THQ steps into the wrestling arena once again, showing off a few new gimmicks in Smackdown vs. Raw 2009. While many sore spots from the previous instalments have been fixed or reworked, SvR 2009 feels more like an "it's about time" update than a fresh experience. Still, wrestling fans should definitely get this game — especially if they've been out of the ring for a while.
Every Smackdown vs. Raw game in the last few years has taken two steps backward for every forward step. But it looks like the threat of competition really stoked a fire under THQ's butt, because SvR 2009 is actually the rock-solid game we should've had last year. Even better, pretty much everything I've hated about past instalments in the series is gone. But while it's a lot of fun, SvR 2009 still has a few flaws that fans like me will be sure to notice.
One Heck of a Show
Let's talk about the new Road to Wrestlemania mode first — it's great. As someone who's watched years and years of weird WWE drama on TV, I can honestly say that the six unique storylines starring big names like CM Punk, Chris Jericho, and Randy Orton are incredibly well written. In fact, they're better stories than the ones I've seen on RAW and Smackdown's actual TV shows. Another excellent new touch is the ability to have your Road to Wrestlemania take some minor-but-important plot twists. For example, in the tag team angle featuring Batista and Rey Mysterio, I had to win the World Heavyweight title to finish the game, but I could only hold the WWE Tag Team Championships as long as my partner and I kept winning matches. With that kind of built-in variety, the storylines kept me playing for days, especially on harder difficulties.
I'm also glad that a few tweaks have been made to the grappling engine. The right analog is awesome in this instance, especially since submission-move damage is now directly linked to how much you twist the stick back and forth. It's much better than the ridiculous dial-a-combos that plagued previous versions, and it feels more satisfying when you score a victory by tap-out. The overall control scheme is simple to learn, even if you haven't played a wrestling game in a while. In fact, all it took was a single trip through the Create-A-Move Set mode to get me re-educated.
Earning That Gold Belt
Speaking of which, while I'm glad that the Create-A-Wrestler, Create-An-Entrance, and Create-A-Move-Set modes are as robust as ever, they're all essentially the exact same as they were in previous years. (In fact, the whole game looks startlingly similar to SvR 2008.) SvR 2009's Create-A-Finisher mode is the newbie on the roster this time around, and while it's far from perfect — several animations don't link up smoothly — it's a good way to give your created WWE personality yet another layer of personal crafting. Moreover, your custom character won't be starring in any RAW or Smackdown story angles this time around. As a result, the Career mode feels very bare in contrast to everything else in SvR 2009. You'll be able to select any wrestler from the start to climb the championship ladder, but don't expect any cutscenes or plot points to break up the match-after-match monotony.
Overall, SvR 2009 has plenty of good points that encouraged me to overlook its sore spots. Cruiserweights will still animate poorly against behemoths like the Undertaker, and several finishing moves still aren't affected by weight parameters. But at least when I'm trying to score a pin in a 2-on-3-handicap match, my A.I. partner smartly tries to cover my back without getting disqualified (and succeeds). SvR 2009 is definitely worth your time and money, and with the online support and a HUGE list of match types, you won't find a better wrestling game out there. I just hope that in the eventual 2010 edition of SvR, THQ finally puts cohesive, multi-year storylines back into career mode.