Following up on the fiasco that was THQ's last wrestling release WrestleMania 21, it would seem next to impossible for Smackdown! vs. RAW 2007 not to look great in comparison. With a mix-up in duplication sending an incredibly buggy WM21 version to stores, the WWE series needed a change of scenery and a fresh start, and SVR 2007 is just that. Developed by Yukes, not only is SVR 2007 the most complete wrestling game to date, it's quite simply the best wrestling game ever produced.
The depth of SVR 2007 is overwhelming from a distance. Outside the ring, you can manage a season with intricate storylines for each superstar, run the show from the position of a General Manager, create your own Pay Per View, Create a Superstar, and even customize the signs in the audience. If you want to take on a friend, and can step into the game with a quick exhibition match, or head online via Xbox Live for an all out brawl.
If SVR 2007 offered nothing besides the season mode, it would still be a superb game. Season mode is so incredibly deep and engaging, for any wrestling fan, this is as good as it gets in video game form. You can select a superstar (each superstar has a somewhat different story tree), and progress with them facing off against opponents, getting cheated out of wins, teaming up for championships, and creating rivalries that will get right under your skin. The season mode really succeeds in creating riveting storylines, and although they are sometimes predictable for any seasoned veteran of the WWE, it's something you'll just keep pressing through as the plots continue to twist. The cut scenes building up between matches really feel like something you'd see on a TV broadcast, and help engage the story. As you progress through the season mode, you'll unlock new arenas, superstars, and other wonderful little things, though my favorite is without a doubt the diva loading screens (and the diva banners, diva posters, and diva standees).
The GM mode is a different beast altogether, one where you'll step back from the ring and manage a roster of superstars, trying to establish yours as the best brand of sports entertainment. The primary goal is to manage a solid roster of superstars (signing contracts, free agents, and trades), creating schedules for each week's show, and managing your finances to ensure you can afford writing paychecks. These aren't the kind of people that you want to be skimping out on their paychecks. In addition, you can hire writers to create riveting storylines, and establish rivalries between superstars to bring the fan support to your brand. I've sat down with this mode for quite some time, and it plays smoothly, my only complaint is with so much going on it'd be nice if more information on each superstar was available when scheduling matches. For example, it'd be nice to see if they are a clean or dirty superstar on the match scheduling screen, as you'd get a better feeling of whom to pair up. My only other nitpicks are when creating storylines, the game only gives you the title of the plot, and a rating in stars. It'd be better if it had a full summary of the plot, giving you a better indicator of which superstars it would be most applicable for on your roster, rather then taking a guess and hoping it pans out in the end.
Speaking of match types, SVR 2007 lets you pretty much do it all. Versus, tag team, tornado tag team, ladder, hardcore, table, hell in a cell, cage, first blood, special referee, there are simply too many match types to list off. With the exception of the Bra and Panties matches that have been left out this time around, SVR 2007 offers enough in this area to satisfy even the most seasoned WWE veteran.
Stepping into the ring, the gameplay in SVR 2007 is quite different from previous outings. While the left thumbstick is used to move your superstar, the right thumbstick is now used to perform a series of quick grapples. The right bumper acts as a modifier, allowing for stronger attacks and grapples, as well as performing other attacks like Irish whips, throws, and submission holds. SVR 2007 also carries over the concept of stamina from the previous SVR PS2 edition, trying to balance out the action like you'd see in a typical WWE match. As you lay waste to your opponent, you'll get tired, and if you fail to recharge your stamina (done by holding the B button) you'll eventually need to stop and catch your breath, allowing the opponent to get a few sweet shots in. While this may seem unrealistic for certain characters (Triple H doesn't get dead tired after give knee drops) it does force you to use proper ring management/tactics and also balances out the more devastating moves. One of the big complaints of past releases is in the ladder and cage matches, as the controls were very awkward. Yukes has addressed these issues this time around; in a ladder match when you get to the top of the ladder, you'll have a little mini-game with either thumbstick. You've essentially got to find the sweet spot for the thumbstick, at which point the indicator will tell you to simply hold that position as your superstar reaches up towards the prize. If you hold it long enough without getting your ass thrown off the ladder, you'll claim victory. Still, easier said then done.
One of the nice things with SVR 2007 is the ease of performing a finishing maneuver. While some of the more advanced slams will take some time to pick up, a finishing maneuver is something you'd like to get off quickly to change the tide of battle. As you pummel your opponent, you'll build up some momentum, and when this meter reaches full you'll be able to "lock in" (bank) your finishing maneuver. When the indicator starts flashing, simply tap the left trigger and left bumper to lock in this maneuver, and given the opportunity simply tap the left bumper to activate and lay the smack down on your opponent's sorry ass. SVR 2007 also carries over the notion of being able to reverse grapples and strikes (as well as finishers) with properly timed trigger moves. The game will always prompt you, but the system seems a lot better than in previous editions and it takes no time at all to get the hang of it. These controls are simple enough for beginners, while at the same time really cater to the hardcore gamer, brilliant execution.
One of the greatest strengths of SVR 2007 is the completely interactive environments. Inside the ring, you can perform high risk maneuvers off the top rope, or drag your opponent to the corner and toss them off the turnbuckle. For greater damage, remove the turnbuckle covering, and slam their head into the steel joint. The pain train is just beginning. Throw em' outside the ring, and lets take a face first tour of the ring steps. Rip off the top of the commentators booth, and strangle em' with the electric cable, before politely choke slamming them through the table. After they're "busted wide open" take some delight in pulling out a few weapons from underneath the ring; sledgehammers, chairs, and barbed wire on a stick to inflict a bit more pain. Finally, let's finish this match off with a trip into the audience. In the top right hand corner, you can drag your opponent over the barricade and into a small area lined with assorted weapons, tables, fire extinguishers, or simply grab a crutch from an on looking fan. To top off the night, let's give the crowd what they came to see. Lay your opponent out on a table, and head for the rafters, climbing a small section of scaffolding up into the abyss. With a little bit of skill, and a lot of luck, you can take off through the air, slamming down onto your opponent and putting them right through that table.
And if all that wasn't enough, did I mention the Hell in a Cell? There are few things more enjoyable in a video game then climbing to the top of the cell, and slamming your opponent right through the cage to the ring below, or tossing them like a baseball to the concrete floor. Taking it a step further, as you progress through the career you'll eventually take the fight out into the parking lot where your opponents cringe as you slam their extremities in a car door. It sounds sadistic, but it's just an example of how far you can take SVR 2007, and what makes it so much fun.
Graphically, wrestling doesn't get any better then this. The crowds are absolutely stunning to look at, when you are in the ring you'll see a haze with lighting effects in the distance, and signs swaying in the crowd with distinct (and often very funny) messages. As you progress through the match, you'll notice beads of sweat fly off the wrestlers, and should you "bust em' wide open", you'll be treated to drops of blood coming from their gaping head wounds. Each of the moves in the game are beautifully executed and modeled to perfection. Character models and textures are incredibly detailed, and second to none in the wrestling genre. But even after taking all of that into consideration, the best is still yet to come. Yukes has absolutely nailed the mannerisms of each superstar down to a tee. Stone Cold Steve Austin walks with the patented head bob, The Undertaker moves like the undead, and even the diva's entrances are bang on. Of all the superstars, my only complaints are that The Rock's face seems a little off, and that Bret Hart could use some work as he feels nothing like what I remember of him, but all things considered it's a tiny complaint when you consider just how good this game looks.
Audio wise, SVR 2007 is a very mixed bag. The music in the menus (where you'll spend a lot of time, especially if you're playing the GM mode) is a nice mix of rock, although it could really use a few more tunes. Currently, the selection is quite limited, although I salute them in the choice of Three Days Grace as one of the bands. The commentary is where SVR 2007 falls apart. While it's great to listen to for a few matches, the commentary quickly becomes repetitive, if I hear Jim Ross comment that the Undertaker is one of the best wrestling superstars having gone undefeated in thirteen outings at WrestleMania, I might just lose it. Jerry Lawler, Ross's broadcast partner on RAW, as well as Tazz and Michael Cole, who provide commentary on Smackdown, aren't any better. While the lines are well voiced and provide some insight on each superstar, they need to be more diverse, as the repetition detracts from the whole experience. Superstar voices however, are a nice touch within story mode and voicemail messages and really add to the credibility of the plots. The various sound effects (notably when you crack a chair over an opponent's back or the sickening thud of a sledgehammer meeting a ribcage) are also spot on and add to the realism of the presentation.
With all that is good, SVR 2007 isn't perfect, but it's damn close. My single biggest complaint is with the loading screens, between every cut scene, entrance, and menu you're stuck with a five second loading screen. So that means, when you select a match and pick your characters, you'll sit through a loading screen. Following this, you'll see the first superstar's intro, and then another loading screen. The next superstar then performs their intro, and another loading screen before you finally hit the mat (after a final loading screen). When you've got four superstars, it can take a while to actually start playing. When the match is over, you'll see the pinfall, then a loading screen, before the winners hand is raised. See my point? While you can disable superstar intros in the exhibition and multiplayer matches, it's not possible in the season mode since the intros advance the plot and sometimes are replaced by in-game cut scenes altogether. Take out the various interruptions, and it would be so much better. Then again, unlock the diva menus and it gets a lot better anyhow. Aside from the loading screens, the rosters in this one are a bit dated; many of the superstars no longer actively perform in the WWE. When considering the amount of detail that has gone into perfecting each character in the game, it's understandable. As an aside, the fact that Yukes has included the classic superstars such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Bret Hart is sure to please the older generation of wrestling fans.
The only other gameplay issues I've noticed are a few quirks; sometimes you'll be lying on the mat and it seems like you're never going to get up as your opponent keeps beating on you with little stamina loss. Submission holds can get especially frustrating; sometimes they'll put two or three holds on you while you lie on the mat, without getting up. To better balance this, it'd be nice if submission holds used up more stamina, which would prevent these repetitive holds. I've also seen times where you'll be unable to make contact with an opponent, or a glitch that when they are holding a weapon it's practically impossible to knock them over. Nevertheless, aside from these gameplay issues and the odd clipping problem, it's hard to knock SVR 2007 as it does so much right.
Although it's not a perfect wrestling game, it's the closest thing to perfection that this genre has ever achieved. The sheer depth of the game, various modes, and customization available are second to none, combined with an improved control schema and interactive environments, you'll be playing this one for a very long time. For any wrestling fan, this is the definitive game to have in your collection.