Also on: PS3
Players: 1 – 2
So a little bit of rebranding has occurred for this years’ WWE title, dropping the Smackdown vs. Raw moniker and opting to go with the simple ’12. Along with that rebranding THQ and developer Yukes are clearly hoping for a little revitalization of the series in general, and thankfully the name change isn’t the only thing different about this year’s attempt. It still has a series of flaws, some of which fall on the technical end of things, but overall this feels like a stronger game than last year’s entry.
Certain things are still present, including the Road to Wrestlemania, WWE Universe, Create a Wrestler and Arena, and Create a Story modes. Road to Wrestlemania presents itself differently this time out, ditching the pick a wrestler function of previous games and instead dropping the player into its initial tale, which is focused on Sheamus. I will say that the plot line for the Road to Wrestlemania stories are more entertaining than last year’s entry by a long shot, and the initial storyline featuring a heel Sheamus teaming up with other wrestlers from the United Kingdom to make their own stable was a lot of fun.
WWE Universe plays out better this year as well, tossing in a few surprises with wrestler appearances you might not expect. It kicks that off with the return of Brock Lesnar to the squared circle, which I hope isn’t much of a spoiler to anyone that’s been following this game. The structure is similar to the way Universe played out last year, as you’ll have either direct control over the matches or can simulate them similar to games in other sports titles. There’s an option to interfere in matches now too, which is pretty fun. If you choose the interfere option, you’ll pick the wrestler to run out to the match, and can choose to help or hinder either AI controlled character. Sometimes you’ll double team an opponent while the ref is knocked out cold, other times you’ll be waking the ref up just in time to see the pin.
The roster for WWE ’12 is pretty fleshed out, featuring pretty much all the current Superstars from the WWE along with handful of notable Legends. Some aren’t present from the start but are promised as DLC in the future, like Macho Man Randy Savage, while others are just simply unlockables. There’s also a variety of outfits to unlock, which cover some of the wrestlers different personas over the years.
Of course the Create a Wrestler function is back, and again it has just a ridiculous number of options to use. You can craft tons of unique characters for the game, and the more talented folks will be able to recreate wrestlers from the past that didn’t make the cut. There are still a lot of moves to outfit their sets with, but there are still some noticeable omissions when it comes to finishers. Overall though, the mode feels pretty identical to what Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 had in it.
So you might be wondering what exactly IS different, considering pretty much all of this content was present in previous games. Well, the biggest and most noticeable change has to be in the character animations, which are vastly improved this time out. There’s still some janky stuff that occurs, like characters sliding into place when a finisher or signature move is performed, but overall the transitions between grapples, holds, submissions, and so on are far better than they’ve been over the past couple years. I really enjoy the new grappling system, and it’s remarkably easy to reposition grappling characters around their opponents.
Also, the introduction of a limb targeting system makes the whole submission aspect feel a little more viable here. If you grapple an opponent, you can hold down the RB button or R1 button to get a small sub-menu that pops up, and shows a diagram of your opponent’s body. From here you can press one of the face buttons to focus on a particular body part, and the diagram will give you a visual indicator of how much damage that particular part has had. The characters will also give visual cues in how they hold their arm, or drag their feet a bit. Characters that have taken a few too many shots to the legs will occasionally stumble when running, and characters with a lot of head damage will almost always be groggy when getting to their feet.
On the flip side of that, I still have a hell of a time getting some things to work with no real indicator of what I’m doing wrong. For instance, if your character and opponent go to grapple at the same time, you’ll lock up. This causes a button prompt to come up, which just tells you to mash the hell out of the button to win control over the grapple. But almost always, no matter how fast I mash A, I’ll lose that grapple. Likewise, while the limb targeting stuff is a great idea, I can rarely perform a successful submission. No matter how much wear and tear I pull off on an opponent, or how hard I mash the buttons when I get the submission prompt, my opponent will almost always tear away or reverse the hold.
Also, reversals tend to get a little ridiculous on their default AI setting. Thankfully there’s a slider control to that, but nothing would aggravate me more than just beating the hell out of a guy for five minutes, getting ready to perform my finisher, and having it reversed. And then from that point on my opponent would become a reversal god, taking my basic strikes and holds and suddenly using them against me. This side feels like it needs to be balanced out a little more on its default setting, but again, you can thankfully tweak this to your liking.
Besides those issues, the game feels and looks pretty great. Hits land like you’d expect, wrestlers will actually sell a move pretty well on the ground for a few seconds, and rarely do you see anyone spring to their feet as if the mat below had caught on fire. The animation work is definitely better this time around, and all the Superstars seem to have their appropriate moves in place. There are a few things that are kind of dated from the start, but outside of introducing a roster update function for these games it’s kind of hard to get around that ever changing aspect of TV wrestling.
I didn’t have much time with the online side of this game unfortunately, so I can’t comment on how well that’ll be when it releases. However, offline play is still a lot of fun. There are quite a few unlockable arenas and belts, and a ton of different modes and rule sets to pick from. TLC and Hell in a Cell remain some of my favorites, and if you opt to play your matches against the AI it doesn’t tend to get annoyingly hard when interfering with your pins and so on.
Overall this is definitely an improvement over Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. I think a little more of a shake-up in the modes used for this game would have been great, but I’ll take the improved animation and controls that this year’s entry offers up. Road to Wrestlemania was thankfully entertaining throughout, and there’s a whole lot to see and do in Universe mode, but I can’t help but feel like both are starting to outstay their welcome. Assuming Yukes will be the developer behind the next game in the series, here’s hoping they’ll build upon these core gameplay improvements by outfitting the game with a few new elements. As it stands though, WWE ’12 is worth checking out.