Video Game Review: WWE ’12
We want Ryder… clap clap, clap clap clap!!!
After more than a decade, Yuke’s and THQ are bidding farewell to the SmackDown series (more recently SmackDown vs. Raw) and starting fresh with WWE ’12. Make no mistake, it’s still the simulation-themed cousin to WWE All-Stars, but it does introduce several new elements across both core gameplay and game modes. Are these changes destined to usher in a new golden age of WWE video games? Or will they be summarily disavowed like a poorly received wrestling angle?
Although the right analog stick still factors heavily in the grapple system, moves are no longer executed that way. Instead, you initiate a tie-up with a face button and then transition to various grapple points (such as a side headlock or rear waist lock) by flicking the right stick. You then hit the grapple button again while angling the left stick in various directions to pull off the corresponding move.
Also new is a limb targeting system that allows you to focus on one of four points: the head, torso, arms and legs. Each area receives damage independent of the other and wears down your opponent in a unique way — for instance, going after the legs will reduce their movement speed. The system is activated via the bumpers with face buttons then initiating attacks on the various body parts.
These aren’t monumental changes, but the tweaks are effective in creating a more fluid experience than recent SmackDown vs. Raw entries. If there is a weak point it can be found when countering moves, which remains an inexact science. In fact, the button prompt seems to be a fraction of a second too late as I felt I had more success anticipating attacks than reacting to them.
Wrestler models and ring entrances look excellent, as do the moves, transitions and counters seen during the matches. The developers still can’t find a good way to render wrestlers’ long hair, but those without look extremely lifelike from their physical appearance down to the way they move about the ring. There’s a definite focus on recreating a WWE-style broadcast with things like camera angles shifting during a match, and that effort is a rousing success.
My complaints on the visual side are minimal. As I’ve noted in the past, I’m still waiting for a WWE game to nail the difference between wrestling in a 12,000-seat arena for Raw and a WrestleMania audience of 60,000 or more. In addition, backstage cinematics repeat too often during the story mode with the same couple of finishes happening again and again.
Put bluntly, there are serious issues with the sound mixing in WWE ’12. Play through the game’s story mode and you’ll undoubtedly encounter snippets of dialogue that sound like they were recorded in a soundproof room, followed by more lines that are completely drowned out by crowd reactions. The game also seems confused as to who the good guys and bad guys are in the storylines, leading to seemingly incorrect responses from the audience.
Technical problems aren’t the audio’s only issues. Commentary by Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler is once again decent when they’re sticking to scripted elements related to the story, but as soon as they deviate from that to call bouts the repetition comes fast and furious. I don’t know how many times I heard Lawler crack his joke about Sheamus’ looks, but it seemed to be told in every match. Wrestler theme music, introductions and move sound effects are well done.
Major changes have been made to Yuke’s signature Road to WrestleMania (RTWM) mode as the one found in WWE ’12 eschews the usual setup of multiple stories for multiple wrestlers for a continuous storyline that’s split into three segments. You’ll start as Sheamus, shift to Triple H and then close out as a created wrestler. All three tales are pretty much paint by numbers in terms of swerves and betrayals, but there are at least a couple decent surprises along the way.
Even a more significant departure for the series is the way the storylines are developed as many of the matches you compete in no longer require (or even allow) you to pin your opponent. Instead you’ll often be tasked with simply wearing them down at a specific location (be it in the ring, on the ramp or wherever) and then hitting a button when the prompt appears over their head. From there a cinematic cut scene takes place, which allows for more elaborate finishes and angles to occur.
This heavily scripted experience is roughly on par with much of what you get out of the televised product these days, but it has its drawbacks. Most notable is that all three of the storylines focus heavily on stables of wrestlers — in particular, the Triple H and create-a-wrestler chapters both revolve around the “heel GM” angle we’ve been seeing in the WWE for years now (see Laurinaitis, John).
That “you against the world” setup also leads to some really frustrating handicap matches and backstage brawls where the computer gets to attack you from all angles while you try desperately not to get hit with some cheap running grapple. It’d be one thing if there were a handful of them, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the actual number was more than 20. By the end of the final chapter I was not having any fun in these handicap situations and was completely baffled by their frequency.
Anyone hoping for a return to branching stories or options of any kind like selecting a partner or opponent will be disappointed as the RTWM is completely linear from the moment John Cena walks to the ring until the credits roll. Even the optional goals, which SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 included to unlock additional goodies, have been removed.
Putting all of the RTWM eggs into one basket was a bold move, albeit one that gets bogged down with too many interviews and an overabundance of handicap encounters. With a run time I’d estimate to be north of 10 hours (and yet without a single cameo appearance from CM Punk), it’ll take some dedication to see this mode through to the end.
Of course, WWE ’12 also comes packed with WWE Universe, which is pro wrestling’s answer to the popular franchise modes in other sports titles. This allows you to book your own shows as you see fit without all the scripted aspects of RTWM. It’s really a lot of fun to mix and match the current rosters and install the grapplers you want to see as champions. Been itching for a feud between Husky Harris and Zach Ryder? Make it happen. Think Santino and Steve Austin should be the reigning tag team champs? Book it. Or just let the computer generate cards and move your favourite wrestlers up the rankings the old fashioned way.
There’s also a fully fleshed out and robust selection of customization tools at your disposal that make creating fictional or existing wrestlers from scratch a breeze (Good God! That’s Sabu’s music!). The story editor continues to be an amateur booker’s dream as well with loads of cinematic and match creation options. You could easily invest dozens upon dozens of hours if you’re so inclined, and once again you’re able to upload (or download) the best creations for others to enjoy.
Online appears to be running fairly smoothly, though I did wrestle a couple of matches where the lag made timing blocks and reversals nearly impossible. The bigger problem I encountered was opponents spamming their running strikes and grapples, though there’s not much THQ can do about that.
Even though the revamped Road to WrestleMania proves to be a bumpy one, WWE ’12 more than makes up for it with improved controls, smoother all-around gameplay and tons of content. Pro wrestling fans won’t be disappointed.