Friday, December 12, 2008

Cash Cow, Baseball & Congressional Playoffs

Just how much is a left handed starting pitcher worth these days? I would think it is not as much as CC (Cash Cow) Sabathia will be making as a member of the New York Yankees. It seemed common logic Sabathia was going to be a very wealthy man in 2009, but the rediculous amount of money being thrown at a pitcher who has one of the worst postseason records of any Cy Young winner in the past decade leaves me wondering just what the Yankees won't do to bring a championship to their new home. With the economy in a state of shock, and investors unsure what to throw their pots of gold into, the Yankees' deal with CC is the biggest middle finger to the working class that could be made. Not only did they overpay, but they did so at a time where their fans' wallets are getting lighter. And they aren't done yet. This is one of the biggest reasons why the Yankees are so hated by the rest of the country. What will it take to get the Steinbrenners to close their wallet and use some "home-grown" talent to win some throphies?

It's times like these that I wish I had spent more time working on my fastball and less time on "i before e except after c."

On a positive note, the World Baseball Classic is returning in 2009. I really like the idea behind this, and I hope that the tv networks get their coverage right this time around. The last time it was held, in 2006, nearly half of the games were presented with abbreviated video. However, the advent of the MLB Network gives me hope. Competiton drives invention and a desire to succeed. Hopefully, ESPN will use this as a chance to deliver a better tv product this time around. In other words, show the whole game or don't show it at all!

The wonderful folks up in Bristol (ESPN) broke a story today on their Outside the Lines program that made me laugh. Apparently there is only one thing Republicans & Democrats can agree on, college football needs a playoff. And they want to do something about it. The planned legislation does not specify how the playoff system would be implemented, but it is clear on one thing: The BCS needs to go. It seems anyone who has watched one snap of college football has an idea of how to fix the BCS mess. Most will cite the March Madness college basketball tournament as a reason for why the playoff is needed for football. March Madness is one of the most lucrative tv contracts in all of sports and is currently owned by CBS. The network does a tremendous job of promoting, televising, and analyzing the games since they picked up the contract for the games in 1991. Nearly 20 years later, the Madness has thrived on CBS and the station has become synoymous with the March basketball.

Now, imagine if in 2010 when ESPN picks up the rights to the BCS that instead, we have a playoff system in place. The possiblities of some of those useless bowl games actually mattering would have fans salivating. Now, I have a reason to tune in for the Allstate Sugar Bowl because a team's chances of winning a National Championship will be ended within 4 quarters of play. It gives those games a sense of importance and urgency, which are two things sports thrive on. Why else would fans wish for a Game 7 in other sports?

Who would have thought I would agree with congress on something? The playoff system is long overdue for college football. There should be no guess work in determining the National Champion. No one wants to share the throphy. And congress is going to make sure that no one has to share a throphy again.

I was deeply disappointed to hear that Petty Enterprises has released 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Bobby Labonte amid concerns of no sponsorship. Times are tough, especially when one of the crowned jewels of the sport is forced to merge with another team just to make ends meet. The year 2009 will not be a kind one to NASCAR; I certainly hope Brian France has a plan to keep teams afloat this season, or we may be left watching Hendrick Motorsports battle Roush-Fenway Racing for the championship. Oh wait, we already did. Oh well.

Another sad note for NASCAR fans, the Wood Brothers team, another staple of the Cup Series garage for over 50 years, announced plans earlier this week to cut its racing schedule drastically. They will no longer run a full season, and their plans for the Truck Series have also been put into question. I hope this is not a sign of things to come for NASCAR, but with two of the most legendary teams in desperate trouble things do not look promising. Looks like Jimmie Johnson's road to the 4 in a row is going to be easier than previously thought.

Thanks for stopping by, and next time wipe your freaking feet off on the door mat!

Friday, December 5, 2008

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 Review

Earlier this gaming season I had the misfortune of playing the first TNA game to hit the store shelves. Like most wrestling fans, I was looking for my cyber smackdown fix. Alas, it did not come in a six-sided ring. But there was hope on the horizon as started the annual SmackDown Countdown, hyping up the eagerly anticipated 10th anniversary installment of THQ/Yukes juggernaut franchise. After playing the game for two weeks now, I can say it was worth the wait and my PlayStation 3 is finally getting some use.

CM Punk introduces Chris Jericho to his boot.

The game play is solid. At times someone could mistake the game for the real product. Heck, even John Cena's character model in the game uses the exact same 5 moves the real Cena does! The controls are very user friendly and much easier to adapt to than the TNA game. The series introduces a new feature in match called Signature Moves. Each superstar has two moves that can be used by storing a full momentum meter. These two extra moves change the game and can be instrumental in winning a match.

It's time to play "The Game!"

The other great feature added to the squared circle is the use of abilities. Last year, every superstar had two fighting styles that determined what abilities they had. This presented a huge problem, with superstars doing moves and acting in ways they never would! (When is the last time you saw Jeff Hardy bust himself open with a chair to show he's hardcore?) This has been remedied as each superstar has up to six abilities. They can be something simple like the ability to double stack tables or something more complex and character specific like stealing an opponents finisher. And the A.I. is much more refined than ever before. Big Show won't go for top rope moves like a cruiserweight, Rey Mysterio takes to the air in ways that will leave you scratching your head. It really adds to the value of this game.

Randy Orton is one of the most dominant in the game.
The most hyped feature this year is the increased focus on tag team matches. In past years, being on the apron waiting for the tag was a very boring part of the game. And if your friend was being a jerk and hogging all the ring time, chances were good you were going to be bored and pissed by the end of the match. Those days are over. Now the man on the apron is as much a part of the action as the guys in the ring. From the apron you can grab the opponent to hold him open for a cheap shot by your partner, distract the ref, and pull down the top rope when your opponent is coming towards the ropes sending him tumbling to the floor. Even the momentum meter is changed for tag matches as each team shares a meter. This really adds strategy to the matches, especially if the illegal man wastes the finisher at a crucial moment in the match. The hottest feature of tag matches is the Hot Tag. This is when your partner is getting beaten to a pulp and needs to get out of the ring. The guy on the apron gets the crowd cheering him on, then the partner lunges to make the tag. The fresh man comes in fired up, taking down the opponent and then knocking his opponent's partner off the apron. This feature is a lot of fun, and since it is only good once per match, adds to the strategy.

Taker's Road to WrestleMania dabbles in the supernatural.
The bread and butter of any wrestling game is story mode and create mode. The story mode is two seperate modes. The first is the brand new Road to WrestleMania mode. You start by picking on of 6 characters/stories: John Cena, Triple H, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio & Batista. Then, the game launches into the mode, getting you familiar with the superstar before going to a well-done cutscene of the opening pyro and announcer voice-over for the show. The announcers will actually progress your story along, a huge plus in my book! Then, you get some cutscene that is fully voiced-over to prepare you for your match. During the match, the announcer will provide insight into your story! No, I don't mean, "He needs to win the match." I mean, "If Chris Jericho is going to find out who is responsible for that vicious attack two weeks ago on Monday Night Raw, Shane McMahon must be covering for the man responsible. Why else would he put Jericho in a match with Snitsky tonight?" See how much better that is? Jericho's RTW story is without question the best in the game. The twists and turns that one took had me guessing until the very end.

Cena has never been a fan of the catering.

Almost all of the unlockables in the game come via RTW mode. However, Career Mode is needed for the final unlockable. I'm going to skip Career Mode for now because it ties in directly with Create Mode. Let's get into the creating! The standards of the series are back, Create-A-Superstar, Create-An-Entrance, & Create-A-Moveset. CAS, or CAW mode, is basically the same song and dance from past games. If you've played any of the last four games, you will be familiar with everything there. That's not a bad thing, but a little bit of improvement could have been put in here where the most replay value comes from. Some new entrances have been added this year, including an unlockable for Cena and one of my favorites from John Morrison. Seriously, have you seen his slow-mo entrance? That helps make him a star. The big news on this front for PlayStation 3 owners like myself is the ability to add your own music. That's right, Triple H is coming to the ring to Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl!" Take that, "King of Kings!"

Imagine the possibilities with Create-a-Finisher.
The new feature in the Create side is one that fans have been asking, craving, &/or demanding for 10 years, Create-A-Finisher. The finisher you create is up to you. Do you want to go from a powerbomb pick-up into a fisherman's suplex, with a DX crotch chop thrown in? Or would you like to string every low blow together into a Ric Flair special? (And if you do, for the love of God don't take that online!) There are some very unique possibilities, as of this writing, however, a decent Canadian Destroyer is impossible to create. Think of this year's version as a beta test, as the only finishers can be created from a standing front position. The groundwork is in place for great things in the future from this mode!

Make videos better than the guys in Stamford.
Another exciting new feature this year is the Highlight Reel. I was unsure of this mode when I first played the game, and with all the customization it nearly got lost in the shuffle! But when I finally did get the chance to use it, I was simply blown away. To use this feature, you must first save some video clips. By pausing the game during a match and selecting Highlight Reel, you can see a 30-second replay from your match, change angles, and more. If you like what you see, you can save it in one of 30 slots for later use. This replay mode is one fans have been asking for since day one, and its ease of use is fantastic.

Jeff is not going to like where that boot ends up!
After the match, you go into Highlight Reel mode, and the fun really begins. From here you can add clips together to make a video package complete with music (both in-game music & your own music on the hard drive.). Or if you're really crafty, you can add in sound effects for crowd noise and even plug in some lines from the announcers. Plus, you can add graphics to the video, adjust camera angles, adjust the speed and length of the clips, and so much more. When your masterpiece is complete, you get to create a DVD cover for the clips. There are so many options here, and let me say my Highlight Reel from a WCW Championship Ladder match between Undertaker & Jeff Hardy looked good, and after trimming away some unwanted footage told a great story of how a Tombstone Piledriver on the arena floor busted open the high-flying Hardy and allowed the veteran Taker just enough time to climb up the ladder and pull down the title. I suspect I won't be the only one spending too much time in the Highlight Reel studio.

You can unlock "The World's Angriest Man" amongst others.
The customization goes one step further this year with the all-new Roster Editor. Now, fans can change superstars brands (Raw, SmackDown, ECW, Legend, Free Agent, & the unlockable WCW!), change them to clean or dirty, and even switches championships without having a match. This is a very welcome addition to the series, and players will spend more time here than they might think.

Their amazing rivalry this year can be relived or rewritten on SvR 2009.
Remember the Career Mode I dodged earlier? Time to revisit that now. The only way to level up CAWs is to send them through Career Mode, or as I like to call it "The Gold Rush." The only point of this ridiculous mode is to win every championship while gaining attribute points in the matches. The biggest problem with this, unless you search for a list, you won't know how to get certain attribute points. So if you have a life and game during what little down time you do have, you will waste most of your time in this mode trying to get you character to a 50 overall. The other problem is, to assign abilities to your CAW you have to earn them by doing something specific in a match in Career Mode. But they don't tell you how to earn them, well, until you earn them. So if you really want the ability to steal finishers, and only have one ability spot open (and that will happen, frequently), you had best avoid the Cruiserweight Title completely (that gets you the Springboard ability), and you will want to avoid Chris Jericho completely unless you want the Lock Pick ability.

Unsafe working environment?
The biggest complaint I have with the game is how much was taken out of it from last year. Sure, we may have finally gotten the Inferno match, but why was the Buried Alive match removed? And yes, there are lot of new superstars in the game with new moves, but why is the most recognizable move in wrestling in this decade, the Stone Cold Stunner, only available as part of Create-A-Finisher? So you're going to have downloadable content for the game, great! Would you mind telling us what the hell it's going to be???

The landing really sucks.
I've loved the SmackDown series for 10 years, and as a veteran of the series I think it's time to give the franchise to someone else. Yukes put together a great game, but THQ's uniformed and most times stupid marketing ploys angered most fans of the series, myself included, who just wanted to know what makes this game so special. THQ sold this game to fans like a used car salesman. They let you take it for a test drive, but they didn't want you to know about the power windows, heated mirrors & 4-wheel drive.
The game is the same thing you've played for 4 years, and the bells and whistles added this year add to the solid gameplay, but in it's 10th year the series still plays the way it did on the PS2. However, this series has been solid over those past 4 years, and the control scheme has reached a nice balance between casual gamer & fanboy. The continued addition makes each game different from the last, and with 10 years of games THQ & Yukes have built a must-have franchise for wrestling fans. Hey Midway Games, take some notes!
My Score: 8.5/10
All photos courtesy of