WWE ’12 Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – THQ – Developer – Yukes – Genre – Fighting/Sports – Players – 1-12 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3, Wii
The WWE SmackDown vs. Raw series has been on a decline for a number of years, and the last three years I have rated each annual game a 6/10. It’s just felt too dated and robotic for a modern day game, and you just know something is wrong when older wrestling games felt more fluid. WWE ’12 is THQ’s brand new effort and the first game in a new series. But this is more than just SmackDown vs. Raw in new clothing.
THQ have branded WWE ’12 a reboot – a game which attempts to right some of the wrongs of the previous series. I’m glad to say that developer Yukes has done a remarkable job in repairing the reputation of the WWE name in gaming. WWE ’12 actually feels like a new dawn for THQ’s WWE games – a return to form that does more than enough to attract some players back that may have abandoned the series due to its problems or its over indulgence on complexities. This isn’t a game about new match types (if you’re wondering, the 40 man Royal Rumble is in there, though) and the addition of loads of new gameplay options, but rather it’s a smart and focused stripping back of the core game.
The Predator technology is definitely one of the more drastic of changes. Predator is the new animation system, and its inclusion is remarkable for a series that became disliked by many for its stilted, robotic and unnatural animations. There’s now an organic flow to the matches that was previously lacking, with animations threading together a lot more realistically, and no longer will you see wrestlers warping around the ring magically. Moves can now also be interrupted by an opponent, which means in matches with more than two wrestlers featured, you won’t have to stand and wait for the animations to play out while your opponents attempt to toss others around the ring. The Predator technology is something that should have been introduced some time ago, although the wait has made its impact feel all the more dramatic.
Recent WWE games have had a lot of different things to do in the ring, bogging the game down with numerous button presses, making them too complicated for some. This year things are vastly different, with the game streamlining the controls, which certainly makes for a less complex and more pleasurable experience.
The grapple system now scales with the state of your opponent, meaning you’ll start out with weaker grapples in your repertoire, but as you further damage your opponent these will automatically turn into the stronger and more impactful moves. This is a welcome change and no longer requires modifier buttons to switch between weak and strong grapples, and in further good news, the grapple controls have been moved off the stick and back to the face buttons.
Submissions are more basic, and while THQ have given it the name of the Breaking Point Submission system, it’s basically the return of the button mashing method that has been seen before, in which both the aggressor and the victim has to tap the buttons in a war of speed, with the condition of the body determining how far that the meter will already be filled at the beginning of the battle. At least you can crawl to the ropes once again this year when your opponent has you locked into a limb-bending submission, although it’s still a shame that they couldn’t have come up with something a bit more inventive than battering the buttons.
Very much related to submissions is the brand new limb targeting system. This system allows you to aim to injure a particular part of your opponent’s body, holding a modifier button down and selecting your choice of limb. This is certainly handy if you are controlling a wrestler with, say, a submission finisher – working on a limb until you’re able to finish the match by executing the move. Injuries also have detrimental effects, with worn down legs slowing you down, a badly injured head making you more susceptible to ending up groggy, and sore arms affecting your ability to crawl to the ropes to break a submission hold.
WWE ’12 is also a faster game than SmackDown ever was. I’m not talking about the speed of the animations, which now look more realistic in their slower pace, but rather I’m talking about the speed in which the wrestler’s return to their feet. As the match wears on, the grapplers do take longer to get back to a vertical base, although you’ll never have to wait too long for the action to be flowing once again. This definitely makes matches feel quicker and more fun, although it does prove to be a problem in some of the match types that previously relied on an injured and grounded opponent to stay down in order to gain the win.
The momentum system has been drastically altered. No longer will you lose any of your built momentum if your opponent comes back at you, once you start building momentum, just as long as you keep attacking you won’t fail to be rewarded with your signature move. You are given a window of approximately 20 seconds to land your signature moves, before the icon disappears and is replaced by a finisher icon. Finishers can also once again be reversed, but it now results in the attempted finisher being shifted to the opponent for him to use, making for some exciting and hard fought battles.
Speaking of reversals, these haven’t been left untouched either. This is now a reversal system that is about precise timing: no longer can you just keep tapping the reversal button and hope to turn an opponent’s attack into a reversal. It’s a change that takes awhile to get used to, but it’s also one that makes the game feel more skill-based.
The only pin system this time around is the one in which you have to stop a marker at a certain point in order to kick out of pins, although, like the reversal system, this is also more about skill as opposed to blind luck. Those who found this a good idea previously, but mastered it so that it was impossible for them to ever be pinned, will be glad to hear that there have been some changes. The point in which you must hit in the meter now moves around, and after taking so much damage the meter won’t even appear until the referee counts to two. The revised meter certainly adds extra excitement to matches.
That’s not all though. Wakeup Taunts and a new Dynamic Comeback System add even more new stuff to the game. When you have a finisher at the ready, Wakeup Taunts allow you to taunt a downed opponent (Randy Orton for example throws his fists against the mat, just like he does in reality before he attempts to deliver the RKO), in which they’ll then get groggily back to their feet, setting them up for a finisher. The Dynamic Comeback is a new ability this year, and if your wrestler has taken a beating and he has the ability, it’s possible to turn the tables through a QTE, rewarding you with full momentum and a couple of finishers if you’re successful. Again, this enhances the excitement, with back and forth matches very much a possibility, even if you’re clawing your way back from near defeat and straight back into the match. It’s also a feature that gives less skilled players a chance to make their own mark in matches, perhaps even scoring the pinfall to win the match.
We have come to expect lots of modes and options from THQ’s WWE games, and WWE ’12 is hardly an exception. The enjoyable Road to WrestleMania mode has you playing as Triple H (outsider), Sheamus (villain) or your created wrestler through spoken storylines, although it is overly scripted at times, it has to be said. The brilliant WWE Universe mode also makes a return in improved and less repetitive form, in which random events happen, including the building of feuds, while your actions will determine who gets title shots and so on. Online play is still laggier than it should be and it has taken them way too long to give us a smooth online experience, and offline multiplayer is currently the best way to play with or against other players because of this. Then of course there’s the creation options to delve into.
The Create a Wrestler feature once again has plenty of depth, basically allowing you to create the kind of wrestler that you’d like to enter the squared circle. You can also create entrances, finishing moves, rings, stories and more. If you’re the creative type, you’ll just love the amount you’ll be able to get up to in WWE ’12, and you can once again share your creations with others online.
WWE ’12 is quite an attractive game. Not only do the animations look a lot smoother, but wrestler models (hair still doesn’t look right, if you’re wondering) and collision detection are also the best that they have ever been, although sadly I have seen some occasional nasty glitches with animations and physics. More positively, the new camera system copies the broadcast cameras of the real WWE, making it feel all the more dynamic. Audio wise, crowd reactions are as noisy as the real thing and wrestler’s have done a decent job with their voice work in the Road to WrestleMania mode, although commentary really needs thrown out and redone, with the dialogue of Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler sometimes not even fitting the situation.
WWE ‘12 isn’t perfect, but what it is is a vast improvement over THQ’s WWE simulation gaming output in recent years. This is a lot more than a simple name change, with effort going into so many of the areas that needed tended to, and the results are remarkable. WWE ’12 is a faster, more fluid, intuitive and competitive wrestling game, and definitely one of the best in some time. I just hope that we’ll see another improvement next year as opposed to a decline. With the progress that has been made here, that would be a real shame.