The past few years have been rough for fans of wrestling games. On one hand, the presentation of the annual WWE simulation series Smackdown vs. RAW continued to evolve and become more and more like its real life counterpart. On the other hand, the actually gameplay itself was boring and marred by poor AI, and even online play against real human opponents couldn’t make up for it because the online was as laggy and horribly as you could find. What we always ended up with was a wrestling game that looked fairly good and realistic, but was only fun for the first few days before boring gameplay and stupid AI opponents took over. Wrestling fans begged for a change and a revamped engine that would take the series out of the previous generation and finally into the current one.
Well, all that begging has finally paid off. The Smackdown vs. RAW franchise is dead, and a bigger, badder, better era has dawned for the WWE Games universe. WWE ’12 is here, and the series has finally ditched the Playstation 2 and has gotten its revamped engine thanks to the all-new Predator Technology.
On first glance, WWE ’12 may look like a prettier Smackdown vs. RAW 2011, but once you begin playing the game you’ll quickly discover that the game has indeed undergone a drastic change. Grappling is no longer controlled by the right analog stick; WWE ’12 reintroduces players to face button controls for slightly more simplistic control of your favorite WWE superstar or diva. Utilizing one button and the left stick (and right stick for positioning), players can perform a variety of moves through chain grapples and groggy grapples from various positions. There’s also a new limb targeting system that allows you to target the opponents head, arms, or legs to wear down and damage a specific part of your opponent’s body.
The controls will likely take you a few matches to get used to, especially if you played and dominated in SvR 2011. It’s important at this point not to allow yourself to get frustrated, because not only will take a few matches to get the hang of it, but the CPU is a vastly different opponent this year. With last year’s game, it was super easy to beat the CPU on Legend difficulty in just a couple of minutes. The only concern you had last year on Legend was the CPU reversing almost everything, but even then the reversal system itself was easy enough that players had no problem reversing what the CPU was doing. THQ even talked about how much of a challenge it was to beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania on Legend last year, when the truth ended up being that it wasn’t a challenge at all. That’s why I was a little skeptical when they talked about the CPU being better and an actual challenge this time around.
Having played a ton of this game over the past week, I can safely confirm that the CPU is indeed a much bigger challenge this time around. If you played and enjoyed this year’s WWE All Stars release, then you already know how much more fun it is when the CPU actually battles back and forth with you. WWE ’12 maintains that level of excitement and challenge. Don’t get mad when you lose your first WWE ’12 match on normal. I lost my first match, and my second match. I even lost on EASY. And it’s not because the CPU simply reverses everything, all though they do reverse a fair amount of stuff, especially if you try and go to the well one time too many. No, the CPU actually wrestles back this year. If they get control of the match, you’re going to have to work to get it back. It isn’t like previous years where the AI would stand back and do nothing after getting you down; they’re coming after you this year. There’s moments on easy where they’ll appear dumb and won’t do stuff, but for the most part they’re going to keep the pressure applied.
This all means that you end up in a match that actually last longer than two minutes and goes back and forth, and can come down to the wire. If the CPU connects with their finishing move this year, you better be good at the timing mini-game to kick out of the pin, because they will actually cover you and try and get the win this year. In short, the CPU will not hesitate to treat you like a lil Jimmy this year, so if you allow yourself to slip up or get caught, you’re gonna get got. And that is by far my favorite thing about WWE ’12 that I can play a good back and forth match with the CPU and not have it end in two minutes. This is the first WWE game (excluding All Stars) that you won’t get bored with after playing for just a couple of days.
Gameplay isn’t the only that has undergone some changes and improvements though. One of the first things you’ll notice is that the game simply looks better. This is by far the best looking WWE game to date. Not only does it look good, but new camera angles and show introductions, along with smoother visuals, help make this the most authentic looking WWE game to date as well. The team at Yuke’s and THQ have really done a terrific job on nailing the WWE presentation and making this look as realistic as possible from a presentation standpoint. The back of the box isn’t lying when it says “electrifying TV presentation.”
The game’s single player story mode has also undergone a huge change. Instead of having four or five separate three month stories to play with, WWE ’12 packs three separate stories (or acts) into one larger arch that spans roughly two years. You’ll start with the Villain Story where you will mainly control Sheamus, and then you’ll seamlessly transition into the Outsider Story where you take control of Triple H, and finally you’ll make your way into the third and final act called the Hero Story, where you’ll be in charge of a created wrestler named Jacob Cass (voice acted by TNA’s Austin Aries).
Road to WrestleMania was however hit and miss to me. On the whole, I enjoyed it and appreciate what it tried to do. Its biggest strength is the storytelling, as I found all three stories to be much better than anything WWE is currently putting on television. I even liked the voice acting and commentary that takes place during Road to WrestleMania. But gameplay here is secondary, and ultimately that’s where the miss comes in to play. Road to WrestleMania is filled with cutscenes in the middle of matches, and to trigger these cutscenes to advance the story you’ll need to wear down your opponent until a prompt appears above their head. It’s a little weird to go from owning a match to then seeing your opponent taking it to you in a cutscene. To make matters worse, they couldn’t even keep the ring the same between the gameplay and a cutscene.
For example, at one point you’ll be fighting in the ring during Edge’s The Cutting Edge program. While you’re fighting, the canvas will be black with the Rated R Superstar logo on it. But as soon as you hit the button to trigger the cutscene, you’re suddenly watching your character in a normal wrestling ring. These moments break the flow of the story and take you out of it. That’s not even bringing up that some of the matches can be a hard in spots and way too long, and featuring way too many cutscenes.
Road to WrestleMania is worth plaything through once, particularly to see the ending which is fantastic, but it relies too heavily on button prompts and cutscenes to recommend playing through it more than once. It doesn’t help that once again the story is as linear as it comes (and I hate that word). If you lose, you’re redoing it. And yes, I still miss the branching stories from the N64 games where the story would advance whether you lost or not, particularly when WWE ’12 decided to have me disqualified in a match at about the seven minute mark for… hitting a clothesline. Yes, I got DQ’d in a Road to WrestleMania tag team match for clothes-lining my opponent? How and why? Beats me, but I also got disqualified in a six-man tag exhibition match for hitting an opponent with a bulldog. So just be aware that you may be DQ’d for absolutely no reason. Thankfully, this bug only struck me twice in over 15 to 20 hours of play, so it isn’t frequently occurring.
Universe mode has been improved a ton, but still has its problems. I’ll start with the positives first. This year, you can freely edit any match and defend titles whenever you choose against whomever you choose, giving you the freedom to run your Universe pretty much how you want too. You can only have three shows in your Universe, and they must be on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. You’re free to change these shows names, logos, arenas, and match select screens, meaning you can resurrect WCW and have Nitro running in your Universe and that looks great. The other positive addition is the ability to swap out titles, of which there are 23-championships in the game. On your Monday brand, you can change the major championship from the WWE Championship to the Cruiserweight Championship if you so choose. Of course that also means you can have a completely unified Universe in regards to champions. However you want to run things, you are relatively free to do so this year, although obviously there are limits.
Now for the negatives of Universe. I have my Monday show set to WCW Nitro using the WCW brand, and my Friday show is RAW using the RAW brand. Each brand has completely separate champions, yet for some reason the CPU-booked Nitro features RAW wrestlers in every match, mostly RAW vs RAW matches that are listed as “Today’s Remarkable Matches.” This is an annoyance, but at least I am free to change these matches. I just wish the game would keep RAW wrestlers from appearing on my Nitro show, especially considering my WCW wrestlers (outside of a tag team matches) don’t appear on my RAW show.
With WWE ’12, Universe and Exhibition are completely separate once again. You don’t have to worry about your tag teams that you spent so much time creating being disbanded in Exhibition because the CPU making it happen in Universe. Likewise, you’re free to have completely separate champions in Universe and Exhibition. Exhibition has it better in this regard. Every championship in the game is assigned to a wrestler by default. In Exhibition, you can go into your title settings and not only assign the title to whoever you want, but you can vacate them as well. Don’t want someone coming out in an Exhibition match wearing the ECW or WWE Light Heavyweight Championship? Simply vacate it and the problem is solved. In Universe though, it isn’t that simple. There is, for whatever reason, no option to vacate any championship. Every title in the game is assigned to someone, regardless of whether or not you have that championship set to be one of the four (or two singles superstar) titles. There’s a World Championship with WCW spray painted on it, and a WWE Championship with WCW spray painted on it. You can’t vacate these titles, so whoever is wearing them will come out to the ring wearing it and be announced as the champion.
My workaround for that involved creating two created wrestlers using only the template and assigning them to be on the NXT roster. I call these two wrestlers Title Dummy 1 and Title Dummy 2, and they are a tag team. I dumped every championship I didn’t want to be involved in my Universe on Title Dummy 1, and put the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship on the both of them. Even this isn’t completely perfect if you rely on CPU booking for your Universe, as it has booked Title Dummy 1 to appear on Nitro. I just edit that match to whatever I want to happen, so it’s not a big issue. But, as you can see, the game does force you into doing way too many workarounds in order to get your Universe up and running the way you want it to be.
The game does have its share of bugs. It’s pretty much useless to try and use custom attires made using Superstar Threads in Universe, because it takes forever to load them and the load screen (which shows the crowd and arena while moving around, just like the real life product) becomes super jerky and slow. For a different color outfit, it simply isn’t worth the time and hassle of almost freezing the system. When a playing a diva match with Beth Phoenix, at one point her hair turned into a large blond rod that extended from her head and went way into the crowd, and this lasted for about four seconds. It was funny and certainly not game breaking, but it is worth mentioning. The really sad one, especially if you’re like me and enjoy watching the entrances and want to use the WCW Championship in your Universe, whoever is the WCW Champion will be introduced as, using my current champion as an example, “the WCW ChampionSHIP Booker T.”
WWE ’12 boast a ton of creation features, including all the ones from last year and the new edition being the much requested Create-an-Arena. These all work well enough, and if you enjoy spending your time creating stuff, then you’ll pretty much love all of this. I simply don’t care for creating stuff, simply because I’m not any good at it. Luckily, for those like me, there’s Community Creations that allow the talented individuals to upload their good CAWs and arenas for me to download. Create-an-Arena is a great new feature and I for one am looking forward to seeing someone good with paint tool make a great WCW Halloween Havoc arena.
One thing I was not able to try out during the past week was the online play. I could never find a session. Leaderboards show people that had played, but apparently not at any of the times I tried to find a game. The game does not use GameSpy though, so if it runs anything like All Stars, then I’m sure it runs relatively lag free. Online just can’t be factored into my review at this moment since I don’t know if it’s good or bad.
RECOMMENDATION: Despite the few flaws with the games two main modes, and a few bugs here and there, WWE ’12 is still the best wrestling game in a decade. It’s the best and most authentic looking wrestling game to date, and with the improved controls and a challenging AI, it’s also the most fun wrestling simulation game in a decade as well. Unlike its predecessors, WWE ’12 should be able to keep you coming back for more until WWE ’13 is released. If you don’t enjoy wrestling and wrestling simulation games in particular, there isn’t anything here that will sway you and that’s to be expected. If you are a wrestling fan and do like wrestling games though, then this is definitely the one you’ve been waiting for and one that you’re going to want to buy immediately and hold on to it until next year’s game releases. WWE ’12 is packed with fun and challenging gameplay, great creation features, and possibly the best roster ever assembled in a WWE game. Fans wanted a change in the series, and we have finally gotten it. WWE ’12 is the new undisputed champion of wrestling games. Now go put boots to virtual asses or get got by the computer. Either way, you’re going to have a blast.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.