I’ll admit I am a WWE fan, from a young age I’ve enjoyed watching my favourite WWE superstars grapple it out for the richest prizes in the game. I have enjoyed the spectacle, the grandeur and the overall entertainment this branch of sports has offered. Yet the translation of this to gaming has been a tough one. The squared circle has always found ways to reinvent itself and its combatants, and although the gaming series Smackdown vs Raw has been able to replicate the latter, it has found it hard to truly replicate what it’s like to be a WWE wrestler. So comes forth WWE ‘12, a break from the annual Smackdown vs. Raw series with a new engine that suggests a more true to life experience, but is it a case of hitting a 450 splash or maybe being on the receiving end of a Rock Bottom?
WWE ’12 is the first in the long running series that has truly focused its attention on replicating the WWE experience. Where previous entries have nailed the presentation end but faltered on the gameplay, WWE ’12 has got the balance between style and substance down to a tee. Gameplay advancements have been mostly technical, striking, grappling and submissions have all been given more depth and animations have been smoothed and tweaked to almost lifelike proportions. This has made the ebb and flow of each bout feel all the more fluid and real, which has negated almost all of the jarring, awkward scenarios from previous outings.
This attention to detail poured into WWE ’12 by the team at Yukes should not go unnoticed, the subtle progression and storytelling involved in each bout is wonderfully crafted and at times can feel like watching an episode of Monday Night Raw. That’s not to say the in-ring narrative is completely flawless, some of the old problems come back to rear their ugly head. The difficulty in reversing by default is way too high and it can feel extremely difficult in any fight to get the upper hand. Opponents rely very heavily on the easy, cheap reversals through submissions holds and the turnbuckle which can drag over time and become annoyingly repetitive. However, this is easily solved by turning down the frequency of which reversals are made in the settings.
“Visually it is breathtaking, never before as the world of WWE been so truly lifelike.”
Where WWE ’12 truly makes it mark is in its modes, which are aplenty. WWE Universe makes its debut and it is certainly a stand out feature. Taking a less story driven, calendar based approach; you can create your own customised WWE programming down to the finest detail. This can include differing rosters, superstars, stables, logos and much, much more. The customisation is so in-depth, intuitive and easy to use that it’s truly a remarkable feat, which allows you to take charge of WWE at every level. You can create your own superstars and see their rise to superstar status or even make your favourite wrestler main event WrestleMania. The tools on offer are so versatile and powerful that creating your own outlandish creations is quick and easy, whilst being painstakingly militant in creating your favourite superstars of yonder is just as painless. It’s this user-created content which truly makes you feel like part of the WWE Universe and although it can be a little overwhelming at first, it’s very rewarding once the tools have been learnt.
However, the same cannot be said for the core story mode, Road to WrestleMania, an almost on-rails story driven experience played through with only three characters, Sheamus, Triple H and a created player. In an attempt to replicate the episodic formatting of its programming, Road to WrestleMania takes the focus away from the matches and places the attention more prominently on the story, through way of promos, shoots and backstage segments. It’s enjoyable at first but comes with many notable flaws that cause its downfall. With only three superstars on offer and no way to select them (they play out in order) the main story is very restrictive. It feels odd having no story involving such big hitters like John Cena, Randy Orton (he is on the cover after all) and even a blast from the past from superstars such as The Rock.
It’s also worth noting that the computer AI is fairly hit and miss throughout. On occasions opponents can be very rigid in their attacks, reversing all kinds of onslaughts and hitting the same move four/five times consecutively, whereas on other occasions it’s not odd to see them stand motionless for seconds at a time. This is also noticeable when facing multiple opponents at once. They will rarely attack concurrently and the animations to stop moves whilst mid motion are completely erratic to the occasional point of not taking place at all.
“The grandeur, spectacle, drama and tension are all on show here and is almost in perfect balance.”
It’s also odd in Road to WrestleMania the format in which you progress. Story is mainly driven by triggering certain events, these usually occur when your opponent has been sufficiently beaten enough to allow the trigger button to be active when your combatant is groggy. They happen almost every bout and completely detract from the experience in a number of ways. Firstly, no matter what actions have been fulfilled leading up to the point of the non-interactive event, they always play out the same. I was annoyed to see myself strike and suplex the Big Show into a pulp, only to trigger the segment in which I was then choke slammed and pinned. I had lost this match 5 times previously, so I had to replay it over and over again to ensure the Big Show choke slamming me happened the way the game wanted it to. It was completely jarring, repetitive and annoying. The focus on story and character building was a great addition, but the execution is flawed, making the core mode feel like you are part of an interactive movie rather than a wrestling superstar.
What WWE ’12 lacks in its main story mode it makes up for tenfold throughout the rest of the game. Visually it is breathtaking, never before as the world of WWE been so truly lifelike. Character models are painstakingly detailed, muscles ripple, sweat drips and motions are created with such effectiveness it truly makes you feel part of the action. Couple this with such fantastic presentation through entrance videos and music and you get a stunningly realised world in which to grapple. It’s amazing to see CM Punk hit the stage with his latest (the last three-to-four months or so) music, video and ring attire; it goes to show the levels to which THQ and Yukes have gone to provide such realistic representation. This level of polish has also been boasted in the animations, with wrestlers now reacting more fluidly and seem more aware of their ring surroundings. Rope physics have been tweaked to give a more lifelike feel and the production values in terms of match cards, title screens and commentary all replicate the look and feel of the TV show.
When you become a little tired of facing the computer and tearing your opponents limb from limb, the online arena will beckon. Where playing AI can sometimes be unpredictable and awkward, human opponents offer a far more realistic representation of actual squared circle bouts. Matches are fun, enjoyable and only suffer from minor lag. Match types are in abundance, so there is always great choice in whatever specialist match you’d like to take part in. The only downfall of the online component is its poor choice of menu and setup; it can sometimes make organising match’s difficult.
To me the superior WWE game is No Mercy on N64, it truly set the bar for what was possible with a WWE game in terms of experience and gameplay. But what it lacked in replication of the WWE universe, WWE ’12 truly excels. Although it is not flawless, THQ and Yukes have served its core audience of ‘marks’ with a truly lifelike and enjoyable representation of World Wrestling Entertainment. The grandeur, spectacle, drama and tension are all on show here and is almost in perfect balance. A new high has been placed on the WWE franchise and one can only hope this trend is set to continue.