As a room full of journalists watches THQ's video presentation of WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2008, there's a noticable reaction whenever Ken Kennedy is shown being beaten up by Johna Cena to highlight the new moves. It's either a wince, an embarrassed giggle or a quick glance to the back of the room. The reason is that the real Ken Kennedy himself is there, watching his virtual self being beaten to a pulp. Eventually, Virtual Kennedy gets a reversal and traps Cena in a boston crab. "Alright!" shouts Kennedy, who claps in approval. The room laughs. Everything is okay again.
WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2008 is a strange beast and not just because we've seen the real Kennedy watching the virtual Kennedy get thrown about like a dirty toy. The THQ Associate Senior Product Vice Manager President (at least two of those words were in his job title) started by defiantly stating that every review of the previous year's version had been rounded up, analyzed and patterns had formed on what needed to be addressed. So why are the controls almost exactly the same?
Regardless, no-one is allowed to dwell on that because there are plenty of differences included too that THQ is shouted at. So they wave their arms to get your attention, then point at the various different wrestling styles.
Do it in style
Depending on the wrestling style you plump for, you have new moves and abilities available. High-flying luchador wrestlers have lots of moves where they bounce off the ropes and flip/roll/somersault/launch themselves towards their opponent, for example. The high-flying moves also do more damage in that style though the really useful move will no doubt be the quick roll. High fliers can roll around the ring and this move will probably be extremely useful for evading the dread grab, slam, kick, grab, slam, kick loop that you can get caught in during multiplayer matches.
Power wrestlers have a different mechanic altogether. Unless you've damage their arms before you try to pin them, they will automatically power out of the pin by shoving you off them. You know the way Kane powerlifts those tiny luchadore wrestlers about ten feet in the air if they dare try to pin him? Like that. Dirty wrestlers have the option to hide behind the ref and use him as a shield and can also complain to the ref after every failed pin attempt for an extra chunk of special meter. Clean wrestlers can use momentary invincibility as they hulk up and start tearing their opponet apart.
He tapped out!
There's a new submission system where you lock in the move, then push on the analogue stick to apply the pressure. Push too hard and you'll lose your grip. Don't apply enough and your opponent will slip free and maybe even squeeze in a reversal. It feels somewhat imprecise at the moment but feeling the feedback from the rumble pad as you pull back on the analogue stick and Kane almost takes Cena's head off with a chinlock is hugely satisfying. Much better than try to stop a red ball between two lines, a la 2007.
Otherwise, it's just a barrage of minor differences adding up to an overall feeling of freshness. The crowd has finally been granted an extra dimension, so they can dance around in 3D and show off more than three whole frames of animation this time round. There's more interaction with the crowd too. You can throw their drinks in the wrestler's face, for example, then watch him writhe around in agony like you just threw acid in his eyes. Reversals feel more generous, the slimmed down HUD helps the overall look a great deal and it still has that amazing level of polish you'd expect. Still, if THQ Senior Vice Product Manager President Man is reading, change the controls. We thank you.