THQ brings its highly anticipated WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 to the Playstation3 with improved control schematics, sleeker visual presentation, and a slew of the latest gameplay features that would sure please the wrestling fans. This year’s installment introduces a new struggle submission system, ECW-oriented matches, and a Hall of Fame mode just to name a few. Besides these new additions, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 still maintains a high level of excitement as last year, and that’s the good news. The bad news is that a number of technical issues that have plagued the series over the years remain unresolved.

Fortunately, the redesigned graphics along with the strong audio components outweigh many of the flaws associated with the gameplay. Thus, you are still getting a solid wrestling title here. Fans of the Smackdown series should have no problem adapting to the old grappling system, which is handled by the right stick. For those who are just starting out, the controls can be somewhat intimidating. Don’t think for a second you can just button-smash your way to the top of the WWE rankings. This is not the same wrestling game that your grandmother used to know. WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 has been tilting towards simulation style of gameplay, where actions are performed with timing and precision.

What amazes our us is that more than half of the game’s content has been redefined to reflect the true dynamics of the WWE. These dynamics are brought to life through the illustrious career mode called WWE 24/7. This is basically the core of the game’s single-player experience, and it’s quite impressive. First, you are given two choices: Select a celebrity that is already available from a pool of freakishly fit superstars or create one from scratch. If you choose to create a wrestler, you’ll be treated to a network of customization options, from funky hairstyles and outrageous outfits to insane physical definitions and killer set of powerful slams. We definitely enjoyed creating our monstrous beast that almost resembles Andre the Giant, coded in dark silver gloss. In WWE 24/7, your main goal is to reach legendary status. You can accomplish that by competing in matches that are scheduled in the calendar.

There are a variety of exciting matches to look forward to, which open up different dialogues to your career. In your trip to becoming the number one wrestler, you are given access to key items: A cell phone and a laptop. The cell phone allows you to retrieve important messages that remind you about your wellness situations, alert you about significant events, listen to your rivals ranting about the upcoming matches with them, accept (or refuse) a bunch of negotiation offers, and putting up with the general manager’s pressures among other things. Meanwhile, the laptop lets you monitor your health, look at skill areas you want to work on, check your current progress, and visit the WWE shop.

What’s nice about the 24/7 is that your outlook of future matches can change depending on your personal choices and whether you win or lose a scheduled bout. For example, one week you could choose to ignore certain managerial advice; the next week you’re all ganged up in the ring as a result of your decision. Popularity plays an important role in this game as it screams challenge from other wrestlers in the higher up. The more popular you are, the more you are in demand, and the more you get paid. It’s also quite pleasing to know that you can be part of the yearly WWE pay-per-views such as Summer Slam and Wrestlemania; but the matches you’ll be in are determined by choices you have taken previously. It’s good to see that the game has included some backstage drama, such as a brief interview, locker room disruption, or confrontation with other wrestlers prior to the start of your match.

But we noticed that the game tend to recycle several backstage cutscenes – the only difference is the faces of the people involve at that time. Subsequently, the behind-the-scene drama becomes uninteresting over time. We wish there was another way to skip these cutscenes completely and just head straight out to the match. Fortunately, the match itself is far from being repetitious. The action in the ring is lively and the crowd is full of spirit and enthusiasm. Using the right stick, you can punish your opponent in many different ways. If you’re a Powerhouse wrestler, your corner attacks are hellish, and your body slams are performed with devastating impact! If you are a high-flyer, not only are you speedy but you have got some sweet arsenals of mid-air athleticism and acrobatic pins at your disposal.

We like the fact that the game provides players with two fighting styles. You can choose to combine two of the following abilities to fit your persona: Powerhouse, Technical, High-Flyer, Brawler, Submission, Dirty, Showman, and Hardcore. Speaking of Hardcore, the game has included ECW into the mix. The extreme rules match is presented in all its glory. There is a small weapon wheel that shows up on the screen, allowing players to pick up various tools for hurting an opponent, such as tables, chairs, and spiky 2×4’s to name a few. One of the best aspects of using weapons is that you can set them on fire! Now that’s wrestling to the extreme! When you’re not competing in main events, you can use your free days to focus on other “daily” activities such as training exercises, skill training, and other public events.

Training exercises are made to pump up your attributes, including strength, speed, stamina, technical, durability, submission, hardcore, and charisma. You have a time-limit to perform each training exercise. You will earn a full point if you do it manually instead of simulation. Skill training teaches you about microphone skill, pain management, endurance, popularity boosts, and improving your on-camera presence. Taking one of these skill training can increase your paycheck percentage and the amount of fatigue you recover on various activities. Some of the events that you participate include autograph signing, charity event, website interview, PPV commercial, etc. All these activities consume energy one way or another. If you don’t take rest, there is a higher chance that your character will get injured in his next fight. If you do get injured, you can still wrestle but you’ll start out 80% healthy.

Beyond the WWE 24/7 confine, there are also tournament modes and hall of fame. Tournament modes include king of the ring and beat the clock sprint. It’s a good experience but the hall of fame mode is the better of the two as it puts you into classic matches such as a TLC match against the Hardy Boyz, or a showdown between Bret “The Hitman” Hart against pretty boy Shawn Michaels in iron man match. There are the usual exhibition matches that are broken down into one-on-one, two-on-two, triple threat, fatal-4-way, 6-man, handicap, and royal rumble. The one-on-one exhibition match has everything you need to challenge yourself in different scenarios. It includes buried alive, first blood, hell in a cell, steel cage, parking lot brawl, and many more! These exhibition matches are fun but they are best played with friends.

As exciting it is to play these exhibition matches, there are some shortcomings you can’t ignore. Some of the disappointments stem from not having the ability to switch targets, difficulty to perform standard tag team maneuvers, and not having a cancel button if you accidentally simulate a match in 24/7. Also, the game is overrun by too many loading screens between matches. If those could be cut down, you’d be able to hold in the adrenaline charge until the start of the match. In addition, The AI intelligence needs a bit more tweaking in terms of trying to assist you in tag team matches. Lastly, the collision system is a bit out of place as you sometimes miss attacking your target. In terms of roster, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 has made a few addition to this year’s superstars lineup as well as a few cuts.

If you want to know who is in the roster this year, here they are: Ashley, Batista, Bobby Lashley, Bret Hart, Candice Michelle, Carlito, Chavo Guerrero, Chris Masters,CM Punk, Edge, Elijah Burke, Finlay, The Great Khali, Gregory Helms, JBL, Jeff Hardy, John Cena, Johnny Nitro, JTG, Kane, Kelly Kelly, Kenny Dykstra, King Booker, Marcus Cor Van, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy, Melina, Michelle McCool, Mick Foley, Mickie James, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. McMahon, MVP, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair, Rick Rude, The Rock, Roddy Piper, Sabu, Sandman, Shad, Shane McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Snitsky, Steve Austin, Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer, Torrie Wilson, Triple H, Umaga, Undertaker, and William Regal. It’s nice to see some of the famous WWE superstars are still in there but it would’ve been better if they added several other icons like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Jimmy “Super Fly” Snuka!

Despite a number of lingering technical issues, the game stays exciting throughout and has a surprisingly fun multiplayer. Yukes, the developer did an excellent job creating an environment that captivates a realistic WWE atmosphere. Crowds react full of life and character animation look very smooth. The lighting effects are excellent, delivering a convincing pay-per-view experience. Some of the best times you’ll have are in the WWE 24/7 and exhibition matches. Thanks to the game’s incredible sound effects, the impact of your slams really hit home! The customization feature for creating a player is still very deep with lots of options to design entrances, stables, and move-sets. You can even use your own soundtrack for your introduction! Now that ECW is in the mix, you can take wrestling to the extreme!

Overall, WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2008 is a solid wrestling game that only hardcore fans will appreciate. The weapons here have been overhauled and the cool part is that you can set these on fire! Though the game has a good lineup of superstars, we would love to see more legends in the next year’s roster. Both the AI and collision system still need some tweaking. If the number of loading screens could be cut down, this game would have been a more highly charged wrestling mania. The backstage cutscenes are a nice addition but we need a way to permanently skip them to speed up the launch of the match. The grappling system is still good and having two fighting styles give players more flashy techniques to perform. With respect to online component, it is the same as last year. The only setback are some minor lag times.