Seven; that is the number of Smackdown games that has been released on the PS2. This kind of longevity on one console is matched by very few. Outside of the annual EA sports titles, and those games featuring that Tony Hawk guy, the boys from THQ have been giving Sony gamers the right to "Just Bring It", "Shut your Mouth", and telling us "Here Comes the Pain" and more. The Smackdown games have had their share of highs and lows but overall averaged out to provide the best wrestling in video gaming on the PS2, if not all consoles. SvR 2008 may be the last title for the PS2 now that the series has jumped ship to appear on all platforms. While the game isn't terrible, 2008 makes the Smackdown series come full circle on the PS2. Just Bring It left people wanting more, and SvR 2008 will satisfy the average gamer but in the end, leave you feeling like it's time to go next-Gen.
Luckily, THQ made the PS2 version more than just a mere roster update. New to this year are eight unique superstar-fighting styles and a pressure based submission system. Both actually work out very well and provide the formula, which we have grown, accustom to a bit of freshness that doesn't hamper the gameplay. The fighting styles range from Brawler to Hardcore to Powerhouse to Showman and more with each having specific abilities. The pressure based submission moves are simple to execute. By toggling your right analog stick back and forth, you can increase/decrease the amount of hurt you put on your opponent. It is great for wearing them down or for applying damage to a specific body part. The rest of the control scheme hasn't changed all that much, but for those who may have skipped over 07 may need some time to adjust to the right analog control grappling system. Delegating the finisher to the triangle button might be one of the best decisions ever made in the SvR series.
One thing that you can always count on in SvR is a large number of match types. Everything the wrestling enthusiast could want is here. Hardcore, TLC, Iron Match, Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble and even some nifty tournament style matches such as the King of the Ring and Beat the Clock Sprint to name a few. All of these match types are easily accessible and while playing against the AI can be both challenging and downright frustrating, playing with a few friends can make the experience engaging.
The Smackdown series has never been one to sit idly by and provide the same old career/season mode from year to year. In 2008 we have the 24/7 Mode which gives you the chance either with one of your own wrestling creations or an available WWE superstar to experience the wrestling life in an attempt to solidify oneself as a five star ballot Hall of Famer. There is no lack of things to do here, yet despite the options available; the whole experience comes off as being rather repetitive, boring, and uninspiring. The 24/7 Mode also makes the series a perfect 7/7 for no-multiplayer seasons on the PS2.
Once you select the brand you wish to represent, (and get through a loading screen or two) you have a couple of selections at your disposal. The calendar shows you the month-by-month schedule that includes the traditional RAW Mondays, ECW Tuesdays, and Smackdown Fridays, as well as the month's PPV. Depending on which brand you are in, you wrestle for your respective show and then have the option to interfere in the other shows if you so please. It doesn't do much outside of increase your fatigue level which you will find out is significant in the 24/7 mode.
When you are not wrestling, you can use your off days to do a couple of mundane yet various activities. You can train to increase a specific attribute such as your strength and speed. Doing so puts you in the ring against a random opponent where you have a set amount of time to perform an undisclosed amount of moves such as taunts or aerial attacks. If you are successful, your stats increase although you wouldn't know it if you check out the WWE magazine which gives you your stats breakdown, the Power-25, and other information that you may or may not find all that useful.
The other option available on the calendar is to participate in a series of events, which can do things such as boost your popularity and make you a little money that can be used to improve other abilities such as your microphone skills or your endurance. You could also play a role in a movie, go out for a night on the town, do an internet interview or an autograph signing. It really doesn't matter since all the game does once you make a selection is show you a brief snapshot and tell you how much money you've made and how little your popularity has boosted. The most important option available here is R and R, which regenerates your stamina but drains your popularity. Therefore, it becomes a balancing act, and an unreasonable one at that. You can get maybe 2-4% of a popularity boost for each event and lose 15% for resting. Also, found it rather strange that I get 10% fatigue for going out on a date, but suffer no fatigue at all after wrestling an ECW rules match versus Terry Funk. Inconsistencies like this plague 24/7 but they don't drag down the experience unless you start to make note of them.
The storylines themselves in 24/7 mode are really not that special or interesting. Before a match you are usually treated to a cut scene (and a few loading screens) which help explain what is going on. For my quest to WWE greatness I selected the Shaman of Sexy, John Morri..er Johnny Nitro. After being shafted by Vince McMahon, I was thrown into a feud with Jeff Hardy, which I was reminded of repeatedly when he left me threatening and very un-Jeff Hardy like messages on my phone. As our feud paid played out I noticed a strange occurrence. Before getting into a "grudge match" with the Rainbow Haired Warrior, I was treated to a cut scene where my man Nitro is seen fraternizing with other wrestlers and before heading out to the ring who do I shake hands with? Jeff Hardy. Other cut scenes I witnessed included accidentally walking in the Diva's change room as well as chatting it up with the WWE brass such as Jonathan Coachman and someone who I believe is suppose to be Shane McMahon. Do any of these scenes make any sense? No, but when you can count the number of loading screens that have gone by on one hand by the time you actually wrestle, it really doesn't matter.
The wrestling has also stayed largely the same so gamers who have extensively played any of the previous Smackdown games is going to have an easier time playing 08 than those who are new. However, the AI is still brainless on occasion and downright cheap on others which is a sure fire recipe in turning away people regardless of skill level. The difficulty settings are true to their word with the easy mode proving to be a relative cakewalk, while on legend things get much more intense and I'm not just referring to the computers incredible proficiency to counter every single move you make. Regardless of the difficulty you are playing on there will be times where you might feel inclined to throw your controller because it appears that the AI just doesn't fight fair. One example of this is when I was participating in a ladder match where I had to retrieve the briefcase and had laid out two opponents with chair shots and had sent a third opponent from the top of the ladder down to the canvas. In a span of about five seconds, they were all on their feet and I was the one on the mat. Without pressing the buttons that encourages you to get up my wrestler remained face down for a good five minutes.
Keeping with that example, the game certainly gives you the impression that it is not a button masher yet when it prompts you to press those buttons to get up; it would be a wise idea to do as the game tells you. If you press the buttons in a brisk but not feverish pace, your wrestler will stumble about before going back down. The computer doesn't seem to have this problem regardless of how badly you beat them into supposed unconsciousness. Perhaps this is a throwback to those old Nintendo games where it was virtually impossible to succeed without a turbo controller. Prior to playing this game, I believed I was successful in erasing that unpleasant memory from my subconscious.
If bad AI doesn't give you fits, then some of the game modes might. One such example includes the ladder match I mentioned earlier. To win you need to ascend the ladder and grab onto the briefcase. Doing so brings up a meter and a prompt where you must hold down either the left, right or both analog sticks. This slowly drains the briefcase meter and by slowly I mean about as slowly as it takes your wrestler to get back up. There is no way you'll be able to get the briefcase down in one shot with the computer ready and willing to take you out. Why it is such a struggle to bring down the briefcase is anyone's guess and since the meter does not refill when another wrestler makes a grab for it you could do most of the work only to have the computer win the match by getting up the ladder at that oh so convenient time.
Visually the PS2 version of SvR 2008 pales in comparison to its next-generation cousins and rightfully so. Considering the graphics in this series use to be a measuring stick of sorts for the WWE games on the other systems. Regardless of its inferiority, this game still suffers from some generic and ugly character models. Most of the wrestlers look like their real life counterparts, although some seem to share certain body types that don't quite measure up. None of these guys in real life look out of shape but it's telling to see Kane as chiseled as John Cena who looks as chiseled as Batista in the game. The divas on the other hand look downright frightening. Some of them such as Maria and Candice Michelle don't look anything like they do on television and the rest of the divas, most notably Torrie Wilson and Melina look more like clowns than the sexiest women on television. Not all is lost though; the arenas still look terrific and boast plenty of detail. The crowds unsurprisingly look awful but there is at least a fair amount of other things going on when your wrestlers start to do battle amongst the fans.
The commentary has always stuck out like a sore thumb in the SvR series. It's nice to have but once you get through one match you'll feel more inclined to commentate the match yourself. Most of the lines delivered by the commentators are lame and while not devoid of enthusiasm, seldom seem to be about the match itself. Many of the statements made are so generic and repetitive that it's beyond trying to figure out which wrestler is being referring to. While each pair of commentators is bad in their own individual ways I'd have to give the nod to good ol' J.R Jim Ross and Jerry "the King" Lawler as the worst the game has to offer. I really don't need to know about JR's Oklahoma backside or how the King can't seem to get his head out of his own rear-end.
While the gameplay might not be enthralling, the customization modes thankfully have been kept in tact. The Create a Wrestler and Create a Move list provide you with everything you need to create your dream grappler, as well as some of the all time greats. It might be a bit excessive to be able to choose from fifteen different types of eyelashes but the possibilities of what you can create are endless. The Create an Entrance option also has a significant amount of depth to it where you can decide on things such as how your grappler moves, their entrance music, Titan Tron video as well as pyrotechnic effects from the entrance ramp all the way down to the ring. For kicks, I used the Great Khali as my guinea pig and came away with some of the most hilarious entrances imaginable. Have Khali come down with Melina's entrance, as a member of Cryme Tyme, or even with something more traditional such as HBK Shawn Michaels and just try to suppress a chuckle. The Create a Stable and Create a Belt options are also available but the lack of an online mode makes these two modes especially the latter one not that exciting. While the online option might have not been perfect in the past, not having it this year hurts the game's replay value. In addition, you won't be able to talk smack as easily as you did in the past with your competitors now in the same room as you.
Having been a fan of the Smackdown series since the very beginning way back in its heyday on the original PlayStation, it is safe to say the series has come a long way over time. With nine titles in total, credit needs to be given to THQ for keeping the franchise respectable and generally fun to play. However, like any good franchises the time comes when it begins to make its inevitable descent. With this very likely the finale for PS2 gamers, SvR 2008 feels like a disappointment. If you have friends with you then you know you will get your money's worth. However, considering how affordable the previous versions get when the new titles hit the shelves, you're better off picking up one of those games and saving your money.