WWE '12 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Release: November 22, 2011
Price: $59.99 (PS3 and 360), $49.99 (Wii)
The biggest star in WWE is still the Rock.
Think about that for a few minutes. Yeah, yeah, the man on the cover of THQ’s WWE ‘12 is Randy Orton, but Dwayne Johnson, nearly a decade removed from full-time wrestling, is still the most iconic wrestler on the planet. And that’s why, some way, some how, he had to find his way into this game.
Yukes’ rebranded WWE video game gives us much of what we’ve come to expect from the franchise, meaning ridiculously deep creation and customization options, painstakingly recreated entrance videos for all wrestlers, and a few bugs and glitches here and there.
But this year, the developer does one better, rescuing the pixelated game from its real-life self and injecting old-time star power into a league that’s sorely lacking true icons. The result isn’t quite perfection, but it’s another step in the right direction for a series that’s long been filled with ups and downs. What exactly does that entail? We delve into that in our review that continues.
FINALLY! SOME REAL STAR POWER
True talent. It’s a problem that the real WWE is struggling with (Really? Wade Barrett? Really?), and even wrestlers notice it; superstar CM Punk told me just the other day that the league is really suffering from “a dearth of talent.”
But Yukes takes a page from THQ’s other wrestling release, the spring’s WWE All-Stars, to keep that from happening here, grabbing talent from days gone by to pump life into this game. From the Rock to Brock Lesnar to Stone Cold Steve Austin to the Road Warriors themselves, Hawk and Animal, WWE ’12 is overflowing with recognizable, legendary names.
The resulting cast of characters is thick with talent and rife with intrigue. Could Alberto Del Rio hang with the late Eddie Guerrero? Could the Legion of Doom smack Edge and Christian? CM Punk vs. Stone Cold? It’s not hard to find out – once you unlock Lesnar and the rest of the full lineup, that is – and it also compensates for the thin main cast. Raise your hand if you get excited to fly around as Yoshi Tatsu.
Now, raise your hand if you can’t wait to take control of Ricky Steamboat. Yeah, that’s what we thought.
The lone downside to the cast of wrestlers is that THQ decides not to automatically include all of them in the game. The Rock is only available to those who preordered, a stunning disappointment for anyone who walks into the store to grab the game tomorrow. And the first round of DLC characters – Shawn Michaels, Michael Cole and Jim Ross among them – will cost you dough, even though they were available on release day.
THE BUMPY ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA
Yukes doesn’t waste all its new talent, either. These guys aren’t simply faces to draw you in; a few – including Lesnar – make appearances in the WWE Universe mode and the remade Road to Wrestlemania.
The inclusion of the new guys is nice, but it can’t save Road to Wrestlemania’s limited new design. Instead of guiding any wrestler of your choice to WWE’s biggest event, you play through a few months while controlling Triple H, Sheamus and a created wrestler.
This limits your creativity and imagination, even as Yukes tries to tell a more cohesive story. The entire Road to Wrestlemania is now paved with more than just match after match. There are interruptions and backstage fights, out of ring incidents and the like.
The focus is on telling a tighter tale, and it seems to work, but the mode never truly captures your imagination. You’ll spend far too much time reading text, and nothing feels truly natural.
When you’re in the ring, and a match turns into a marathon, it’s fine; it feels like, well, a marathon match. But when you’re out of the ring, battling through one of the Road to Wrestlemania’s written-in-stone sequences that just happens to become a marathon, it feels strange. That’s not how WWE’s supposed to play out.
A UNIVERSE OF OPTIONS
You’ll find most of the fun in the WWE Universe mode. It’s here that Yukes gets just about everything right, letting you play commissioner and opening up a wealth of creative options.
The WWE has always been about change and reinvention, about “what ifs” and “why nots” and any kind of drama you can think of, and WWE Universe mode allows you to create all this to your heart’s content. You can build tag teams and shift personnel with ease, even create your own brands in a matter of seconds. Unlocking and inserting legends into brands is fun, just to see how they’d handle or what matches they would fight.
You can then play out an entire wrestling campaign, playing every match on the schedule, if you so choose. This mode pulls back on the story to allow you to focus on simple in-ring action, and it works like a charm. There are still occasional interruptions, but for the most part, you’ll simply fight match after match, and it feels great.
And that’s only the tip of the creation iceberg. You can create everything from wrestlers to finishing moves to move sets. Heck, you can even create a ring. At first, this last feature may seem disappointing, but toy around with it a little more, and you’ll see that you can replicate plenty of classic rings, and come up with some interesting ring themes of your own as well.
In general, a few modes, such as the create-a-story function, take a while to learn, but in general, everything is pretty user-friendly.
Granted, none of this is new; Yukes has been jamming creation functions into its WWE games for years. But it’s still great knowing that the thriving online community – which has already created Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Mr. Perfect, and a downloadable (and free) version of The Rock – will keep providing you with game content until, oh, say, WWE ’13.
STILL GRAPPLING WITH A FEW ISSUES
I still can’t help wishing that the wrestling measured up to the creative suite in WWE ’12. Yukes does a solid job of revamping its visuals, and the new, touted Predator engine yields some improved lighting effects and visual sharpness over last year’s Smackdown vs. Raw. Collision detection is also vastly improved, and wrestlers animate far more fluidly, even if they still do move with rather synthetic gaits.
After years of tweaking an aging grappling system, Yukes completely redoes it for WWE ’12. Gone is the right stick (perhaps the most overused button convention in all of sports gaming), as a key grappling component; much of grappling has been returned to the face buttons.
The new setup is less predictable and mirrors the drama of wrestling far more accurately. Escaping pinfalls and submissions now takes place in a smaller window, adding more urgency to your button-pressing in each critical moment, and, overall, the action feels much faster. Last year’s game quickly became a patterned exercise in boredom, but this year’s game actually involves far more skill.
Thing is, you’re given very little opportunity to learn those skills. Last year’s game began in a “tutorial ring” of sorts, a perfect chance to learn game mechanics. This year, you get a simple read-through tutorial “menu,” but not a single chance to practice, which will lead to much early frustration.
Even worse, while Yukes improves much of the fighting, two issues still remain. You still rely on quicktime button presses far too often for reversals. And targeting is still an issue; on multiple occasions, I tried to climb to the top rope only to simply exit the ring.
Then again, fans of THQ’s wrestling series are all too familiar with these shortcomings. Heck, they’re used to them. And for those folks, WWE ’12 still has plenty to offer.
It’s not every day that you get to pit the Rock, Brock Lesnar and Sheamus against each other in a Triple Threat match.
Unless, of course, you’ve got a copy of WWE ’12.
Ebenezer Samuel is a staff writer for the NY Daily News and nydailynews.com, covering the NFL, fantasy football, video games and technology, and a former contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Want to know what he thinks of the New York Giants, the state of NBA 2K12, or just about anything else? Follow him on Twitter @ebenezersamuel