WWE is certainly no stranger to reinvention. From reinventing characters, brands, shows and even their own name, change is the one constant in the continually evolving world of professional wrestling. THQ and Yukes have taken this concept to heart and did some changing of their own to their seminal wrestling series. New name, new gameplay, new presentation and new customization options all highlight the release of WWE ’12. Unfortunately, the game is held back from being the undisputed champion by several legacy problems that plagued its forefathers.
The gameplay in WWE ’12 has been radically overhauled to allow for a smoother, more streamlined experience. Controls are simple and intuitive, so even newcomers to Yukes’ series can feel at home pretty quickly. They’ve added a host of great in-ring action that makes WWE ’12 feel like an accurate simulation of the WWE’s weekly shows. The new wake-up taunt feature, which allows your superstar to taunt a grounded opponent and have them raise up into a groggy state if you have a finisher available, does a lot to add to the realism of the way a lot of matches end. Each superstar has a selection of special abilities that they can use in a match to swing things in their favor. For example, some might have the ability to use an extra strong Irish Whip, while others have the ability to roll out of the ring when downed and close to the ropes. Perhaps the most dramatic and satisfying of these is the “Comeback” ability. This allows your superstar to enter a special extra strong comeback state following an injury similar to Hogan “Hulking up”. This adds a great deal of drama to every match and perfectly replicates the intensity and back-and-forth seen in sports entertainment.
Each superstar has both signature and finishing moves available. Once you’ve filled your momentum bar, you’ll have access to perform a signature move. If you do so, you’ll be granted an extra powerful Super Finishing move, which does more damage. If you don’t use your super finisher fast enough, it turns back into a regular finisher, however, so you’ll need to act quickly. For you ring technicians out there, the game also features a brand new limb targeting system. This allows you to work over a specific body part (head, arms, legs, body) with precision attacks. Effects of this differ depending on the body part affected, from easier grogginess with head injuries, to decreased movement speed with damaged legs. Of course, the major benefit is a highly increased chance of submitting your opponent with a hold on that particular section of the body. The depth added by this system has been sorely lacking in this series for a while, so it’s good to see its successful implementation.
Unfortunately, not everything is implemented so flawlessly. Several glitches and poor AI plague the game on too frequent an occasion for me to ignore. New rope physics have actually done more harm than good to the believability of the action. Some more casual fans of wrestling may not realize that what they refer to as “ropes” are actually tensile steel cables. You would never know that watching the ropes here on display. When they aren’t clipping through wrestlers arms/bodies or stretching to unrealistic lengths, they’re flopping around like well-done spaghetti. This isn’t the only glitch, however, as I also had multiple occasions where my opponent or myself was frozen in the bent over position but still moving around the ring.
Perhaps the most frustrating glitch came during a match in the “Road to Wrestlemania” mode. I had spent a decent amount of time wearing down the Big Show and had just kicked out of an unsuccessful pin attempt. I got up and took the fight back to him with several successful high impact moves. In an attempt to wear him down so I could successfully initiate the cutscene ending to the match (more on this later) I picked him up for an attempted slam, only to have the game stop me in mid move to tell me that I had failed my goal for the match, which was to defeat the Big Show. This was incredibly frustrating, and I can only assume a byproduct of his previous unsuccessful pin attempt.
The AI is solid, but occasionally disappointing. A majority of the time it functions as you would expect it to: going for pins when they make sense, attacking body parts over and over to weaken you and attempting to tag out in a tag team match when they are close to defeat. Too often, however, you’ll see them simply standing around. Sometimes, they will attempt to tag out when that isn’t possible and will just kind of hang around in the corner until you attack them. Increasing the difficulty solves this problem somewhat, but creates another issue altogether. If you are the type of person that gets easily frustrated with computer controlled opponents countering your every move, I would suggest you avoid the higher difficulty level in this game. The cheapness on display here gets almost unreal. This leads us back to the fact that this year’s game, much like every other year, is best played against human players.
One thing that you absolutely have to give credit to Yukes for on this game is that they did not hold anything back from a content standpoint. The sheer volume of stuff in this package is almost overwhelming. The game has a staggering amount of customization and creation features. You can create custom superstars, entrances and entrance videos, custom icons and the newest addition: custom arenas. The arena creation aspect is really cool and hearkens back to the Fire Pro series. You can change the skirt around the ring, the mat, the announce tables, the floor and even the scrolling messages around the top of the arena. The customization is as big a draw for a gamer like me to this title as the action in the ring, and I imagine that it will give this game plenty of legs in the creative scene that is so prevalent around wrestling titles.
Presentation has likewise stepped its game up. Matches play out through multiple camera angles that replicate the viewing experience from WWE programming. Loading screens in the Road to Wrestlemania and WWE Universe modes feature crowd shots instead of static screens. The commentary is solid, if not spectacular, and suffers from many of the same problems that plague other similar titles. The special effects used when big moves hit are flashy enough to add to the experience without being so overblown that they are distracting.
The game features all the traditional match types that people have come to expect from the genre and several modes with more depth. The first is the returning “Road to Wrestlemania” mode which puts you in the shoes of three superstars: Sheamus, Triple H, and a custom superstar. This mode is fun, and the storylines on display here are genuinely pretty good. The drawbacks however are that the scope is relatively limited with only three superstars featured (although you’ll control several others throughout the storylines) and the mode is heavy on backstage action (much like the real-life WWE). This mode has some strange design choices built into it, particularly the decision to end many player-controlled matches with a cutscene rather than actual player action. For example, once you’ve inflicted enough damage on your opponent, you’ll get a flashing Y (or Triangle) over their head. Triggering that button starts a cutscene that ends the match with some dramatic finish. I understand the purpose here, in that it effectively allows them to shape the story the way they want to, but I personally don’t generally enjoy having control pulled from my hands while a cool scene plays out on screen. I want to be affecting it in some way.
WWE Universe is a more open means of scheduling multiple matches. This mode allows you the freedom to build rivalries, build to title matches, and even customize the brands. You can swap characters from any of the WWE’s shows, and even make broader changes. For example, if you want to reignite the Monday Night Wars and change Smackdown into WCW, you have the capability here. Each superstar in this mode also has a momentum meter, which increases their stats when they are on a roll, and decreases them when they seem to be jobbing out left and right.
It’s clear that Yukes and THQ put a lot of effort into the reinvention of this cash-cow franchise. A lot of the things that they’ve managed to accomplish are fantastic, particularly in the areas of presentation, customization, and gameplay. There are certainly some problems that will need to be ironed out prior to next year’s installment, but overall, WWE ’12 provides a very solid base for a new wrestling franchise to be built upon.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.