Like many eager WWE video game nerdlings, I picked up my copy of WWE ’12 (PS3 version here) from Gamestop on new-release Tuesday, seduced by the positive reviews that hailed this as if it were programmed by divine entities in the skies above.
Having played Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain endlessly (once in a fourteen hour marathon session, fueled by three liters of Coca Cola), and then compared each subsequent “Smackdown vs. Raw” to it rather unfavorably, I feel qualified to pass judgment on this game that critics have called the greatest game WWE has yet released.
Perhaps I’m more easily swayed than the No Mercy cult that refuse to sell their N64s on e-bay solely because of that game, but I’m up for the test of putting WWE ’12 through its paces.
WWE ’12 plays, in many ways, like the last few years worth of SmackDown vs. Raw games, with a largely similar grapple system, same gimmick matches, and it generally feels “the same” as prior installments. However, when you get into the meat and potatoes of the wrestling portion, you’ll find that the streamlined in-ring action is more fun than prior installments. I particularly love the targeting system for specific body parts. As a fan of technicians of years past like Bret Hart and Dean Malenko, it’s fun performing as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, wearing down the arms and legs specifically to set up a submission finish. Also, the simpler controls are a marked improvement, as the game puts moves in a situational context and provides a less clunky flow. So with a quicker pace and a smarter in-ring approach, WWE ’12 comes off ambitious in this regard.
Until you adjust the difficulty sliders, playing this game for the first time is equated to doing calculus equations while juggling flaming swords. I used to put in an SVR game on purchase day and mow through the roster with whoever I chose, but playing as CM Punk against someone random like Michael McGillicutty was a nightmare from the sound of the bell. Perfect Junior was AGGRESSIVE, as was every opponent I faced before I had to yield to setting the game to a novice level in order to get the hang of the new controls. I’ve since upped the sliders somewhat, because challenge is important. But in the early going, this game will kick your ass. And hey, that’s better than beating Undertaker without him getting a single move in, like in years past.
Road to WrestleMania survived to this edition, although somebody should put it out of its misery. You play a looooooong storyline as Sheamus, Triple H, and a custom character with no flex ability. I definitely prefer in past years having five angles to choose from, and fulfilling the weekly stories therein. WWE Universe is also back, largely unchanged from last year. Virtually every gimmick match is back as well, although you can now play a forty man Royal Rumble to update the company’s longheld January tradition.
Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler provide the normally bland commentary, with Cole pimping the product as if Vince McMahon himself were holding cue cards at his side. The visual presentation seems far more vivid than in prior releases, with crisper vibrancy to the colors. Other than the wooden commentary, it really has the atmosphere of a WWE event when you have a match. The camera angles are a nice touch, which give it more of a television feel, and are at least unique. In all, it seems that THQ really did go out of their way to make WWE ’12 different from SVR in as many aspects as possible in a one year timeframe. For long time WWE gamers though, the differences may be a bit too subtle.
Create-a-wrestler is back, and as good as I’ve seen it since SD: HCTP! The entrances alone are kicked up by having unique entrance themes that suit different gimmicks (movie star, islander, extreme athlete, etc). There’s even a guitar version of the French national anthem, so that’ll come in handy if you create Dino Bravo one day. Standards like create a finisher and storyline return, and they’re joined by newcomers create-an-arena (Old school WWE TV taping events for me!) and create-a-logo for your graphic design majors out there. Hey, if someone’s going to spend $60 on a game that’ll be obsolete in a year, you better make it so they can play it their own way. THQ certainly didn’t hold back on letting you customize the game to your liking.
In addition to the forty wrestlers and six divas already on the game, there are currently two DLC packs available. One is the WrestleMania pack, with Jerry Lawler, Jim Ross, Michael Cole, Edge & Christian (modern Christian is already in the game), Shawn Michaels, and LOD. The other is the Divas pack, with Kharma, Trish Stratus, Vickie Guerrero, Alicia Fox, and the Bella Twins. A legends pack is due out in January, with Randy Savage, Batista, Mick Foley, and perhaps more available. Unlockables include Rock, Steve Austin, Demolition, Brock Lesnar, Kevin Nash, and others. It seems that WWE 12 has no shortage of add-ons to pique player interest, although I prefer to play as the modern roster. I’m just picky that way.
THQ knew that the SVR games were becoming stagnant, and their joint campaign with WWE to rebrand their video game series with WWE 12 has some mixed results. In some ways, it feels like a fresh coat of paint over chipped walls, but there are signs of improvement, like the realistic match flow, the challenging computer opponent, and the litany of ways in which you can customize aspects of the game. With a better career mode, this game would be damn near perfect. As it is, call it a step in the right direction.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.