When Smackdown Vs Raw 2006 hit the shelves back in late 2005, it presented a unique situation for gamers. For the first time since its inception, the series was available on two platforms albeit still exclusive to Sony. What made this more unique was that gamers were given a faithfully translated version of the PS2 game. THQ/Yukes went further by adding a few PSP exclusives. While the inclusion of one extra unlockable character and better left forgotten mini games didn't make the game anymore superior, it did wonders for multiplayer gaming. You could now lay the smack down on people from places beyond your living room and that is reason enough to consider 2006 as a positive step in the right direction for the series on the portable front. How quickly things have changed in a few short years.
SvR 2008 for the PSP manages to condense what you get on the console version into a handy UMD. The only problem is that the console versions are at best average and the PS2 version is the game the PSP Smackdown most resembles. This is not to write off SvR 08 for the PSP as being a horrible game; it just feels more like a meager upgrade of the previous titles than an entirely new game.
Variability has become a staple for any competent wrestling video game, and SvR gives you all the match types as you could possibly want. Single, Tag, Handicap, Fatal Four Way, Royal Rumble, and so on means you have plenty of ways to grapple and "wrassle". Unfortunately all this variety is nothing new. The time for some revolutionary gameplay modes has never been more prevalent.
New much hyped features include the signature styles and submission system. The former are different categories of fighting styles your wrestler may use such as technical, brawler, submission, showman etc. Each style has a unique special move or two that really gives the styles some flexibility. It helps differentiate the wrestlers and also caters to providing a more authentic feel for the wrestlers' mannerisms. It's not a revolutionary concept, but a welcome addition.
The submission system is a quirky, beneficial new technique. Once locked in a submission you toggle the analog stick back and forth to either increase the amount of pressure of the attack, or increase the likelihood of being able to counter. Wrestlers with higher submission levels (aka submission specialists) are most likely to benefit from this function, but it's not exclusive to just that signature style.
The main mode of play for 2K8 is the 24/7 Mode. The ultimate goal is to work your way up the wrestling ladder to become a WWE legend. How you choose to become a superstar starts with what brand you want to represent. Initially, you have a couple of different options at your disposal. The calendar provides you with a month by month breakdown of all the television programs and pay-per-view events. You wrestle on the day your brand is on and the rest of the days are yours to decide what you want to do. Some of the options include upgrading your attributes such as your strength, speed and durability. This pits you against a random opponent where you are given a limited amount of time to execute a string of moves. You can also upgrade your skills such as your ability to work the microphone or your intake of pain. Finally, you can take part in a series of "static events" The prospect of being a movie star, going out on a trophy date, doing an autograph session among other things sounds cool but all you get is a screenshot and a random amount of money, popularity points, or fatigue. Sometimes you might even fail dependent on your selection and no explanation is given.
The 24/7 mode is also dragged down thanks to lame storylines and repetitive gameplay. One storyline involves your wrestler being paired with a WWE legend. Your GM will drop all sorts of hints as to who your mystery partner will be only to "surprise" you with someone you were most likely not expecting, but probably weren't interested in having for a partner either. The matches are standard fare and feel tedious since the AI is often either way too dumb, or reverses everything you throw at them. Sure the latter option is challenging but would it be entertaining to watch on television? Not likely. On the other hand, the former scenario can lead to some short matches which would be defined as a "squash" amongst wrestling pundits. The AI on the lower difficulty settings will be little more than a practice dummy. There are some sliders you can use to tweak how the AI reacts. Although broken, it could provide a more satisfying experience if you are looking to customize the way you'd like the CPU to put up their virtual dukes or if you desire, have them practically job to you.
Multiplayer gaming has been a hallmark in the SvR series and on the PSP especially. It is still not a seamless transition as lag and slowdowns are bound to occur especially if more than two wrestlers are involved. Playing against another human controlled grappler is more often exciting and worthwhile. It is a shame that multiplayer was not incorporated into the 24/7 Mode. The possibility of having a friend get in the way of your rise to greatness would give the otherwise unspectacular mode some much needed depth.
The control scheme is robust, but has seen some significant adjustments over the years. Since the PSP is without a second analog stick, grappling is delegated to the circle button. Holding the R-trigger along with a direction allows for advanced grappling mechanisms. It's pretty straight forward; however the control is twitchy at times like when you are trying to perform particular grappling attacks. If you let go of the R-trigger too early, your powerful grapple reverts to a weak grapple. The counter system still doesn't work all too well either. You can mash both counter buttons in quick succession and still counter out of most predicaments or none at all. Another problematic occurs when trying to acquire weapons. Getting them from under the ring requires dead on precision; you must be in the centre of the apron. Overall the control appears to have been given the once over on the PSP this year.
Visually, SvR 08 for the PSP pales in comparison to its console cousins. While the wrestlers looked generic on the PS2, they look even less spectacular on the PSP. Their facial features are beyond atrocious and their figures make them look like they have overdosed on Jenny Craig. The entrances of the wrestler look great and mirror their real life trips down the aisle but everything else (the audience, the fans, and the arenas) are just there to for aesthetic merit.
Anyone who has spent even a little bit of time playing any of the SvR games on the PSP will cringe at the mention of loading. 2008 is no different as you are bombarded with loading screens. There is little you can do without having one of those fascinating "did you know such and such wrestler/diva screens" entertains you while waiting for your match to begin. The time it takes to load anything here has been reduced significantly since the first PSP SvR. However, slowdowns are still rampant throughout the rest of the game. Wrestlers feel the same whether you are controlling the Undertaker or C.M Punk, sluggish. The game also hiccups during the execution of some moves, most notably finishers and during pin fall attempts. One could say these slowdowns add a bit of a wow factor or to simulate a tense moment but really all it does is slow down the action and too often and that.
From an audio standpoint, SvR 2008 has both its high and low points. The wrestlers' theme music has been faithfully converted to play on your PSP and they are really the only thing you'll want to have the volume raised above mute. Every other aspect of the audio is best described as mediocre. In the PS2 review an argument was made that RAW's gruesome twosome of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler were the worst the game had to offer. After playing more extensively on the Smackdown brand this time around, I think Michael Cole and John Bradshaw Layfield might lay claim to being even more irritating. Neither spends much time actually calling the matches, and poor Michael Cole seems takes a fair amount of verbal abuse from JBL whose Yankee drawl is like noise cancer to the ear.
Would it be worthwhile to pick up the PSP's third SvR game? If you enjoyed either of the previous two then the main reason to pick this one up is for the updated (yet still out of date rosters) and the disappointing 24/7 career mode. It is not that SvR 2008 is a bad wrestling game; it just does little to improve on the previous portable outings. As far as SvR 2008 is concerned, it makes for a decent rental but either of the previous entries of the series can just as well satisfy your wrestling fix.