• The hardest part of writing a review for a WWE game is to refrain from falling back on tired old wrestling clichés like “It’s not a real sport” or “Ha ha don’t those guys look funny in their leotards!” but Yuke’s massive wrestling series has done some serious business for THQ over the years, and like any good game series should, has evolved into something that gives serious wrestling fans – if not fighting game enthusiasts something to really get their teeth into.

    WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 builds on the solid ground of previous games, giving you even more customisation options and matches but also bringing an online tag-team co-op mode into the mix. You’ll be able to team up with other players online to form the dream team, and hopefully take your brawlers all the way to the WWE event of the century.

    Tag Team Explosion gives you a more immediate challenge, pitching you straight into multiplayer action but it’s not all co-op – there’s plenty for single players to work through too. The game’s Road to Wrestlemania allows you to build up your chosen fighter in their quest for wrestling glory. Pitching in with The Undertaker (the scrapper I chose to take through the single player story mode), there’s a slight annoyance at the sheer amount of loading the game has to do before you get into the action. First you get the fighter’s dressing room (where you can customise your gameplay options and read any communications between you and the wrestling federation). Then you get the intro sequences particularly tuned for each of the Wrestlemania superstars. Eventually you’ll get the fight itself but it feels like it would’ve been nice to have the opportunity to get straight into the action without a lot of the messing about.

    WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009

    Those of you unfamiliar with the game’s control system might want to start with the tutorial, because it takes a while to get used to the Yuke’s model of fighter control. Everything is context sensitive though you retain certain core moves (punches, slams, kicks and throws) each tailored to your particular chosen combatant’s personal fight repertoire.

    Fights are as brutal as you’d expect with plenty of over the top action on offer. You can store up a signature move at any time, and use this to great effect to finish off an opponent. Using the on screen prompts you can quickly work out the best strategy to ensure a quick win.

    In story mode, each bout isn’t just a case of getting a successful count out or pin, it’s also a case of meeting certain challenge criteria. For instance, beat a fighter quicker than your last opponent and you’ll unlock goodies and achievements. This offers the title plenty of replay value even if you’re playing on your own.

    Career mode really opens the game up, replacing the management mode found in earlier WWE games. There’s a massive roster of fighters to unlock and use from various classes including Raw brand, SmackDown brand, ECW brand, free agents, legends and a bonus WCW classification. Wrestling fans would be hard pushed to find a more fully-featured lineup in any game.

    Visually, on 360 WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 really does look the part and you can almost feel every nerve-jangling crunch and smash as your fighter recoils realistically when punished by an opponent, and of course revels in evil glee when dishing out the punishment himself. Framerates are silky smooth with no jerky tweening ruining the flow and speed of the more complex wrestling moves. It’s also a hoot reading the various placard slogans you can pick out in the ringside crowd (“The guy behind me can’t see!” made me smile).

    I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to recommend this game to anyone who faithfully follows the televised wrestling bouts, as once again THQ and Yukes have delivered a punishing final blow to anyone else even considering developing a wrestling title. The gameplay is really satisfying and deep and it’s visually brilliant too. With the additional online modes and one of the best co-op modes of any game let alone any scrapper, WWE Smackdown VS Raw 2009 is a superb evolution of the series and one even non-wrestling fans might find a lot of enjoyment in.

    Score: 8/10

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