WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 (lost pre-release build and original cover art of professional wrestling game; 2007)
Cover art for the game, alleged to have been altered following the Benoit double-murder suicide.
WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 was a THQ professional wrestling video game released for the sixth and seventh-generation consoles. The fourth within the SmackDown vs Raw series, the game reflected the 2007 WWE season and its main draw was the inaugural inclusion of the ECW brand. However, the game faced delays following the fallout of the Chris Benoit double-murder suicide, which prompted the removal of Benoit-related assets prior to release. The June 2007 issue of GamesMaster also reported that Benoit was to be on the game's cover art, which naturally was altered prior to the game reaching stores.
Released in most regions by November 2007, WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 included key gameplay differences like the inclusion of fighting styles and the struggle submission system. The game mostly received mixed to good reviews from critics. In summarising the PlayStation 2 and 3 versions, IGN reviewer Greg Miller praised the revised control system, but criticised them for a 24/7 Mode deemed inferior to previous renditions and yet retaining the same flaws as its predecessors. These critiques were generally reflected in most sixth and seventh-generation reviews, with concerns the PlayStation 2 port had become stale. Outside of control changes, the game added WWE's version of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), which debuted on television on 13th June 2006.
As the game was being developed, the 2007 WWE Draft commenced on the 11th June edition of WWE Raw. It saw two-time World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit drafted from SmackDown to ECW, with the Canadian having previously worked for the original ECW organisation from 1994 to 1995. Benoit was set to challenge CM Punk for the ECW World Championship, which the Raw-bound Bobby Lashley had vacated. The match would have occurred at the Vengeance: Night of Champions pay-per-view on 24th June, with Benoit booked to win. According to Punk, the feud would have intensified over time, becoming an especially violent affair.
Benoit no-showed Vengeance, allowing Johnny Nitro to win the belt instead. Indeed, concern emerged regarding Benoit's well-being, especially as his close friend Chavo Guerrero received unusual voice messages and texts from him. The following day, police entered the Benoit household in Fayetteville, Georgia, and discovered the bodies of Chris, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son Daniel. Upon being informed of the situation, WWE made the upcoming three-hour Raw special a tribute show to Benoit and also scrapped the Mr. McMahon death storyline. During the tribute, confirmation was achieved that Benoit had strangled Nancy and Daniel to death during the weekend, before hanging himself.
Pre-Release Build and Original Cover Art
WWE went into damage control mode following the news, distancing themselves from Benoit. This affected WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008's development, the game having been announced by THQ on 30th March 2007 for a release that autumn. WWE instructed THQ to remove all references to Benoit from the game. Considering Benoit was among WWE's top stars, it was likely he had a significant presence in the original build, particularly featuring in 24/7 angles. Thus, his complete removal included the playable character, commentary, crowd signs, moves, and miscellaneous content. There was concern the removals would force THQ to delay the game beyond November, thus missing out on the lucrative Christmas season. Ultimately, with some crunch time, the game successfully made store shelves in November. Analysis from The Cutting Room Floor found all that remained of Benoit-related content in the final release was his submission finisher the Crippler Crossface, and a slot for his moves and attributes. Both were hidden unless activated via cheats.
More interestingly was the revelation Benoit featured in the game's original cover art. UK gaming magazine GamesMaster extensively covered the game in its May and June 2007 issues; in the latter, which went to press before Benoit's actions were public knowledge, it reported that he would appear on the front cover. Naturally, the final cover art was altered and featured The Undertaker, John Cena, and Bobby Lashley. Exactly which wrestler replaced Benoit is unclear, though it is speculated by Atletifo that Lashley was hastily added in. While he was now wrestling for Raw, Lashley was the top star in ECW before the draft, having reigned as the ECW Champion twice. This suggests Lashley represented ECW on the cover, with Undertaker and Cena synonymous with SmackDown and Raw respectively. Hence, Benoit's new ECW connections probably explained his appearance on the original cover. It also likely contained the text "ECW INVASION" rather than "FEATURING ECW", as reflected by a logo that featured in THQ's unveil of the game.
Evidently, very little of the Benoit-related content appeared in WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008's final build. However, research from Reddit user Cinnamon0999 found forum posts which claim a build demonstrated at a game kiosk actually contained Benoit, even though he should have been removed from the code beforehand. While the claim should be viewed with scepticism, it is possible prototype builds may still exist. However, these and the original cover art are extremely unlikely to publicly surface considering THQ's assets were acquired by multiple companies following its 2013 bankruptcy, and WWE refusing to promote or reference Benoit where possible. Some videos and screenshots have claimed to have been from one of the prototype builds, but have since been debunked as either hacked versions or images from WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2007.
- Archived THQ press release announcing the game. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- IGN review of the PlayStation 3 port and noting the key changes like the fighting styles. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Metacritic providing a 71 Metascore for the PlayStation 2 version. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Metacritic providing a 71 Metascore for the Xbox 360 version. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- IGN review of the PlayStation 2 version. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Wrestlezone providing a press release of WWE ECW's launch. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Archived Online World of Wrestling summarising the 2007 WWE Draft. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Pro Wrestling Stories documenting the life and career of Benoit. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Atletifo documenting the planned Benoit-Punk feud. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- E Wrestling News detailing the timeline of the Benoit double-murder suicide. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Wrestling World reporting on Punk's comments surrounding the scrapped Benoit feud. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Altletifo documenting the Mr. McMahon funeral segments that were scrapped for the Benoit tribute. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Bleacher Report detailing WWE distancing themselves from Benoit. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Wrestling Inc reporting on the game being delayed so that Benoit content could be removed. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Alteifo documenting the cut Benoit content and original cover art. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- r/lostmedia discussing the lost Benoit build and cover art. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- The SmackDown Hotel listing all wrestlers who appeared in the game. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- PWmania reporting on concerns the game would be delayed beyond November because of the removal of Benoit (report found on Smacktalks). Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Issue 186 of GamesMaster reporting on Benoit being set to appear on the game's cover art. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Issue 185 of GamesMaster which provided a major report on the-then upcoming game. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- IGN preview of the game, noting the original logo featured the text "ECW INVASION". Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- Xbox Achievements containing a post from a user claiming to have played a Benoit build of the game. Retrieved 21st Oct '23
- USA Today reporting on the bankrupt THQ's assets being split to different companies. Retrieved 21st Oct '23