With promises of rebuilding the aging gameplay for this year’s title, we’re expecting a lot of WWE ’12. The Smackdown name has been removed from the title as a statement of intent. But has enough changed to warrant the new name, or is it just another gimmick?
The most noticeable addition is the Predator system, which allows you to use the face buttons while locked in a grapple to target the arms, head or legs. Repeated manglings cause your opponent to move awkwardly and reduces their resilience to submission moves. It works well, although repeated use of a move to cause the injury can get boring and makes play feel mechanical, rather than fun.
The reworked counters have really suffered. A prompt appears for a nano-second, barely giving you the chance to halt the beatings or escape the lengthy grapple animations. There are multiple counter opportunities during a combo. But they’re too quick; it’s like being really bad at the playground game of slaps.
While I didn’t find the AI cheaply using counters all the time, the game clearly expects the player to be able to use them regularly. These narrow opportunities mean there are long periods of being unable to respond to attacks and grapples. For some reason, it’s very easy to get staggered too, making it even longer before it’s ‘your go’ again. Soon enough, you realise that this may be the most scripted WWE game yet.
Context sensitive animations are still slow to respond. In numerous matches, my wrestler kept doing standing elbow-drops long after his opponent had stood up. Irish Whip setups for close-lines or face booting typically end with both wrestlers just bumping into each other. At least Yuke’s have finally added the ability for animations to be interrupted by other players in three player matches where grapples leave one player out. You’re momentum metre no longer regresses either, making it easier to acquire finishers.
Matches featuring more than two wrestlers are messy. Tag partners block your view on the right side of the ring thanks to the low camera angle and the target indicators have names instead of arrows, meaning only hardcore fans of oily muscles will know what's going on. Changing between targets is extremely difficult too. Combine this with the overly complicated rope controls for a Royal Rumble and you have a disaster on your hands.
Character models and entrances are slick enough, but given how samey today’s wrestlers are, it’s not exactly a hard task. The create modes (which now include arenas), allow players to inject some much needed style into the rosters over the standard Speedos, shaved head and tattoos look. The way that you can tailor everything from ring entrance, looks, moves, combos and finishers really is impressive. It’s just a shame playing the game isn’t.
Along with the usual selection of exhibition and multiplayer options, WWE '12 has two extensive single-player modes, Universe and Road to Wrestlemania.
Universe goes through the weekly schedule of matches giving you the option of playing any of the match card bouts and skipping the rest. The next match option after a fight doesn’t say whom it features. If you want to look, you’ll have to go back through some lengthy loading screens back to the menus. With no story, just random interruptions, it feels shallow and slow.
Road to Wrestlemania does have a story between bouts, but you don't get to choose who to play as. You’re forced to play as Sheamus for hours, before eventually working your way up to Triple H and your created character. Playing as the same characters for such prolonged periods is terminally dull. Playing as Sheamus for more than two matches is a nightmare. Oh wait, it did let me play with William Regal for a tag match. Just...why?
In this mode, even the winners are scripted. Instead of attempting a pin, you must press the Triangle button in a very specific part of the ring or backstage area when the prompt appears to launch into a cutscene. These usually end with you getting your ass kicked. Yes, the WWE shows are full of these twists, but as a gameplay experience, it leaves you thinking ‘why should I bother?’ In some bouts, you’re not even allowed to tag your partners, although it’s never explained beforehand. In these matches your opponent acts equally confused, by staggering over to his corner and just staring out, like a dog in the rain.
Universe and Road to Wrestlemania should have been combined into a single mode, letting you play as multiple characters through the wrestling soap opera fans want. There’s such a half-finished feel to everything. Even the animated logo movies for special events suffer from poor resolution.
The dodgy countering combined with the current latency online means that online multiplayer is severely hampered. The only reason to go online with the game in this state is sharing creations with other players. Local multiplayer fares considerably better thanks to the variety of matches on offer. Overall, fans would be better off picking up WWE All-Stars instead.
- Create modes are very detailed
- Lots to unlock
- Limb targeting works
- Ill-conceived single player campaigns
- Broken countering
- Animations are still slow to respond to what’s happening
The Short Version: The game may have been rebuilt, but it’s used some old blueprints to cut corners. The character create options are great for fans, but the game they then get to use them in is not. The new limb targeting is sadistically useful, but the knackered countering, uninspired single-player campaigns and still clunky animations make this more of a Royal Fumble.