"But what about the poor sweat-stained meatboy on the defensive? How the freaking hell does he know when to counter?!?" we hear you scream. One of the most important changes in SmackDown! '08 is that the wrestler on the defensive is always able to launch an offensive attack, eliminating the loooong periods of enforced inactivity that had many a SmackDown! player bored. Countering moves 2008-style is still very much a case of timing the move correctly, but instead of looking at some random meter for a while, you observe the onscreen action and wait for exactly the right moment to strike.
The ability to do this is brought to you by the power of Improved Animation™. The choppy, crapariffic animation sequences from the PS2-era SmackDown! (that wiggled their way into SmackDown '07 like a big, fat unwelcome worm) have been stripped out and replaced with a new series of animations that even at this stage look noticeably more fluid than those of its predecessors. The need for a new series of animations has been necessitated by the new categorization of the wrestlers - where previously they were differentiated by size alone, now they're separated into eight distinct fighting styles - from brawlers like The Sandman to powerhouses such as Lashley, from submission experts such as Chris Benoit to showmen like Mr. Kennedy, with technical, high-flyer, dirty and hardcore rounding off the octet of wrestling styles. Each wrestler has a secondary and a primary category, minimizing the occurrence of cookie cutter wrestlers and giving each "Superstar" individuality.
The gameplay options are as "robust" as ever (their word), with over 50 playable characters and a raft of modes playable over Live - with extra attention being paid to Create a Championship and Entrance modes, now with an improved interface. We liked what we saw. More soon.