion which would eventually lead to the so-called Women's Revolution in today's WWE.

As for the roster: the current crew was a big improvement upon the line-up in the previous game, at least within the mid-card ranks, and the crop of 16 Legends was both generous and star-studded. Amongst the newbies, we had Bobby Lashley, Mr. Kennedy (who has a brilliantly-recreated entrance where he provides his signature bellow of "MISTERRRR KENNNEDDDYYY ...), Finlay, The Great Khali, Umaga, the aforementioned Boogeyman, MNM, The Mexicools, Paul Burchill, Vito and more joining the usual suspects such as John Cena, Edge, Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and The Undertaker. Within the retro ranks, we still had Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin and Bret Hart along with debuts for Dusty Rhodes and Mr. Perfect, and reappearances for Roddy Piper, Shane McMahon and (admittedly not a Legend in the game) Viscera, as well as all four faces of (Mick) Foley for the only time in a WWE game to date. There were some notable absentees such as The Spirit Squad, and Chris Jericho and Christian weren't included as they had left WWE in 2005, but overall, this was a fantastic group of wrestlers, marking a then-series high of 67 playable characters, and arguably the best roster in a WWE game to date at that time.

Image Source: Gamestop
The arenas were updated in the usual fashion, but this time instead of having a classic venue, we were treated to the colourful Saturday Night's Main Event venue, which had been revived prior to Mania 22. There was also a debut appearance for the nWo spray-painted version of the former WCW World Championship. And Locker Room was expanded greatly to essentially include three rooms in one, with more customisation options than ever before; as weird as it may sound, deciding which wrestler poster to put on the wall of the Locker Room, or deciding between a tiger or a bear rug in the Championships and Trophies sections, were amongst the most fun that I have ever had on a wrestling game, just for the sheer (and surprisingly high) entertainment factor that these and other similar instances provided. As for the Trophies themselves, there were more to attain in Season mode, and eight PPV events had their own, very cool-looking prizes to win. What's more, you could walk around the complex from a first-person viewpoint rather than simply toggling between items, making the seemingly-pointless mode a win-win.

I mentioned Season mode just then; Season was the best overall mode since it began incorporating voice-overs, as you could now complete a full 12-month Season, albeit with a brand transfer midway through (actually, if you began the mode on Raw, you would play for longer than 12 months as you would battle through two WrestleManias). You could use most current characters, but not all of them, although everybody that you interacted with provided full voiceovers, as well as non-playable characters like Vince McMahon, who at one point calls Roddy Piper "a b-----d" during a phone rant. Yes, you could receive voice messages on a mini-mobile phone between matches, which ranged from match announcements to feud progressions to full-on rants, as mentioned moments ago. The WWE Magazine and WWE website allowed you to check up on how the rivalry was developing, but best of all, the stories themselves were, on the whole, very entertaining - perhaps more so than certain plotlines on WWE television at the time. Some, such as a campaign to take down various icons, were exciting; others, such as Candice Michelle using her magic wand to transform characters, were harmless fun, but all of them were well worth playing through, and although the Season storylines in SvR 2006 may have been of a slightly higher quality, there were dozens of story options here and they were almost all engaging on some levels, making this an incredibly fun mode that you would be happy to play through over and over again.

General Manager mode was back with some improvements. You could now hire writers to pen long-term storylines, with certain writers being suited to particular stories, such as patriotic plots or underdog tales. There was also the Power 25 to see how wrestlers between the Raw and SmackDown brands were ranking across the whole of WWE, and you could now use Heat and Velocity as warm-ups for the main shows. We still couldn't create or view promos, which would have been nice, but if you liked GM Mode in SvR 2006, then you were bound to love GM Mode V2 in this game. Rounding off the modes was the third edition of Challenge, although this featured only two levels of challenges, even though they were, erm, more challenging and more creative than some of those seen in previous games. Strangely, there is one final Challenge which sees you, as Mickie James, have to find a way to beat The Great Khali on the hardest difficulty level, only to be rewarded with zero prizes for pulling off the miraculous feat.

The create modes were all the same and were largely untouched, although Create An Entrance had a more user-friendly interface with the option to preview entrance motions, and you could now create spinner versions of title belts in Create A Championship. Online play was improved slightly, and all entrance themes now lasted just over two minutes if you wished to listen to them outside of the usual ring intros. Of note, I felt that SvR 2007 was the first game where one would have to research online for an in-depth process towards creating wrestlers to a high standard, a dilemma which would be partly fixed in the future when Community Creations arrived on SvR 2010.

The final major thing to mention is that SvR 2007 was the first game on a non-PlayStation console, as the game was released for the relatively new Xbox 360 console. Xbox fans were delighted to have the game on their platform after the weak Raw titles and the disappointing WrestleMania 21 game on the older Xbox console. Still, besides improved graphics, sweat and some additional loading screens (such as a DX screen corresponding with their recent reunion in WWE), nobody would have noticed anything majorly different between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 versions, so PS2 fans weren't exactly shafted as a result (although the PS2 version was the first of the series to feature a large number of glitches, such as the wrong ring announcer and commentary team showing up before matches). Incidentally, the PSP version didn't feature any exclusive modes or features whatsoever, in contrast to the Mini-Games and Jake Roberts the previous year. Also, there were originally plans for a PlayStation 3 version prior to the late 2006 launch of the PS3, but it was ultimately decided that SvR 2008 would instead be the first WWE title to hit that console. The same went for the Nintendo Wii console, although the PS3 version was in a much later stage of development when it was cancelled.

Elsewhere, the soundtrack was arguably the best yet thanks to some great rock tunes, some of which were used for actual WWE events. Listen to The Enemy by Godsmack, which was used for SummerSlam 2006, and try to tell me that you don't want to kick somebody's a-- after hearing that song. The menus themselves showed the opening videos for both Raw and SmackDown on a loop, after they were again used to open up the game itself. You could now manually spin titles during entrances, including the aforementioned created belts. The additional attires were disappointing, though, merely offering suits for Triple H and JBL, and the Masked Kane once again.

Oh, and the game featured two different covers between the UK and US versions, as you can see above. Why, I don't know, but is it a surprise that both still managed to extensively promote Triple H, bizarrely with a photograph that appeared to be several years old?

Although SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 literally provided hours of fun, it's understandable as to why it wasn't praised as highly as SvR 2006. Despite the new control scheme, UCMs and environmental hotspots, the game overall offered less innovation than its predecessor; whereas SvR 2006 changed the game (no pun intended), SvR 2007 was more of an updated, and more polished, follow-up title with the proverbial house being redecorated rather than rebuilt (actually, that analogy is appropriate given the Locker Room feature). Plus, in some areas there was no growth; it's not like this was the game to, say, introduce Create An Arena to the series. And for PS2 users, the glitches were frequently a source of frustration.

That being said, the negatives were more than offset by the positives, the main one being: this was an unbelievably fun wrestling game to play, from the superb roster to the crazy move options during Hardcore and Ladder matches to the ridiculously-deep Locker Room to the outstanding Season to - well, everything else that the game offered! Put it this way: although the rosters in the recent WWE 2K games are much larger than they were in games like SvR 2007, if I were stuck on a desert island and only had one game to take with me, it's far more likely that I would bring SvR 2007.

It wasn't quite as good as the all-time greats in the genre, but SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 was at the very peak of the next rung below. If you watched WWE during the Ruthless Aggression era and yearn for the days of TV-14 WWE combat, or if you're a bit dissatisfied with the direction of the modern WWE 2K games, or if you simply want to play a fun wrestling game, then you really should play SmackDown vs. Raw 2007, even now over a decade after its release. It's one of the best, and to me the most underrated, wrestling games ever; you will rarely have more fun playing a wrestling game than you will with SvR 2007.


Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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