SmackDown! vs RAW is the premier wrestling game for WWE fans. It combines the stars that people know with a solid fighting system. This fighting system is slower than most traditional fighters, and as such it relies more on strategy. Make sure you know what you’re going to do in the ring to win the match before you try to win, as matches aren’t going to fall in your favor if you’re just button mashing. Admittedly, I’m not much of a WWE fan and I haven’t played a fighter styled like this one before. So consider this review coming from a non-WWE fan.

The game has some great visuals for the aging PS2 system. If you like seeing plenty of high resolution men in tights, there isn’t a better game to do so. The game isn’t just about the perfectly rendered leg and bicep muscles. It features a lot of good lighting features, especially on the intros to the various characters in the game. Another effect is sweat, which is a common side effect to wrestling. It just so happens that the game does a good job making it visible in the game without making everyone sweat too much.

The biggest problem is the animations. There is people of all shapes and sizes, and the animations seem to stay generally the same. That means in quite a few holds and moves you’ll see people “grabbing” your character, but yet you aren’t really in their clutches. In those cases, there is a lot of space between what a person is grabbing and the other character. For example, they may grab an opponent’s leg to drag him; but there would an odd “gap” of nothing between the grab and the opponent’s leg. The other gripe is loading times, which are fairly frequent. You might be familiar with both of these issues, though, in which case it isn’t horrible.

The music can be described well as “hardcore”. It’s got a bit of rap, rock, and metal mixed together that is catered towards hardcore music lovers. At times it can be a bit too overbearing, but it fits the attitude of the game well. The in-game sounds are good, too. There is plenty of grunts, taunts, and bumps to hear. The crowds are fairly generic, but that is to be expected. The do have their favorites, though, so you can tell who is the superstar that the fans want to win by who they cheer and boo. There is also different types of in-game moves that get different responses. Fans really love certain moves, while some dirty or illegal moves get a lot of boos from the crowd.

The color commentary is super repetitive. Within the first hour of playing you’ll have already heard much of what the announcers say. In fact, it’s also very static. There is little commentary that changes, most of it is just different ways of saying “Wow, this is a good match”, “I know where this match is going, but I’m not sayin’!”, and “Smackdown is so much better than RAW!” among others. You get very little commentary that is relevant to the match, it seems to just be there so you’re not bored listening to silence. But that doesn’t make the commentary good, it’s just there.

Controls are tight in this game. The control scheme is pretty similar to most fighting games. It may take some getting used to for gamers who are used to a faster tempo fighting games, but this game is combining sport and fighting game elements. One of those changes to make it this hybrid genre is to slow down the pace of the game. Don’t get me wrong, though, the game is still plenty fast and you don’t have time to blink an eye. If you want to have a chance to counter your opponent’s strikes or grabs, you’re going to need to have to pay close attention and have some fast reflexes.

There is plenty of things to control inside the Arena. Whether you’re jumping from a corner, grappling an opponent, climbing out of a cage match, or smacking people around with a weapon, you’ve got to get used to all the buttons. In fact, with the sheer amount of things you can control, the controls become a little over bearing. There is so much you can do, it’s a bit easy to get lost on the button placement from time to time. There is 9 pages in the manual simply listing the controls. The sheer amount of knowledge you need to learn just to play the game is just a bit much, and the controls are a bit hard to grasp for new players.

The gameplay has been refined thoroughly. You can tell they’ve recreated a realistic simulation of actual WWE wrestling. From taunting and stamina, to finishing moves and environmental damage, to cage matches and backstage fights, the game provides a very complete experience. As you can tell in the name, it features superstars from both Smackdown and RAW. In General Manager Mode, you lead your league to victory over the other league by setting up good matches and getting a solid roster. This mode is actually surprisingly deep, and yet you never actually play the core fighting game. If you are interested in doing the dirty work, though, there is plenty of other options. From a simple pick Exhibition to Season Mode & PPV, you have quite a few options. It goes deeper than that, with a lot of different match types & rules. You can play for hours on end without a single repetitive match. It’s all about winning, but how you win and the ways to win change a lot.

Your options aren’t limited to types of matches, either. You can create your own Superstar, move set, a WWE championship, your own entrance clip, and much more. The customizations in all of these are really deep. During Season play, you get access to your Locker Room, which you can also further customize. If customization and replay is something that sounds good, read on in Replay Value just below. As for the actual wrestling, it feels pretty detailed and accurate. If anything, they provided a bit too much detail. There are tons of mini-games, counters, and other factors you have to take into account inside the ring. It offers quite a bit of strategy in your fights, but at the same time there might be a bit too much to do. But the sheer attitude of WWE remains intact both in and out of the wrestling ring.

SmackDown! vs RAW 2007 offers up a lot more than previous entries. There is many new features this year, one being the Ultimate Control Move. This allows you to lay down some heavy damage to your opponent by lifting them up and performing a set of commands. Another new feature is a variety of environment hot spots. Again, if you use these correctly you can score some big damage by using the environment to your advantage. Yet another feature is the crowd area, which is essentially a different place to fight out of bounds. New hot spots and weapons are also available in the new crowd area. To top it all of, there is improved ladder and table controls for certain types of matches.

There is a really big issue with the game. It does not cater very well to gamers who are not traditional WWE or fighting game fans. There learning curve is pretty rough and long. There is 3 small videos that explain the game, but nothing beyond that. There is no in-game tutorials or knowledge to help you become a better fighter. Your only tutorial is getting in the ring, and getting your ass kicked. This isn’t a whole lot of fun, and quickly the game can become too much to handle. You have to know all the counters for different attacks, the different attacks, have perfect timing, the environmental attributes, the game rules, the button combinations for certain attacks, and even the objective. It doesn’t ease you into the game, it just throws it at you and expects you to know everything. The manual and videos help a bit, but would be really great is just some hands-on experience in the game before going right into the mix of things.

This game is very serious when it comes to replay value. There is a plethora of different modes, match types, objectives, characters, unlockables, and customizations to keep you going for ages and ages. From the get go, you’ve got single-player and multiplayer options. With single-player you can do a variety of game modes like regular Quick Match to Season Mode, General Manager Mode, and PPV Mode. In Season Mode you can earn WWE points for unlocks, upgrade your locker room, and take part in a variety of different story lines. You can also play as any of the characters, which all add their own flavor to the game. General Manager Mode lets you setup your league, super stars, matches, advertisements, and much more. The goal of this is to become the superior of the two leagues (thus Smackdown vs RAW) by having great matches, rivalries, story lines, and more. It all balances out. There is also PPV mode, which offers a string of events into one mode.

Once you get into the matches, again there are a ton of options. You can do 1v1 matches, tag matches, matches with special rules, you name it. You can do cage matches, even. All the rules of the match are customizable, as well as the goals to win a match. You can set modifiers to things like First Blood, so the first person to draw their opponents’ blood wins. To top this all off, you’ve got unlocks and other features you gain over time by being successful. Gain your points and spend them to get new characters, features, modes, you name it.