We’ve all read about the legal troubles between THQ and World Wrestling Entertainment. With what the tag team tandem has been able to put together for both wrestling fans and gamers for years and years, it is a crying shame that their dispute has evolved in the way that it has. While some of the THQ offerings have leapt off the top rope and crashed face-first onto the canvass (WrestleMania 21 or Raw 2 anyone?), THQ has created some of the greatest console wrestling games ever made including the unparalleled WrestleMania 2000 for the Nintendo 64. ‘Smackdown Vs Raw 2007’ is another notch in THQ’s belt.

Just as they took wrestling simulators to a whole new level with WrestleMania 2000, THQ’s partnership with developer Yuke’s has redefined the franchise with its new grappling system. Button mashers, you can head back to the locker room and join the other jabronies serving beer and hot dogs to the ham and eggers. That chaotic gameplay strategy will get you nothing but your shoulders pinned to the mat in ‘Smackdown Vs Raw 2007’. Yuke’s has implemented a number of changes that when put together result in a true wrestling simulation not seen since Fire Pro Wrestling or the MicroLeague titles for the…Dare I say it?…my beloved Commodore 64.

The three biggest changes are in the grappling, reversing tactics and the introduction of a stamina metre. Instead of buttons, the right joystick (along with the right bumper) controls the entire grappling system. Moving the right joystick while near an opponent executes a low-level quick move that does minor damage like anything the Spirit Squad does in the ring. If you hold the RB, four stronger style grapples become available to you. Once the unfortunate victim is locked in one of those, moving the joystick will initiate a bone-crunching signature maneuver. Performing signature moves jacks up your Momentum Metre inching you closer to your finisher and that oh, so precious three count or submission.

Grappling isn’t as easy as it sounds though. With the new reversal system, you or your helpless punching bag can repeatedly counter each other’s moves in linked battle that is worthy of a standing ovation in any arena.

The most crucial modification though is the Stamina Metre. Just like in real life, well, as real as wrestling can get any way, wrestlers get worn out during a match even if they have the upper hand. Performing moves, running around or braining someone with a barbed wire baseball bat saps energy and the Stamina Metre is Yuke’s way of reproducing that. Throughout a match, your Stamina Metre will drain away as you go about the business of taking your foe to school and you must occasionally pause and hold down the B button to replenish the metre. If you don’t, you will become dazed and stumble aimlessly around like The Big Show does every match.

Regrettably, Yuke’s hasn’t addressed issues that have nagged fans of the series. You still have to mash buttons like a lunatic to get back to your feet when you are downed on the mat. Oftentimes, you will just lay incapacitated for far too long a time. In matches where you have a partner, you can still unintentionally do damage to them if you don’t turn off the automated lock-on feature. There’s no better way to tick off a friend and reverse the flow of a match than hitting a DDT on your own stable mate. Duh is you.

As usual, for those who prefer to play the heel, there is an assortment of foreign objects and “plunder” stashed all around the environment. In and outside of the ring there are “environmental hotspots” too. Once activated you can slam your foe’s head into the ring stairs, guillotine drop them on one of the barricades, strangle them with a microphone cord, grab a weapon from the crowd, suicide dive off of some scaffolding, smash their head into a television monitor and throw them into the crowd. Good times, people. Good times.

You cannot have a wrestling game without those gimmick matches and ‘Smackdown Vs Raw 2007’ has more than WCW did on any given card when it was still around. You’ve got your Royal Rumble match, your Elimination Chamber bout, your Buried Alive match and a brand new Money in the Bank match. The Ladder Match has undergone an overhaul though. In another attempt at realism, Yuke’s makes you work to pull that belt down from its perch high above the ring by synching your grabs properly. No one ever said being a WWE Superstar was easy.

When you want a break from rumbling, you can do your best Theodore Long or Jonathan Coachman impression and enter the General Manager Mode and try running Raw or Smackdown for an entire year. Beat the competition and WWE owner Vince McMahon will reward you. Fail and you are “Fiiiired!”, as Vinnie Mac is so fond of saying. Mercifully, you don’t have to join his “Kiss My Butt Club” if you fumble.

One of the treats of any THQ wrestling game is the unlockable characters that are accessible. Unlike past editions, they aren’t hidden away. Reach specific goals and earn enough cashola and you can purchase The Rock, Tazz, Steve Austin, Shane McMahon, Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, Mankind, Jim Neidhart, Jerry Lawler, Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, Bam Bam Bigelow and Canada’s own Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. The timeline of the game dates back to the spring of 2006 so while superstars like Umaga and The Great Khali are in the game, the reinvented ECW and its talent are not available except for superstars like Rob Van Dam and The Big Show. Sigh. Fans of Sabu, Tommy Dreamer and the rest of the ECW hooligans will have to wait until the next installment to issue those ECW! chants. For those who don’t have the patience and can be creative, you can reproduce your favourite stars of yesterday or today in the detailed Create a Superstar Mode.

For the first time, PlayStation 2 owners will not have dibs on the online capabilities either. On Xbox Live, players can wrestle other subscribers from around the world, use the Voice Chat feature to talk trash and create their own championships to put on the line.

Although the game has its flaws in that some of the previous complaints about collision detection haven’t been addressed and some of the commentary is erroneous (Female grapplers are referred to in the masculine at times), ‘Smackdown Versus Raw 2007’ overcomes these blemishes by giving fans the most genuine wrestling simulation to date. At present, this is the closest you will come to knowing what it is like to step inside a WWE ring. Here’s hoping THQ and the WWE will move past their business disagreements and continue producing superb wrestling games. With ‘Smackdown Versus Raw 2007’ leading the next-gen wrestling sims, the future looks promising indeed.