WWE ’12 Review: Bigger, Badder, Better?

The WWE video game franchise has long been a regular staple of the winter release schedule, with fans clambering each November to get a chance to play with their favourite WWE Superstars and prove that they too could be a WWE Champion. In the past several years THQ and Yukes have brought us the continuing saga of everybody’s favourite sports entertainment superstars in the form of the Smackdown Vs Raw series. The biggest problem with this was that with each iteration of the game saw a few odd changes here and there, but never the big overhaul that fans were promised, until now…

Earlier this year THQ announced that for this winter’s WWE title not only would they completely overhaul the game from the ground up, but they would also be changing the name too and so WWE ’12 was born, along with the tag line Bigger, Badder, Better.

Fast forward several more months and I was finally able to get my hands on this title and decide for myself whether the months of trailers and videos promising the best WWE game ever were all hype. 

The first thing to note when playing this game is that the interactive menu that allowed you to practice your moves using a choice of your favourite WWE Superstar is gone. Instead we are presented with a static menu that features a picture of this year’s cover character, Randy Orton. From here players then click the options they want to in a tree based menu system, with each branch taking them one step closer to their desired goal. Whilst this is pretty standard fare, the myriad of options are very generic and so at times you will find yourself going into several different ones before you get to the option you desire. Admittedly a minor point, but one that may frustrate the more casual player who may just want to change the difficultly down a bit in order to score a pinfall when they play.

As with past WWE games, and in line with virtually every game on the market now, WWE ’12 boasts a variety of create-a-something modes. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this time around the game has the most in depth set of options I can remember seeing in any previous WWE title. Whether it be the new Create-An-Arena mode or even the returning Create-A-Superstar mode, fans will find themselves spending literally hours customising everything from their wrestling attire, their entrance video, the name they are announced by and even the arena they fight in. Despite the often frustrating lack of any on screen help when editing things, this mode truly is one of the most fun parts of the game and fans will doubtless find themselves squeeing with delight when they début their new WWE Superstar in their first match. Hardcore fans may still complain about the fact that there are not as many moves to assign their superstar as there were in the titles of say three years ago, but this is a small price to pay for having some of the extra additions that this part of the game now adds.

Moving on to the actual game modes themselves and once again fans will find themselves face to face with the recognisable “Road to Wrestlemania” and “WWE Universe” modes. However, this time around both of these modes have undergone some dramatic changes in a bid to make them fit in with the game’s tagline. Take for example, “The Road To Wrestlemania” mode; in previous years fans have been able to choose from the start which wrestler they wished to play as from a list of a handful of popular superstars. This year however that option is removed from their hands completely and replaced with what can only be described as an interactive sports entertainment movie! Simply put, you start the game watching the video on screen; at a certain point the story allows for you to get involved by either fighting a match or pushing a button and once the objective is complete you move on to the next part of the story. This continues until you have worked your way through the stories of three superstars and won Wrestlemania as a result. On the surface this seems like a good idea, but what you find is that you are presented with an extremely linear mode that seems to have its own separate difficulty level that you have no control over. So you just end up just playing from A to B and so on, which can get very dull after a while. What saves this mode is the presentation, as when playing it you truly do get the impression you are part of a WWE TV show thanks to the inclusion of things such as WWE pay-per-view style video packages, the weekly WWE Raw introductions and much more. It is these improvements that show how far THQ and Yukes have come in the past few years as the level of detail here is fantastic, reaching a degree of fan service that puts many other franchise based games to shame.

Continuing with the modes, and in particular the “WWE Universe” mode. This has been the subject of some criticism since its debut, mainly due to the fact that despite claims that it is controlled by you, it generally wasn’t and as such you couldn’t defend your title whenever you wanted. Many also felt that it didn’t reflect the WWE as closely as it was supposed to as a result, but that was then. This year’s version of the mode has changed dramatically. Gone are the previously mentioned title restrictions and now you can defend your WWE title on any show you choose and not have to wait until the next pay-per-view. Also added to the mix are more real time WWE style events, such as the WWE Draft. As on the TV, when the Draft comes around no one is safe, so you could find yourself on Raw one minute and then on Smackdown the next! What this adds to the mode is a greater style of realism, and coupled with the fact every decision you make can affect your rise to the top, this mode is in many ways actually more realistic than its “Road To Wrestlemania” counterpart. But that’s not all WWE Universe has to offer, as for the first time ever fans can create their own in-game WWE Brand via the Create-A-Show mode! What this option allows fans to do is replace say WWE Superstars with a show of their own creation. They can not only add the stars of their choice but also the titles they can compete for and even the arena they compete in. So if you have ever wanted to re-create WCW or maybe even create your own WWE legends show, WWE ’12 allows you to do just that. This addition, alongside the fact that you no longer have to worry about having to switch the mode off and on if you want to have a random battle with friends, makes the WWE Universe mode the most playable mode in the game and as such, one that fans will find themselves playing for hours and hours.

As mentioned, the plan for WWE ’12 was to rebuild it from the ground up and as part of this rebuild THQ and Yukes have revamped not only the actual look of the game, but they have also overhauled the control method too. The reason behind the change of visuals seems simple, as the focus of the game this time is to give fans a more authentic WWE experience. The way in which the developers have decided to achieve this is not only with the improved character models and camera angles, but also the aforementioned opening pay-per-view and house show openings. The result is certainly one of the most realistic looking WWE games ever, and despite the odd character not looking completely like their real life counterpart, the game truly does feel like you are in the WWE when you are playing it. Speaking of playing it, the overhauled control method in WWE ’12 makes it much more simpler than previous iterations. Not only is the game easier to play, but it’s also much more enjoyable as result. That said, there are still the occasional collision detection issues when performing moves or using weapons, but these are a minor problem and they often add to the amusement you get from the game rather than detract from it. 

Controls aside, the game’s A.I. is on the whole okay, and certainly a step up from the previous games, as you now find that your opponents will target a damaged area of your body (as in the actual WWE), and as such will use this to help them attain victory. The fact that you can also injure your opponents, or be injured, also means that at times the computer controlled opponent can be frustratingly repetitive in their choice of moves. That said, you could argue that this is in fact another area where the game does in fact accurately reflect the WWE, as it is not uncommon to see a WWE Superstar use a specific move several times in a row in order to weaken their opponent. One change that is also worth mentioning is the ability to now break up any move you like by simply using the strike button, meaning that if your tag partner or opponent in a triple threat match is getting the upper hand, you can interfere and either save the day or change the momentum of the match as a result. 

The roster for WWE ’12 is also vastly superior to that of past games, including a mix of stars from both the current WWE but also WWE Legends, making up a roster that is in excess of over 75 superstars. This means that not only will members of the WWE Universe not be spoiled for choice, but they will also have the chance to re-create some dream matches from the comfort of their own living room.

Another staple of the WWE itself, and also games past, is the voice acting and match commentary that you experience in the various modes. Not much appears to have changed here and at times you are often subject to some wooden performances from some of the Superstars, which many may argue is not unlike the WWE, though the more ardent fans will be let down by this. That said, the commentary is still amusing at times, particularly when you find yourself using the DLC characters of the commentators themselves in game, as rather than hearing the same generic commentary track you’re instead treated to a uniquely funny fourth-wall-breaking set of commentary that is worth the price of the DLC alone.

Speaking of the DLC, after last year’s failure to utilise this part of the game, THQ appear to have gone the extra mile with several packs already announced and hints that more will be on the way. The pricing structure is also very reasonable with extra bonuses for those who opt to download the packs as a whole via the Fan Axxess pass. For those who cannot afford this option, the prices have also been kept low (80 MS points per character for example) to allow them to still buy their favourite characters or additional attires. 

Online play is also back in WWE ’12 and like the game as a whole, this has also improved and will add to the length of time you will find yourself playing. However, due to the amount of time players will spend in the WWE Universe mode, it is fair to say that the online aspect will likely not get much use until many hours into playing the game.

So does WWE ’12 live up to the new bigger, badder, better moniker that they have marketed the game with? To coin a phrase, “Oh Hell Yeah!” Despite the flaws mentioned in certain modes, WWE ’12 is without doubt one of the finest wrestling games ever to grace a console, and whether you are a fan of the WWE or not, you’d be hard pushed not to find yourself playing for hours and hours. It is fitting then to say in the words of a certain WWE Legend, that WWE ’12 is arguably the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be, that is at least until THQ announce WWE’13.

WWE ’12 is available now in the US and on the 25th November in the UK on Xbox 360, PS3 and Nintendo Wii.

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