WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 Xbox 360 (PAL) box  WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 Playstation 3 (PAL) box  WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 Wii (PAL) boxWWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 Playstation 2 (PAL) box   WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 PSP (PAL) box  WWE Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 Nintendo DS (PAL) box 

Wrestling: A sport where grown men grapple each other to the floor. WWE: A soap opera like Eastenders but with more violence and grappling to the floor. Since its hay day in the early 90s the institution formerly known as the WWF, before the animal charity secured the name for themselves, has entertained many adolescent men and women. There have been many icons that went on to bigger things and infamy Heroes such as Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Some such as The Undertaker are still around, tossing their colleagues around the ring, week after week. The difference here is that Eastenders isn’t likely to have a video game made about it where you play as Barbara Windsor and go around nagging at everyone. As you can gather, I don’t watch soaps. But ones with constant staged violence not only hold a small amount of interest, they can also be made into a game.

There is an authentic look this time around, as all the entrances and models for the characters are mostly true to life. Each superstar has been designed with care to detail, from Jeff Hardy’s armbands to Triple H and his pulsating muscles. Odd blips such as the lack of tattoos on Randy Orton are forgivable when Mr Kennedy’s entire introduction is completely faithful to the material. What isn’t forgivable however, is the blocky N64 generation models for the audience. They actually look like they hired a bunch of paper people. On consoles capable of such warlock activities, one even has the cheek to hold up a sign saying “I’m in HD!” If a cardboard cut-out is high definition, then the Mona Lisa is Miss World 2009. Audio is authentic enough to keep the fans happy, with commentary being done by each of the commentators themselves and without too much repetition. After a while it will seem familiar, but it takes a long time for that to happen.

Road to Wrestlemania mode is probably the most likely to be a campaign mode. Through the course of each character things will happen to that individual, up until the last fight at Wrestlemania. The plots are specifically designed for the game, bearing little details that have things in common with the real plotlines in the shows. Mostly the plotlines aren’t anything that the writer will be receiving an award to a standing ovation, but they’re interesting enough to keep you going. There are moments however that are just genius, the most obvious being during The Undertaker’s storyline when he makes a rival into a voodoo style zombie. Plotlines also have gameplay affects as well, like the interrogation phase of Chris Jericho’s campaign. Most of the unlockable content is hidden within the bonus objectives of some matches in the Road to Wrestlemania. There are a wide variety of optional goals, from making your opponent bleed to losing but indirectly. One of the campaigns uses two wrestlers and can be done co-operatively with another player. This usually leads to dominating the matches or smacking each other with your chosen superstar. They usually last about two to three hours each, but the co-op storyline along with one other requires more than one play-through to reveal all the secrets. The only issue really is that sometimes you’ll hardly do anything, whereas the rest you’ll have a lot to deal with. Handicap matches are usually the worst as you need to knock the partner(s) off the ringside before going for the win.

You also get a Career mode. This time you have complete freedom in which character you are, and you guide them through the years. You’ll challenge for titles when the opportunity comes along. Obviously this time around there is no plot to keep you interested that way, but along with the Road to Wrestlemania mode – bonuses are unlocked here. In the career mode you can also upgrade your chosen superstar by performing certain techniques. Charisma for example is upgraded by taunting using the D-pad and Submissions are upgraded by performing holds. It all makes sense really and depending on who you are, you’re more likely to perform some moves than others. In this mode, every single match type is available to you. The same is also true for Exhibition mode and Tournament mode. The former just lets you have single matches, while the latter will pit you against many others for a trophy. Most, if not all modes have some form of multiplayer version that can have up to four players. You’re not likely to be in danger of choosing the same person as there are a lot of unique characters to play as.

"Oh Mister Undurtaker, yer cow jacket seems to be on fiore."

So what kinds of match type are featured in Smackdown vs Raw 2009? Well perhaps the only one noticeably missing is the “Casket Match”. This has been replaced with the red hot “Inferno Match”. The aim of this is to slam your opponent so that the temperature of the fire reaches 300 degrees and then force them onto the fire to burn them. Of course not all matches are as obscure, with some merely needing a pin or submission to win. Disqualifications are usually present unless otherwise stated. What is the most difficult to master by far is the “Royal Rumble” itself. The aim is to stay in the ring, whilst throwing others out one by one. Thirty wrestlers will enter the ring in total, and when you enter is randomised. I still think that this is the most interesting match type, though a good old tables or ladder match gives cheap thrills. It helps that the controls are mostly straight-forward. Each superstar can punch, kick, throw, perform moves when the opponent is prone, climb and leap off the turnbuckle, etc. Some moves are granted harder to perform than others, but they usually reap the bigger rewards.

There is also a momentum meter, which increases/decreases depending on what you’re doing. While using the same moves over and over, or hitting an illegal partner or the ref may decrease your momentum, performing big moves will build up the bar dramatically. When it reaches full you can either stock it as a Signature Move to use at any time when the conditions are right, or find the right point and perform a Finisher. Both these move types are devastating in effect and can’t be countered. Everything else can with either one shoulder trigger or the other, depending on whether it is a melee or throw move. Weapons can also be found below the ring and usually cause dramatic damage; that is if you don’t get disqualified. The controls in some cases are a little off, like folding up a ladder/table, but are mostly well mapped. Movement of the wrestlers is a little stiffer than I would have liked it, as some are as jerky as a gremlin with Parkinson’s disease. Tag Team matches are the most upgraded thing in this version, and it shows. Players can now perform special moves that involve both participants on one team, or charge up the Hot Tag to perform a special berserker switch. Watching one of these tags reminds me of when I was a lot younger and people could watch wrestling on terrestrial television. I remember when the Ultimate Warrior would bounce around like a nutcase, screaming off the top of his lungs before smacking everyone in sight. Sure this time there’s the added Quick Time button pressing that has plagued gaming since the early part of this decade, but it is still fun to watch.

It's refreshing to see women competitors in the ring. But for some people, they may think mud is missing...

This is especially true if you created the Ultimate Warrior. Since no “legend” is an unlockable character this time around, you’ll have to make do attempting to create him/her in the Create-a-Wrestler modes. Choice isn’t that limited with many different attires and styles open to you from the get go. You can also design your character’s Finisher move, Entrance and any team manoeuvres. It is also possible to sort out your own WWE roster. You chose which superstar is featured in which show. There is a choice whether to be accurate and follow the shows themselves, or do whatever you wish. You can chose which superstar holds any of the many titles at any given time. The amount of customisation is fantastic, especially when you throw created/unlocked characters into the fray. Finally, you also have the highlight reel mode, which on paper sounds impressive. Unfortunately I find this kind of thing irrelevant on the most part. You also have downloadable content for the High Definition console versions that include Alternative costumes and Extra Characters. Matches can be played online as well, which actually would be the only time I’d use the highlight reel.

There is a lot of content and for once a goal to aim towards. While career mode takes a lot of time, it is missing the vital part of the WWE universe that hasn’t been translated into video game format before. Road to Wrestlemania addresses this issue and provides a simple yet mostly enjoyable time. For those who like sports managing combined with playing the matches themselves, Career mode and perhaps Tournament mode help brilliantly towards achieving the desired effect. For those who like to fiddle around with customisation modes and tweak with the norm, you’re happily catered here as well. Perhaps the only downsides for me are the visuals in some respects and the blips in playability. I’d probably go on record and say that this is perhaps the best wrestling game ever made. My reason for this is simple. It is the only one I’ve played in my entire life for more than an hour, willingly…

 Version Differences

  • Xbox 360 and PS3 as described in the review
  • PS2 and PSP versions have some features taken out, but retain the gameplay elements described.
  • Wii version has some features taken out, but has a different control scheme to the others.
  • DS version is a streamlined experience that will probably be different in some respects. Caution is advised.